Fire at the Kirk

The choir were practising in the East Kirk of St Nicholas on 9th October 1874. The church had a fancy new, perhaps experimental, chandelier lighting system which had multiple gas jets. Water in glass bowls above the jets was intended to keep it from overheating. On this night, however, the water evaporated and left the bowls dry. The resulting overheating set fire to the roof timbers in the East Kirk and the fire spread to the wooden 16th century steeple. Press reports at the time indicate that it was a ferocious fire. The steeple had been built around 1500 as part of the expansion of the building in the late 15th century and housed a peel of 9 bells. One of these was called Laurence, or ‘Lowrie’ – 1.2m in diameter at the mouth and 1.1 m high, made of thick metal. After the fire some of the metal was retrieved and reused and can be seen in the West Kirk as the pelican lectern. Fragments were also used to make the bell at Mannofield Church. More will be said at a future date about the bells.

The East Kirk was in ruins and there was damage to the rest of the building. Major rebuilding works had to be undertaken, during which time both congregations worshipped in the Music Hall. Repair work took two years before the congregation could move back into the building. The East Kirk was restored much as it had been before the fire, with the difference that two external doors had been added. Even though they were in the original design by Archibald Simpson, who had died nearly 40 years earlier, these had never actually been put in the original building. Worship resumed in the East Kirk in 1876. The new granite spire was designed by William Smith – which is the spire you see today.

Post 50 (a) Fire in East Kirk
Press drawing of the fire and crowds

Two pictures are attached. One is a drawing from the press at the time, showing the crowds which gathered to view the spectacle. The other is of an anonymous painting of the scene. One of the photographs in the Blog on 19th August shows remaining smoke damage on the currently exposed inside wall in the East Kirk.

(c) Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Anonymous painting of the fire