Fort William Kilmallie Church of Scotland


In earlier centuries before the town of Fort William existed, the shores of Loch Linnhe were inhabited by crofters and fishermen whose families crossed by boat to worship in Kilmallie Church. Kilmallie was then the largest parish in Scotland. Although served by a minister with the help of missionaries, the spiritual care of the people in such a vast area was never easy. For example, in 1793 there were 9 preaching stations, but the parish had been without a settled minister for 50 years. 

A new problem arose with the growth of the town, first called Maryburgh, but now known as Fort William. This grew up around the Fort built in 1692, as a stronghold of William and Mary against Jacobite rebellion. The town developed by trading with the garrison and its population rose to due to the influx of neighbouring people who had been dispossessed of their lands.

First, a tiny church was built inside the Fort which served the garrison. To this church the townspeople also came, although some, especially Gaelic speakers, continued to cross to Kilmallie. From 1692 an army chaplain stationed at the Fort ministered to the townspeople. There was sometimes difficulty in finding an acceptable minister in Hanoverian times, as he had to take an oath of loyalty to King George and be able to preach in "Irish". Later, Fort William became a mission church with its own minister, but without parish status.

When stone buildings were allowed to be erected in Maryburgh to supersede the early wooden ones, a church was built where the Argyll Hotel later stood with a graveyard crossing what is now the High Street. In time this church proved too small and "all the townspeople were for building a new church." It was built in 1792 by the Duke of Gordon (then the superior) and the inhabitants. This church was used until 1882 when that old church became the town hall (now demolished).

During the nineteenth Sir Duncan Cameron of Fassifern, (who had become the superior) tried unsuccessfully to rename the town Duncansburgh after himself. The name survived only as the name of the new parish which was created out of Kilmallie parish in 1861. Duncansburgh remained the name of the church and parish reflecting the fact that Sir Duncan Cameron provided the necessary endowment for the quod sacra parish to be erected. (A quoad sacra parish was run by a kirk session dealing with all the church's affairs, but it did not have the civil role of old parishes like Kilmallie on matters such as poor relief.)

By 1878 the church of 1792 was proving too small on account of the eloquent preaching of Mr MacQuarrie and the influx of summer visitors. Few in number, but strong in faith and clear in vision, the congregation decided to raise £5000 to build a church and manse - the church to seat 600 possibly increasing to 900, if a gallery were later added, although at that time there were less than 200 communicants. Generous help came from the Home Mission  Committee of the Church of Scotland and from well-wishers who organised a two day bazaar in Glasgow. As a result the present church building was opened in August 1882 when the church leader Professor Charteris preached in English, and Mr Watson of Kiltearn in Gaelic. Built of Ballachulish granite faced free stone the building was described in glowing terms by the " Oban Times”

"Certainly", it wrote, "the congregation and the Church of Scotland as a whole are to be heartily congratulated on a movement which in the short space of three years, has resulted in putting them in possession of what may in many respects be said to be the finest ecclesiastical structure of any denomination of the West Coast".

A 12cwt bell was hung in the tower, the windows were fitted, two of them with stained glass, the remainder with cathedral glass. This bell is rung each Sunday morning prior to worship.

Originally the church had a central pulpit. This was replaced in 1905 by the present pulpit and lectern in Austrian Oak, gifted in memory of Duncan MacNiven, an elder for  31yrs. In 1906 a fine organ, built to the specification of Dr Hollins, the blind Edinburgh organist, was installed.  Other gifts followed across the years to enrich the sanctuary, notably a series of stained glass windows. In 1961 the pews were removed from the transepts, the chancel area enlarged and a hand wrought iron organ screen erected.   At this time a new Communion Table and choir chairs were donated.

In the 1890s the house next door to the church was purchased as a manse This was replaced on the same site by the present manse built by congregation in 1936. Another big congregational effort was the building of the original hall, completed in 1900. Over the main entrance door to the church is carved the burning bush the Church of Scotland's motto "Nec tamen consumebatur". 

From 1929, the reunion of the Church of Scotland and the United Free Church meant that there were two Church of Scotland congregations in Fort William, sharing responsibility for the town. Duncansburgh Parish Church continued its independent existence until the union with MacIntosh Memorial in 2007 resulted in one parish church with responsibility for the whole of Fort William, and one place of worship.

After the union of 2007 which created Fort William: Duncansburgh MacIntosh, a new suite of halls was built on former manse ground.

The current congregation seeks to build on the foundation of all the traditions from which we have come to provide worship, witness and Christian care for all the people of Fort William.