By Lairich Rig, architectural journalist
The Free Church building is on Latta Street. The architects were Halley & Neil, who won a competition to secure the work. Constructed began late in 1907, and the official opening was on Sunday the 7th of June 1908. The first minister of the church was E Marshall McFadden.
In the Disruption of 1843, the Dumbarton minister James Smith (and some elders with him) withdrew from the National Church of Scotland; a Free Church Congregation was then formed in Dumbarton. Their first church opened in November 1843. It was at NS39627531 on St Mary’s Way, north of the High Street; it could seat 600. In 1847, its church hall (at NS39607523, on the High Street) was opened as a school.
The NS4075 : Memorial of Daniel McAusland, who had been an elder of the Free Church congregation (and, before the Disruption, an elder of the Church of Scotland), was originally located beside the church on St Mary’s Way; more precisely, it stood in the open space immediately to the SSW of the church. That monument was moved, before 1890, to its present location near the main entrance of Dumbarton Cemetery.
Twenty years later, that church, now viewed as rickety and uncomfortable, was abandoned, but left standing, and a new one was built at the corner of Brewery Lane (which had formerly been known as the Boat Vennel) and the High Street. That building is the church that is (as of 2017) still standing at NS39417532, but which is now the Bell Centre, an indoor market. It opened in June 1864.
Part of the Free Church congregation later wished (for reasons that have not come down to us) to split off from the rest; they took over and demolished the original building on St Mary’s Way, and built a new church there. That building opened in 1874, and it became known as the Free North Church (it is now long gone). The Brewery Lane building became known as the Free High Church.
In 1900, the Free Church and the United Presbyterian Church came together to form the United Free Church. However, a minority in the Free Church felt unable to enter into that union. Litigation (advancing from the civil courts to the House of Lords) eventually saw that minority granted the assets of the Free Church, which was more property than they could manage. In Dumbarton, they took over the Brewery Lane building, evicting the congregation that was using it. A special Church Commission set up by the Government later reversed the High Court’s decision; the Brewery Lane building was then returned to the United Free Church, leaving the minority, who had earlier evicted them, without a meeting place of their own.
That group therefore built a place of worship here on Latta Street. Above the entrance is carved “Free High Church 1843—1908”; the first date refers to the year of the Disruption, and the second to the year on which the church opened. As of 2017, it is the only Free Church in Dumbarton (as noted above, the building on Brewery Lane is now an indoor market, and the one on St Mary’s Way is long gone; that area has been extensively redeveloped).
The architects were Halley & Neil of Dumbarton, Clydebank and Glasgow (Hamilton Neil, and Charles James Halley). According to contemporary newspaper reports of the opening, those carrying out the rest of work were as follows:
Builder: Malcolm Stewart & Co., Glasgow; Joiners: G & D Newton, Glasgow; Plumber: John Stewart, Clydebank; Plasterer: Joseph Graydon, Glasgow; Slater: Peter Whyte & Co., Glasgow; Glazing: Stephen Adam, Glasgow, and J & G Menzies, Dumbarton; Heating: Hunter, McWilliam & Blair, Glasgow; Electric lighting: Allan, Arthur & Blair, Glasgow; Furniture & carpets: James Gardener & Sons, Glasgow; Fire-grate & tiles: R R Lawson, Dumbarton; Horticulturalist: Mr George Young, Dumbarton; Measurer: Mr Andrew Stewart, Glasgow; Bell: the gift of Mr & Mrs George Easdon.