Alexander Thomson was born at Balfron in Stirlingshire in 1817.
He spent his working life as an architect in and around Glasgow until his death in 1875. He created some of the most unique secular and ecclesiastical buildings of the Victorian era, blending archetypical Greek styling with Egyptian and other exotic themes to produce buildings which have few equals anywhere when it comes to sheer originality.
Thomson's only surviving intact church. George Thomson was a member of the Gordon Street U.P. congregation, which he persuaded both to sell its church in Gordon Street (formerly Melville Street) built in 1823 to his firm, A.& G. Thomson in 1856 [see Gordon Street], and to appoint his brother and himself as architects of the new church further west to be built with the proceeds. the land was bought from William Henderson, who had bought it from Lord Blythswood.
St Vincent Street Church, to the west of the city centre, was completed in 1859. The constituent parts display different styles, with a typical Thomson Greek temple placed alongside an exotic clock tower which shows more oriental influences. The windows on the four sides of the tower each feature paired sculptured faces looking in on one another.
At the time when the Caledonia Road Church was destroyed by fire in the 1960's, Glasgow Association of Spiritualists were occupying the St Vincent Street Church, keeping it from falling into dereliction. Glasgow City Council acquired the building in December 1970 and carried out repairs and maintenance to keep the church as much as possible in its original state.
The Council rented St Vincent Street Church to a congregation of the Free Church of Scotland in October 1971, who still occupy it. There were proposals in the mid-1980's to terminate the lease to the Free Church and use the building as a tourist attraction in a similar way to Thomson's Holmwood House and Rennie Mackintosh's Scotland Street School. This never happened and the building still fulfils its intended function as a place of worship.
In August 2007 a £1.85million renovation project was announced by the church’s owners Glasgow City Council, Historic Scotland are to provide a £350,000 grant to go
Towards a full restoration of the building. The refurbishment will involve structural consolidation work to the main roof trusses, internal replastering and repairs to the crumbling stonework
The 1881 Memoir of George Thomson records that
"when Dr Beattie's congregation removed from Gordon Street to St Vincent Street, they entrusted to George Thomson the duty of making the plans for the new church. It was really, however, a joint work: while he supplied the general plan and main features, the detail was his brother's; as he admitted himself throughout his brother's disciple, it was easier to secure a harmonious union of each part to the whole. He had the most complete confidence in the ultimate success of his brother's theory of architecture, and belief in its correctness..."
The draft memoir of Thomson by his widow refers to the
“freedom of treatment as compared with former works, the bold manner in which the work is adapted to the site and the peculiarity of the Clerestory of the tower, which latter is to a considerable extent an alteration by his brother
of the original design which had become too expensive for the building committee to carry out."
This photograph from 1859 shows us exactly how Thomson would have wanted to view the church. It demonstrates his idea of a Greek temple standing high up on a mighty podium. This draws its influence from the ancient Acropolis in Athens.
The Church today: