Lower Largo of the 18th century would have looked quite different to present day village. The painting above gives a good impression of the thatched and pantiled buildings, of various shapes and sizes, constructed from local stone and crowded into the available space. In the background of this view, the former Largo Relief Church would have stood. This was the church that preceded the 1871 former church building on Main Street.
The origins of the Largo Relief Church date back to a vacancy at Largo Kirk in Upper Largo in 1768 which led to the controversial appointment of Reverend David Burn. The portion of the congregation that were strongly opposed to this choice protested by leaving the church. These folk initially met in the open air to worship as an independent group but in 1770 they applied for (and were granted) pulpit supply from the Relief Church of Edinburgh. Soon afterwards, the newly formed congregation were given land from Mr Durham of Largo House upon which to erect a Church. Work soon began on the church building marked 'U.P. Church' on the 1866 map below.
This church would have been a simple rectangular structure, with entrance porch and internal balcony. The reminiscence below (which appeared in the 18 November 1884 Dundee Courier) tells of how the construction of the church was very much a community affair. Materials for the building were gathered from the beach by men, women and children, to supplement the mason's supplies. The total cost came to a modest £18 4s.
The building of the church was swiftly followed by the construction of a manse for the minister, the Reverend Robert Paterson, which still stands at 23 Main Street (pictured above). This would have originally had a thatched roof. A forestair to the rear provided access to the upper floor. For a long time this would have been one of the highest status dwellings in the village.
The previous post about Largo St David's Church mentioned how, at the time when the old Relief Church building was dismantled, the remains of a former minister had to be removed from the site. This referred to the third minister of Largo Relief Church, James Gardiner, who held the position for 38 years, from 1805 until his death in 1843. He succeeded Rev. James Stuart who died in 1803.
James Gardiner was born around 1782 in Stirlingshire. The year after arriving in Largo, he married Dysart-born Elizabeth Ramsay. The record of their marriage is shown below. Their first child, Catherine, was born in 1807, followed by Robert (1809), Janet (1811), Isabella (1813) and James (1816). At the time of the 1841 census (the only one in which James appears), James is described as a clergyman, living with wife, Elizabeth and two daughters, Catherine and Isabella. Janet had died in 1828 aged 17.
During his 38 years as minister Reverend Gardiner would have witnessed many events among his congregation - births, deaths and marriages. He would have presided over many special occasions, including the example above of a soiree held in the church (or 'meeting house') in 1838. As he aged, an assistant and successor was sought and from 1840-41 Rev. Gardiner had a co-minister - Rev. James Hamilton. However, this succession plan did not work out and Hamilton left Largo. Gardiner remained in post until his death at the Relief Manse on 28 February 1843. At his request, he was laid to rest within the church that had been so central to his existence for most of his lifetime. A tribute to him was recorded in the Session Minutes - remarking on his faithful and devoted service:
"He preached, as he felt, he lived as he preached, and he died as he lived in the firm and blessed hope of a glorious resurrection."
Gardiner was followed by Reverend Bryce Kerr who was ordained one month after the death of Gardiner. However, he died only eight months later, at the young age of 27 years (on 25 November 1843). Throughout the 1840s, there had been much discussion around the proposed union between the Relief Church and the United Secession Church. This came to pass in 1847, when the United Presbyterian Church was formed and the church at Lower Largo took on that name.
In 1852, the now U.P. Church underwent refurbishment, as the 6 May Fifeshire Journal reported. The building was 80 years old by this point and in spite of these "considerable repairs", including the installation of new iron pillars to support the balcony, the church's days were numbered. Two decades after the repairs, the church building closed for good and was dismantled. The 18 July 1872 Fifeshire Journal used phrases such as "very ugly" and "tumble-down" to describe the old church. However, the fact that it had endured for a century and seen nine ministers serve the community that had played such a key role in its construction makes it a remarkable building in my opinion.