Taken from “A Brief History and Guide” by David M. Bertie
St. Peter’s was designed by Robert Mitchell, opened for worship on Christmas Eve 1814, and was consecrated on 2nd August 1857.
The Church of St. Peter is the seventh place of worship for the Episcopalians of Peterhead parish since their ejection from the parish kirk in 1699.
The Incumbent of Peterhead at that time was Alexander Barclay who established a meeting house in his own house in Port Henry Lane. During the ministry of his successor Alexander Hepburn, a chapel was erected for the Peterhead Episcopalians near the head of the Broadgate in 1731, but this chapel was destroyed on the orders of Lord Ancrum in May 1746.
Robert Kilgour 1737-1789
Following the Penal Acts of 1746 and 1748 Episcopalian clergymen were only permitted to conduct services to his own household and four other individuals at any one time, resulting in the Minister at the time, Robert Kilgour, performing divine service 12 to 14 times every Sunday in different houses.
By 1760 Episcopalians were more tolerated and Kilgour’s home in Port Henry Lane was used again as a meeting house. The congregation at the time (which included the Arbuthnots —one of Peterhead’s principal families) disliked the poor meeting house and built a new chapel in 1767 in what later became known as Chapel Street. Kilgour was consecrated Bishop of Aberdeen in September 1768.
Schism in the congregation
Controversy over the appointment of a new priest in charge at Lonmay led to the Penal Laws being invoked and the Episcopal chapels at Lonmay, Fraserburgh and Petheread being closed. The Peterhead chapel managers, in their haste to get their own chapel reopened, urged for the removal of the priest from Lonmay—thus causing a schism in the Peterhead congregation which lasted until 1803. The chapel was reopened as a Qualified Chapel in 1771, under the services of William Laing. Kilgour and his followers opened a new chapel at Kilgour’s property at Geary’s Close in southeast Broadgate.
Momentous moments in the history of the Scottish Episcopal Church
During the incumbency of Robert Kilgour, Peterhead was the focus of two of the Scottish Episcopal Church’s most momentous moments:
In 1782 Kilgour became the Primus of Scottish Episcopal Church. On 14 November 1784 in Aberdeen, along with Bishop Petrie of Moray and Bishop Skinner (Coadjutor Bishop of Aberdeen) Kilgour consecrated Samuel Seabury as the first American bishop, bequeathing the Scottish Liturgy to the American Episcopal Chruch in the process. This act laid the foundations of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
After the death of Prince Charles Edward Stuart in 1788 the Episcopal Church finally made its peace with the Government. One of Kilgour’s last acts as Primus was to convene an Episcopal Synod in Aberdeen in April 1788 which decreed that prayers would be said for King George from May of that year.
Move to Merchant Street
In 1798, during Patrick Torry’s ministry, a new church was built in Merchant Street to replace the Broad Street meeting house. Peterhead’s Qualified Chapel rejoined the Episcopal Church in 1803. For a few years the two congregations co-existed until William Laing’s death in 1812, after which the two congregations united in the Merchant Street church.
The present, larger church was then built on the site of the old church in Merchant Street and opened for worship on Christmas Eve 1814.
During the ministry of Gilbert Rorison (1845-1869) the apse was added to the church, including the Torry Memorial Window. The outstanding debt on the building of the church was paid off and the church consecrated on 2 August 1857 by Bishop Suther.
For more information
Further details of the history of St. Peter’s Church and Episcopacy in the Peterhead area can be found in Church History of Buchan, written by John Wilkinson in 1914. John Wilkinson was Rector of St. Peter’s from 1908 to 1926.