The opening couplet of an inscription placed on the wall of the nave
in 1672 sums up the character of the building (at least in the eyes of
Aberdonians) at this time:
Despite that tribute, the nave (or Auld Kirk) was showing
considerable signs of decay little more than half a century
later. In 1732, it was declared to be unfit for worship and ten
years later, the roof caved in.
The religious and political changes accompanying the deposition of
James VII in 1689, had resulted in the removal of the Episcopal
superstructure from the church. But Episcopal and Jacobite
sympathies remained strong in the North-East and when
Episcopally-inclined clergy were outed (as happened here), considerable
parts of the congregation went with them.
It may be supposed that both the will and the means to keep the
building in order were reduced. Eventually, after the Jacobite
threat had ended in 1745 (during which time Cumberland’s army stabled
their horses in the Kirk!), a start was made to rebuild the nave.
Plans had been gratuitously obtained from James Gibbs, an Aberdonian
who had a distinguished architectural career in England. The
outcome was the West Kirk, which opened in 1755. Today, it
retains the layout and many of the fixtures and fittings of the time,
providing a prime example of the Reformed “choral square,” which places
the pulpit at the heart of the space so that everyone can properly hear
Rapid population growth in the early 19th century lead to a division
of the hitherto single parish of St Nicholas, into six. Three new
parish churches were built, including one for the North Parish and one
of the two ministers from the East Kirk moved to this new building.
One of the two ministers previously serving in the East Kirk moved
to the new building. His remaining colleague desired a building
similarly unimpeded by pillars in which to exercise his oratorical
powers and persuaded the town council, against the advice of their
architect, to demolish the mediaeval choir and build a replacement,
which was completed in 1837.
In 1829, the granite colonnade was added along Union
Street, designed by John Smith, the first city architect, in honour of
John Forbes, a local philanthropist. This colonnade gave the Kirk even
greater prominence in the city and provided a grand entrance.
After a fire gutted the East Kirk in 1874, it was rebuilt and is
presently a faithful restoration of the original 1837 building. The
restoration also found the present 196-foot granite tower and spire
replacing the mediaeval tower, to which a led-covered oak spire had
been added in 1508.
The church possesses several items of furniture and a number of
smaller articles made from oak salvaged after the fire and also, in
some cases, from bell metal.
At the time of the 1874 fire, there were eight bells in the tower,
hung for change ringing. After the fire and subsequent
restoration of the building, council, churches and citizens came
together to provide a carillon of 37 fixed bells, played from a large
keyboard. Because of a wrong formula in the bell metal, the bells were
scarcely audible until they were recast and re-hung in 1952. Two
years later, 11 bells were added to provide the present total of
48. The carillon found a place in the Guinness Book of Records in
1994 as the largest in Great Britain. Its largest bell weighs 4.6
tonnes and is the only one that can (by motor) be swung.