The Triple Kirks ~ Built in 6 Weeks ~ 1844
The Triple Kirks, of the Free Church of Scotland, established in 1844 at the junction of Belmont Street and Schoolhill, was deliberately sited with the intention of rivalling the established “Mither Kirk” of St Nicholas Parish. A building to house the unification of the East, South, & West Free Churches of the Town, was designed by Archibald Simpson. There is now a Pub, the Triple Kirks, usurping the site. This illustration is taken from James Giles posthumous portrait of Archibald Simpson the Architect of the Triple Kirks (See below)
The Disruption in 1843 occurred when around 400 Church of Scotland Ministers disagreed with the connection of the Church to the State and the ability of Landowners to appoint Ministers. They then formed their own, Free Church of Scotland. This resulted in a requirement for many more Church buildings as most of the Ministers left the Established Church along with their Congregations. Originally 3 Disruption Churches departed East & West from the Mither Kirk and 1828 built South Church, Belmont Street (between Little Belmont Street & Gaelic Lane) and grouped together to form the Free Triple Kirks. The Triple Kirks were built to the design of Archibald Simpson to house 3 separate Free Church Congregations in 1843/44 (East, High and South). Due to lack of funds, 2nd-hand building materials were used (salvaged from the demolition of the old Dee Village), and the magnificent soaring brick Spire, (which was supposedly modelled on that of the twin-spired Elisabethkirche, Marburg, Germany) is thus constructed of 18th-century bricks from Ferryhill Brickworks. On closer examination, it also has something in common with more squat ‘Old Spire’ of the Mither Kirk which was destroyed by fire in 1874.
Early pointed, rubble construction with brick dressings; brick Marburg Style Spire. Alterations to the East Church were made by Architect William Kelly in 1900 and again in 1965. The style is simple lancet Gothic, brick being used to economise; the windows are Tudor Gothic. The ground floor walling is of squared granite rubble and above this, the construction is of coarser random rubble with brick dressings to Window and Door openings; the stone dressings of Tower and Spire are of soft sandstone from Angus.
Erected in only 6 weeks, they were built in 1844 to meet the needs of 3 Free Church Congregations. The West Free Church (1100 Seats) faced West, The East Free Church (1100 Seats) faced East and the South Free Church (1500 Seats) faced North. Each Church had separate Entrances. They are especially distinguished by the fine tall brick Steeple, constructed, unusually, in salvaged Brick. Brick is a rare building material in Aberdeen where Granite is much more common. Situated on a narrow, steeply sloping site, the Steeple dominates the Skyline from various viewpoints around the City, most noticeably from the Union Bridge, and Union Terrace. It is similar in design to that of the Elizabethkirche in Marberg. The 3 Congregations for the Churches were drawn from the East and West Kirks of St Nicholas and the South Church. When completed, it was widely admired. Lord Cockburn stated in 1844, ‘I was much struck with the view from the Bridge down towards the Royal Infirmary of a rude Cathedral-looking mass which contains 3 Free Churches.‘ This particular aspect of the Triple Kirks features as the background of Simpson’s Posthumous Portrait, confirming that he was very proud of this Building.
Simpson’s Obituary – The unexpected and premature decease of one whose Professional talents have contributed so conspicuously to the improvement and adornment of this, his native city, imposes upon us the duty of paying some tribute, how inadequate so ever, to his memory, and of giving expression to the general feeling of regret which that melancholy event has occasioned. At the beginning of March 1847, Mr Simpson paid a visit to Edinburgh, and afterwards to Derby, on Professional Business. Returning to Aberdeen, he was seized with symptoms of fever, the probable consequences of cold and over-fatigue. In this state he reached home on Tuesday, and was seemingly rather better on the day following; but, on Thursday, he became very much indisposed, erysipelas (skin Infection) appearing on the right side. In vain was Professional skill exerted to afresh the progress of this then dangerous disease, or to support the powers of nature rapidly sinking under its virulence (now cured by Penicillin). On Sunday his Medical Attendants were compelled to intimate to the sufferer that his recovery was all but hopeless; and on Tuesday, 23d March 1847, between 10 and 11pm at night, their mournful anticipations were realised. The latter stages of the malady were comparatively painless and their close was met in a spirit of calm resignation. “Genius, and taste, and talent gone, – Forever entombed beneath the stone!” SCOTT.
Simpson, along with his brother Alexander, was responsible for reviving the Aberdeen Musical Society, founded in 1747, in a move to make influential Social Contacts which were vital to the success of his Architectural Practice. Archibald played the violin and his brother Alexander played the flute. He later also founded the Aberdeen Artists Society with his friend and collaborator, the Artist James Giles, who also undertook several Portraits of Simpson for the University Court.
Ach – Jist Knocket Doon
The West Free Church was demolished in the 1980s. The East Free Church closed in 1976 and was subsequently converted into pub premises.
Now partially ruinous remainder of the former 3 adjoining Gothic post-Disruption Churches, comprising 6-bay gable-ended former East Free Church, East elevation with full height crenellated polygonal Later Entrance Porch by Kelly with Tudor-arch openings with moulded architraves to ground. Pointed-arch lancet windows. Adjoining Gable and the part wall of former South Free Church (1500 seats) to West, Gable with a tripartite pointed-arch opening to North and partial return Elevation. Tall, Free Standing prominent landmark Steeple to South. Pointed rubble with brick and sandstone dressings to Church, brick to Steeple.
Steeple: landmark, 5-stage square-plan Tower with tall Octagonal spire. Angled buttresses. String courses. Tall Lancet windows, some openings louvred. Pedimented pinnacles to top stage.
Interior: Former East Free Church comprehensively modernised. Timber ceiling to the Upper-Storey with decorative carved panels and fan-vaulted moulding springing from corbels. Predominantly replacement plate glass windows. Grey slates, moulded skews.
The Triple Kirks were built on the site of the Old Cotton Factory on the corner of Schoolhill and Belmont Street formerly occupied by Gordon & Barron & Co’s Cotton Weaving Factory. the Architect, Archibald Simpson had premises locally at 8 Belmont Street during the mid 19th century and he died in 1847. Alas the last vestige of his magnificent Cathedral like 3 Free Churches, their common soaring Spire is now to be encased within an all-enveloping Glass and Concrete structure quite unworthy of Architectural consideration.
The Schoolhill Cotton Factory – Prime Nursery of Vice and Sorrow
William Thom was born in 1798 of parents steeped in poverty, in a Tenement in Sinclair’s Close, Justice Port, Aberdeen, and at the age of 10 began his Apprenticeship to life in a Cotton Factory. At the age of 15 or 16 years say 1814 William entered the “Schoolhill Factory,” of Messrs Gordon, Barron, & Co a Hand-Weaving Factory Building long since swept away, – as a Weaver’s Hand, and remained there for 17 years till 1833. The wages of the best Operatives averaged through good and bad times from 6/- to 9/- weekly, and of the 2nd-class from 3/- to 5/-. The daily hours of Labour were 14. What that meant, not in poverty, but in absolute want of food, warmth, and the means for the sustenance of life, the degradation of rags, the shutting out of all glimpses of heaven and earth, leaving the only alleviation to the hours of toil at the rattling machines, and the squalid suffering in the reeking tenements, in the cheap and fiery stimulants of the taprooms, can be only faintly imagined. An inheritance of bad habits had also descended to the Weaving Class. When the Factories were 1st established in 1770, after the invention of the spinning jenny, the wages of skilful workmen were 40/- a week, and the Operatives usually remained drunk from Saturday night until Wednesday morning, wore frilled shirts and powdered hair, sported canes, and quoted Volney in their discussions on the rights of man in the Taprooms. The surplus of labour gradually reduced the wages to the starvation point, while the habits of dissipation and recklessness remained as characteristic of the Craft.
The proposed Railway encroached on the fast disappearing Denburn itself and the surrounding land and put paid to Mutton Brae and the Weavers Cottages before entering a tunnel adjacent to Blacks Buildings under Woolmanhill and emerging beyond John Street. Part of old Gilcomston, these 18th-century labourers’ houses were known as “the rotten holes” and were among the very worst Slums in the City, even by the standards of the mid 19th century. One end house with an elevated sign was used as a Smithy. All were demolished to make way for the Denburn Valley Railway, c.1866. Rotten Holes were the local name for ‘rat holes’ and this place name also appears on Pattersons Map of 1746 near Silverton Hospital. The Denburn Road ran close to the Kirks and its further dualing demolished the West Kirk.