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The Anecdotage of Glasgow
Tron Church Burned (1793) through Frolic of the Hell-Fire CIub


The venerable Tron Church was destroyed by fire on the 15th February, 1793, and the Presbytery records, which had only a year before been rendered tolerably complete, were greatly injured. Then, as now, the Tron session-house was the meeting-place of the Presbytery of Glasgow; but it was also used for a very different purpose—that of being guard-house of the city night-guard, a body composed of the burgesses, who took duty by rotation. When the watch left the session-house at three o’clock on the morning of the 15th February all was safe; but by seven o’clock the session-house and the church had been totally destroyed.

A local antiquary records that "the guard being out going their rounds, had left a fire as usual in the session-house, without anyone to take care of the premises, when some members of a society, who were the disciples of Thomas Paine, and who designated themselves the Hell-fire Club, being on their way home from the club, and excited with liquor, entered the session-house in a frolic.

While warming themselves at the fire, and indulging in jokes against one another as to their individual capacity to resist heat, with reference to an anticipated residence in the headquarters of the club, they placed what inflammable materials were at hand on the fire to increase it; and ultimately having, in bravado, wrenched off and placed some of the timbers of the session-house on the ignited mass, they could no longer endure the heat, and fled in dismay from the house, which contained much dry wood, as it was seated like a church.

It was soon a mass of fire, and the flames caught the church, which was totally destroyed in a terrific conflagration, so that on the north side of the Trongate, between it and Bell Street, where Antigua Place in Nelson Street now is, a quantity of hay in stack was with difficulty saved from the embers, which were wafted through the air from the blazing church." The steeple, built in 1637, was not, however, destroyed.

In the following year the present church was erected, James Adam, one of the architects of the infirmary, being entrusted with the plans. The remains of the records of the Presbytery and General Session were afterwards carefully collected; and a fairly accurate transcription was made of them. The clock dials were lighted by gas reflectors in the winter of 1821-22, and this is believed to have been the first steeple in the kingdom so illuminated. The inventor of this expedient was, says Clelland, "Mr. John Hart, an ingenious and scientific pastry baker of this city."


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