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Friday May 14 2021

Looking Back: Phoenix at Inchinnan

From May 1969, a visit to a new church built to replace one demolished to make way for what is now Glasgow International Airport

Black-and-white image of the interior of Inchinnan church, with the pulpit in the foreground and looking to the back wall and rose window. Headline 'Phoenix at Inchinnan' and written by Betty Sinclair

Like the ghosts of giant birds, the aircraft rise and disappear into the misty greyness of the sky; or, heard before they are seen, they touch down on the tarmac and come to a throbbing halt. Speeding some out, guiding others in, the lights of Abbotsinch Airport wink and flash. London, Dublin, New York – distant places brought near by modern transport.

Travelling be sea from Ireland on a floating stone, as legend tells, Saint Conval could not even have dreamed that the descendant of his church at Inchinnan would one day sit, like a stud in a banister rail, bang in the middle of the flight path of Glasgow’s new airport. The planners wagged their heads. Progress was irresistible. Obstructions must be removed. The site, near the meeting of the Black Cart and the White Cart Waters, had long been a hallowed mound – possibly since the Bronze Age. The Saint’s church, founded in 597, had been replaced by others.

Queen Victoria and her Court worshipped in the nineteenth century building when they were staying with Lord Blythswood. He it was who financed the last church on the site – in 1904 – and it was visited by King George V, Queen Mary and the last Empress of Russia.

The pattern set by centuries cannot be altered at the flick of a wingflap. After long discussion with the Air Ministry it was agreed that a new church and hall should be erected at Inchinnan Village, the cost being £130,000.

To rebuild the existing church stone by stone in its Gothic-Revivalist style would be far too costly and impossible practically. The challenge, therefore, was to carry forward the best of the old and blend it with the best of the new; to cherish tradition and reach to the future; to meet the congregation’s needs – spiritual, aesthetic and material.

With the minister, the Rev. Harry Galbraith Miller, B.D., and architect, Mr. Jack, I went to see for myself. White walls, flat roof, slender belfry tower, green grass, rustling trees – it would not look out of place in an Italian classic landscape. And here in Scotland, a few miles from industrial Paisley, the impression is of youth and grace and vitality.

Glass doors lead into the spacious vestibule. Immediately the present is linked to the past in a mosaic memorial, covering the right hand wall, to the Campbells of Blythswood, once the chief benefactors of the parish.

The large hall has eleven windows with a view. The stage, two-windowed, can at the creak of a partition become a classroom; and a similar solid curtain can convert the space backstage into two dressing rooms.

In a corridor stands a coin-operated telephone. How much time, confusion and anxiety on the part of office-bearers, speakers and parents, can be saved by this indispensable link!

The kitchen is every Guildswoman’s dream. Plenty of space to move around; ample work surfaces in formica; shelves measured to fit breadboards; two hatches; steel sink units; lots of hot water.

But why should the doors labelled LADIES and GENTLEMEN be so unexpected? The all-too-common lack of such places may well have an adverse effect on church attendance.

From the eight-sided Session Room we pass along the cloister-style corridor which looks across to the manse. On an oblong of yellow gravel rest ten ancient tombstones, reminders that Inchinnan once belonged to the Knights Templar.

Now we enter the heart of the whole building.

Walls of mellow red-brown brick. “We took a long time to choose the exact shade,” says Mr. Jack. Light from clerestory windows is caught and reflected by the white ceiling. Five stained glass windows in one wall; and above the doorway a rose window in a splendour of blues, reds and purples.

We walk on the gleaming floor, down the centre aisle between oak pews and pause before the oak panelled chancel: green marble pulpit with coloured mosaic, and Communion Table decorated with a symbolic lamb.

The choir area can be used as a small chapel, with the Communion Table of the former Park Church. A Cross stands on it, fashioned out of two pieces of iron from beams in the old church.

The Rev. Harry G., as he is affectionately known to his parishioners, is a skilled musician. And now he plays for us. The music ripples and flows and rises. It culminates in the might hymn All glory, Laud and honour…

I sat silent. For this purpose was the church built – for the glory, laud and honour of God; for this had men planned and laboured and dedicated the work of their hands.

The echo of the music stayed with us as we went out into the car park and drove past the airport.

Last year the ruins of the old church and its predecessors, on the flight path into Glasgow Airport, were subject of an archaeological dig.

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