Uncovering Templar church ruins with links back to the sixth century still hidden beneath the grounds at Glasgow Airport
This historic gem dating as far back as the sixth century is attracting lots of interest – and it’s in the unlikeliest of places.
Fly in to Glasgow Airport and you’re likely to see the bright lights of the city to the east, the runway below – certainly a glimpse of the River Clyde winding its way through the city.
What you won’t notice as readily is a piece of history dating back to the sixth century – and the community digging deep to learn more about it.
On a grassy patch of Glasgow Airport, right below the flight path, lies the ruins of the old All Hallows, a Templar church replaced by nearby Inchinnan Parish Church in the 1960s.
It’s now the site of an archaeological investigation, led by Inchinnan Historical Interest Group and with help from local schoolchildren.
The site is believed to be the burial place of St Conval, an early Christian saint who is said to have floated over from Ireland on a stone (more on that later) – and the earliest settlement dates back to 597 AD.
The first stone-built church, St Conval’s, dates to about 1100 – some 20 years before Glasgow Cathedral – on land then gifted by David I to the Knights Templar.
The medieval building was deemed dangerous in 1828 and replaced with a Gothic-style church, which was built around in the late 19th century to form a third church building, dedicated as All Hallows.
The foundation stone of the replacement church, in Inchinnan, was laid on November 19, 1966, with the old site making way for Glasgow Airport – although much of the old All Hallows was moved, including stunning stained glass windows, the organ and the pulpit.
The All Hallows site remained overgrown until early 2017, when Inchinnan Historical Interest Group gained help from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic Environment Scotland and others – including a £4,500 grant from Glasgow Airport’s Flightpath Fund.
Bill McCallum, of Inchinnan Historical Interest Group, told Glasgow Live: “We wanted to research the former site, to see if there was any evidence left of the previous buildings and, if so, what? We also knew from old maps that there were some houses around about, so we set out to find any evidence of habitation around the church in earlier days.
“We were fortunate enough to find a variety of things. Coming upon the 1904 church wasn’t a problem, but getting below that was a little difficult – but we got through and found evidence of the church demolishes in 1828.
“We’ve found a lot of stained glassed thought to be from the middle ages and they’re currently being examined by a specialist. We also found some rubble which we think is the earlier church but have not yet been able to prove that.
“it was important to use to involve the community too, and a number of local schools participated in the project.
“I think it gives people a better understanding of where they came from, from a linear point of view – but it also gives them a better appreciation for the fact that Inchinnan has been a very important area of Scotland for many, many years.”
While the archaeological dig uncovered lots of finds at the site, there was a surprise at the current church too – one which could help put the place on the tourist map and link it to another important place within the city boundary.
PhD student Megan Kasten, an expert on the Govan Stones, was asked to take a look at Inchinnan’s historic stones and unveiled her findings this month.
Using digital photography techniques on the ancient stones, Megan has revealed that one – thought to be medieval in date – was originally carved much earlier, and possibly commemorated an important person in the Kingdom of Strathclyde.
The discovery means that Inchinnan has four large carved stones characteristic of the same group of sculpture known as the ‘Govan School’ of carving.
Megan said: “This new addition is really exciting – we have few historical records for this time period, so each new discovery increases our understanding of the connections between important medieval sites like Inchinnan and Govan.”
Dr Sally Foster, lecturer in heritage and conservation at the University of Stirling and chair of the National Committee on Carved Stones in Scotland, added: “The discovery of a previously unrecognised example of the ‘Govan School’ of early medieval sculpture is a wonderful example of the untapped potential of Scotland’s carved stone resource.”
Work to find out more about the mysterious Inchinnan stones is ongoing, but the archaeological dig at All Hallows has stopped – for now.
The Historical Group hope to continue their work soon, if funding is available, and dig even deeper into the history of such an important site, right under the modern flight path many of us know so well.
Doctor Heather James, lead archaeologist from Calluna Archaeology, added: “It has been great seeing the community and professionals working together to discover so much more about our fascinating heritage throughout this project.”
in glasgowlive.co.uk by Gillian Loney