History of the building
Formerly the church of St Andrew’s in the Square in Glasgow’s East End, and last used as such in 1990, this building dates from 1754 and is widely regarded as one of the finest classical churches in Britain. It was designed by the architect Allan Dreghorn, based on James Gibbs’ famous St Martins-in-the-Fields in London, and built by the master mason, Mungo Naismith and was the city’s first totally new church since the Reformation.
Although the essential features and character or Dreghorn’s church survive, there have been several key moments in its rich history. In 1745 Prince Charles’ army encamped around the rising walls of the church on the way back from its disastrous invasion of England. Between 1767-69, the land around it was looted and in 1787 William Hamilton laid out a symmetrical square of handsome three-storey houses, which quickly became the fashionable residence for the tobacco lords and merchants before the expansion of the city and the westward movement of the wealthier citizens in the 1800s. While the church remained in use, the area sadly regenerated and in the 1900s the once fine residences became gap sites and poorly maintained workshops and warehouses.
The church had become by then, a fashionable walking place for citizens and the focal point of the residential buildings. During the 1800’s further changes occurred and wealth began to move to the West End of the city centre, industrial and other uses. Although further alterations were made in the 1900’s, St Andrew’s remained one of the most impressive eighteenth century churches in Scotland.
After almost 240 years of continuous use as a church, the last service was held in June 1993 when the congregation merged and the building, which was described as one of the top six classical churches in the UK, was then considered to be at risk. Fearing that the maintenance of the category ‘A’ listed building would in time become too heavy a burden, the congregation offered the church to the Glasgow Building Preservation Trust for £1. In turn the Trust looked for a role for the building which would preserve its future through sympathetic use of its spacious interior and excellent natural acoustics. The Georgian houses around the square would be refurbished and extended in order to create a residential quarter with the new arts venue at its heart.
Saint Andrew’s in the Square (SAinTS) has now been sensitively transformed into an exciting new centre for performing arts, particularly Scottish Dance, and is an amazing achievement by Glasgow Building Preservation Trust and its Architects. Heavy Victorian accretions were stripped away to return the church to its 18th century lightness of spirit. Modern interventions were minimised; as a backstage and service accommodation was required for the modern arts facility, the existing floor of the church was excavated and a new undercroft created to provide space for a café bar, rehearsal rooms, dressing rooms and toilets. This arrangement allows the integrity of the 18th century classical temple to be retained while it permits its functional use as a 21st century venue.
St Andrew’s Square is a model of new urbanistic practice and theory. The church has acted as a catalyst for local repairs and improvements within the city fabric of East Glasgow. Both the conservation of the church, as an individual building, and the square, as part of the city, are the successful result of an intricately planned co-ordination between many bodies such as designers, heritage institutions, users’ groups or developers. The completed Centre for Traditional Scottish Music, Song and Dance was opened to the public on St Andrew’s Day, 30th November 2000 and is now a thriving focus of activity in its new role as a performance venue.