One hundred years ago as the Great War raged in France a Falkirk congregation demonstrated its faith in the future by opening a brand new church building in Falkirk’s Pleasance.
Although the beautiful sanctuary of St Modan’s is no longer a church it remains for many a poignant reminder of a much-loved place of worship as well as an important part of the complex religious life of our community.
St Modan’s had its beginnings in late Victorian times when around 100 members of the Evangelical Union under Minister Robert Winchester Jackson rejected a proposed merger with the Congregational Church. For a time they worshipped in the old Baptist Church in Melville Street (the ‘tin kirk’) and the former Free Church in the Garrison until they obtained admission to the Church of Scotland and set about finding a more permanent home.
For 18 years this was another disused church in Bank Street, the building later used as The Picture House and today is The Carron Works pub. It was purchased in 1897 for £1300 and given the name St Modan’s recalling the legendary founder of the first Falkirk Church 1000 years before.
The late 19th century was a time of intense religious observation with packed churches and no shortage of donors ready to fund fine new church buildings. When the membership of the St Modan’s ‘Chapel of Ease’ as it was called rose to well over 300 the congregation decided to build a new church, but it was not until 1914 that the site at Rosehall in the Pleasance was acquired.
Dr Peter McGregor Chalmers of Glasgow, one of Scotland’s leading architects, was commissioned to design the new sanctuary with a seating capacity of 750.
The foundation stone was laid by the High Commissioner of the General Assembly, on October 15, 1914 and – despite the outbreak of war two months before – the building was ready for occupation just a year later. It had cost over £6000, built in the Romanesque style for which the architect was famous, and using beautiful honey coloured sandstone from Brightons quarry, the church with its arcades, columns and apses was admired by all including this observer who said: “It is the unanimous verdict of those who know that there is no fairer House of God within the borders of Stirlingshire. It gives an impression of strength, beauty and simplicity to the worshipper.”
As the numbers attending continued to grow the congregation added a suite of halls to the church in 1929 though these did not survive the conversion to flats in the 1990s. Many people still remember the 40-year ministry of Rev. Neil Campbell who was a significant figure in the life of the town before and after World War II in which he served with distinction. And few will forget the leather-clad biker minister Ron Smith, a generous and kindly pastor and friend to many who was the last minister to fill the pulpit of St Modan’s before the union with Falkirk Old Parish Church.
Falling rolls in the post war era and the threat of costly repairs brought the end in 1986 after almost 90 years. The battle to save McGregor Chalmers’ beautiful building was successful as was the tasteful conversion to flats. Today the St Modan’s story lives on within Trinity Church as one strand of the three, along with the Parish Church and Erskine, which gives the new united congregation its very appropriate name.