Financial support sought to save St John’s Kirk spire in Perth city center

For centuries it has dominated the city of Perth skyline.

But now the historic lead-clad spire of St John’s Kirk is under threat from the elements with a repair bill spiraling to hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Expert surveys of the unique focal feature of Perth’s oldest standing building carried out in 2019 identified water entering through failing lead-work, causing damage to the 500-year-old original timbers supporting the spire.

Safety concerns prompted the removal of the Kirk spire’s golden cockerel weathervane by steeplejacks the following year and the structure was capped by a lead cover.

Now, however, cash-strapped church officials have revealed growing concerns for the 155 ft high steeple – which dates back to the early 1500s – and are seeking financial support to save one of the city’s most iconic structures from further decay.

St John’s Kirk property conventioner John Kinloch said doing nothing was no longer an option if the Kirk’s spire is to be saved.

“Water continues to find its way into the spire and the full extent of the problem won’t be known until specialist investigators can safely access the area,” he said.

“Provision of a safe access at height is a costly proposition and the estimated cost of repairs could mushroom beyond the original estimate of up to £650,000 once we determine the full extent of what we’re dealing with.

“It seems certain that St John’s Kirk faces a huge financial pressure to safeguard the future of this city landmark.”

Specialist advice has been commissioned and the Kirk Session has committed up to £200,000 of repair works.

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“The most important thing is to keep the structure safe and that is why the cockerel finial was removed and part of the lead cladding,” explained John.

“Action – both short and long-term – is vital so the Kirk Session is investing most of its available funds in a bid to combat decay of the spire.

“The congregation simply can’t bear increasing costs of this magnitude alone, however, and we need help to prevent the further deterioration and unthinkable loss of Perth’s prime landmark.”

The future of St John’s Kirk – the site of which has housed a place of worship for around a thousand years – is being considered by the Presbytery of Perth in its recently published ‘Presbytery Mission Plan’ which seeks to reduce the number of churches in the city ​​and look at guardianship options for others.

St John’s Kirk Trust – a unique body set up in 1951 to safeguard the fabric of the historically important Kirk – stands ready to support the costs but is powerless to secure external funding while the future of St John’s remains undecided.

The Friends of St John’s Kirk has also pledged support, bearing the cost of regilding the spire’s iconic golden weathervane, now kept at street level.

“The Kirk Session has informed Presbytery, the General Trustees, Historic and Environment Scotland and Perth and Kinross Council in the hope that a solution can be found – and quickly,” said John.

St John’s has a unique eight sided, splay footed, broach spire, which is covered by ribbed lead sheeting, and rises from the square bell tower.

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The spire rises to 155 feet above the pavement and has been a landmark over Perth for more than 500 years.

The original lead sheeting was blown down in a gale in 1767, and replaced by the Town Council.

The west face of the spire is inscribed with the names of the Lord Provost, the Dean of Guild, four bailies and the City Treasurer and Convener.

The names of the carpenter and the plumber who carried out the work are also inscribed.

The spire was last re-covered in lead in 1767, while the massive timbers that support the leaded roof remain the 500-year-old originals.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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