150 years of Craigrownie Church, Cove

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To mark Craigrownie Church's 150th anniversary, Douglas Dow compiled this history.

UNTIL the 19th century the Rosneath Peninsula, which in older records is referred to as the Isle of Rosneath, had a population of about 500.

The only settlement of any size was at Rosneath where the Dukes of Argyll, who were owners of most of the peninsula, had their castle and various other enterprises.

Outwith Rosneath the population lived in farms and a few isolated houses and hamlets. There is evidence that there has been a religious settlement at Rosneath for about 800 years and the Rosneath parish centred upon the church at Rosneath, covered the whole peninsula.

Histories of the area say that residents of Cove and Kilcreggan would walk over the fields and moorland using unmade roads and tracks to attend church at Rosneath. Women would walk barefoot carrying their shoes and stockings and wash their feet in St Modan's burn before putting them on to enter the church.

The earlier connections between Rosneath Church and Cove and Kilcreggan are shown in some tombstones within the old churchyard.

With the coming of the steamboat, businessmen in the city of Glasgow and its environs, were able to travel to the Clyde coast at speeds previously unknown. Taking advantage of this fact, major landowners such as the Duke of Argyll established piers and began to feu off plots for summer houses for the burgeoning middle class entrepreneurs from the city.

Feuing began in Cove and Kilcreggan in the late 1840s and accelerated in the 1850s. The local population increased rapidly. Soon there was demand for a church to be built on the west side of the peninsula. This was supported by the enterprising and influential minister at Rosneath, the Rev Dr Robert Story.

In 1852 the Duke of Argyll feued an area of ground extending to 2 roods 17 poles forming part of South Ailey Farm and situated on the hillside at Lindowan, to the Dumbarton Presbytery as Trustees for the new congregation.

Dr Story appealed to the public for funds, and, in conjunction with the principal feuars in Cove and Kilcreggan, made arrangements for the erection of a chapel of ease on the site as a place of worship for local residents.

The architect for the new church was H.H.McKinney of Liverpool. The cost of building and outfitting the church was £1,100.

The funding was raised by public subscription and any shortfall was guaranteed by John McElroy, the enterprising feuar at Cove, who was involved in the design and construction of the church. The nearby manse, which is now in private ownership, was designed by the renowned Glasgow architect, Alexander 'Greek' Thomson.

The foundation stone of the church was laid on July 31 1852 by Alexander Abercromby of Craigrownie Castle at a ceremony attended by Dr Story and other clergymen.

In style, the building (seen above in a sketch of what it originally looked like) is early English Gothic with chancel, nave and transcepts. It was designed to seat 350 worshippers.

The structure is of whinstone and sandstone rubble, with sandstone dressings and margins. There are many attractive features in the stonework. The foundation stone lies beneath the prominent stone arch at the chancel.

Externally, there are buttresses with a gabled bellcote cover over the chancel arch. Internally, the roof has open timber trusses giving a pleasing rustic ambience. Originally, there were passageways at each side of the nave; the black and white tiling is still visible and runs from the original back wall which was just beyond where the last stained glass windows are situated.

When the Church was originally constructed, Church Road had not been formed, and access was from across the fields with the original access doorway situated on the northwest side of the building.

Early Days

The new church was popular. The first minister was the Rev George Campbell who left to go to Eastwood in Glasgow in 1853. In 1854 the dynamic Rev Dr David Shanks began his long ministry.

The success of the minister and congregation was such that in 1863 they decided to disjoin from Rosneath parish and form their own parish quoad sacra. Their Petition was approved by Dumbarton Presbytery, with the full approval of Dr Story on December 1 1863.

The Petition was granted formally by the Court of Tiends and the formal disjunction was in March 1864. Because the local decision to disjoin was made in 1863, the Kirk Session decided to celebrate in 2013 the 150th anniversary of the separation of this congregation and church into its own parish.

In 1867, some of the congregation had a difference with Dr Shanks. The precise nature of the disagreement is now unclear but a number of gentlemen left to form a new chapel. That chapel was the iron chapel which was erected at the foot of the Mill Brae at Kilcreggan. The Dumbarton Presbytery considered the matter and found Dr Shanks free of all blame.

Middle Years

By the 1880s the church was proving to be too small, particularly when there was an influx of summer visitors. So in September 1888 the church trustees resolved to extend the church building to accommodate between 80 and 100 more sitters.

The well-established and prestigious architects Messrs John Honeyman and Keppie undertook the alterations which involved extending the nave rearwards, creating the organ loft and balcony, and providing the vestry with its entrance stairway, and the current access and vestibule.

These works were completed in 1889 and cost £797 11s 9d. At this time Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who was later to become a renowned Scottish architect, was employed by Honeyman and Keppie and he subsequently became a partner in the practice, but there is no evidence to show that he worked on the alterations for Craigrownie Church.

It was during the late Victorian-Edwardian period that most of the Church's stained glass windows were installed.

Originally there was no music in the church. The congregation were led in the singing of hymns and psalms by a presenter. Later there was a harmonium, before the organ was installed at the time of the alterations.

The 20th Century

Like many small communities, Cove and Kilcreggan lost a significant portion of its young men in the Great War from 1914-1918. !n March 1919 the Kirk Session decided that a suitable war memorial should be placed in the Church to honour those of the congregation or adherents who had been killed in the war.

Funds were raised by public subscription, including a donation from Lord Inverclyde of Hartfield at Cove. The scheme was extended to include a memorial brass plate, the lining of the chancel with oak, and a new pulpit, all in memory of the fallen.

The war memorial plaque was unveiled and dedicated on July 6 1921. Originally it contained 19 names, but this was later extended to 24 names.

The Second World War from 1939-45 was marked by adding a further four names to the war memorial and by the installation of a memorial window.

Following the union of the United Free Church of Scotland and the Church of Scotland in 1929 there were then two Churches of Scotland in Cove and Kilcreggan — Craigrownie at the top of Church Road in Cove, and Lindowan, the former United Free Church, in Kilcreggan at the foot of Church Road, each with their own congregations and ministers.

With the death of the Rev Robert Macpherson in 1951 both congregations were united under one minister, the Rev George Buchanan, who was the current minister at Lindowan Church. Services were conducted in both churches on alternate Sundays.

By way of effecting savings, Craigrownie manse was sold off. Mr Buchanan continued to reside at the Lindowan Church manse, which lies immediately adjacent to the Lindowan Church building and is now privately owned and named 'Drumadarragh'.

In 1961 it was decided to cease to use Lindowan Church as a regular place of worship so that all future services would be held in Craigrownie. In 1962 approval was given to convert Lindowan Church into the Church Hall for Craigrownie, and Lindowan remained the Church Hall widely used by church groups and the uniformed organisations and other local clubs for the next 43 years.

In 2001 a new stained-glass window was installed in memory of the Rev George Buchanan. The Church Hall was sold for private development in 2011.

Craigrownie Church has had 13 ministers: George Campbell (1853-4), David Shanks (1854-87) the longest serving, Kenneth Alexander Macleay (1887-13), Frederick Alexander Steuart (1913-19), John Ford McLeod (1920-26), George Hope Jamie (1926-31), Robert McPherson (1932-51), George Buchanan (1952-60), Robert Gordon MacRobert (1961-7), Charles Keith Omond Spence (1967-83), Malcolm Wright (194-2003), William Murdoch (2004-6), and Richard Barry West (2008-13).

The Future

With the loss of Lindowan as a church hall, proposals are afoot to convert the rear part of the nave of this Church so that the altered area can be used for multi-purposes, including a social area.

On the congregational front Dumbarton Presbytery has decided that the congregations of Craigrownie, Rosneath and Garelochhead shall be linked, with all three churches continuing to serve their own congregations. So the use of this beautiful building as a place of worship will continue as it has for the last 150 years.

Because of its history, architectural and artistic merit, Craigrownie Church is listed by Historic Scotland as a Category B Listed Building.

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