A Glasgow Heritage
Our Church building is truly remarkable. Its category B listing with Historic Environment Scotland confirms it. Through the generosity of our benefactor, Sir Reo Stakis, it has been a place of Orthodox worship since 1960. The purpose of this little article is to explore some of the history of the building, and to foster our commitment to it. My purpose is limited in exploring certain aspects that throw some light on our understanding of this building today. Understanding the history behind our church building should help us appreciate it better. This should not detract from our understanding and appreciation of the building as the Orthodox Cathedral that it is.
Bartholomew’s map of 1869 shows Victoria Circus and the Glasgow Observatory (on the site of the present Notre Dame High School) at the top of Dowanhill (see photos at end of article). The entire district beyond that was then open farmland. Horslethill Road was but a country lane, and divided the estate of Dowanhill from that of Kelvinside. Why, then, was this grand church building erected in such a location?
Imagine Glasgow in 1875. It was at the height of its powers; the second city of the British empire. There was great wealth here, even if it was very unequally distributed. This was reflected in a construction boom, which saw the green pastures of Dowanhill and Kelvinside covered over by villas and terraces to house the burgeoning middle class of the great city. Maps of the area around 1860 show that nothing had yet been built on that land; and even on the Great Western Road, only Kew Terrace as far as Huntly Road had been built; nothing but fields beyond Horslethill Road. By 1875 the area had been transformed by new housing more or less as it stands today. A new community had been created within a decade. More particularly, Belhaven Terrace had been constructed. The decision was taken to build a church. This is how the decision was reported in History of the congregations of the United Presbyterian Church from 1793 to 1900, Rev. R. Small (Edinburgh 1904) (available at archive.org):
On 12th January 1875 it was notified to Glasgow Presbytery by parties residing about the Great Western Road that they were proceeding to erect a place of worship at Belhaven Terrace, a part of the town where better-class families were settling down. As the site chosen was nearly a mile farther west than Lansdowne Place no harm would be done to other churches, and the proposal was sanctioned at next meeting. A sum of £2,000 had already been promised towards the erection, and on 10th August 23 members were formed into a congregation. Early in the following year a moderation was applied for, the stipend promised being £75.
By then, little land was left over for a church building within easy access, especially a large and impressive church that might meet the spiritual needs of a burgeoning congregation. The wealthy and pious residents of Belhaven Terrace and its environs settled on that small triangle of land on the north-eastern end of what is now Dundonald Road. There was a problem: that road was not connected to Horslethill Road and the Belhaven properties. The Dowanhill estate was not connected by road to the Kelvinside estate. Belhaven residents would have to cross pastureland (assuming they had permission) if they wished to avoid a very long detour to get to church. The trustees of the new congregation had bought the site on the understanding that the owners of the land where a new connecting road could be constructed would allow the construction of a connecting road between Victoria
Circus/Dundonald Road and Horslethill Road. Those landowners, presumably in the hope of extracting further sums from the new church trustees, refused permission, forcing those trustees to bring an action that eventually went on appeal to the Inner House of the Court of Session – the highest civil court in Scotland. The new road was not built until after 1881. (For those interested in such stuff, the case was reported as Moore and Others (Belhaven United Presbyterian Church Trustees) v. Paterson and Another  SLR 19_236 (16 December 1881)).
What kind of congregation was this, and did that have an impact on the architecture? The church came to be known as the Belhaven church, so we can assume that the 23 members were predominantly residents of those impressive homes in Belhaven Terrace, built by James Thomson (Nos 1-16, 1866-7; Nos 17-28, 1870-4). The next terrace along, Great Western
Terrace, was built by his more famous namesake, Alexander “Greek” Thomson, between
1867 and 1877. (Whereas Belhaven Terrace is B listed, Great Western Terrace is A listed.) The denizens of these properties were not simply the beneficiaries of Glasgow’s prosperity; they were people who religiously went to church. A new church building to meet their specific spiritual needs was essential, and no money was spared in meeting those needs. The extremely high quality of their homes is reflected in the outstanding quality of the construction and decoration of the new church, making it such an important contribution to the architecture of Glasgow and of Scotland. The spiritual needs the new church building was to meet were those of the United Presbyterian Church.
The United Presbyterian Church
The National Records of Scotland refer to documents in The Glasgow City Archives relating to the Belhaven church, which is described as:
A secession church parish. It began as a United Presbyterian congregation in 1876. It passed to the United Free Church in 1900, and to the Church of Scotland in 1929. It united with GlasgowWestbourne as Glasgow-Belhaven Westbourne in 1960.
A series of splits, secessions and amalgamations in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, some as early as 1732, led eventually to the creation, in 1847, of the United Presbyterian Church. The above extract shows that the process of amalgamation continued to the time when the Belhaven buildings became the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Luke in 1960. The combined congregation located to the Westbourne Church at 52 Westbourne Gardens, a neoclassical building designed by John Honeyman 1880-81. The building is now the Baptist Struthers Memorial Church. At the time when it was built, however, the church on Dundonald Road belonged to the United Presbyterian Church.
Described (in Wikipedia, no less) as “on the liberal wing of Scots Presbyterianism,” the United Presbyterian Church had a preference for neo-classical/renaissance style buildings, usually with a classical Greek portico. The best example of the United Presbyterian style in Glasgow is the Wellington Church on University Avenue (designed and built by Thomas Lennox Watson, who also built the Adelaide church on Bath Street in a similar style). Surprisingly, this was not built by Alexander “Greek” Thomson who, like many prominent members of Glasgow society was a member of the United Presbyterian Church (indeed he was a member of the Belhaven Church); although he did build three remarkable churches for them, of which only one survives: Saint Vincent Street Church. Belhaven’s neighbouring United Presbyterian church, the Westbourne Church, built in 1880-81 by John Honeyman, is in the same neo-classical style (see photos at end of article)
James Sellars’s design
Designing the Belhaven building was assigned to one of Glasgow’s foremost architects, James Sellars, a partner in the firm of Campbell Douglas and Sellars (see the summary of
Sellar’s biography at http://www.greekcommunitystluke.scot/odegies-gia-neometoikountes/plerophories-gia-metanastes/what-webelieve on the Church website (For further details, follow the web links there). At the height of the building boom of the 1870s, Sellars was a rising star still in his 30s. Like Mackintosh after him, he was a tragic figure, a brilliant, but short-lived shooting star. Unlike Mackintosh, his career was literally short-lived, as he died young (see Nondas Pitticas’s brief biography on Sellars at the same web page; and note that Sellars, like “Greek” Thomson, became a member of the Belhaven church.) Like several brilliant Glasgow architects of that highly creative period, he remains in Mackintosh’s shadow.
A historical digression.
Five years from now, our church building will be celebrating its 150th anniversary. To understand the story of this building, we must go back well beyond 1875. If we go much further back, the Great Schism of 1054 (when the western church broke away) also set in motion a divergence in church architecture. In the east the Roman basilica remained the common form of church architecture. In the west, the use of the arch came to be understood and adopted as an architectural device. The difference is that, rather than using the arch as a means for enclosing as large a space as possible under a dome (they never got the hang of building a dome, a feature not understood by western masons until much later), they used it to build skywards; to develop the very perpendicular, sky-scraping forms we know generally as ‘Romanesque” and “Gothic.” It is ironic that the Normans, invaders of the Eastern Christian Roman empire, inherited the arch, used it to great effect during their occupation of Sicily, and eventually brought it with them to Britain when they invaded in 1066. We still refer to the rounded arch form as the “Norman” arch.
The Normans were great builders of churches. In our own city we have a fine example of the Norman gothic style, Glasgow’s Cathedral of Saint Mungo/Kentigern, which dates back to the 12th Century. The Gothic style, with its spires and towers, lancet arches and windows, and its flying buttresses became standard church architecture throughout western Europe for centuries.
A “gothic” design?
For many members of the prospective congregation, no doubt expecting columns and porticos, it must have been a shock when James Sellar’s design for this prime site half way up Dowanhill was this:
Whatever it is, it is certainly not “neo-classical” or “renaissance” and therefore not the usual United Presbyterian design. The Building News and Engineering journal, Vol.35 2 (1878) reported (at page 694):
The walls are built from freestone from the Netherwood Quarry. It is somewhat rough in texture, but has excellent weather qualities. For the nave pillars and arches, and other interior work, a finer grained stone from the Overwood quarry was employed. The walls are plastered internally, and the ceiling, which is a semi-decagon in form, is lined with wood, and richly decorated in colour. The walls are also elaborately decorated from designs by the architects. The west (sic) gable is filled with stained glass, having figure subjects illustrating the parables; the smaller windows are also filled with stained glass, with figure subjects illustrating the Acts of Mercy. Accommodation is provided for about 950, and the cost was about £12,000. There is a fine organ in the church, built at a cost of over £1,100, by Messrs. T.C. Lewis & Co., of London. Mr. Andrew Wells, of Glasgow, executed the decorations, and the stained glass is by Messrs. Adam & Small, also of Glasgow. Messrs. Campbell, Douglas, and Sellars are the architects.
No mention here of “Gothic” style. This, however, is how Historic Environment Scotland describes it in their listing:
James Sellars, architect; 1876-77. Apsidal church in Normandy Gothic style, orientated North/South. Stugged coursed ashlar with polished margins and dressings. Main N facade with 90ft high heavily buttressed gable.
At ground level, 3 pairs of pointed-arch windows with colonnette mullions; above 3 tall lancets with 2 orders of nook shafts, blind arcade links buttresses below gable head, latter flanked by octagonal pinnacles and enclosing a rose window. To the right, steps to simply decorated pointed arch portal with band of foliate carving. Above rises transept-like tower containing gallery stair. Aisles with four 3-light clerestory windows. Slate roofs.
Interior: some recent minor modifications in accordance with Greek Orthodox worship, but with many original features. 4 arch arcade supported on octagonal columns. Gallery to N supported on brackets with panelled front. Apse to S containing organ; modern Byzantine screen of 5 pendant arches with icons incorporating part of the original screen as balustrading. Carved octagonal timber pulpit. Stained glass by Stephen Adam, 1877. Timber lined collar-beam roof. Hall and vestry to east.
Basically, it’s a tall building in an early Gothic style, with windows, some tall and pointed and some with stained glass, built with dressed stone and a slate roof, and internally a semicircular apse at one end, pillars and arched arcades, and a gallery. So why was this seemingly old-fashioned design adopted?
James Sellars’s style
The restricted site and the demands for internal space placed severe limitations on design and might mean grand Doric porticos were out of the question, but it does not explain this departure from neo-classicism in the “Greek Thomson” style. After all, Sellars was heavily influenced by Thomson (best evidenced by his own neo-classical design of Kelvinside Academy in 1877).
It may be that Sellars wanted to avoid copying the “Greek” Thomson style. Sellars was the architect of the moment; but he was certainly his own man. Still in his thirties, his work shows remarkable versatility of style. He was not a man to be pigeon-holed.
Perhaps the greater influence was that a very Scottish Gothic revival was again fashionable. The building has been described as “Gothic Revival” and several references suggest that it is influenced and inspired by Dunblane Cathedral (and there are striking similarities). The Gothic revival of the late nineteenth century, however was quite an ornate version of the
Gothic style, with much tracery, buttresses and turrets. Contemporaneous buildings, like Sir George Gilbert Scott’s Glasgow University campus on Gilmore Hill, are notable examples of the style in Glasgow.
Etching by Appleby (note James Sellars’s Stewart Memorial Fountain in Kelvingrove Park in the foreground)
The same influences can be seen in the style chosen for the Belhaven United Presbyterian Church. At first sight, the three lancet windows in the “90ft. high heavily buttressed gable,” the slightly pointed arches, the octagonal pinnacles all seem to confirm this; but there are important differences: there is no tracery in the windows, and the added rose window is also relatively plain. Considered together with the overall simplicity of the design, the conical roof at the western extension and the overall façade, it can at least be argued that the style is also reminiscent of Scottish Baronial, a style still very much in vogue at that time. It all makes for a very unusual building.
The key features
The artist’s impression provided by the architects beautifully highlights all these features; but even more interesting is the little ground floor plan of the building in the top right-hand corner. (An additional important source is the survey carried out as part of the Mackintosh Building Survey, reproduced by Nondas Pitticas on the church’s website.)
The Nave. The first thing to note on the plan is the north-south orientation. This is probably a consequence of the configuration of the site, rather than an intended departure for the traditional east-west orientation. The nave extends the whole length of the building, the pews extending into what is now the main School room. This is confirmed by the fact that on the plan there are no doors in the side walls of what is now the schoolroom, and by the fact that the gallery is “supported on brackets” according to the Listed Building description. There is no partition between the nave and what is now the schoolroom. The existing two sets of doors to the School room, and the modern partition separating the schoolroom from the nave, are later additions. The diagram confirms that the nave, together with the gallery, was intended to hold between 900 and 1,000 people. The membership of the church in 1900 stood at over 600. If one adds their children, 1,000 might on occasion have felt rather cramped.
The Pews. The rows of fixed seating – the “pews” – have been largely retained. Growing up in Greece in the 1950s, church for me was an upstanding experience – literally. Seats were scarce, and certainly not for children. The elderly might prop themselves against the “stasidia” scattered along the walls of the church; but everybody else, young and not-so-young, stood. That is still the norm throughout the Orthodox Christian world. It was also the norm throughout Christendom before the Great Schism (1054) and remained a common practice until the reformation. The expectation then became that the congregation would sit throughout most of the service, standing for the singing of psalms or hymns. The expectation in a Scottish presbyterian church is that the congregation, whether standing or seated, will always face the front. This explains the narrowness of the pews, but it does make for difficult manoeuvring when the Gospel or the Gifts are processed. One noticeable feature of the pews that needs some explanation is the regular small holes in the shelves. The shelf is there for the hymn books and bibles that would be used during the service; the holes are for placing the small glasses in which the communion wine had been distributed.
The decoration. One would not expect to see wall decorations or iconography in a Presbyterian church. Scotland went through an iconoclastic reformation that was generally iconophobic; yet the report in the Building News and Engineering Journal (see above) specifically states: “The ceiling … is lined with wood, and richly decorated in colour. The walls are also elaborately decorated from designs by the architects.” The Mackintosh Building Survey also states that “much of the 19th century detail from the original construction is still in position including the painted ceiling, the Gothic trusses in the roof and gazed partitions.” The listing of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St. Luke, Glasgow on the
Scotland’s Churches Trust’s website specifically refers to the “richly stencilled roof timbers
and original light fittings and furniture” (https://scotlandschurchestrust.org.uk/church/greek-orthodox-cathedral-of-stluke-glasgow(https://scotlandschurchestrust.org.uk/church/greek-orthodox-cathedral-of-st-luke-glasgow/ ). The stencilling on
the ceiling is still visible and must have been magnificent when new. Whether it can, or should be restored is another matter. There is no evidence that elaborately decorated designs on the walls have survived. It is unclear what those designs might have been, and there would certainly be no frescoes, depicting saints or scenes from the gospel, such as might have been painted before the reformation. Only two small fragments of “Doomday” examples survive in Scotland. These recently uncovered frescoes in England date back to Anglo-Saxon times, before the Great Schism and the Norman invasion (1066).
Detail from a medieval Doom wall-painting, St Andrew's Church, Chesterton, Cambridge, 15th century: extracted https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doom_paintings 20/12/20
The organ. The Mackintosh Building Survey suggests that the church has “an exceptionally altar-focused or Anglican pattern for presbyterian worship with an apse to the south and a tester [canopy] above.” The semi-circular apse at the south end of the building where our church’s sanctuary now stands, would have housed a communion table; but it also housed the church organ. The congregational singing of hymns is a major feature of protestant worship. Increasingly, in Scotland, following the practice in north European protestant churches, the singing was accompanied by an organ. The larger the church, the larger the organ. Behind the cross on the red velvet curtains above the iconostasis, can be seen traces of the pipes of the church organ. This would have been an expensive item that was moved to the Westbourne Gardens church when the Belhaven congregation relocated there after the sale in 1960. The apse was of course perfect for the creation of our sanctuary and iconostasis.
The organ in the Baptist Struthers Memorial Church, formerly Westbourne United Presbyterian Church.
Stephen Adam’s glass
The nineteenth century saw a revival of the ancient ecclesiastical art of stained and painted glass. It was so popular that it became a de rigeur feature of domestic architecture. Nowhere was this more true than in Glasgow, where several workshops devoted themselves to this resuscitated art. Glasgow was the centre of an important glass industry – for example, the Clutha art glass and the vast quantities that came out of the kilns around Murano street, Caithness Street, Vasart Place and Monart Place – now, like much of Glasgow’s industry, long gone.
Perhaps the greatest exponent of this craft was Stephen Adam. A protégé of that other great artist and designer, Daniel Cottier (he of what is now the Cottier Theatre), Adam was probably the most influential exponent of the art at this time, influencing the work of even Lewis Comfort Tiffany in the United States. Our church contains some of his most important work, of which the three panels in the north window are the best known. (The significance of his work is explained in A Stained-Glass Masterpiece in Victorian Glasgow: Stephen Adam’s Celebration of Industrial Labor, Lionel Gossman with Ian R. Mitchell and Iain B. Galbraith, and especially Appendix II, Always happy in his designs: the legacy of Stephen Adam by Iain B. Galbraith, which makes extensive reference to our Cathedral Church and acknowledges the help of Nonda Pitticas. The work is available online at https://www.princeton.edu/~lgossman/Adam.pdf).
Stephen Adams panels in the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St. Luke:
Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s alterations
Seiiars’s chief draughtsman at the time was the youthful John Keppie. When Sellars tragically died in 1888 his senior partner, Campbell Douglas took Keppie into partnership. Keppie then went into partnership with John Honeyman, and in 1889 the firm took on the newly-qualified Charles Rennie Mackintosh as a junior draughtsman. When Honeyman retired from active partnership in 1901, Mackintosh became a partner in Honeyman, Keppie and Mackintosh (the firm still exists today as Keppie Design: https://www.keppiedesign.co.uk. For those interested in the Mackintosh story, the best introduction is John Cairney’s The
Quest for Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Luath Press, Edinburgh (2018).)
There is, therefore, a continuous link from James Sellars to C. R. Mackintosh, probably the most internationally famous architect Glasgow has produced. Throughout the 1890s, Honeyman and Keppie carried out work on the church, most notably in 1898, when electricity was installed and redecorations and repairs were carried out; most importantly, new woodwork was introduced. C R Mackintosh designed that woodwork, and evidence of it can be seen throughout the building. (see the Mackintosh Building Survey, op. cit. above and on
Glasgow University’s Mackintosh Architecture website: https://www.mackintosharchitecture.gla.ac.uk/catalogue/freetext/display/?rs=1&xml=int&q=M028).
This makes our church the custodian of an important part of Glasgow’s Mackintosh heritage. Whether we ought to make it more accessible (for example through the “Open Days” scheme) to those with more than a casual interest in Mackintosh might be open to discussion; but our responsibility to preserve the Mackintosh heritage is not.
Our church is an important part of the flourishing of the arts in late Victorian Glasgow and therefore of this city’s heritage. Three names in particular stand out: Sellars, Adam and Mackintosh. The contribution of each is immense. We are indeed fortunate that that heritage is part of our Orthodox heritage too.
John Aristotle KAPRANOS-HUNTLEY, 19 June 2023