Churches saved from the demolition crews

St Mary of the Angels, Camelon, is poised for a new role in the community.
St Mary of the Angels, Camelon, is poised for a new role in the community.

These days we are never far away from another local building under threat when it is no longer required for its original purpose.

Often these buildings sit for ages with no prospect of a new beginning and with the shadow of the bulldozer getting ever nearer.

When churches are involved, the impact of closure on the congregations is bad enough but the thought of a much loved sanctuary being demolished is more than most folk will countenance.

That’s why so many in our area have found new uses even if Charing Cross Church as a pub is not to everyone’s liking!

We have two examples in the last few weeks which look as if they will have relatively happy endings despite the undoubted pain suffered by their faithful parishioners.

It helps of course if the building is prized by the historic powers that be like the 1960s building in Camelon which was home to the Catholic congregation of St Mary of the Angels – and A listed!

The other, St James in Grahamston, did not have this protection but has a fascinating history rooted in the many divisions in the church in the 18th and 19th centuries.

People often ask why the ultra modern St Mary’s was so highly regarded by experts.

The answer lies in the innovative style developed by the famous architectural practice of Gillespie, Kidd and Coia in the 1930s.

Jack Coia set things on the modernist route but by the 50s the two main men were Andy MacMillan and Izi Metzstein whom I met a few times.

The firm had a long standing association with the Catholic Church and this resulted in two very different churches in our area: the ill-fated building in Bo’ness which experienced many problems and was eventually demolished.

One architect called this “an act of religious vandalism” but few locals agreed with him.

The other was St Mary of the Angels which was consecrated in 1961.

Camelon’s earlier Catholic Church opened in 1929 in The Hedges but by the 1950s it was not in great condition nor big enough.

The square building designed by Metzstein and MacMillan used yellow, cream and brown bricks in various combinations, as well as timber beams and coloured glass inside.

It was received with mixed feelings but I think in the end the congregation came to respect its rather special style and atmosphere.

St James’ opened its doors in October 1900 as a United Free Church though it had many different names, denominations and buildings during the turbulent 19th century.

The new building was designed by George Deas Page, one of the town’s leading architects whose other work included the Baptist Church in Orchard Street.

Both buildings gave long service to their congregations but eventually fell victim to declining numbers and/or shortages of clergy.

Both closed in recent times with the congregations moving to St Francis in Falkirk in the case of St Mary’s and Grahamston United in the case of St James.

The good news is that it looks likely that the St James building will house a new training centre aimed at helping vulnerable young people and St Mary’s might well become a funeral home.

Both outcomes should preserve and protect the buildings into the future.

However, there are sure to be more closures in the future and today’s success does not guarantee a similar outco
me.

There are many buildings on the ‘‘At Risk’’ register in Falkirk and we need to be vigilant if fine buildings with long historic service to our community are to survive and play a different part in our future.