Thomas Telford's Parliamentary Kirks

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At the beginning of the 19th century, the provision of churches in the whole of Britain, and in the Highlands in particular, no longer matched the spiritual and religious requirements of the population. Most Highland parishes were large areas of rough mountainous land, and many parishioners, especially those who had been cleared from the land, or who lived in one of the new villages that were coming into existence around that time, lived so far from the parish kirk that they could not attend worship regularly, which was seen as a bad thing. Besides gaps in the provision by the Church of Scotland, there were also pockets of other religious denominations, including Roman Catholic and a variety of minor sects, which were seen as undesirable by the Church of Scotland and by the government.

After the Napoleonic Wars, Parliament made available 1,000,000 in 1819, with a further 500,000 in 1824, for the building of churches and chapels for the Church of England, as an expression of gratitude to God for victory. 214 "Commissioners' Churches" were built or refurbished; one of these alone is said to have cost the best part of 77,000 (equivalent to 6 million in 2014), though much of this was not government money.

A similar proposal to provide 200,000 for the Church of Scotland was delayed for years by various political difficulties and obstruction, and when an amended Bill was eventually passed in 1824, it provided just 50,000 for the whole of the Highlands. No more than 30 kirks with manses were to be built, and no more than 1500 (equivalent to 125,000 in 2014) was to be spent on any one site. A similar Bill for the Lowlands failed altogether in 1825. So the whole of Scotland got a Parliamentary grant of less than was spent on one single Church of England; and the majority of parishes, and parishioners, in Scotland got nothing at all.

The task of selecting the sites and overseeing the work was entrusted to the Commissioners for Building Highland Roads and Bridges, and in particular to their Chief Surveyor Thomas Telford. The Bill required that the heritors (the principal local landowners in the parish) should apply for a new kirk to be built on land that they would make available, and in August 1825 the Commissioners considered 78 applications; eighteen more were received by June 1826, and eventually, and not without difficulty, sites were chosen for 32 kirks and 41 manses, the extra manses to be provided where there was already a kirk, but no manse.

Though the kirks are generally ascribed to Telford in person, this is not strictly true, though he was closely involved with the project. Telford asked each of his three surveyors, James Smith, Joseph Mitchell and William Thomson, to prepare specimen designs for a kirk and manse within budget and 'particularly calculated to resist a stormy climate'. Some amendments were made to the designs, and eventually Thomson's plan, with some alterations, was adopted; a simple basic rectangle, with various options for adaptation of detail to suit local circumstances; landowners could add internal lofts or galleries at their own expense. The windows were standardised so that they could be supplied, ready to fit, by James Abernethy in Aberdeen. Smith's design for a single-storey manse was adopted, as was Mitchell's for a two-storey manse.

NC2256 : Telford Kirk, Kinlochbervie by Anne Burgess
The features common to all the "Telford Kirks" are the basic rectangular plan, the shape and positioning of doors and windows, and the small belfry. Most also have an extension to the rear making the plan T-shaped. The one at Kinlochbervie is the classic version, with two windows flanked by two doors of the same shape, and the belfry to the left as you view the main elevation. There are also windows in both side walls, and in the side walls of the extension where one exists. However the Kinlochbervie window frames are not the original ones. Original window frames survive in several, for example Croick, Iona and Ullapool.



Building commenced in 1826, though some work was delayed to reduce the cost incurred in any one year. All but four (Iona, Portnahaven, Strontian and Tobermory) of the kirks with manses were built within the budget of 1500. Most were harled but there were problems with maintenance of the harling. The new kirks are often referred to as "Parliamentary Kirks".

In most cases 'quoad sacra' parishes were erected around the new kirks, giving the ministers of the new charges clear boundaries to work with, but even so, disagreements with the ministers of the pre-existing parishes did occur. The ministers of the new quoad sacra parishes received an annual stipend of 120, from which they were expected to maintain the manse. The heritor was expected to pay for maintenance of the kirk itself.

The 32 kirks are (or were) at

Acharacle NM6768 : Acharacle Church of Scotland / Eaglais Ath-Tharracail by Tiger NM6768 : Graveyard at Acharacle by C Michael Hogan
Parish of Kilchoan, Argyll. Built by William Thomson, completed 1829, kirk and manse cost 1478 12s 7d.

Ardgour NN0164 : Ardgour Church by Richard Webb NN0164 : Church at North Corran, Ardgour by Mike and Kirsty Grundy NN0164 : Church at Corran by Steven Brown NN0164 : Ardgour Church of Scotland by Dave Fergusson
Parish of Kilmallie, Argyll. Built by John Davidson and Thomas Macfarlane, completed 1829, kirk only cost 697 17s 3d.


Berneray
Parish of Kilbride, Harris. Built by John Davidson and Thomas Macfarlane, completed 1829, kirk and manse cost 1500.


Berriedale ND1223 : Berriedale Church by Bill Henderson ND1223 : Berriedale Church by Sandy Gemmill ND1223 : Berriedale Church by Stanley Howe
Parish of Latheron, Caithness. Built by William Davidson, completed 1827, kirk and manse cost 1473 18s 1d.


Carnoch NH2953 : Disused Church by jeff collins NH2953 : Kirk, Strathconon by Richard Webb NH2953 : Disused church, Strathconon by Gordon Brown
Strathconon, Parish of Contin, Ross and Cromarty. Built by John Davidson and Thomas Macfarlane, completed 1830, kirk and manse cost 1500.


Croick NH4591 : Croick Old Parish Church by J M Briscoe NH4591 : Inside Croick Church by Jude Dobson NH4591 : Croick church by Dr E H Mackay NH4591 : Window at Croick Church by Lynn M Reid NH4591 : Croick Church by Jude Dobson NH4591 : Glencalvie: "The wicked generation" by Richard Webb
Parish of Kincardine, Ross and Cromarty. Built by James Smith, completed 1830, kirk and manse cost 1426 10s 11d.


Cross - now demolished
Ness, Isle of Lewis. Parish of Barvas, Ross and Cromarty. Completed 1829, kirk and manse cost 1470.


Duror NM9955 : Duror Parish Church by James Denham NM9955 : Duror Parish Church by Dave Fergusson
Parish of Appin, Argyll. Built by John Gibb and William Minto, completed 1827, kirk and manse cost 1470.


Hallin NG2459 : Old Church in Hallin by Dave Fergusson
Waternish, Isle of Skye. Parish of Kilmuir, Inverness-shire. Built by John Davidson and Thomas Macfarlane, completed 1829, kirk and manse cost 1470.


Iona NM2824 : Maclean's Cross, Iona by Sarah Charlesworth NM2824 : Isle of Iona: parish church by Chris Downer NM2824 : Iona Parish Church by John Hughes
Isle of Mull. Parish of Kilfinichan, Argyll. Built by William Thomson, completed 1828, kirk and manse cost 1503 4s.


Keiss ND3461 : Keiss, Caithness, Church of Scotland by Bill Henderson
Parish of Wick, Caithness. Built by James Smith, completed 1827, kirk and manse cost 1459 6s 6d.


Kinlochbervie NC2256 : Telford Kirk, Kinlochbervie by Anne Burgess NC2256 : Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, Kinlochbervie by Euan Nelson NC2256 : Church in Kinlochbervie by John Ferguson NC2256 : Free Presbyterian Kirk by Anne Burgess
Parish of Eddrachillis, Sutherland. Built by William Davidson, completed 1829, kirk and manse cost 1452 6s 2d.


Kinlochluichart NH3162 : Kinlochluichart and Strathgarve Church by don cload NH3162 : Kinlochluichart & Strathgarve Church by Andrew Wood NH3162 : A Small Church by Andrew Wood
Parish of Contin, Ross and Cromarty. Built by James Smith, completed 1827, kirk and manse cost 1489 3s 3d.


Kinlochspelve NM6525 : War memorial and converted church at Kinlochspelve by Trevor Littlewood NM6525 : Kinlochspelve Church House by Rude Health NM6525 : Church House by Richard Dorrell NM6525 : Church House and Loch Uisg by Richard Dorrell NM6525 : War memorial, Kinlochspelve by Richard Dorrell
Isle of Mull. Parish of Torosay, Argyll. Built by William Thomson, completed 1828, kirk and manse cost 1492 5s 3d. The front elevation is not standard, having four windows of equal height instead of the usual two windows higher up and two doors at ground level, and the windows appear to be narrower than the standard, though that may be an illusion due to the unfortunate modern window frames. However the north elevation has windows of the standard shape.


Knock - demolished
Eye Peninsula, Isle of Lewis. Parish of Steornabhagh, Ross and Cromarty. Completed 1829, kirk and manse cost 1470.


Lochgilphead - replaced
Parish of Glassary, Argyll. Built by John Gibb and William Minto, completed 1828, kirk and manse cost 1474 14s 2d.


North Ballachulish - rebuilt
Parish of Kilmallie, Inverness-shire. Built by John Davidson and Thomas Macfarlane, completed 1829, kirk and manse cost 1500.


Risabus or Oa NR3143 : Risabus Church, Oa, Islay by J M Briscoe NR3143 : Risabus Church, Oa, Islay by J M Briscoe
Isle of Islay. Parish of Kildalton, Argyll. Built by John Gibb and William Minto, completed 1828, kirk and manse cost 1470.


Plockton NG8033 : Plockton Church by Stephen McKay NG8033 : Plockton church (Architect: Thomas Telford) by Roger Davies
Parish of Lochalsh, Ross and Cromarty. Built by John Davidson and Thomas Macfarlane, completed 1827, kirk and manse cost 1480 15s.


Poolewe NG8580 : Telford Church, Poolewe by Anne Burgess NG8580 : Former Church of Scotland church by Richard Dorrell NG8580 : Former Church of Scotland thirty-two years on by Roger McLachlan
Parish of Gairloch, Ross and Cromarty. Built by James Smith, completed 1828, kirk and manse cost 1470.


Portnahaven NR1652 : Portnahaven Parish Church by Andrew Wood NR1652 : Church in Portnahaven by Andrew Abbott NR1652 : Church in Portnahaven by Andrew Abbott NR1652 : Church at the head of the harbour, Portnahaven by Lesley Smith NR1652 : Church and post office at Portnahaven by Gordon Hatton
Isle of Islay. Parish of Kilchoman, Argyll. Built by John Gibb and William Minto, completed 1828, kirk and manse cost 1513 15s 10d.


Quarff HU4235 : Telford Church at Quarff by Anne Burgess HU4235 : Easter Quarff kirk by Mike Pennington HU4235 : Quarff: the church by Chris Downer
Mainland. Parish of Brassa, Burra and Quarff, Shetland. Built by John Davidson and Thomas Macfarlane, completed 1830, kirk and manse cost 1498 12s 7d.


Shieldaig NG8154 : Church of Scotland, Shieldaig by Alpin Stewart - the building became unsafe and was taken down, leaving a foot or two of the original walls, and a new church built on the old wall bases. So the spacing of doors and windows is original, but not the rest
Parish of Applecross, Ross and Cromarty. Built by John Davidson and William Macfarlane, completed 1827, kirk and manse cost 1480 15s.


Steinscholl NG4867 : Kilmuir and Stenscholl Church by don cload NG4867 : Parliamentary Church and Manse by John Allan
Trotternish, Isle of Skye. Parish of Kilmuir, Inverness-shire. Built by John Davidson and William Macfarlane, completed 1829, kirk and manse cost 1470.


Stoer NC0428 : Ruined Church, Stoer by Mick Garratt NC0428 : Telford Kirk by Anne Burgess
Parish of Assynt, Sutherland. Built by William Davidson, completed 1829, kirk and manse cost 1470 6s 2d.


Strathy - now converted to a house
Parish of Farr, Sutherland. Built by James Smith, completed 1828, kirk and manse cost 1470.


Strontian NM8162 : Strontian church by Peter Van den Bossche NM8162 : Church of Scotland, Strontian by Trevor Littlewood NM8162 : Strontian Church by Russel Wills - vandalised by the insertion of modern windows
Parish of Kilchoan, Argyll. Built by William Thomson, completed 1829, kirk and manse cost 1502 10s 8d.


Tobermory - replaced
Isle of Mull. Parish of Kilninian and Kilmore, Argyll. Built by William Thomson, completed 1828, kirk and manse cost 1539 10s 5d.


Tomintoul NJ1619 : Tomintoul Church of Scotland by Anne Burgess NJ1619 : Tomintoul Church of Scotland by Anne Burgess NJ1619 : Church of Scotland, Tomintoul by Stanley Howe - altered to the point of being unrecognisable as a 'Telford Kirk'.
Parish of Kirkmichael, Banffshire, Built by John Gibb and William Minto, completed 1827, kirk and manse cost 1486 5s.


Truimsgarry
Isle of North Uist. Parish of North Uist, Inverness-shire. Built by John Davidson and William Macfarlane, completed 1829, kirk and manse cost 1470.


Ullapool NH1294 : Ullapool Museum, Telford Church by Anne Burgess
Parish of Lochbroom, Ross and Cromarty. Completed 1829, kirk only cost 900.


Ulva NM4339 : The Telford Church, Ulva by Mick Garratt NM4339 : Ulva Parish Church by Rude Health NM4339 : Ulva: the church by Chris Downer NM4339 : Ulva Church by Les Hull NM4339 : Ulva Church by Sarah Charlesworth NM4339 : Church designed by Thomas Telford by Duncan Grey NM4339 : St. Ewan's church on Ulva by Rob Farrow
Isle of Mull. Parish of Kilninian and Kilmore, Argyll. Built by William Thomson, completed 1828, kirk and manse cost 1495 14s 1d.


In addition, manses were built at Deerness, Orkney; Insh, Inverness-shire; Innerwick, Glen Lyon, Perthshire; Kilmeny, Isle of Islay, Argyll; Kirktown of Foss, Dull, Perthshire; Muckairn, Argyll; North Ronaldsay, Orkney; Rannoch, Perthshire; Rothemurchus, Inverness-shire; Salen, Isle of Mull; and Sandwick, Shetland.

The grand total of expenditure on the kirks and manses was 54,422 8s 8d.

I am indebted to Allan MacLean's 'Telford's Highland Churches', published 1989 by the Society of West Highland and Island Historical Research, for background to this article.

See also
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