It was designed by English architect Thomas Rickman, a major figure in the Gothic Revival movement. His plans were drastically altered by James Cleland, the city’s then Superintendent of Public Works, before construction began in 1824. There is a plaque on the side of the kirk in memory of Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, who was born in Ranshorn Parish almost a decade before this in 1815.
The church is notable for its wide tower, stretching 120 feet up in the air, looming over Ingram Street. When the street was widened, it began to encroach upon the graves held in the churches grounds. Many were relocated to the rear of the church, in what is now the Ramshorn graveyard, one of the oldest in Glasgow, with many of Glasgow’s social elite and wealthy merchants buried there. Two graves that were not moved were those of distinguished printer brothers Andrew and Robert Foulis, whose bodies now lie under the pavement next to the main entrance, each marked with a cross and their initials.
Another famous body interned in the graveyard is that of Pierre Emile L'Angelier, who it is widely believed was poisoned with arsenic by Madeleine Smith. Granddaughter of neo-classical architect David Hamilton, Smith had an affair with L’Angelier, an apprentice nurseryman. When her family found her a suitable fiancé, the wealthy William Harper Minnoch, it is alleged she asked L’Angelier to return her love letters. When he refused, she is believed to have poisoned him. Although the affair was confirmed by the letters, and her purchase of arsenic from a local druggist recorded, Smith was found “not proven,” a special Scottish verdict that allows the jury to acquit when they believe there is not enough evidence, but are equally not convinced the defendant wholly innocent. Smith’s story was made into a film in 1950, “Madeleine,” directed by David Lean.
In 1990 the building was bought by the nearby Strathclyde University, and the kirk renovated for use as a theatre and exhibition space. However, the conversation was limited by the buildings size, and a lack of mains water meant that it could not gain a permanent bar license. After numerous discussions about uses for the space, the theatre was closed in 2011.
WHERE? On a traffic island in the Gorbals district, near the start of Caledonia Road, where Cathcart Road and Laurieston Road diverge.
Standing tall, a proud survivor of the ages, Alexander “Greek” Thomson’s church rests on an odd traffic island that marks the former junction between Caledonia Rd and Cathcart Rd.
Thought to be Thomson’s first stab at designing a church, the building was mostly destroyed by a fire in 1965. Although now a Grade A-listed building, the church has lay derelict and abandoned for half a century, watching as the city around it has changed, but with a certain stubborn Scottish pride serving as a reminder of a grander past.
Across from the church on a small traffic island sits the box-like No.8 Corporation Weigh Office, which acted as a stop point for vehicles to be weighed, back in the days when they were not so frequent on the roads.