Work on Great James Street Presbyterian Church began on 27th April 1835 and was completed in 1837 to a design by architect, Stewart Gordon. The church was Gordon’s first major commission as Surveyor for County Londonderry and was intended to accommodate a congregation of 1,200 people. It cost an estimated £2,000 which was raised by the local Presbyterian community. Gordon was also the Surveyor for the Honourable The Irish Society and was a native of the city. Some of Gordon’s other works include:
- Dungiven Castle (1839),
- the bridge over the River Bann in Coleraine (1841-44),
- Strand Road Presbyterian Church (1847) and
- Coleraine Courthouse (1850-52)
Great James Street Presbyterian is one of the most significant examples of built heritage of the city and is typical of the Georgian neoclassical style, featuring an imposing portico supported by four ionic columns. A particular feature is the oversized scrolls which flank the wide front steps. The church is constructed from local Barony Glen sandstone quarried in Dungiven, a common material found in many of the city’s 18th century buildings. The dressings and carved details on the façade are fashioned from Griffnock sandstone brought from Glasgow. The same building material can be found in another local landmark, Magee College.
In 1863, Boyd and Batt remodelled the interior including the existing mahogany fronted gallery. In 1901, under new minister, Rev. James Thompson, the congregation raised £1,700 to ‘beautify’ the church, installing new heating and ventilation systems, new windows and the beautiful ornate mosaic tiling in the vestibule. While this work was undertaken, the congregation worshipped in the Guildhall.
The building was listed in 1979 and is classified as Grade B+. It has been included on the Built Heritage At Risk Northern Ireland (BHARNI) register since 1995. The church has also featured in Perspective, the journal of the Royal Ulster Architectural Society, a copy of the article can be found here.