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Cornaig, Congregational Church

A Category C Listed Building in Oban South and the Isles, Argyll and Bute

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Coordinates

Latitude: 56.521 / 56°31'15"N

Longitude: -6.9063 / 6°54'22"W

OS Eastings: 98368

OS Northings: 747337

OS Grid: NL983473

Mapcode National: GBR 9CBH.3FG

Mapcode Global: WGX9W.WCG8

Entry Name: Cornaig, Congregational Church

Listing Date: 4 November 2005

Category: C

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 398094

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB50169

Building Class: Cultural

Location: Tiree

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: Oban South and the Isles

Traditional County: Argyllshire

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Description

The Congregational Church in the settlement of Cornaig was built in 1856, to replace an earlier thatched-cottage type church building. The church at Cornaig is important to the religious history of Tiree as one of two surviving congregational churches built by The Rev. Archibald Farquharson, one of the most influential figures in the history of the island. The building is small and simple, rectangular in plan, squared rubble (mostly whinstone) with 2 bays to the nave and plain gabled ends. There are large whinstone quoins, and pink Mull granite lintels to the openings (see notes).

Description: Entry into the building is through a raised single doorway to the centre of the S gable, with 3 stone steps to ground level and a timber boarded door. The N gable is largely plain, with evidence of a small window or alcove once sitting to the upper centre of the gablehead (now blocked) and topped by a small stone plinth with a slate cap. Each 2-bay nave has 2 evenly spaced window openings set close to the eaves. Here the large lintels are in stark contrast to the rubble walls, with only a course of rubble separating them from the wallhead, where the slated roof overhangs the wallhead resting directly onto the stone. Some iron fixings still remain attached to the margins of the windows, showing they were once shuttered. Beneath the right window on both nave walls are large, square holes in the stonework, which may have allowed drainage and ventilation beneath the raised, wooden raft-type floor inside.

Interior: currently extremely dilapidated (2005), with some evidence of the original form remaining. The floor was timber boarded, as were the walls up to cill height, terminated by a timber dado. Above this the walls were rendered and whitewashed. The roof was also timber boarded and coombed, with wide timbers running N to S and a single air vent formerly to the centre. The body of the church was filled with fixed wooden pews, the brackets for which can be seen in places on the walls although the majority of the pews themselves have been removed or have rotted away. To the N end of the church is a raised, central pulpit. Its timber boarded front panel is framed to either side by square timber newels topped by ball finials. The front panel is capped by a moulded timber balustrade. Behind the raised platform of the pulpit is the remnant of a 3-peaked timber backboard reredos, the shape of which can be traced in the whitewash behind. The roof timbers (now visible internally) have both a tie beam and a collar beam, the rafters returning directly onto the rubble wallhead of the nave.

Materials: random rubble; roughly coursed with some snecking. Lime mortar, with some evidence of a lime harl sacrificial coating. Whinstone rubble quoins; pink granite lintels; stone skews. Pitched, grey slated roof. Remains of 18-pane timber sash and case windows.

Statement of Interest

The history of the Congregationalist movement on the island of Tiree begins and ends with the Rev. Alexander Farquharson, who came to the island in 1831 as a preacher, having been told the island was the most destitute place in Scotland (see McNaughton reference). He settled with his family on the island a year later and remained there until his death in 1878. After his death, the Congregational movement slowly came to an end and finally stopped meeting in 1894. His work was hugely influential in popularising religion on the island, with many of his followers moving on to the established or Baptist churches, and he was also a noted writer of hymns and prayer in the Gaelic language. He is known to have built small thatched chapels on the island and also preached in houses, before eventually gathering enough support to construct the 2 more substantial churches that survive today. These buildings built by Farquharson continued to be used by other religious groups until they were finally abandoned in the later 20th century. The other remaining Farquharson church on Tiree, at Ruaig, has now been restored by a preservation trust. The church at Cornaig is significant architecturally for the use of pink Mull granite as lintels, suggesting that the building may have been built by the same men that came to the island to build the Skerryvore lighthouse, which was built from the granite after the indigenous Tiree stone was found to be too hard to cut to shape. Farquharson is known to have preached to these men and converted many of them to the Congregational church, and the acquisition of these good quality stones and the building of the church may have been a return gesture to the influential preacher. The church walls are well built and remain sound in the face of the inclement Tiree climate, and do not show signs of repair or reconstruction. This suggests that they may have been the work of professional builders and masons rather than locals, many of whom were still living in unmortared rubble, thatched cottages at this time.

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