Holburn West Church for over 100 years a focal point on Great Western Road for Christian worship and fellowship and community engagement
A short history of Holburn West Church
The pre-history of Holburn Parish is part of the story of Gilcomston Chapel (now Denburn Church), some of whose members were dissatisfied with their minister and built a new place of worship at Holburn Junction in 1836. The Presbytery of Aberdeen gave this congregation the status of a Parish Church in November 1837 and it was to this Church that the Rev William Lamb Mitchell was inducted in 1838.
The city to which Mr Mitchell came was much smaller than it is today. In 1838 it had not developed much beyond Holburn Junction but it was on the brink of major expansion based on its importance as a county town, busy fishing port, university centre and growing industrial base which in turn combined to produce increased wealth and a burgeoning population Holburn Church, which on the disruption of 1843 had broken away from the established Church of Scotland and was part of the Free Church of Scotland, was invited to establish a new congregation in the then west end suburbs of Aberdeen on a site purchased from Mr John Cook of Ashley House. They embraced the challenge of relocation and so in 1893 the foundation stone of what eventually became Holburn West Church was laid and the building was completed and opened for worship on 26th October 1894.
In the years up to the First World War and in the post war period the area which had been green fields and dotted with farmhouses and mansions saw its development into a residential neighbourhood with its streets laid out as recognised today. This was the setting of the parish of the church whose boundaries lay within the area the Community Trust has been formed to serve.
For some time, there had been hope of a re-unification of the Presbyterian Churches in Scotland. Another large free church denomination was the United Presbyterian Church which had come into being before the 1843 Disruption. Its theology was very little different from that practised by the Free Church of Scotland. The then minister of the Church was a keen advocate of a union of the two denominations and he very much welcomed the Union that eventually took place in 1901 and the title of the local congregation changed accordingly to Holburn United Free Church. There was to be one further change of name. This came about when, finally, in 1929 the two strands of Presbyterian congregations, the United Free Church and the Church of Scotland joined forces. This resulted in another name change for the local congregation and it became Holburn West Church of Scotland.
At the opening of the Church in 1894 there was no spire but within a very few years the congregation had raised the necessary funds for the spire to be built and thus completed the very fine edifice in accordance with the plans prepared by Messrs. Brown and Watt, Architects. Over the years many improvements were carried out; gas lights were replaced by electric light; a new stained glass memorial window was installed and a Scout Hut was built in the church grounds.
After the Second World War the Scout Hut was sacrificed to make way for the building of the Large Hall which was completed and dedicated in June 1963. This was the culmination of a period of generous church fund raising which saw the introduction of a new heating system and a major refurbishment of the Sanctuary. There had been increasing demand for space by the many organisations that used the church premises, and the Large Hall was a very welcome addition to the church facilities. The floor of the Hall was inlaid with the lines of a badminton court and a very active badminton club made full use of this. The Hall, with a seated capacity of 200 people, was the venue for large scale meetings, musical concerts and coffee mornings. In addition, when the Sanctuary was being redecorated services of worship were conducted in the Hall. This was a time when church choir was in its heyday and many challenging anthems and choral pieces were performed and then in the 70s a Junior Music Society was formed and provided a valuable outlet for some rare musical talent in productions such as the “Bells of Bruges” and “My Daughter Coppelia”.
In the Period !980 to 1998 under the leadership Rev Michael Mair the congregation adopted a much more socially conscious outlook and was instrumental in the setting up of Instant Neighbour, which had its beginnings within Holburn West, and continues to offer support to families living in extreme poverty. At the same time the congregation became a strong supporter of Christian Aid and these associations remained strong throughout the life of the congregation. One of the Church Assistants, the Rev Alice Kirkpatrick, was disabled and in a spirit of social awareness the congregation agreed to alterations to the building to create wheelchair access for people with disabilities.
Over more recent years further improvements were made to the building. In 1993 the congregation marked the centenary of the laying of the foundation stone of the present building with a variety of special events including a major Birthday Party for church members in the Beach Ballroom. Fund raising activities enabled the congregation to make donations of £15000 each to Cornerstone, Aberdeen, a social housing project, and to Christian Aid to provide solar powered wells in drought hit Somalia. A similar sum was set aside to refresh the side entrance of the building to make it more inviting. The final most significant change took place in 2004 when the Sanctuary underwent a complete transformation to create a versatile space to accommodate both religious worship and diverse events and secular meetings of varying size. The vision was duly accomplished in very pleasing fashion in the layout seen today. The front steps were removed and level access provided to the interior. An enlarged vestibule opened through a glass panelled screen below the gallery into the Sanctuary where the floor had been levelled, gas underfloor heating installed and an enhanced chancel area, (enabled by the removal of the pulpit) was constructed offering space for large choral groups and instrumental ensembles.
Sadly, Holburn West was not exempt from the decline in churchgoing that was being experienced throughout Scotland and numbers attending services of worship in the fine Sanctuary continued to drop. In addition, because of an acute shortage of Ministers the Church of Scotland, as part of a larger reorganisation, was forced into instructing local presbyteries to reduce the number of charges under their jurisdiction. Holburn West was identified as due for closure and after 130 years of faithful witness the building became redundant.
On the brighter side for years the building had been a focal point in the community and the Church has left a legacy of Christian and Community service in its parish and wider neighbourhood. It is proud to offer the Community Trust every support and encouragement as it continues to provide facilities for the benefit and well being of the residents.
Holburn West Church has embarked on a new and exciting journey. May its successor, the Great Western Community Trust, enjoy every success.
- Hamish Mitchell
Football legend Denis Law married his wife 60 years ago today at Holburn West Church!
11 December 2022
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