Bowmore’s Round Church

The Round Church sits at the head of Bowmore, making it hard to miss it as you explore the town. Visitors and residents alike find themselves using the church to navigate the town, and directions usually include, ‘turn left at the round church’! It’s certainly not your average Scottish church. But why is the Round Church round?

Here’s everything we know about Bowmore’s incredibly unique church.

 

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The History of the Round Church

The Round Church is not actually the church’s formal name. Officially, the building is known as Kilarrow Parish Church. When it was built in 1767, Kilarrow was a town that sat by Islay House. After the church’s construction, however, a new extension to Bowmore was built, and people were encouraged to move there instead. This was so that Daniel Campbell, who owned the entirety of Islay at that point in time, could extend Islay House!

The construction of Kilarrow Parish Church was probably part of a plan to clear Kilarrow. And that Campbell included the church’s construction in his plans as a way to gain acceptance from those he intended to clear. The construction started only 13 years after Daniel Campbell inherited Islay House and the island from his grandfather. His grandfather had bought the lordship from Sir John Campbell Cawdor for £12,000 in 1726, and after his son died young, left it all to the younger Daniel Campbell.

The church took around two years to build and was finished by 1769. Since then, it has been one of the most recognisable buildings in the town. It is perhaps only surpassed in fame by the distilleries on Islay.

The architecture

There are a couple of theories about the architectural design and construction of the Round Church. One theory claims that the design is French and that the mysterious architect was European and had met Daniel Campbell when he toured the continent in the 1750s. The other, arguably more likely theory, is that the unnamed architect of Bowmore’s Round Church was John Adam.

A part of the famous Adam family of architects, John Adam had been hired in 1758 by the 3rd Duke of Argyll to design a church for Inveraray. Upon completion of the design, however, it became clear that it was not fit for purpose as the round church was not able to be split into Gaelic and English congregations. Daniel Campbell was in contact with the Duke of Argyll at the time. And so it is thought that the architect, or at very least, the design, may have been passed over to him.

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The construction

Whoever designed the church, it was actually built in the end by a man named Thomas Spalding. He oversaw the construction that cost approximately £1,000. The original building from the 18th century had a 60-foot diameter, with strong 2’ 9″ thick walls. In the center of the circular building, there is a central pillar that holds 8 radial beams. The pillar is 19 inches in diameter and is crafted out of oak, styled in Tuscan order. The beams that it supports hold the king-truss roof of the church.

The building can be found at the top of Main Street, and it looks down into Loch Indaal. Although people theorised the church’s design was French, it is more likely that the younger Daniel Campbell was simply inspired by the Italian towns he saw while travelling. Many of the Italian towns he visited would have had churches positioned looking over the towns, atop a hill.

After the original construction, further work was done in 1830. A U-shaped gallery was added to the church for more space. This was supported by 8 pillars that were miniature copies of the central pillar. Later on, in 1890, the interior of the church was completely changed. The layout was altered to allow for more congregants and an organ was added to the church.

Why is it round?

Since there is no clear answer as to who the architect was for the Round Church, the question of why the church is round is one we will probably never have a concrete answer for. That being said, the two leading theories mentioned earlier are both pretty plausible.

    • Given Campbell’s travels, the church was inspired by European churches, some of which are round

    • Second is that the architect designed it to have no corners for the devil to hide in!

We love the Round Church because it is so unique, just like Islay. We think you should add it to your list for when you visit us here on Islay. It’s a brilliant chance to experience a building steeped in history and see a church like none you’ve ever seen before!

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