case studies

Case Study: The Development of religious buildings

The ruins of St Andrews Cathedral viewed from St Rule’s Tower, © RCAHMS

Religious buildings stand as important confessional statements within both the rural and urban environment. Monumental cathedrals such as Glasgow or the ruins of St Andrews are evocative reminders of the complex liturgies and ceremonies that were associated with the medieval mystery of the mass. At the Reformation, some cathedrals, like St Andrews and Elgin, were abandoned for local parish churches which were more suitable for the more intimate arrangements required for preaching in the Reformed Kirk. The cathedral at Glasgow was abandoned before being divided into several separate churches. At a parochial level the buildings were reconfigured and where there was a chancel it was frequently abandoned, often becoming a burial aisle. These were structural alterations that were not always successful in their attempts to reorganise the ritual space that had been constructed for different confessional practices. As Burns noted: 'What a poor pimping business is a Presbyterian place of worship! Dirty, narrow, squalid: stuck in a corner of old popish grandeur such as Linlithgow'.

The restoration of churches, such as Haddington and Stirling in the twentieth century, has recreated to some extent the medieval appearance of these buildings, and something of their Catholic grandeur. This has, however, been at the expense of the more recent Reformed church interior which has been regarded as an intrusion. The 17th-century sectarianism which divided the parish church of Holy Rood in Stirling is now only a matter of historical and photograph record, rather than an archaeological and architectural statement. Here, then, a heritage concern for the original and most ancient form of the building has resulted in the erasure of direct and tangible reminders of the Reformation history of these buildings and the communities to which they relate.

Churches have, of course, been transformed in more recent times as well: Al-Furqan Mosque in Glasgow and Dundee Central Mosque were established in former churches while, in Edinburgh, the United Free Church of Scotland building in Queensferry Road, Blackhall, became a mosque in 2009. Some structural elements commonly found in churches, such as galleries, translate well across faiths, but other features need to be altered, adapted, removed or added to meet new religious purposes.

The evolution and adaptation of such buildings to meet the demands of different denominations and faiths speaks to Scotland's complex religious history and these buildings have a place in the histories and ongoing stories of many groups within Scottish society. These buildings have played a prominent role in key social, religious and political changes in the modern Scottish past and they have much to tell about still-resonant historical conflicts and differences between groups. But they also speak of shared spaces, beliefs, traditions and practices and of commonality, co-existence and creative adaptation.


Return to Section 9.5 A Political Past

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Case Study: Burns Cottage at Alloway - the origins and archaeology of the Heritage Industry

The National Trust for Scotland recently commissioned a Historic Building Survey at the newly-acquired  Burns Cottage, the birthplace of the great Scottish poet. Alloway was once a hamlet on the banks of the River Doon in Ayrshire, but it is now an affluent suburb of Ayr. The survey was undertaken in advance of refurbishment works and part of the wider redevelopment of the Burns smallholding site and museum, and the nearby Tam o'Shanter Experience, into the new Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. Associated archaeological works involved recording, monitoring and evaluation undertaken by Addyman Archaeology, and threw considerable light on the history of the site.

Recording the interior of Burns Cottage, © National Trust for Scotland

Burns' father, William Burnes, built 'his clay biggin' at Alloway in the 1750s and Robert was born there in the box-bed in the kitchen on January 25th 1759. Later, a byre and barn were added, the building saw use as an inn and it was transformed into a Victorian and Edwardian tourist attraction.

How much of the original building's fabric has survived from the days when young Robert lived there? Although much of the fabric was still hidden under a thick layer of lime harl, close archaeological scrutiny of the cottage documented many subtle changes in the fabric. Photographs taken during refurbishments in 1993 revealed blocked windows, construction breaks, and many changes in building material were identified and mapped. The emerging picture is of phases of repair and rebuilding, now hidden beneath a lime harl which makes the building appear homogenous and presents it as a simple cottage of mid-18th century character. Analysis of the building has shown that not much that immediately meets the eye is as early as that, and the archaeological work has revealed just how profoundly the cottage has been transformed under changing approaches to the museological presentation of heritage sites - the building encapsulates the history of the 'Heritage Industry'.

The cottage rapidly became iconic following the poet's early death in 1796 and, within a few short years, it was turned into a heritage site in a sense which would be recognised today: the 'birthplace,' the box-bed and the kitchen interior all lovingly preserved. The use of the building as the Burns Head Inn would probably have pleased the poet. In Victorian times, however, selling of alcohol seemed unacceptable for the birthplace of a National Treasure and the Burns Monument Trust, which acquired the building in 1881, sought to return it to its 18th-century character or, rather, to create a Romanticised vision of that character. The heritage value of the cottage was already evident: William Burnes had sold the cottage for £160 in 1781; it sold for £4,000 exactly 100 years later.

The use of the cottage as a museum resulted in the addition of an exhibition space to the south. Although later demolished to re-create the 18th century ensemble, excavation within the grounds revealed the buried footings of this exhibition hall. An evaluation trench in the woods bounding the site revealed a 'ritual cache', the post-WWI disposal of redundant Burns memorabilia such as porcelain crested ware figurines and framed  Burns Cottage post-cards!

In the later 20th century, the cottage itself saw various minor repairs, until it was re-invented again as a heritage attraction in the 1990s. Regrettably, it seems that these alterations might have rendered it a late casualty of the 'make the past pay for itself' philosophy of the 1980s. The many repairs and few remaining dowdy fittings had left a feeling of a sanitised interior but the up-grading included major impacts upon the fabric by the installation of audiovisual equipment and services. The site also had to be rendered robust enough for the anticipated increase in visitor numbers. Perhaps most deleterious was the imposition of an idealised view of how the past should be presented within and about the cottage - not without imagination but with little academic rigour and a great emphasis on managed entertainment. It was most unfortunate that unforeseen structural and conservatorial issues arose during these refurbishment works. These dwarfed the intentions of recreating the original cottage using traditional materials based on academic research and advice. Photographic and documentary evidence suggest that in the process a great deal of genuine historic fabric was either heavily compromised or stripped away.


Return to Section 7.1 Introduction

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