St Margaret’s Church
Braemar, Aberdeenshire, AB35 5YP
St Margaret’s is a former Scottish Episcopal Church which lies at the centre of the Aberdeenshire village of Braemar in the Cairngorms National Park. It was built between 1899 and 1907 to provide a place of worship for the large number of visitors from England who flocked to Royal Deeside in Victorian times. The present building replaced an earlier wooden church on the same site which was opened for worship in 1880.
St Margaret’s is of outstanding significance within the UK for its architecture and as a major work of the prominent Scottish architect Sir John Ninian Comper. Numbering amongst the finest churches in Scotland, St Margaret’s is listed Category A by Historic Scotland and is the architectural high point of Braemar and a landmark within the village.
The first part of the permanent church to be built was the south aisle, completed in 1899 and dedicated to the memory of J.B Lightfoot, Bishop of Durham. While building was in progress a generous gift from Miss Eliza Jane Schofield allowed work to complete the chancel, tower and vestry. A number of construction phases followed as funding allowed. On the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, the east window was dedicated to her memory and, as with all the painted and stained glass in the church, was designed by Comper. The church was consecrated on 3rd August 1907 but the addition of stained glass and interior furnishings continued until 1933. An elaborate rood screen was completed in 1921, though this lacked the pipe organ shown in another more ambitious design by Comper, now in the RIBA Drawings Collection. Comper’s own writings record that he planned a north aisle to be built to balance the earlier Lightfoot (south) aisle, together with a tall spire to surmount the low tower - but these remained unbuilt and the designs do not survive.
In its early years the church was intended for use only during the summer months, principally by English visitors, with the Lightfoot Aisle being used for services during the winter by the much smaller resident congregation. From the outset the church was too large for the needs of the resident congregation and this was made worse by the steady decline in summer visitors in the post-Victorian years. Declining numbers, problems with the fabric of the building, and escalating costs led to the periodic closure of the church, and between 1973 and 1980 it was closed altogether. Valiant efforts by the congregation in the 1980s saw St Margaret’s once again used for worship and this prompted a major programme of repairs to be carried out between 1991 and 1992. Unfortunately, this programme was unsuccessful in addressing long-standing problems associated with the original construction of the building which were, in turn, exacerbated by the harsh climatic conditions in Braemar. By 1997 the condition of St Margaret’s had deteriorated to such an extent that the congregation were forced to leave the church and to worship on a permanent basis in the chapel at Mar Lodge. St Margaret’s was declared redundant in 2002 and placed on the Buildings at Risk Register in 2003.
A report on St Margaret’s, written in 2001 by Simon O’Corra, concluded: “Comper’s mastery cannot be denied, and with over 600 commissions large and small his skills and importance in world and particularly church art cannot be disputed. In Scotland Comper played an unquestionable and major role in the development of a distinctive ecclesiastical style within the Episcopalian Church. Comper designed and built less than 25 complete churches and St Margaret’s is one of his finest. The masterful use of space and light give St Margaret’s a mellow quality of otherworldliness and divinely inspired beauty. It would be a tragedy to both Scotland and the world for St Margaret’s to be lost.”
St Margaret’s was acquired by the SRCT in August 2013.
The church is open by arrangement