Bridge Street Church is a rectangular plan former Free Church (now in use as a shop) in the Late Gothic style designed by William Johnston Gray of Berwick and built between 1862 and 1864. The front elevation is built in ashlar stone with moulded stonework to the openings. The rear elevation is built in squared and tooled rubble with ashlar long and short window margins. The openings are predominantly pointed-arched with hoodmoulding. Many of the windows have Y-tracery and leaded glass. There is some stained glass. The church forms part of a terrace of buildings at the southwestern end of Bridge Street in Wick, on the northern side of the Bridge of Wick.
The southeast (front) elevation is three bays wide. The central section has a buttressed gabled front with a large, five-light stone mullioned and transomed, perpendicular window with lattice glazing and stylised tracery. Above this window is a cusped roundel with eight-pointed tracery. It has a crenellated parapet and a carved finial on the apex. The bay to the right is a three-stage tower with angled buttresses and topped by an octagonal spire with carved bands and topped by a cross finial. The tower has a carved and moulded parapet. It has a single opening in the second and third stages of the tower.
The bay to the left of the centre has a crenellated parapet. These flanking bays both have pointed and arched entrances with hoodmoulding. The door in the right bay has two-leaf timber doors. There are plain cast iron railings in front of the church sectioning off the basement level which is accessed via stone steps. The building has cast iron rainwater goods positioned behind stonework on the front elevation.
The northwest (rear) elevation is plainer and largely symmetrical. It has two large mullioned and transomed, arched windows, flanked by smaller Y-tracery windows with leaded glass. Above the two large windows is a quatrefoil window. There is a chimney stack at the apex of the gable. The basement openings are shallow arched.
The interior, seen in 2018, has been fitted out for use as a retail outlet and the organ and pews are no longer there. Some 19th century fixtures and fittings remain including timber wainscoting throughout, moulded columns and a semi-circular gallery. There are two curved staircases in the vestibule areas leading up to the gallery with moulded banisters and handrails. There are brass lighting fittings with foliate detailing, and painted friezes below the roof. The choir and pulpit is intact with stairs leading up to where the communion table would have been. This area is enclosed with timber Gothic-style altar rails with a gilded decorative balustrade.
The roof is supported by hammerbeam timber trusses with pierced, floral spandrels, gilded knops below and on timber corbels. The clerestory windows are pairs of arched stained glass windows with rose motifs and lattice decoration. There are two large, three-light arched windows in the northwest elevation, one with a central stained glass panel dedicated to the Malaya and Burma campaign. There are four smaller two-light arched windows flanking, one wholly stained glass, all with Y-tracery. There is a smaller, circular stained glass quatrefoil window above.
The basement areas are in use as a residential flat, a gym and storage areas. These rooms retain wainscoting and ornate moulded vents, and flagstone floors in the storage areas. The attic was not seen.
Statement of Special Interest
Built between 1862 and 1864 to the designs of Berwickshire architect, William Johnstone Gray, the former Bridge Street Parish Church is an architecturally distinguished example of a mid-19th century Gothic church. It is built on the main road connecting the north and south sides of the town of Wick. Although no longer in use as a place of worship, the building is little-altered externally, showing good quality architectural detailing and stonework. Its interior has been altered, yet it retains a significant amount of its decorative fabric and plan form.
Age and Rarity
Scotland has a rich and complicated church history and the mid-19th century was a great church-building period in Scotland. The Disruption of 1843 saw roughly a third of all ministers and their congregations leave the established church to form the Free Church of Scotland. Over 700 Free Churches were built between 1843 and 1847. The effects of the Disruption were more marked in the Highland region, with the greatest exodus of ministers joining the Free Church in Caithness (Gifford, p.38).
Bridge Street Church in Wick, Caithness, was built as a Free Church between 1862 and 1864, about 20 years after the 1843 Disruption. This period is characterised as being more architecturally ambitious than the earlier Free Church churches built immediately post-1843 (Gifford, p. 39). The congregation previously worshipped at open air meetings at Glebe Park until a church was established in MacLeay Lane (two streets to the northwest of Bridge Street). This old Free Church was replaced by the more elaborate Bridge Street Church in 1864 (Caithness Church History).
This building appears on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map as a Free Church (surveyed 1872, published 1873). It is shown as a United Free Church on the 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey map (revised 1905) following the amalgamation of the Free Church of Scotland with the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland in 1900. In 1929, the church became a Parish Church (Church of Scotland) and was in use as this until its closure in 2009. From around 2014 it has been used a furniture and carpet shop.
Surviving churches of the 19th century can be found across Scotland and are not a rare building type. Special architectural or historic interest within this building type is an important consideration, as is authenticity, that is, closeness to the original fabric.
Bridge Street Church is an important surviving example of a 19th century place of worship in Wick and more widely in the context of Christian churches of its period in Scotland. This building is a well-detailed church, built during the second wave of Free Church construction during the mid-19th century and its exterior remains largely intact. The late Gothic Revival style of this building is not rare in itself, however, it is of special interest because of the quality and level of exterior architectural detailing, the quality of the stonework and the survival of good interior features such as the gallery and columns, and the stepped altar area.
Internally, the church has been altered to accommodate its current use and there has been loss of some of the original fabric, in particular the timber pews and the organ, however the overall historic character of the building is largely intact.
Architectural or Historic Interest
There has been some later alterations, yet significant elements of the decorative Gothic interior remain. Comparisons to historic photographs of the Bridge Street Church interior (Caithness Church History; Highland Historic Environment Record) show a number of details remain including the choir area and pulpit and the timber Gothic-style altar rails with a gilded decorative balustrade stairs leading to the pulpit and to the basement levels. Moulded columns, wainscoting and the gallery structure remain in place. The gallery is now boxed in as part of an additional floor, but its moulded features and gilded decoration are visible.
The elaborate roof, timber wall panelling, and semi-circular gallery with gilded quatrefoil columns show elements of the 19th century decorative scheme. The timber pews and organ were removed at some point after 2009.
This church has a broad rectangular plan with no side aisles which is typical of Presbyterian churches of this date which was specifically arranged this way to allow for preaching to be heard by all the congregation. The relationship of the façade with the plan is of particular interest, as the street elevation is arranged with a fake side aisle to the left and tower to the right which masks what is a broad single space. This device was particularly used in urban churches in larger towns and cities at this time and shows the gradual move towards a more decorated church style for the Free Church denomination.
There has been alteration to the internal layout with the addition of a first floor over the gallery but this has not altered the original plan form.
Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality
Free churches constructed after the Disruption of 1843 tended to be funded by local benefactors. Local architects and builders were often commissioned to design them, with some being more architecturally ambitious than others. The Gothic Revival style became popular in church design across the country from the early 19th century, reaching its stylistic peak in the latter half of the 19th century. The mid-19th century Bridge Street Church is a more elaborately decorated Free Church design which became typical of Free Church churches built from the 1860s onwards. It demonstrates the gradual move from the plainer and more austere early Gothic style. This change in architectural elaboration in Free Church design, and in Presbyterian churches generally, coincided with the spreading ideas of the Liturgical Movement which promoted a higher level of decoration in places of worship.
The exterior of Bridge Street Church is largely unaltered and has good quality stonework. The building's crenellated gable centrepiece with its large five-light perpendicular window and adjacent spire are imposing features on Bridge Street. Its arched windows and tracery are also typical late Gothic features (known as the Perpendicular Style), as are its diagonal buttresses and deliberate irregularity.
William Johnston Gray was mainly involved in rural architecture and this church in Wick, which is his only known church commission, is thought to be among his best and most significant buildings. Gray was born in 1804 in Coldingham, becoming an architect specialising in designing farm houses and cottages on landed estates. He published 'A Treatise on Rural Architecture' in 1852. (Dictionary of Scottish Architects).
Located at the southwestern end of Bridge Street, on the north side of Wick Bridge (LB42297), Bridge Street Church is a prominent building in the centre of Wick. This street was the main road through the town until the Wick Harbour Bridge was constructed. The 1st edition Ordnance Survey map shows the spire was also used as a triangulation point. It is still a conspicuous and distinguished feature of the Wick townscape, visible from the surrounding streets and a landmark as you approach the town centre from the south. The immediate street setting of the building retains much of its mid-19th century historic character.
The wider streetscape setting has not altered significantly from around the early 20th century (as shown on the 2nd edition Ordnance Survey map). Bridge Street Church forms part of an historic streetscape that ranges in date from around 1830 to 1930 opposite the classical town hall of 1826-8 and the contemporary Italian Renaissance-style Sheriff Court of 1862-6 (Gifford, p.142). Bridge Street currently has six category B-listed buildings in total including the Town Hall (LB42299) and Wick Sheriff Court (LB42300).
There are no known regional variations.
Close Historical Associations
There are no known associations with a person or event of national importance at present (2018).
The Reverend Dr William Barclay, Professor of New Testament Greek at Glasgow University was baptised in Bridge Street Church in January 1908. He became one of the most famous biblical scholars of the 20th century.
The connection of the architect, William Johnstone Gray, to Wick is not known. The rest of his work was completed in Berwickshire, Midlothian and Roxburghshire.
Statutory address and listed building record revised in 2018. Previously listed as 'Bridge Street. Bridge Street Parish Church'.
Canmore: http://canmore.org.uk/ CANMORE ID 100210
Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1872, published 1877) Caithness, Sheet XXV (Wick) 6 Inches to the mile. 1st Edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.
Ordnance Survey (revised 1905, published 1907) Caithness-shire, Sheet XXV (Wick) 6 Inches to the mile. 2nd and later Editions. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.
Ordnance Survey (revised 1938, published 1949) Caithness-shire, Sheet XXV (Wick) 6 Inches to the mile. 2nd and later Editions. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.
Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1872, published 1873) Caithness, Sheet XXV.5 (Wick) 25 Inches to the mile. 1st Edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.
Ordnance Survey (revised 1905, published 1873) Caithness, Sheet XXV.5 (Wick) 25 Inches to the mile. 1st Edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.
Gifford, J. (1992) The Buildings of Scotland: Highlands and Islands. London: Penguin, pp.138-144.
Buildings at Risk Register, Bridge Street Parish Church, Bridge Street, Wick at https://www.buildingsatrisk.org.uk/details/927148 [accessed 06/11/2018].
Caithness Church History, Bridge Street Church of Scotland at https://churchhistorywick.weebly.com/bridge-street-church.html [accessed 06/11/2018].
Dictionary of Scottish Architects, William Johnston Gray at http://www.scottisharchitects.org.uk/architect_full.php?id=201053 [accessed 12/11/2018].
Highland Historic Environment Record, SHG25815 Bridge Street Church, Wick at https://her.highland.gov.uk/Source/SHG25815 [accessed 12/11/2018].
Places of Worship in Scotland, Bridge Street Parish Church, Wick at http://www.scottishchurches.org.uk/sites/site/id/4328/name/Bridge+Street+Parish+Church%2C+Wick+Wick+Highland [accessed 06/11/2018].
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Printed: 12/08/2022 04:32