30 September 2010 Register  Login
Architectural Styles

So far, in this approach to church buildings, I have been concerned primarily with the basic forms which underlie the generality of 'traditionally-built' churches. The first part of this section looks at simple 'vernacular' buildings, of traditional construction, in which architectural expression is minimal. This is followed by a discussion of the ways in which basic forms can be 'dressed up', and elaborated, to suit changing fashions, and to convey the different messages which denominations wish to convey - wealth; frugality; rationality; romanticism; being up-to-date; being traditional; employing 'good' architects; indifference to 'good' architecture; competing in grandeur with other denominations; indifference to other denominations, and so on. This section is by no means irrelevant to church maintenance: the detailing associated with different architectural styles can have profound implications for ease of maintenance.

Vernacular Churches

The term 'vernacular' is used here to describe buildings with little or no ornament, or architectural pretension. Such buildings were usually constructed by local masons and wrights (carpenters). They were usually on rectangular or T-plans, with gabled or piended roofs, and usually had belfries, if built for the Church of Scotland. Secession churches did not have belfries. 17th and early 18th century churches of this type usually had low walls, steeply-pitched roofs, and small rectangular windows. Later 18th century buildings often had round-headed windows, and in the early 19th century plain pointed windows made an appearance. Early vernacular churches were often, it appears, thatched, but the greater availability of slate during the 18th century resulted in this roofing material coming into general use. [Most gabled churches in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries had gables standing above the roof-line to form exposed skews. The junction between the roof-covering and the gable could be protected by a fillet of mortar, or by making a lead channel (water gate) along the junction]. In the middle of the 18th century piended roofs, and for larger spans platform roofs, were introduced, but they were never as common as gabled roofs.

St Quivox Church - Auchincruive

 St Quivox Parish Church, Auchincruive, South Ayrshire.

A simple gabled building with 'birdcage' belfry.  Note the external gallery stair. A wing was added to the back, making it into a T-plan building.

Carmunnock Parish Church Glasgow

Carmunnock Parish Church, Glasgow.

A vernacular T-plan church, with external stairs to the galleries. The wing on the left housed the 'laird's loft (gallery) and his retiring room.

Innerwick Parish Church

Innerwick Parish Church, 
East Lothian.

A vernacular church with simple Gothic detailing.

Bourtie Parish Church

Bourtie Parish Church.

A piend-roofed vernacular church, with 'Gothick' (primitive Gothic Revival) windows.

Classical Churches

The construction of classical churches began in Scotland in the 1730s, and was initially a response to the churches of London, designed by such architects as Sir Christopher Wren, Sir John Vanbrugh, and especially by the Aberdeen-born architect James Gibbs, whose church of St Martin-in-the-Fields (now in Trafalgar Square) was extraordinarily influential both in Scotland and in the American colonies. 

Classical churches have features modelled on Greek and Roman architecture, and especially on temple design. The adoption of classical forms symbolised rationality and clarity of thought, and was in large measure intended to be a reaction against what was seen by many as the irrational mysticism of the pre-Reformation church. The more elaborate Baroque and Rococo styles which developed from classicism in central and southern Catholic Europe were seen in Scotland as being 'Romish', and were not absorbed into church building in Scotland until the later 19th century. 

Generally speaking, classical churches were expected to have columns on their frontages, but a modification of this treatment was developed in Italy and Holland, from the late 17th century, in which free-standing columns were replaced by half-pillars (pilasters) were applied to an otherwise plain wall surface. 'Flat classical' churches were much cheaper to build than full-blown classical structures, and remained current as a style until the middle of the 19th century. The 'flat classical' style became particularly associated with the Secession churches.

Former St Andrew's Parish Church Glasgow

Former St Andrew's Parish Church, Glasgow,

modelled on the London churches of James Gibbs, and the first full-blown classical church in Scotland

Glenaray and Inverary Parish Church

Glenaray and Inveraray Parish Church, Inveraray, 

predominantly 'flat classical', but with corner columns 'in the round'.

Limekilns Parish Church Fife

Limekilns Parish Church, Fife,

a good example of a 'flat classical' church, built for the United Secession Church

Gothic Revival

There are several small churches which can be described as 'Gothick', an early form of Gothic Revival. These are typically simple gabled buildings, of piend-roofed buildings, with pointed windows and doors, often with intersecting-arc timber tracery. Churches of this type were being built from the 1790s to around 1820 (see Bourtie, above). True Gothic Revival churches began to be built in about 1813. The first and commonest type of early Gothic Revival building was the 'English Village Church', of which there are many, all over Scotland. These are characterised by end or side towers, usually with pinnacles at the corners, and pointed windows, often with English-Perpendicular tracery. Sometimes such churches have timber tracery, while otherwise conforming to this type.

Collace Parish Church

Collace Parish Church, Perthshire, 1813,

an early example of an
'English Village Church' type of building 



Dunscore Parish Church Dumfriesshire

Dunscore Parish Church, Dumfries-shire, 

similar in concept to Collace, but without Perpendicular tracery, and with pinnacles on the buttresses

Glencairn Parish Church Dumfriesshire

Glencairn Parish Church, Dumfries-shire, 

a church with a side tower and intersecting-arc timber tracery

English College Chapel

The other common type of early Gothic Revival church is the 'English College Chapel'. This is modelled on the chapels of some Oxford and Cambridge colleges, where the chapel is embedded in the main ranges of the college, so that only the gabled frontage(s) can be seen. This approach to design was appropriate to churches in urban settings, where only the front of the building could readily be seen. Sometimes the emphasis is on the centre of the frontage; in other cases there are substantial pinnacles on either side of the gable. In the period 1810-1830 this type was favoured by the Roman Catholic and Scottish Episcopal churches. Later it came into very general use, and was often used by United Presbyterian congregations after 1847. The links with its English origins became much weaker over time.

St Andrew's Roman Catholic Cathedral Glasgow

St Andrew's Roman Catholic Cathedral, Glasgow, 

an early and elaborate example of an 'English College Chapel' frontage

St Andrew's Roman Catholic Cathedral Dundee

St Andrew's Roman Catholic Cathedral, Dundee,

a simpler, and less architecturally accomplished example of the type

Sanquhar Baptist Church Dumfries-shire

Sanquhar Baptist Church, Dumfries-shire, 

built as a United Presbyterian Church, a simplified example of the type.

Scholarly Gothic Revival

From the late 1830s there was increasing interest in looking seriously at genuine mediaeval churches, both in England and on the Continent. The emphasis which Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin placed on Gothic spires as emblems of true Christianity, and his utter rejection of the classical as a style appropriate to Christian buildings, were ideas which proved influential beyond the constituency to which he was directly appealing. Interest in what I would call the 'Scholarly Gothic Revival', as far as reliance on English and Continental models is concerned, became intense from the 1860s to the 1880s, but dwindled thereafter. It was replaced by the use of Romanesque and late Scots Gothic prototypes.

Renfield St Stephen's Parish Church, Glasgow

Renfield St Stephen's Parish Church, Glasgow,

 an early example in Scotland of 'scholarly' Gothic

Queen's Park Baptist Church Glasgow

Queen's Park Baptist Church, Glasgow,

 a fairly late example of the type, based on a French prototype

After the boom years of the 1860s and 70s, depression set in, and quite a number of churches designed to have spires never got them. Good examples are Govan Old and Hyndland in Glasgow, and Troon Old.

St John the Evangelist Scottish Episcopal Church Forfar Angus

St John the Evangelist Scottish Episcopal Church, Forfar, Angus,

 a simple 'Early English' church, with a disproportionately large tower, intended to be topped by a spire.

Free Gothic Revival

Though it would be fair to say that many architects chose to relate fairly closely to particular original buildings (though often drawing details from a number of such buildings), others introduced features for which there was no mediaeval warranty, and a few broke away almost completely from specific references to the past. The most notable of these were the Pilkingtons, father and son, the originality of whose buildings can still shock. Not all variants from tradition were, however, as radical as that. Many took 'correct' parts of the Gothic architectural vocabulary and assembled them in ways that suited the ways in which Victorian Protestant worship - and associated church activities - worked.

Invergordon Parish Church

Invergordon Parish Church, 

built as a Free church, with an unusually tall spire and with the porch in the base of the spire, which is attached to a T-plan church.

New Trinity Parish Church Saltcoats North Ayrshire

New Trinity Parish Church, Saltcoats, North Ayrshire, 

a very odd little building, with almost triangular windows, and a small spire tacked on to one corner

Zetland Parish Church Grangemouth Falkirk

Zetland Parish Church, Grangemouth, Falkirk, 

another church with the entrance through the base of a tower at one corner of the worship space.

Pugin and Pugin Churches

In the 1890s and early 1900s a very distinctive group of free Gothic Revival churches was built to accommodate the growing number of Roman Catholics in west central Scotland. These were designed by Pugin and Pugin, of London. Most were basilican in plan, with aisled naves and polygonal apsed chancels. The aisles had lean-to roofs. Within this relatively uniform concept there was considerable variation in architectural detailing.

St Peter's Roman Catholic Church Partick Glasgow

St Peter's Roman Catholic Church, Partick, Glasgow,

 showing the lean-to aisles flanking the taller chancel.

St Patrick's Roman Catholic Church Coatbridge North Lanarkshire

St Patrick's Roman Catholic Church, Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire, 

with a more elaborate treatment of the entrance frontage.

Late Gothic and Romanesque Revivals

From the late 1880s until the building of churches in stone effectively ended in the early 1930s, many church architects broke away from what had become a clichéd approach to the Gothic Revival. Some chose to make references to late (15th-16th century) Scots Gothic, while others looked for inspiration to more 'vernacular' English churches. In parallel other architects developed their designs from the pre-Gothic Romanesque and Byzantine styles.

St Leonard's-in-the-Fields and Trinity Parish Church Perth

St Leonard's-in-the-Fields and Trinity Parish Church, Perth, 

a late-Scots Gothic- Revival building

Cathcart Old Parish Church

Cathcart Old Parish Church,

a late example of a church designed on the lines of an English 'vernacular' building.

The Reid Memorial Church Blackford Edinburgh

The Reid Memorial Church, Blackford, Edinburgh,

another late Gothic church, a very free interpretation of the style

Southwick Parish Church Dumfries and Galloway
Southwick Parish Church, Dumfries and Galloway, 

a small and early example of an early Romanesque Revival building.

St Cuthbert's and South Beach Parish Church Saltcoats North Ayrshire
St Cuthbert's and South Beach Parish Church, Saltcoats, North Ayrshire,

a large and fine Romanesque Revival building

St Peter's Scottish Episcopal Church Linlithgow West Lothian
St Peter's Scottish Episcopal Church, Linlithgow, West Lothian,

a small Byzantine Revival church.

1930s Churches

The economic depression of the early 1930s almost brought to an end the building of churches in stone. Facing brick, rarely used before that time, was generally adopted instead, either as the principal structural material, or as part of a reinforced-concrete-framed building. Where brick was the principal structural material the round-arched Romanesque style was generally used.

King's Park Parish Church Glasgow
King's Park Parish Church, Glasgow, 

built in brick to serve a new housing area, in Romanesque style.

Croftfoot Parish Church Glasgow 
Croftfoot Parish Church, Glasgow, 

another example, very differently treated, of a brick Romanesque 'housing scheme' church.

St Columba's Roman Catholic Church North Woodside Glasgow 
St Columba's Roman Catholic Church, North Woodside, Glasgow. 

This is an example of a church with a reinforced-concrete-framed building, faced in brick.


Church of Scotland emblem

Catholic Bishops Conference of Scotland

Scottish Episcopal Church


Bishops' Conference

The Scottish

Historic Scotland

This project is supported and joint-funded by the above organisations

Click to order your copy

Order your copy of the INFORM church here


Terms Of Use   Privacy Statement   Design, content management system and hosting by TAQT.co.uk
Copyright 2007-9 © Church Buildings Maintenance in Scotland