Listed Building

The only legal part of the listing under the Planning (Listing Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 is the address/name of site. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing – see 'About Listed Buildings' below for more information. The further details below the 'Address/Name of Site' are provided for information purposes only.

Address/Name of Site


Status: Designated


There are no additional online documents for this record.


Date Added
Supplementary Information Updated
Local Authority
Planning Authority
NJ 94073 6302
394073, 806302


James Gibbs, 1755, Archibald Simpson, 1835-7 and William Smith, 1875-7. Early burgh church in city centre location incorporating some 12th and 15th century fragments (see Statement of Special Interest), with central former crossing with four-stage tower with steeple and with adjoining churches to east and west. Granite and sandstone ashlar, some rubble, with channelled quoins to west base course. Church no longer in use as a place of worship as of December 2020.

West Church: James Gibbs, 1755, five-bay classical rectangular-plan church with pedimented entrance elevation to west with channelled rustication to doorpiece. Round-arched window openings with moulded architraves. Some Gibbs surrounds. Predominantly multi-pane timber windows. Cast-iron rainwater goods with decorative heads and clasps. Lead roof.

East Church: Archibald Simpson, 1835-7, five-bay buttressed, crocketted and finialled Gothic former church. Hoodmoulds, deep-set pointed-arch and rectangular openings with decorative tracery. Incorporates crypt chapel of 1438 at east end by Andrew Wrycht, master mason, (now St Mary's Chapel). Separate entrance leads to small groin-vaulted chapel to east (commercial premises 2006).

Steeple: William Smith, 1875-7. Crocketted and finialled square-plan clock-tower with recessed stone spire. Clasping polygonal corner towers. Pointed-arch louvred openings to belfry.

Interior of West Church: a rare survival of a substantially unaltered 18th century interior. Barrel vaulted, with groin-vaulted aisles and oak panelled gallery. Massive decorative pulpit and communion table. Pine boxed pews, arranged in square-plan with pulpit to south, Lord Provost's loft to west with Corinthian columned baldacchino (a decorative canopy).

Interior of East Church: reconstructed 1875-77 by William Smith following fire in 1874. Extensive remodelling and refurnishing of east end by A. Marshall Mackenzie and Son in 1936. Panelled oak gallery to north, south and west, including 17th century fabric. Several good quality stained glass windows. Interior cleared for archaeological dig in preparation for major scheme to remodel the East Kirk as a community/tourist hub (2022).

St Mary's Chapel (mortuary chapel of Gordon family, previously called the 'Chapel of Our Lady of Pity'): three-bay plan with rib and groin vaults, located in undercroft of East Church. Donated by Lady Gordon around 1438 and restored in 1898 by Dr William Kelly. The walls and furnishings were largely made up of 17th century panelling, relocated as part of 1898 restoration works. The chapel also contains fine examples of 15th and 16th century woodwork panels forming a long desk, some the work of master craftsman John Fendour.

North and south transepts form a central space, respectively named the Collison and Drum aisles. St John's Chapel in north transept adapted in 1989-90 to become the Oilman's Chapel, in dedication to 25 years of the North Sea oil industry. It features bespoke woodwork by Tim Stead comprising a screen, high-backed chairs, a table and a lectern, which are made from laminations of different coloured hardwoods. The first letter of each type of wood spells out 'We remember you'. The stained glass window is by Shona McInnes, 1990.

Other notable interior features include three organs, a carillion of 48 bells, seven mid-15th century effigies, four large embroidered panels dating from the 17th century, a number of stained glass windows, dating from late 19th to mid 20th centuries and a war memorial of 1922. Various benches and panels of medieval and 17th-century date are in different parts of the church.

Statement of Special Interest

One of the most historically important buildings in Aberdeen. With some surviving elements from the late 12th century in the transepts and central crossing, it has been gradually altered through the centuries to become a large, prominent feature in the city landscape. The West Church is thought to be the only remaining Gibbs building in Scotland and its interior is particularly noteworthy as a rare, largely unaltered 18th century survival.

The original church, known as 'The Mither Kirk' dated from 1151 and was one of the largest medieval churches in Scotland. Some remnants of this 12th century church remain in St John's Chapel and in the central crossing, which was refurbished in 1990. The crypt, under the East end dates from 1438. After the Reformation of 1560 it became two separate parish churches and a dividing wall was built between the nave and choir in 1596. The nave became the West Kirk and the choir, the East Kirk. By the early 18th century, the West Kirk had deteriorated to such an extent that it had to be abandoned in 1732. It was refashioned to a design which James Gibbs had given to the city of Aberdeen in 1741. Lack of money meant the design was not realised until 1755. The East church was almost completely demolished in 1835 and then rebuilt by Archibald Simpson in 1835-7. In 1874 a fire destroyed the old oak and lead steeple over the crossing and the interior of the 1835 Church. Both were replaced by William Smith in 1875-77.

James Gibbs (1682-1754) was one of the foremost British architects of the 18th century. Born in Aberdeen, he studied in Rome and spent most of his working life in England, where he worked with Sir Christopher Wren. He won commissions from many of the most influential people at the time. His public and private buildings are numerous and include St Martin's-in-the-Fields in London and the Radcliffe Library at Oxford.

The interior of St Nicholas' is of outstanding interest as it contains a large number of fine medieval and classical monuments, as well as a wealth of high-quality fixtures and fittings that date up to the late-20th century.

The church retains one of the most important groups of medieval monuments surviving in Scotland. In particular, the seven effigies, dating from 1430-65, have been described as superb examples of their types and form the largest single group of medieval effigies in Scotland. The survival of pre-Reformation woodwork is incredibly rare in a Scottish church. Along with the later surviving woodwork pieces, they demonstrate the evolution of church furnishings and liturgy in Scotland over a 500-year period. The 17th century needlework panels are also a very rare surviving example of an early integrated decorative scheme for a Scottish church.

The Compton organ in the East Kirk is unique within Scotland and is one of a very few examples of its type remaining in the UK. The church also features the largest carillon of bells in the UK. Roof chandeliers, which were built in London in 1755 and were converted for electricity around 1939, were noted to survive in the West Kirk in 2006. These are of special interest as very few lighting systems of this early date survive in Scottish churches. (2022)

Listed building record updated in 2006 as part of the listing resurvey of central Aberdeen.

Further updates to the building description and statement of special interest were made in 2022 with additional information about the interior taken from 'The Buildings of Scotland: Aberdeenshire South and Aberdeen' (2015), pp. 118-127.




Gordon, J. (1661) Aberdeen Plan. National Library of Scotland, Town Plans / Views, 1580s-1940s.

Smith, J. (1810) Plan of the city of Aberdeen and its improvements, with the wet and dry docks and other works connected with the harbour, to the designs of Thomas Telford. Signet Library maps of Scotland, 1580s-1950s.

Wood, J. (1828) Plan of the Cities of Aberdeen. Printed: Edinburgh.

Gibb, A. (1862). Plan of the city of Aberdeen in 1862. Aberdeen: Keith & Gibb.

Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1865 to 1867, published 1869) Aberdeenshire, Sheet LXXV. 1st Edition, 6 Inches to the Mile. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.

Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1864 to 1867, published 1869) Aberdeenshire, Sheet LXXV.11 (Old Machar, Greyfriars, St Clements, East, West, North & South). 1st Edition, 25 Inches to the Mile. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.

Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1867, published 1871) Aberdeen, Sheet LXXV.11.13. Ordnance Survey large scale Scottish town plans, 1847-1895. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.

Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1899 to 1900, published 1902) Aberdeenshire LXXV.11. 2nd Edition and later, 25 Inches to the Mile. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.

Ordnance Survey (revised 1924, published 1926) Aberdeenshire LXXV.11. 2nd Edition and later, 25 Inches to the Mile. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.

Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1954, published 1955) National Grid Map NJ9406SW – A (City Parish of Aberdeen). 1:1250. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.


Aberdeen City Archives, Town Council Minutes.

Brogden, W. A. (1998) Aberdeen: An Illustrated Architectural Guide. Edinburgh: Rutland Press, p. 13.

Chapman and Riley (1949) The City and Royal Burgh of Aberdeen, Survey and Plan, p. 147.

Dr W. Douglas Simpson in Country Life 19 August 1965.

Fraser, G. M. Archibald Simpson and his Times in Aberdeen Journal, 14 June 1918.

Guidebook to The Kirk of St Nicholas.

Hay, G. (1957) The Architecture of Scottish Post Reformation Churches 1560-1843. Oxford: Clarendon Press, p. 100.

Little, B (1955) The life and work of James Gibbs,1682-1754, London: Batsford. p. 154.

Macgibbon, D and Ross, T (2010 reprint) The Ecclesiastical Architecture Of Scotland V1, From The Earliest Christian Times To The Seventeenth Century (1896), p. 426.

MacInnes, R. (2000) The Aberdeen Guide. Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd, pp. 90-95.

New Statistical Account v.12, p. 33.

Old Statistical Account v. 19, pp. 184-5.

Papworth, W. (ed) APSD, The Dictionary of Architecture, The Architectural Publication Society (8v 1852-1892).

Sharples, J., Walker, D. M. and Woodworth, M. (2015) The Buildings of Scotland: Aberdeenshire South and Aberdeen. London: Yale University Press. p.118-127.


Canmore, Church of Saint Nicholas at [accessed 10/03/2022]

The Open Space Trust, Statement of Significance at [accessed 10/03/2022]

The Presbytery of Aberdeen and Shetland, Kirk of St Nicholas at [accessed 10/03/2022]

About Listed Buildings

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

Listing is the process that identifies, designates and provides statutory protection for buildings of special architectural or historic interest as set out in the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997.

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Listed building records provide an indication of the special architectural or historic interest of the listed building which has been identified by its statutory address. The description and additional information provided are supplementary and have no legal weight.

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