St Michael's restoration completed

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St-Michaels-ChurchMAJOR restoration of Helensburgh’s 140 year-old St Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in West Princes Street — the town's only A-listed church — was completed in 2009.

Work began in May on the third phase of what was originally to be a four-phase project over ten years, the third and the fourth having been combined because of deterioration of the building.

This final stage, involving the Chancel roof and walls, cost some £450,000 and was completed in the autumn. On Sunday November 1 members of the congregation were officially welcomed back to the church at an opening ceremony attended by the Dean, the Very Rev Gregor Duncan.

The work included replacement of slates, removing cement mortar in the walls and replacing it with lime mortar, and refurbishment of gutters, drainpipes and window guards — together with essential work inside the building.

The necessary funding was raised by the congregation, which has always been responsive to appeals to maintain the fabric and improve the facilities — having previously raised £40,000 to restore the organ and £10,000 to restore the stained glass windows. Very generous help was given by Historic Scotland and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The first two phases cost £400,000. Phase one was restoration of the south-west side of the church, which was completed in 2005, and the north-west restoration was finished in 2007. Throughout, the congregation has been guided by Edinburgh architects Simpson & Brown.

The building was designed by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson in French Gothic style and built in 1868. A church hall and a new vestry were added in 1912, the tower and bells completed in 1930 to the original design, and the side chapel added in 1950.

Considered an important feature of the Helensburgh townscape, the church houses a collection of stained glass windows, including work by C.B.Kempe, Clayton and Bell, Stephen Adam and Alexander Walker, and has tiles, mosaics and metal screens of distinction. It is the only category ‘A’ listed church in the burgh.

It was repointed over 50 years ago with solid repointing which led to damage to the stone and ultimately to the restoration project.

A leaflet issued at the start of the project noted: “Time and the weather have taken a heavy toll on the fabric of the building, aided by inappropriate repairs in the past. In particular, water ingress has degraded the soft sandstone walls causing damage both internally and externally.”

This was not the first Episcopal church in the town. A small congregation existed as early as 1814, and in 1841 William Nimmo ordered a small apartment in William Street to be fitted out as a temporary Episcopal chapel.

The following year a plain stone chapel, named the Holy Trinity Chapel, was built at the corner of William Street and West Princes Street, and in 1851 a day school was added which remained open until 1912. The Rectory was built in 1857, and by 1866 the congregation had outgrown the chapel and it was decided to demolish it and build a larger church.

Hanging in the church is a fascinating photograph of the clergy, choir and vestry members taken in 1930 at the dedication of the tower and new bells.

Amongst those in the picture and presumably a vestry member is Sir William Raeburn, 1st Baronet of Helensburgh, who lived in Woodend, Millig Street, and was a leading Glasgow shipowner.

Many others in the picture have descendants living in the town today, and it came as something of a surprise to the author to find that his grandfather was a member of the vestry.

Back row: C.Sinclair Smith, P.Reece, G.H.Stanton, W.Taylor, H.Taylor, G.Rodger, J.Swankie, P.Reece Jnr., A.Reece, J.Ingram; 2nd row: George R.Stocks, G.Robertson, A.Newton, unknown, G.Robertson, R.Stanton, A.Paterson, D.Stark, G.Malcolm, A.Paterson, R.Lees.

Seated: Captain Watson, Dr Robert Fullarton, A.Wedgwood, Canon Beard (Rector), Bishop Reid, Sir William Raeburn, E.W.Hardy (Organist), Provost J.F.Duncan (who was also a chorister), Noel Peck, J.F.Henderson.

Front: W.Breheny, P.Peacock, unknown, S.Myles, J.Trimmer, A.Donnachie, J. Walker, H.Johnston, G.Horn, R.Paterson.

  • St Michael’s Church photo by Donald Fullarton, grandson of Dr Robert Fullarton.