St Peter’s Kirk, Orkney
St Peter’s Kirk was built in 1836-7 as the Parish Church of Sandwick, replacing a series of older churches on the site.
In 1834, the rebuilding of the kirk was proposed by the Minister, the Reverend Charles Clouston, who argued that the current kirk was “ruinous and incapable of accommodating the population of the Parish.” However, it was not until 1836 that work began, largely due to an unsuccessful campaign by Clouston to resite the kirk at the geographical centre of his Parish.
The kirk was completed in June of 1837 and contained seating for 544 people, half the adult population of the parish. Worship was held on a regular basis until 1935 when the union of the Church of Scotland and the United Free Church took place. Thereafter, worship alternated between St Peter’s and the former United Free Church at Quoyloo, two miles distant. Increasingly though, Quoyloo became the preferred place for regular worship, due mainly to its more convenient location, better facilities and manageable size.
By the 1960s, St Peter’s was used only for occasional worship and by the 1970s, only funerals were taking place there. The last recorded use of the building was a funeral in 1984.
Required after 1935 to finance the running of both Quoyloo and St Peter’s, and with rural depopulation taking its toll on available income, the congregation were forced to prioritise. For several decades only essential repairs were carried out to St Peter’s and by the 1980s even these had ceased. In 1988 a report by the Presbytery of Orkney advised that St Peter’s was a liability, and recommended that the congregation should seek consent for demolition.
In 1993 St Peter’s Kirk was placed on the Scottish Civic Trust’s Buildings at Risk register where it was described as “disused and in a worsening state of repair.”
In 1998, after identifying St Peter’s as a building of local and national significance, the SRCT acquired the kirk for preservation from the Church of Scotland General Trustees for £1.
Raising the £250,000 necessary to repair and conserve St Peter’s was a huge undertaking but, convinced of the importance of the building to the heritage of Orkney and Scotland, the SRCT embarked on four years of fundraising. In May 2002, with funding from Orkney Islands Council, Orkney Enterprise, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Scotland and others, work began, finishing ten months later in March 2003. The Trust’s instruction to Kirkwall architects, Pentarq, and local firm, Orkney Builders (Contractors) Ltd. was that, in accordance with best conservation practice, the historic fabric should be respected in order to preserve the character of the building. Throughout the project, repair, rather than replacement, was the watchword.
In May 2003, St Peter’s was officially opened by HRH The Duke of Gloucester. It now attracts many visitors and hosts concerts and other events. The kirk is also used for weddings. The Friends of St Peter’s Kirk care for the kirk on a day-to-day basis.