7.4 Places of Assembly and public buildings

A photograph of the interior of a church showing a wooden hexagonal pulpit with a lectern

Foulis Easter. The pulpit became the focal point of the reformed kirk interior, emphasising the significance of the word and of mutual surveillance over the mystery of image and sequestered ritual in the Catholic liturgy, © HES

Buildings are not only for living or working in. They are also the spaces in which people meet, and carry out collective and communal activities. They are often constructed collectively and relate to the shared values and aspirations of communities. Such buildings include places of authority (town halls, civic buildings), institutions (schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, asylums, prisons, poor houses), places of leisure (inns, clubs, bars, theatres, cinemas, assembly rooms and dance halls, sports facilities and entertainment venues) and places of worship (kirks, chapels, synagogues, temples, numinous places in the landscape – holy wells, sacred stones or significant natural places, although these would need to be elaborated materially to be amenable to archaeological study).

Institutional buildings had a major role in creating the modern person, and enforcing the kinds of physical and spiritual discipline that would both punish and reform deviants, shape model citizens, and ‘pour encourager les autres’. Those buildings are considered more fully in Theme 4 ‘The Modern Person’.

Some of the most significant places for people in the past have been places of worship. The changing pattern and place of worship within people’s lives is one of the significant changes during the modern period. This is reflected in the changing attitudes towards places of worship.

In 1996, John Dunbar and Simon Green published a seminal essay (Dunbar and Green 1996)  which established the current state of research on Scottish churches and new work that needed to be done.  On the architecture of these buildings, there has been more recent research (Howard 1995; Spicer 2007).  However work needs to be undertaken on 18th and 19th century Scottish churches.  The recent research undertaken by Richard Fawcett, Richard Oram and Julian Luxford has provided valuable insights into the churches of the diocese of Dunblane and Dunkeld that needs to be extended to other dioceses.  Christopher Stell for the RCHME produced several volumes identifying and providing a history of English non-conformist places of worship (the Welsh Commission have produced a similar survey); this is something that is lacking for Scotland.

A photograph of the exterior of a whitewashed church building and graveyard with upright gravestones

Burntisland church. An early post-Reformation structure built to accommodate a central pulpit with a square ‘nave’ surrounding the central focus. Recently restored, the building can accommodate a large congregration using galleries as well as stalls around all four side ‘aisles’, © HES

The usual historiography claims that the Reformation dramatically altered the appearance of places of worship as they were reconfigured to meet the liturgical needs of the Reformed Kirk, while the furnishings and other features of Catholic worship were largely swept away.  Undoubtedly the Reformation did have a major impact, but the pace and nature of change can be challenged by archaeology: the evidence of Foulis Easter demonstrates that liturgical change could be a relatively slow process.  However, instead of a distant figure facing the altar behind the rood screen and mumbling the mass, the post- Reformation minister was expected to be visible and audible to the whole congregation.  The new liturgical focus was to be the pulpit erected in the nave, usually centrally placed with the seating for the congregation ranged around it.  Seating took on a new importance for while it continued to mark status within the community it also provided a means of control in preventing congregations from moving around the building during the service.  In spite of the importance of the post-Reformation church furnishings for understanding the character and experience of worship, they have not been the focus of sustained and critical evaluation.  The acoustics of preaching, for example, is just one aspect of research that has not been explored in the post-Reformation Scottish context.

Although the appearance of many religious buildings is due to the architectural changes of the 18th and 19th century, recent research for the dioceses of Dunblane and Dunkeld has demonstrated significant continuities in the church fabric.  As yet these research findings have not been examined in relation to other parts of Scotland.  This research has also considered the reconfiguration of former chancels, which were no longer required, to form burial aisles and lairds’ lofts.  In other instances the location of the medieval churches did not accord with local centres of population which led to the building of new places of worship in urban centres or in the centre of the parish.

Archaeological investigations of religious buildings have provided some insights into liturgical change.  For example, excavations at Whithorn have revealed evidence of the remodelling of the building with a raised east end for an altar enclosure in accordance with the religious policies of Charles I in the 1630s.  Excavations elsewhere, such as Tarbat and particularly St Nicholas’s church in Aberdeen has revealed the continued use of places of worship for burial in spite of the opposition of the Kirk authorities. Further archaeological exploration has the potential to yield more information about the phases of construction and development of these buildings and their use over a prolonged period of time.

Churches continued to be built to a basic rectangular plan after the Reformation, especially in rural parishes.  New architectural forms emerged with the T-plan church being particularly characteristic of the need to accommodate large congregations and for a central location for the pulpit.  Early experimentation with centrally planned churches such as Burntisland was not repeated until the classically inspired erection of churches like Bowmore, Islay or St Andrew’s Edinburgh in the 18th century.

The emphasis here has been primarily upon the architecture of the early modern period but the developments of the 19th century which saw the Disruption of 1843 and the construction of both Roman Catholic and Episcopalian places of worship remain an important area requiring further investigation and archaeological intervention where judged necessary and appropriate.

A reflection on current attitudes towards religion could be gauged by a study of current uses of former religious buildings. T. Pollmann’s Herbestemming van kerken (1995) was an examination of this issue in the Dutch context.  A similar approach might be taken with Scottish churches, which could also provide the basis for further consideration on conservation and guidance on how best to engage with contemporary society over the interpretation and management of religious buildings.

Considerable research remains to be done on religious artefacts and church furnishings.  Although there are items on display in national collections, these are isolated examples and need to be considered in a wider context with related objects.  The furnishings of Scottish churches is one neglected area of research and in which changes in use or closure of buildings means that moveable items are at possible risk.  Although work has been done on pre-Reformation pulpits for example, there is no sense of how many post-Reformation pulpits are extant, the periods they date from etc.  Furthermore, other furnishings such as pews, lairds’ lofts etc need to be subject to close examination.  This will provide a better understanding of the manner and effectiveness of the dissemination of Reformation ideas.  Jane Geddes (2000) provided a detailed case study of one particular building.  More case studies of important religious buildings are needed or unpublished research made accessible.  Addyman and Kay Ltd, for example, contributed a report on St Giles Cathedral for the architects Simpson and Brown.  How such reports can best be made accessible for further research needs to be addressed.  Other worthwhile resources for the archaeology of churches and church buildings include the NMS Scottish Life Archive, and two church surveys: Scottish Church Heritage Ltd; and the Corpus of Scottish Medieval Parish Churches.

Architecturally the study of places of leisure and entertainment also come under this theme.  This includes inns, clubs, coffee houses, theatres and later cinemas, assembly rooms and so on.  There are also less salubrious leisure places – brothels and bars, spaces used informally for drink or drug taking, or illegal trade.  Recently the whole of Glasgow’s Horseshoe Bar was reconstructed in the Riverside Museum after the original had been recorded by GUARD.  There is great public interest and appreciation for this kind of heritage which is readily understandable and sometimes personally meaningful to many people.  Similarly, there are also possibilities for an archaeology of sport – swimming pools, football stadia, golf links and so on – although their potential has yet to be fully developed. Archaeology Scotland’s current project on football stadia in Edinburgh is an example, however (www.archaeologyscotland.org.uk).

One aspect of ‘People and Places’ which should be emphasised is the way that people make places that are ‘home’ even when far from the places where they grew up.  Examples include the fabrication of a Catholic chapel from a Nissen hut by Italian POWs in Orkney, or the efforts of the Polish workers at Inverleithen mills to make a home for themselves.

For further reading see Donaldson et al. 1952; Dunbar 1996; Fawcett et al. 2010; Green 1996; Hay 1957; Howard 1995; McRoberts 1959; Spicer 200, 2003, 2007; Yates 2009

Comments 1

  1. Alternative sites of worship?

    It would be worth adding a sentence or two referring to again Walsham’s work on how alternative sites of worship remained important after the Reformation for both religious and social congregation, such as holy wells and significant trees. These remain very understudies, and Walsham’s study is very much from a historical perspective.  It might also be worth mentioning, as alternative secular sites of gathering, moot/execution hill sites (as sites of spectacle like stadiums, in addition to sites of law etc).

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