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Scottish laird bids to resurrect Cardross seminary rescue plan


Scottish laird John Bute has called for public money to help save Gillespie Kidd & Coia’s derelict seminary in Cardross

The category A-listed St Peter’s Seminary, located in secluded woodland near Dunbarton, closed nearly 40 years ago and is now a derelict ruin. 

In January the Archdiocese of Glasgow, which owns the seminary, described it as ‘a huge albatross around our neck’.

But Bute, who backed a previous bid to save the building, said he would commit funds from his charitable trust if the government would also step in.

He told the BBC: ‘People know this building all over the world. It is widely recognised as being one of Britain’s finest examples of Brutalist architecture.’

Scottish architect Alan Dunlop backed Bute’s intervention and said St Peters had the potential to be transformed into a Bauhaus-inspired centre.

‘Just how we do that is up for discussion and we hope to meet the culture secretary Fiona Hyslop soon to discuss. However, as 2019 is the centenary of the founding of the Bauhaus – an institution that changed the course of architecture, art, manufacturing and design internationally – it could become a new Bauhaus, or Taigh Togail in Gaelic, where manufacturing could also be done, residential learning undertaken and apprenticeships that could help renovate the building started. 

‘Its seclusion then would not be such a challenge to be overcome.’

In 2011, developer Urban Splash walked away from a Gareth Hoskins-designed transformation of the crumbling masterpiece.

Glasgow-based arts organisation NVA then stepped in, drawing up plans to turn the building into a cultural venue overseen by Avanti Architects and McGinlay Bell. 

The Mount Stuart foundation, chaired by Bute, helped to fund the project but the charity later announced its plans to close, saying it had been unable to guarantee the building a ‘viable future’. 

The former priest’s training centre, designed by Isi Metzstein and Andy MacMillan of Gillespie Kidd & Coia, opened in 1966 but was deconsecrated in 1980 and fell into ruin.

The building was given Category A listing by Historic Scotland in 1992. 

1966   St Peter s Seminary  c Glasgow School of Art Archives and Collections

1966 St Peter s Seminary c Glasgow School of Art Archives and Collections

Source: Glasgow School of Art Archives and Collections

St Peter’s Seminary in 1966


Readers' comments (9)

  • John Bute's intervention and his ambition to make the abandoned St Peter's Seminary a community building and a learning and manufacturing resource, to help stimulate economic and social regeneration in Argyll and Bute deserves support .

    According to Design Week the design industry contributes £4.3b each year to the Scottish economy. Scottish and international artists, architects, industrial designers, graphic, textile and fashion designers, car and furniture designers could come together in Taigh Togail, in studios and residences to produce work of outstanding quality, bringing jobs, creating apprenticeships, working with manufacturers to make those works in a single place that has international acclaim in a stimulating and creative environment for the economic and cultural benefit of the people of Argyll and Bute and Scotland.

    The building is made for it, with its extraordinary plan, genius structure and abundance of natural light. It would be an asset. St. Peters would and should be inclusive, creating work and opportunity for all. A dove carrying an olive branch, not an albatross

    The Bauhaus "aimed to reunite fine art and functional design to create practical objects with the soul of artworks". Taigh Togail would do the same.

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  • Gordon  Gibb

    Good luck. I can't see it being a community building, because there is no community near it. It could be a national resource though, and it is well suited to being a residential centre for the arts or music. The acoustics are amazing, even in its current state. Although it is mostly roof and it has a very similar acoustic quality to the Borders abbeys, which still ring, even though mostly de-roofed.

    Andy and Isi were known by the contractors as "The Alter Boys" during construction, because they kept on changing their minds and altering the design. It seems to me that this building is destined to present a challenge to anyone who wishes to alter it from its current status of honourable ruin.

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  • Although in the modern local authority area of 'Argyll and Bute,' and tucked away in the old Kilmahew Castle demesne in a wooded glen, the location is not remote at all (contrary to the assumptions of many) - being only a short walk from Cardross station on the Edinburgh - Glasgow - Helensburgh commuter line.
    This might partly explain the spectacular degree of vandalism that it has suffered, but it also makes the latest proposals all the more viable.
    And as well as being an obvious candidate for government financial help, the idea is surely worthy of assistance from the previous owners - who are by no means poor - in the cause of the wider good that the proposed renaissance would foster.

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  • Indeed Robert, it's secluded but not remote and certainly not inaccessible.

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  • Gordon  Gibb

    Of course it is remote. It was located where it was for its remoteness. It was the idea of the remoteness of the building that became obsolete almost as soon as it was opened that caused the building's demise.

    The three listed historic bridges that will not take heavy traffic that you have to cross over to get to the remote part of the remote site where the building sits make it difficult to access. I remember this being an additional obstacle for previous schemes. It needs a great deal of money to bring it back, probably around 30 million, and it probably needs an access road across ground owned by others. There are very steep gradients on the adjacent ground and there is a golf course.

    It would never be a community building. You don't get a train and then walk uphill through a remote wood to a community building. You don't pay 30 million pounds for a local community facility for 2,200 people. There has never been any need expressed for one of the scale of St Peters in Cardross.

    It needs to have an ideally-suited purpose first, that is both national and international in appeal, not a local appeal. Until you have that perfect world-scale match, it won't happen. Because the building's restoration is parasitic upon the process at the outset, you have to justify it by showing it to make that perfect sense. If you attract the initiative there will always be competition from new build on a new site at a third of the cost. I would love to see it restored. Wouldn't we all? But we have to get real and make the business case first, even if it is to be subsidy led and for the arts. Wishing won't make it happen.

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  • A shame about Gordon Gibb's gloom, although I love the 'alter boys' remark.
    It was always going to be a struggle to bring great numbers of the public to an arts centre here - on a regular basis, rather than for a once-in-a-decade experience such as that two or three years ago. But a Scottish Bauhaus school would be a fabulous reuse. Taigh Toghail doesn't sound like a community building in the usual struggling, 'what the hell are we going to do with unwanted building' sense. And I would hope that the community would be able to use it, for classes, training, events. There are trustee links with the suffering Macintosh School - maybe there could be practical academic links. From albatross to dove to phoenix, perhaps. Hurrah for John Bute and his trust funds. The building and the area need them.

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  • It would work Judith, I agree. From albatross, to dove to phoenix, very clever........ if you don't mind I'll use that in future.

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  • Gordon Gibb is correct, - from the point of view of someone who really laments the ongoing loss of Brutalist buildings I look at this place as something that could be amazing, but an amazing what? There must be a proper business case made and it will need to be exceptional,- just look at the problems there are retaining fully functioning, still utilised, world class concrete buildings in the middle of our most populous cities. Based on what I have seen recently the British government and its most listened to advisers are more likely to advocate spending 10 million on demolishing such a building out of spite than they are to spend 1 million on looking after it, and any business/organisation that could afford it isn't likely to think such an investment very clever unless there is going to be a whopping return for minimal outlay. Don't get me wrong, I want to see it saved, but I think a community centre or some kind of arts school just isn't going to do it.

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  • There will be a proper business case made. It is not a proposal for a community centre, nor some kind of arts school.

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