Chancel furnishings, Bridge of Allan Parish Church

M235 Chancel furnishings, Bridge of Allan Parish Church

Address: Keir Street, Bridge of Allan FK9 4NW
Date: 1903–4
Client: Bridge of Allan Parish Church
Authorship: Authorship category 1 (Mackintosh) (Mackintosh)

In 1893 John Honeyman & Keppie had designed a hall for what was then Bridge of Allan Quoad Sacra Church. In 1903, a gift of £800 from two ladies of the congregation, Mrs Whitelaw and Mrs Fitzgerald, made it possible to enlarge the organ. 1 The cost of improving the instrument was more than enough to use up this sum. Nevertheless, the Elders and Trustees decided to commission new furnishings for the chancel at the same time. Once again, they sought Honeyman's advice, but this time Mackintosh, who was now a partner in the firm of Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh, undertook the work, designing a pulpit, choir stalls, platform, communion table, organ screen and chair. The drawings were approved in February 1904, and some – possibly all – of the furniture had been installed by the end of June.

This job hardly counts as architecture – only minor, unspecified structural alterations to the church's fabric were entailed – but it is included here because it went through Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh's job book. The furnishings are outstanding examples of Mackintosh's reworking of medieval prototypes, and can be seen as a further development from his Gothic architectural designs for Queen's Cross Church in Glasgow (1897–1900) and Liverpool Cathedral (1901–2).

The organ screen is the most elaborate part of the ensemble. It stands behind the communion table and just in front of the organ console, concealing the organist from the congregation. Divided vertically into three equal sections, each with a traceried canopy, it recalls the choir stalls and sedilia of medieval churches. A possible source is King's College chapel, Aberdeen, where the early 16th-century stalls make up the best surviving collection of medieval woodcarving in Scotland. 2 Detailed drawings of the Aberdeen stalls were published in the Builder in 1885, and Mackintosh could have seen the chapel for himself, for instance on his sketching trip to the N.E. of Scotland in 1889. 3 At Bridge of Allan the flattened ogee arches and pierced tracery echo the Aberdeen stalls, as do the dividing pinnacles with their close-set, thistle-shaped crockets. However, tracery and pinnacles are kept within the overall squared-off outline of the screen, producing a radically simplified alternative to the spikey, gabled tops of most medieval Gothic choir stalls.

Photograph of organ screen, Bridge of Allan Parish Church

It is possible that this flat upper edge is the result of later alteration, and does not represent Mackintosh's original intention. When it was first put in place, some members of the church thought the screen was too high. 4 Mackintosh, evidently not inclined to make changes, attended a meeting of Trustees and Elders at which he reminded them that 'all the drawings in connection with the matter had been before the Committee and approved of.' 5 It was decided 'to do nothing further in the meantime in regard to the suggested reduction in height', but alterations may have been made at a later date, and in the absence of drawings or early photographs of the church interior, it is impossible to know if the screen is now (2014) as Mackintosh originally designed it.

The looping pattern of the tracery has parallels at Aberdeen, but its distinctive and most often repeated feature – an oval laid on its side – was perhaps devised by Mackintosh himself. It can be found in the choir door added to Belhaven Church, Glasgow, by John Honeyman & Keppie in 1898, and at Queen's Cross Church in the porch windows and in the pendant carvings below the gallery fronts. Similar pendant ornaments are also a feature of the Bridge of Allan organ screen.

Photograph of organ screen detail, Bridge of Allan Parish ChurchPhotograph of gallery front detail at Queen's Cross church

Panels of similar tracery decorate the pulpit – box-shaped, with canted corners – while the communion table, choir enclosure and platform have the horizontal oval motif again, but extended downward into a narrow slot to make a tapering key-hole shape.

Photograph of pulpit, Bridge of Allan Parish ChurchPhotograph of pulpit detail, Bridge of Allan Parish ChurchPhotograph of pulpit detail, Bridge of Allan Parish ChurchPhotograph of panelling detail, Bridge of Allan Parish Church

A report on the condition of Bridge of Allan Parish Church was produced as part of the Mackintosh Buildings Survey, led by the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society and carried out between 2015 and 2016. 6

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Notes:

1: Stirling Council Archives Service: Bridge of Allan parish church, Elders and Trustees minutes, CH2/730/18, 17 November 1903.

2: Sallyanne Simpson, 'The choir stalls and rood screen', in Jane Geddes, ed., King's College Chapel, Aberdeen, 1500–2000, Leeds: Northern Universities Press, 2000, pp. 74–97.

3: James C. Watt, 'Chapel and tower, King's College, Aberdeen University', Builder, 48, 6 June 1885, p. 794.

4: Stirling Council Archives Service: Minutes of Joint Meetings of Elders and Trustees of Bridge of Allan parish church, CH2/730/18, 23 June 1904.

5: Stirling Council Archives Service: Minutes of Joint Meetings of Elders and Trustees of Bridge of Allan parish church, CH2/730/18, 13 July 1904.

6: A copy of the report (MBS38) is held by the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society, Mackintosh Queen's Cross, 870 Garscube Road, Glasgow G20 7EL. The Mackintosh Buildings Survey was funded by The Monument Trust.