The tradition of this church extends back to Blackfriars Burgh Church and far beyond. The Black Friars was the name more commonly given to the Order of the Dominicans and refers to the black cloak which was worn over their white habit in public. They came to Scotland in 1230 and by c.1246 had established a community to the east of High Street which was dedicated to St. Mary and St. John. Originally supported by Bishop Bondington and the Cathedral Chapter, it prospered through its general popularity and the donations subsequently made to it. When King Edward I of England stopped in Glasgow during one of his invasions of the country, it was in the comfort of the monastery that he took up residence rather than in the Bishop's Castle.
With the Reformation, the property was confiscated to the Crown and thereafter gifted to Glasgow Town Council in 1567. The Council in turn passed it on to the University in 1573. Although most of the monastic buildings were eventually removed, the chapel on the site continued to be used and was known both as the College and the Blackfriars Church. Glasgow College was a term frequently used when referring to the University. Over the next 70 years or so the church's condition was often described as ruinous and many references are made to it in various records with regard to attempts at, or the need for, repair. Flagging stones from the Cathedral crypt were used to effect some restoration in 1588.
Glasgow College in the 17th century, with the original Blackfriars Burgh Church to the right
Despite the seriousness of the times with regard to religious matters, there appears to have been a surprising degree of irreverence shown towards church properties, since it seemed necessary to ban the playing of "golf, carri or shinny" in the Cathedral and Blackfriars kirkyards in 1589. This irreverence extended in later years into more sombre territory when the Blackfriars kirkyard was included amongst those receiving the unwelcome attentions of the resurrectionists.
In 1635 the College determined that it could no longer meet the costs of any further restoration and transferred the church and yard back to the Town Council for its use as a Burgh Church. In return, the College staff and students were allowed space within the church for regular worship and also its use for some collegiate events.
A bell was donated in 1643 by George Duncan of Barrowfield, a previous student of the College. This was recast in 1670 and restored to the church shortly before a final blow was struck to the old building. Law in his “Memorials” describes the event. "October 29, 1670. There was a suddane thunderclap by seven of that morning, that fell out at Glasgow, and lighted on the Blackfriar kirk, the like whereof was not heard in these parts; it rent the steeple of the said church from top to bottom, and tirred the sclattes off it, and brake down the gavills in the two ends of it, and fyred it, but was quenched afterwards by men."
The church was rendered completely unusable and the Town Council was not disposed towards its replacement during such a turbulent period in religious life. It was almost 30 years later, in 1699, before work began on another. This new Blackfriars was completed on the site of the old and opened in 1702.
By 1763, the student numbers attending the College had grown to such an extent that it was no longer practical for services to be held at the Blackfriars church. Thereafter, College services were held in its Common Hall. In the following century there seems to have occurred little of major significance in the history of this old church. The Blackfriars name became associated with a number of streets and other churches of various denominations located in the vicinity of High Street. A Blackfriars Street or Wynd was opened up on the southern boundary of the church property. The present Blackfriars Street, formerly Stirling Street, would have represented a westward extension of this old street across High Street, and its name preserves a local connection with the distant past.
With the general decline and redevelopments taking place in the area during the later Victorian period, the College took an opportunity to sell its property to the City of Glasgow Union Railway Company and move to new accommodation at Gilmorehill to the west. The Company embarked upon the extensive construction of railway lines and goods yards which required the demolition of the University buildings. The need for additional land saw the acquisition of the Blackfriars church in 1875 by the railway, along with others in the vicinity.
The congregation removed itself to a new church built in 1876-77 in Westercraigs, a part of the lately developed suburb of Dennistoun. This retained the name as Blackfriars Church of Scotland to commemorate its lengthy participation in the history of the city.
In 1982 it joined the congregations of Dennistoun and Dennistoun South to form Dennistoun Blackfriars Church of Scotland. Unusually for the east end of the city, part of the old Romanesque church was elegantly and successfully incorporated into a private housing project in the early 1990s and is now known as Westercraigs Court.
Gordon, J.F.S. (1872); "Glasghu Facies." Glasgow, John Tweed.
Marshall Lang, John (1895); “Glasgow and the Barony thereof.” James Maclehose & Sons, Glasgow.
© 2005 Gordon Adams
NOTES: Updated for 1st September, 2010.
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