The architect of Largo St David's Church was a prolific designer of churches across Scotland, known to have designed more than eighty of them, among other buildings. However, the Lower Largo church is an example of his work that does not feature in the list of buildings and designs credited to him in the Dictionary of Scottish Architects - here. His role as architect of Largo's former United Presbyterian Church seems to have been missed by archivists. Yet, the Fife Herald (16 March 1871) above tells how Baldie's plans for a "plain, neat and commodious" church were approved by the church committee. The new church would be aligned north-south, in contrast to the east-west facing old church that it would replace (which stood where Downfield now stands).
Baldie had already designed a number of churches for the United Presbyterian Church by 1871, including some in Fife. The new church was opened the following year, as reported in the Fifeshire Journal of 25 July 1872 below. The piece also notes that Baldie's plan had been drawn up "some years ago". No doubt it took time to raise the necessary funds to execute the plan. The main builder of the ediface was Mr Given (an Elie mason), with a number of unnamed experienced workmen taking on the rest of the labour. The remains of a former minister, Rev. James Gardiner, had to be removed from the old church and reburied in Dundee. The foundation stone of the new building was laid by Provost Patrick Don Swan of Kirkcaldy, a flax merchant, shipowner and shipbuilder.
Although described as 'plain', the church was adorned with some modest detailing. This included the initials D.M. to denote the then minister, David Malloch, and date 1871. A few basic rose and gothic triangle shaped windows are present (see some of those features in detail below). The fish motifs in the stained glass windows that can be seen today were likely a later addition, as these are not mentioned in the 20 July 1872 Fifeshire Advertiser description of the windows below.
The most striking feature of the church (certainly when viewed from a distance) was a tall bellcote (now long gone) which once dominated the streetscape. Eventually becoming unsafe, this feature was removed and the bell which it housed moved to the rear of the building after a fundraising drive to pay for the work in the 1960s. The bell was gifted by Alexander Hogg and was more than likely made at the Gorbals Brass and Bell Foundry in Glasgow, which was Scotland's only ever industrial scale bell foundry, casting over 3,000 bells in its 90-year history.
Architect Robert Baldie was born in Stirling in 1824, the same year as David Malloch. Like Malloch, he moved to Glasgow in the 1840s. He was described as a joiner in the 1851 census - just before he married Ann Lennox Fraser the same year. Establishing his architectural practice in the early 1860s, he quickly gained a reputation for designing churches and manses across Scotland including Glasgow, Argyll, Perthshire and Fife. One of his Fife churches was the U.P. Church on Leven's Durie Street (latterly St Peter's R.C. Church). In fact, construction of the Leven and Largo churches overlapped, with the Leven church being completed first and opening in September 1871. Its builder was John Morrison of Glasgow, according to the Fife Free Press of 23 September 1871. Both Leven and Largo U.P. churches were designed in a Gothic style of architecture and both were compact, street-fronted churches in pre-existing tight spaces.
Indeed, many of Baldie's United Presbyterian churches were built at relatively low cost with minimal detailing and were gothic revival in style. When comparing Baldie's other church designs from a similar date, similarities can be seen. For example, the gothic style main entrance, flanked by small lancet windows and a large gothic arched window above the door. There are variations in the detail of those features and some designs had the addition of a porch, belfry or spire. Clockwise from top left in the composite image below are:
Largo St David's (sketch by Mr J.H. Williams) (1871)
Leven U.P. Church (later known as St John's U.F Church and then St Peter's R.C. Church) (1870)
Carnoustie U.P. Church (1872)
Saltcoats Free Church (1869).
A long (but not comprehensive) list of Baldie's work appears in the Dictionary of Scottish Architects. Some of his churches were at the grander end of the scale, reflecting the wealth of the congregations which commissioned them. Below for example is Govanhill U.P. Church and further below the spired pair of churches - St Kessog's in Calendar (left, which later became a Tourist Information Centre) and Pollockshields Church (right).
Robert Baldie did design buildings other than churches and manses. His largest commission was the impressive frontage for the Carron Company Iron Works in Falkirk (1876) with ornamental clock tower above an archway entrance (see further below). The crow-stepped tower was originally the centrepiece for a 53-bay frontage, behind which were offices, a warehouse and a workshop. Only the archway and clocktower still survives today. He also undertook some overseas works, largely connected with church mission work. He designed schools, churches, hospitals and houses in places such as Spain, China and various parts of Africa.
Robert Baldie died on 2 February 1890, aged 65. The short obituary below from the 6 February Stirling Observer is one of the few references to his death and it is sadly vague on the detail of his life. Considering that Baldie was such a prolific architect of nineteenth century churches and manses across Scotland, his life and works ought to be better documented and remembered. At least now, the former church on Lower Largo's Main Street can be added to the lengthy list of his church designs.