Wick Central Church
In 1806 a congregation which soon became known as the Central Church was formed. Thirty eight years later in 1844, a meeting place for the congregation was erected, this building still stands today and belongs to another fellowship. The building is situated at the top of Dempster Street, it features a clock tower and spire amongst many other gothic features. It is thought that the tower and spire were added some years after the body of the building was built. At the time of the erection of the tower, a Mr Tait was instructed to draw a plan of the intended spire including ten feet for a clock, arrangements for placing the bell above or below the clock and the rise of the dial was to be left to Mr Tait and he was to decide on the style of the spire and it was to be carried on as possible according to the original plan. A hall of the same stone as the church also stands connected to the building, at the time of writing, comparing the stonework on the hall to the church, the features around the door seem to be decaying much more than the detail on the main door on the church, this suggests that the hall was built many years before the church building was erected, suggesting that the hall was actually used as the congregation’s meeting place for many years.
The interior of the Central Church before it was refurbished. The Johnston Collection.
A meeting agreed that a Mr Henderson of Aberdeen should be requested to draw out a plan for a suitable Manse at a cost not to exceed £800 nor to be under £600. A sketch of the ground was also ordered to be sent, the building was to be built of Caithness stone with the exception of doors and windows. The Manse was later built in Francis Street, at the time of writing it is an accommodation known as the Queen’s Hotel which was opened it 1953.
For many years there was a seat allocation committee, in those days most churches did. The purpose of a seat allocation committee was to allocate attendants to a pew in the sanctuary. The heritors normally had first chance so they were given front pews, the magistrates, provosts, feurs and property owners were next and so down the social line. Some pews were reserved for the poor of the Parish but as time went on it gradually worked its way out of church life. Members of the seat allocation committee in 1895 were John Gow, Andrew Williamson, William Alexander and William Grant. Services were held twice a day, morning at 11:15am and afternoon at 2pm with the Sunday school being held at 5pm. The earliest record of a minister is in 1887, Rev. Nigel Robertson, it was during his time of being pastor that the Central Church and Martyrs Church were affiliated, it was said that the Central congregation were the most natural church for the Martyrs congregation to approach because of their situation, this suggests that the Martyrs Church weren’t doing so well in terms of people attending and of course the struggle of finding a permanent minister.
A wedding taking place in the Central Church in the 1980’s. The Rev. James Cormack (Hamish) can be seen at the altar.
At the time of the union of the Central and West Church, the Rev. William Clarke was pastor of the West Church, he decided to retire at the time of their joining and so the united congregation which went under the name of Wick Central Church, began to look for a new minister with the outcome of the Rev. James Bews being inducted on the 30th of August 1950. The Manse of the West Church, located at 30 Thurso Road then became the Manse of the united congregation and was named “Central Manse”, the other Manse in Francis Street was then sold at the decision of the congregation. The union officially took place on the 22nd of January 1950, prior to Rev. Bews’ coming. Later that year the Central Church underwent redecoration work and was made more up to date. A new pipe organ was installed, replacing the old one. Deacons of the Church in the 1970’s included Sandy Hood, Robert Morgan, Sandy Bruce, Sandy Miller, John Swanson, Donald Gunn, Fred McBoyle, Willie Miller, Ian Grant, Wilfred Budge and Jimmy Corner.
In 1967, pastor Bews retired and moved to Dundee with his wife and children. The Central Church was for three years without a minister until 1971 when the Rev. James Cormack came and was inducted. Pastor Cormack was known as Hamish, he often held small meetings in the Manse and he was known to be a “clumsy” but happy and kind man. The older elders and deacons of the Central Church were known be strict and set in their “old” ways, pastor Cormack was said to have been the complete opposite, he was a man who loved clapping Gospel music where he once made a trip to the US to visit the well known group The Tharps, it was said that one time he was up the stairs in the Manse when he heard the phone ring downstairs, he got in such a panic because he knew it was one of the deacons that he ran straight towards the stairs forgetting there was a step, resulting with him lying in a heap at the bottom of the stairs, he dialled “Mabel’s Taxis” and made his way to the hospital. He died in 1997 and his funeral was held in the Pulteneytown Parish Church, formerly St Andrews Church.
Repair work taking place on the church steeple in the 1930’s. A nerve racking task in those days.
The Central Church building in the 1960’s.
After the fellowship moved into their new building they joined the Free Church of Scotland and became Pulteneytown Free Church until 1901 when they joined the United Free Church which was formed fifty eight years after the 1843 disruption when a part of the Free Church of Scotland and the United Presbyterian Church joined together to form the United Free Church of Scotland, known as the UFC. As a result of this the congregation became known as Pulteneytown Central United Free Church. At this time, the church was often associated with the Martyrs Free Church, also a UFC, this church was located around the corner from the Central Church in Sinclair Terrace. United prayer meetings for both congregations were often being held in those premises. Pulteneytown Central UFC often hired out the Barrogill Mission Hall for a sum of £3.10 for events, the hall was owned by the Bridge Street Church and used as a church hall for various events and meetings held by it’s attendees and members.
In 1897 it was raised that the number of people attending the forenoon service were low and persons were known to be absent. “The attendance at public workshop has been much the same as in former years. Too many are still never to be seen in the forenoon and very often persons are absent, even in the afternoon, from the most trifling causes. Things that would never keep them from their work or from an appointment with their fellow men, are considered a sufficient excuse for neglecting the public worship of God.” This message can be found in a copy of the Pulteneytown UFC quarterly paper.
There was no evening service until 1909 and when the Martyrs Church and Central Church were affiliated it was decided that services would be shared between both buildings, with the forenoon service being held in the Central Church, evening service being held in the Martyrs Church and both churches have their own afternoon service. They would also have a joint deacons court and communion roll. The decision of joining the Churches together was decided at a meeting which took place on the 14th of March 1911.
In 1924, the interior of the Central Church building underwent renovation work, this involved changing the shape of the front sanctuary windows, enlarging the surrounding balcony, removing the pulpit and replacing it with a more up to date and more spacious one, creating an arch behind the pulpit interiorising a painting of the road to Damascus and redecorating the sanctuary and side hall. To complete the payment of the renovation work, the formed work party did some fundraising and so the sum of what needed to be paid was met. Fundraising to start renovations on the Manse in 1926 was also done in time for the new minister to arrive, the Rev. Donald Morrison.
The affiliation between the Central Church and Martyrs Church was dissolved sometime after 1927 as the congregation left the United Free Church and joined the Church of Scotland, settling under the name of Wick Central Church. In 1950 the congregation of Wick Central Church and the West Church were united. The property and funds belonging to each congregation became the property and funds of the united congregation and it was to be that one church building would be used for worship and the other to be used for congregational purposes or be disposed of at the decision of the united congregation. Instead of this, for a period of two or three years both church buildings were used for worship with the morning service being held in the Central Church and the evening service being held in the West Church, this was to happen until the united congregation came to a decision as to what building they were going to use for congregational purposes unless they chose to dispose of one of the buildings, the united congregation were given a certain amount of time to come to a decision, if they ran over this time it would be the presbytery’s decision. Eventually the West Church was demolished in the late 1950’s, whether this was the congregation’s decision or they ran over their time limit, it is not known.
The church often collected money for different parts of the Church such as, the central fund, foreign, colonial, continental, home and Jewish missions, aged and infirm ministers, colleges of the Highlands and Islands and youth and education as well as collecting for their own church was was split into different areas, such as the Central fund, Church door collections, seat rents, Church and Manse fund and the collection for the poor. This was known as “The Lord’s Treasury”.
As years went by the congregation of the church decreased in size and the presbytery closed it’s doors in 1990. When it closed the church joined with Pulteneytown Parish Church and the organ was installed in their building. The building in Dempster Street was put up for sale and bought by the Baptist Church in 1997, they renovated the entire building and moved in the following year.
The Church sanctuary today. Now Wick Baptist Church. Jayden Alexander Photography.
The resting place of the Rev. James Sinclair Cormack in Wick’s New Municipal Cemetery.