The Episcopal Chapel: 1795-1845

Rt Rev G GleigRev. George Gleig was minister in Stirling for fifty-six years, within which he was a bishop for thirty years and Primus for twenty-one. In Stirling he found congenial intellectual company and, presumably, a fitting centre for his many labours. He was consecrated Coadjutor of Brechin in 1808 and Bishop in 1810. In 1816, he was elected Primus. He remained incumbent at Stirling until 1831, Primus until 1837 and Bishop of Brechin until his death in 1840. The church building for which he was primarily responsible was built in 1794-95 and occupied a piece of land known as Fryarscarse (a reference to the former Dominican friars), which lies at the junction of Barnton Street and Maxwell Place and is now occupied by shops. This land was given by Dr Walter Stirling, “for the purpose of building a chapel or place of worship for the Episcopal congregation”, the relevant documents  being handed over to James Stirling of Keir, John Stirling of Kippendavie, Dr Robert Moir of Leckie, John Wilson of Murrayshall and Rev. George Gleig himself. The chapel appears on John Wood's town plan of 1820 as, “The English Chapel, Bishop Gleig”.

An unknown Stirling historian, writing in 1794, described it as an “elegant place of worship”; Dr Galbraith, who gave a long life of service to Stirling, looked back on it many years later as a “humble and unpretentious structure”, which might seem nearer to the truth, since the total sum raised to build it was £597:5:0 (£597.25) and the final balance was £3:1:7 (£3.08). All the subscriptions are recorded, the accounts having been transcribed into the first Minute Book, purchased in 1808 and still in the Vestry's possession. The first items in the accounts of 1795 were as follows: “By 1 lb gunpowder 1/4d (7p);  match paper 2d (1p). To two quarriers employed for fourteen days at 1/6d (8p) per day each in blasting the rock for the foundation”. The quarriers' total payment for the fourteen days would have been a guinea (£1.05). Dr Moir of Leckie would hardly have been unaware of the Biblical overtones of these entries when he made them (Matthew 7:24-25, Matthew 16:18, Luke 6:48). The subscribers included members of all the families already referred to, and two groups of officers and civilians living in India, and probably connected with the garrison at the Castle. There is little evidence of extravagance in the expenditure; some of the furnishings already in use were cleaned, thereby saving £1:11:6 (£1.58). They did however buy a silver communion cup, gilt inside, and a plated paten with silver edges, and a bell, which, according to Dr Galbraith, having been cracked, “gave Bell 1795forth no very melodious summons to worship”. This bell stands at the back of the present church, bearing the date 1795 and the words Audite. Procul Profani (Hear. Keep away, all that is not holy). A large brass salver or plate with an interesting embossed design, still in use today for receiving the congregation's offerings, is thought to have been given by the Stirlings of Kippendavie.

On 25 March 1795, lectern-sized copes of the Holy Bible and Book of Common Prayer were presented to 'the new Scotch Episcopal Chapel of Stirling' by William Rind, a Purser in the service of the East India Company. These copies are still in the church's care. 

No authentic picture of the first Barnton Street chapel is known to exist. The drawing in the present church porch is probably an imaginative reconstruction. Dr Galbraith said it was oblong, with a small spire. There was no chancel. The communion table was in a small side aisle to the east of the church. The central aisle led directly to a three-tiered pulpit or reading desk in which the clergyman and clerk “conducted a kind of dialogue, the congregation taking little or no part”. Bishop Gleig regularly preached what were, according to Miss Helen Graham, daughter of the deputy-governor of the Castle, who kept a diary, long and difficult sermons. But he was an ardent advocate of the Book of Common Prayer, to be used without change or interpolation of other matter, and it was presumably in this usage that Miss Graham and others found satisfaction.

His congregation included members of the land-owning families, and residents from ‘the Terraces' (Melville/Pitt Terraces) which were being built at that time. There were several well known Jacobite ladies who closed their books as noisily as possible when the obligatory prayers for king George III were said. Soldiers also made their way down from the Castle. Although the Castle had ceased to be a royal residence in 1603, apart from fleeting visits by James VI (1617), Charles I (1633) and James VII as Duke of Albany and York (1681), it had remained a major fortress and army base. The garrison's spiritual needs were attended to by chaplains of the established Church of Scotland, whose Kirk of the Holy Rude was near at hand. Nevertheless, from 1707, English and Irish regiments were based at the Castle from time to time and may have had their own Anglican chaplains. Scottish regiments also contained some English and Irish soldiers, many of whom may have been members of the Church of England or Church of Ireland. British army chaplains were mainly Anglican and Scottish soldiers would have become familiar with this style of worship. Many soldiers from the Highlands and from Aberdeenshire and Banffshire came from the Episcopalian tradition, which had remained strong in these areas.

In 1804, the Stirling Qualified Chapel united with Bishop Gleig's church. Nothing appears to be known about this chapel beyond the fact of its existence.

Bishop Gleig lived a simple life with his family, first in lodgings over a shop in Baker's Wynd, and later in an unpretentious house in Bridgegate. Here he edited the third edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and wrote articles for literary magazines. He presumably did most of the organising of church affairs himself, as no official representative body met until September 1809, when a Committee of Management was formed, the predecessor of all subsequent Vestries. They drew up rules and kept minutes. The latter were continued with only one break until today and the whole growth of the church as an organised community can be traced in them. The first act of the committee was to commission the newly chosen treasurer to collect Bishop Gleig's stipend, “a practice highly improper and indelicate for him to have had to carry out himself”, and also, because of the rise in the cost of living, to raise that salary which was “very far from adequate to his useful labours”. The figure they set is not recorded. The revenue came from pew-rents, gifts and the weekly collections.

Gleig memorialBishop Gleig was a familiar figure in Stirling. A fellow bishop wrote, “It was a pleasant picture to see the trim old gentleman pacing along the street with his shovel hat and gold-headed staff”. According to his son, his fellow-clergy “feared more than they loved him, but he was a true man . . . and if somewhat impatient of mediocrity, was generous and even tender in his feelings”. He retired in 1831 and was replaced by his assistant, Rev. Robert Henderson. Legend reports that when, in his old age, he still took a daily walk beside the river, the townsfolk placed a large stone on the footpath of the road which leads from the old Stirling Bridge to Causewayhead. It was about half-a-mile from his house and he used to rest upon it before returning. It was long known as the Bishop's stone. He died on 9 March 1840. According to W. Walker's Memoirs of Bishop Gleig, he was buried “in a chapel attached to the Greyfriars Church, Stirling, which belongs to the Graham Moirs of Leckie.” In an early document still in the possession of Holy Trinity, a pencilled note states that the burial service on 17 March was conducted by Rt Rev. Michael Russell, Bishop of Glasgow & Galloway. Bishop Gleig's memorial tablet, inscribed in Latin with a little Greek, can be seen at the west end of the south aisle in the present building.

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