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Our History

A Short History of Holy Trinity & The Episcopal Church in Dunoon

The Episcopalian churches of Argyll had all but disappeared after the failure of the 1745 Jacobite uprising and the savage suppression of the Episcopal Church throughout Scotland. By the early 19th century, however, the church could again grow and build new places of worship.

As Dunoon and surrounding area became a popular Victorian summer holiday destination, and following the creation of the ‘new’ Diocese of Argyll and The Isles in 1819, there was growth in the Episcopal Church in Cowal. In the latter half of the 19th century, several new churches were established in the Dunoon area.

‘Scotch or English’

The first Episcopal church in Dunoon was not part of the Scottish Episcopal Church. In 1845 a church was built in Alfred Street, Dunoon, described as ‘The Church of England in Scotland.’ At this time there was a conflict over ‘Scotch’ or ‘English’ worship within the Episcopal tradition. This break­away church in Dunoon, funded by a trustee of the anti-Scotch-church St Jude’s in Glasgow, was a product of these divisions. Services in Alfred Street were conducted by visiting priests from England and Ireland. Christ Church, as this ‘English church’ was named, also established a mission for summer visitors in Hunter’s Quay, dedicated as Emmanuel Church.

The first Scottish Episcopal Church was Holy Trinity, opened in 1850. From her were established the daughter missions of St Margaret’s at Innellan (1875) and St Andrew’s ‘Mission Chapel & Hall’ in Hanover Street (1892). These mission churches tended to hold services in the summer months when visitors came to the area. St Andrew’s Hall was also used as a church in the winter months when Holy Trinity became too cold and inaccessible for regular worship.

The ‘Scotch – English’ conflict in Dunoon ended when the original ‘English’ Christ Church in Alfred Street became a private chapel in the Scottish Episcopal Church in 1883 – although the English mission in Hunter’s Quay continued until 1905. Holy Trinity then opened their Hunter’s Quay mission, Christ Church, in the same location.

Supporting summer missions with so many buildings placed much strain on the small, financially struggling congregations. This led to the closure of most of these as Episcopal church buildings over the years:

  • 1900, Christ Church, Alfred St. – now the Senior Citizens’ Club.
  • 1920’s, St Margaret’s, Innellan – no trace today.
  • 1930, Hunter’s Quay mission – no trace today.
  • 1955, St Andrew’s Hall – now the High Kirk Hall.

By the mid 20th century, Holy Trinity alone remained as a place of Episcopalian worship in the Dunoon area.

Holy Trinity Church

In 1846 the Rev’d H G Pirie started holding services for the Scottish Episcopalians of Dunoon and district in a hall near the centre of the town – they soon began fundraising for their own church building. The records of donations include £5 given by the Right Honourable William E Gladstone, who went on to become British Prime Minister. Gladstone, of Scottish ancestry, was a regular visitor to Cowal, staying at Toward Castle in the 1840s.

In 1847 following the granting of a site near the ancient Celtic well of St Bride, above the West Bay (a fashionable community near the village of Dunoon) a design for a church was commissioned from architect John Henderson of Edinburgh. The first stone of the church was laid under the altar on the 31st day of March 1849, ‘in the name of ‘The Holy, Ever Blessed and Undivided Trinity.’ With the blessing of the Right Rev’d. Alexander Ewing, the new bishop of Argyll and The Isles, Holy Trinity was consecrated and opened for worship ‘according to the rites and ceremonies of the Scottish Episcopal Church’ on the 11th day of September, 1850.

The church has many fine features, including ornate stone altar and font, vaulted chancel and framed nave ceilings, significant ‘Minton’ encaustic tiles in the sanctuary, and Mayer east windows.

By the late 19th century the building was judged too small for the large summer congregations. In 1894 architect Alexander Ross of Inverness was asked to draw up plans to extend the church. The nave was extended by nearly a third to the west, a large western porch (or narthex) and the tower and bells (cast by John Warner & Sons, London) were added in a series of building projects over the next few years.

During the life of Holy Trinity much work has been carried out on the fabric. Electric heating and lighting were added in the mid to late 20th century. The lighting was partly paid for and installed, for Christmas 1944, by the naval personnel serving at HMS Curlew, the Clyde submarine defence establishment in Innellan. Stained glass windows have been added over the years . A new pipe organ was bought in 1882, then an electric organ in the late 20th century. The sanctuary was remodelled around 1950. A major conservation project took place in 2013, largely Heritage Lottery and Historic Scotland funded.

The church has had 20 rectors and many congregations over its 160 plus years. Many service personnel attended, were married or had their babies baptised during the two world wars. During the time of the US submarine base in the Holy Loch from 1961 to 1992, many Episcopalians of the US Navy worshipped at Holy Trinity, re-affirming the ancient links between the Scottish and American Episcopalian churches.

Round the church is the graveyard. There is a monument to Alexander Reid, a notable figure in Scottish art history and also one for Sir Francis Powell, Scottish Watercolourist. The whole setting of the church and rectory is one of great beauty, looking out over the town to the Clyde estuary, while surrounded by the woodland of ‘Bishops Glen’.


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