I live in the village of Blackford and every day I pass the now run down United Free Church in Moray Street.  A plaque tells something about the history of the church, but what interested me was the information regarding the church being demolished after being struck by lightning in 1914.   

Village of Blackford

On the 9th of April 1914, a terrible storm hit central Scotland as the tempest travelled east it left a trail of destruction in its wake.  Miners at the colliery of Messrs William Baird and Co’s near Kilsyth had a lucky escape when lightning hit a large chimney stack. The structure was split right up the middle and the top 50 feet came hurtling to the ground. As luck would have there were no injuries as the incident occurred just before miners who were about to finish their shift had reached the surface.

In Dunblane, the chimney stack at the Ashfield Works was struck and damaged, one man in the town was knocked unconscious by falling masonry and in Coupar Angus, a little girl had a very lucky escape when an umbrella she was carrying was struck by lightning.

The residents of Perth were subjected to an unusual sight when the lightning conductor on the General Accident building was hit by lightning.  It was reported that a great multicoloured ball of fire circled around a large gilt ball on the top of the building, a loud bang was heard when the building was hit, and it was said to have caused a deafening noise that echoed up the High Street.

But it was the village of Blackford that witnessed the most devastation.  The storm started with the skies darkening in the west and then came the fierce hailstones that bounced off the streets.  Quickly followed by thunder and lightning, there were by all accounts three distinct flashes of lightning each followed by the roar of thunder.  One villager 83-year-old Archibald Sinclair who was a retired estate worker he had been visiting the blacksmith who was working at the at the Smiddy when he saw the darkening skies Archibald decided it would be best to get home before the storm came.  The old man was hurrying along Moray Street but as he passed the UF church a bright flash of lightning struck the building.

Damage to Church

A large portion of the church roof flew off and about 40 feet of the church spire tumbled to the ground, the church bell and clock were flung out the tower and also fell to the street.  Archibald Sinclair was buried underneath this falling debris and was killed instantly. A fire broke out within the church and destroyed the interior of the building. It took firefighters who were helped by the local villagers one and a half hours to extinguish the flames. The damage to the church was estimated to be in the region of £2,000 this was a large sum of money in 1914.   

A man writing to the Scotsman Newspaper on the 11th of April 1914 claimed to have witnessed the lightning flash that struck the Church at Blackford, he stated “I was looking out for flashes when I was surprised by seeing one, the longest, and broadest, and most straight I have ever seen.  What impressed me most was that the discharge took place parallel to the surface of the earth”.

The doorway of the shop that stood almost directly opposite the church was hit by lightning and a big chip was taken from the doorstep. Bits of flying masonry flew for 150 yards in all directions from the church tower and caused considerable damage to the surrounding houses.

Blackford UF Church

The United Free Church at Blackford was repaired and reopened on Sunday the 15th of November 1914 it was now a time when religious comfort was being sought out throughout the world as war swept away everything in its path.  The First World War was to be a war unlike the world had ever known. The UF Church continued as a place of worship until it closed its doors in 1955. Now bird’s nest in the old tower and wood bangs in the wind but a plaque on the railings outside telling of the history of the church gives a brief mention of the storm of 1914 and an engraved picture show the damaged church as it was in 1914.

written by Gary Knight

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