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St John’s Renfield … a modern merger

By on September 2, 2013
St John'sRenfield

St John’s Renfield Church of Scotland, in Beaconsfield Road, was planned by one church and dedicated by another, writes RONNIE SCOTT.

In 1927, a congregation of the United Free Church of Scotland held an architectural competition for a new church. But by the time the church was ready to be opened in 1931, the UF Church had merged with the Church of Scotland.

The congregation had its roots in three UF churches: St John’s UF Church in George Street (now the site of the City Chambers extension), Renfield UF Church in Renfield Street and Hyndland UF Church in York Drive (now called Novar Drive). St John’s and Renfield had amalgamated in 1923, moving in to the latter’s church halls at 124 Elmbank Street, before uniting with Hyndland in 1927. These moves were driven by the flow of population out of the city centre and into the suburbs.

The new congregation chose a prominent site in Kelvindale – then being developed as a suburb by Glasgow Corporation and the house-builders Mactaggart and Mickel – and advertised the competition for plans.

Glasgow architect James Taylor Thomson won the contest with a tall, narrow design in a Modern Gothic style. The church is built in a traditional cross shape but with very shallow arms and a slim open-work flèche above the crossing, rather than a tower or spire. The exterior is constructed with Auchenheath stone, from a quarry near Lanark, and the the interior with sandstone from Northumbria. The windows feature fine stained glass work by Douglas Strachan and Gordon Webster.

Taylor Thomson, who was married in the church in June 1931 and then lived in Highburgh Road, was trained in Edinburgh and worked in New York for eight years before setting up his own practice in Glasgow in 1924. He designed many of the buildings for the Empire Exhibition, held in Bellahouston Park in 1938, and a number of other churches and commercial buildings in Glasgow.

One of the unusual features of the building is the large uncarved protrusion on the south-east corner, where several courses of raw stone have been left for a sculpture that was never commissioned. This oversight may have been caused by the change of regime from the UF Church to the Church of Scotland in 1929.

The church has connections with two former Moderators of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Dr James Simpson, who served as minister from 1966 to 1976, was moderator in 1994. Dr Sheilagh Kesting, who was a probationer for the ministry at St John’s Renfield in the late 1970s, was the first woman minister to be elected moderator in 2006.

* See Taylor Thomson, Douglas Strachan and Gordon Webster

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