St. Mary’s was founded by the Rev. Frederick George Lee who was previously Rector of St. John’s, Crown Terrace, Aberdeen, in 1863. He and his churchwardens at St. John’s had a dispute which was based on Lee’s High Church affiliations, and Lee left, taking a large proportion of the poorer part of the congregation with him. He set up a chapel, already dedicated to St. Mary, in an old Baptist church in Correction Wynd, and the congregation worshipped there until Lee bought land in the newly laid out Carden Place to build the present church. He designed the church himself, helped by the architect Archibald Elliot, and opened it as a proprietary chapel on 30th. March, 1864.
history 1 400pxwLee bankrupted himself with building work, and Bishop Thomas Suther, who had clashed with other High Church clergy, refused to consecrate the new church until the debt was cleared and Lee toned down the High Church decoration. Lee left for London, where he eventually converted to Roman Catholicism. Trustees were appointed and Thomas Dove Dove was selected by the congregation as their next incumbent, and though he was never sanctioned by the Bishop, he did manage to persuade Bishop Suther to licence, but not to consecrate, the building on 3rd. December 1865.
A series of incumbents followed, some High Church, some more moderate, often afflicted with ill health brought on by the Aberdeen weather, and the debt remained, sometimes worse, sometimes better. J.M. Danson in particular applied himself to clearing it, but moved away before his task was complete.
history 2 400pxwHowever, when Francis William Christie was appointed in 1886 the congregation were infused with a new energy. Though the debt lessened, it was at last paid off in dramatic fashion: in December 1889, Christie received a box by parcel post with £186 enclosed – in gold – along with an anonymous note stating that the amount was intended to make up the balance required. This final clearance of the original debt led finally to the consecration of the church on the 16th. April, 1890.
Under Christie’s incumbency, the church developed: guilds were established for men and women, and the Choir Vestry was built, founded in 1905. Furnishings were updated, often designed by the architect Arthur Clyne, who had strong Episcopalian connections, or made by the men’s woodworking guild.
Though ten men of the congregation or connected with it died in the First World War, and a prominent member of the congregation, Lt.Col. William Bain Griffiths Minto, died in an accident marking the end of the war, to read the church’s records the war had little impact on the congregation. An ASC wagon belonging to Aberdeen Coastal Defence crashed into the church railings in 1917, causing minor damage. A war memorial, however, was suggested as early as 22nd. November, 1918. More shocking to the congregation was Christie’s sudden death, aged 70, in 1923.
history 3 400pxwThe Second World War, however, had a far greater impact. Eight men of the congregation were killed in action, including John S. Mackay, whose father had died in the Great War. The Rector, George Richard Lightfoot, lost his wife Edith to lung cancer in 1941, and then died suddenly of a heart attack in 1942. His successor, William Milne, hardly had time to settle in when, on the worst night of Aberdeen’s blitz, the church was hit by a 500kg. thin walled cluster bomb, which went straight through the chancel into the crypt and exploded.
history 4 400pxwIt was 21st. April, 1943, two days before Good Friday, and the Porters, a family belonging to the congregation, were killed the same night. The church was declared unfit for worship until the walls had settled: the windows at the east end of the nave had shifted four inches, and the heavy door between the porch and church had been lifted off its hinges. The rood beam was in place, but the figure of Christ on the Cross was upside down in the crypt.
The congregation worshipped in Albyn School until the chancel was boarded off and the church made safe, then began the long battle with the War Damage Commission to have the building restored. Fortunately, along with the hundreds of letters of sympathy came some practical donations (only three churches in the whole of Scotland were damaged by bombing), and the crypt was reconsecrated in 1951 and the church in 1952. The Green Organ and the altar and triptych in the War Memorial Chapel were the results of donations after the bombing.
- 1861-1864: Frederick George Lee
- 1866-1869: Henry James Palmer
- 1869: Alfred Rudall
- 1869-1874: Henry David Jones
- 1874-1880: James Myers Danson
- 1880-1886: Arthur Felton Still Hill
- 1886-1923: Francis William Christie
- 1924-1927: Henry Chapman
- 1927-1942: George Richard Lightfoot
- 1942-1965: William Milne
- 1965-1968: Thomas Francis Turner
- 1968-1973: William Henry McLaren
- 1973-1975: Roy Norman Chittenden
- 1976-1995: James Douglas Alexander
- 1996-1999: Ian Malcolm Thompson
- 2000-2005: Clive Clapson
- 2005-2014: Graham S Taylor
- 2015-2017: James Merrick
- 2018-Present: Terry Taggart