The congregation of St Andrew’s Parish Church is the result of unions between Anderson, Burleigh Memorial and Stonefield Churches. The current building was built in the early 1980s on the site of Stonefield Parish Church. It was opened and dedicated in a special service on 21st March 1982. The new building was not a matter of choice at the time, but read on to find why…
First let’s take some steps back in time.
There are various theories regarding the origin of our town’s name: Blantyre. Some suggest it means ‘field of the holy men’, ‘a warm retreat’ (as in the Gaelic Bla-an-tir which has been used as the name for one of the hotels in the town) or ‘land of St Blane’ This is the Irish missionary who also gives his name to Dunblane. We may never know the exact details, but what is beyond doubt is the presence of Christianity from a very early date.
By the time of the middle ages, there was a Priory at Blantyre. It is not known exactly when it was founded but it is said to date from the last years of Alexander II (1214-1249). It was a subhouse of Jedburgh Abbey in the borders. The Roman Church often built on sites which were once Celtic monasteries, again suggesting that there has been a church here for longer.
The Priory established a Collegiate Church at Kirkton (now High Blantyre) in the 15th century. A collegiate church was one served by a group of priests rather than just one. One of their main purposes was to pray for the soul of their benefactor. The only other Collegiate Church still existing in the area is in Bothwell.
In the 16th century, the Protestant reformation was sweeping Europe led by the likes of Martin Luther and the Scotsman John Knox, taught by Calvin, who has special significance for the Reformation in Scotland. Indeed Knox’s statue resides outside the Church of Scotland Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh.
It must be remembered that most of the first Protestant leaders like Luther and Knox had at one time been Roman Catholic priests. As the Reformation worked its way Northwards the Prior of Blantyre Priory, William Chirnside, embraced the ideas of the Protestant Reformation. Prior William (and presumably his whole community) left the Priory which became a ruin and has now all but vanished.
In 1567, William Chirnside moved up to Kirkton and the services in the Collegiate Church there now became ‘protestant’. In 1791, the parish church, as it now was, recorded as ‘being of great antiquity and in use since the reformation’ was demolished to make way for a new church built in 1773, seating 370. This was replaced in 1863 by the present church to seat 800. This became known as ‘Blantyre Parish Church’ as it was the only church in Blantyre. However, with the building of Stonefield Parish, it became known as ‘High Blantyre Parish Church’ and in 1951 was named ‘Blantyre Old Parish Church’, which is its current name.
The Industrial Revolution and Social Change in Blantyre
The history of the churches which eventually became known as St Andrews has its beginning in the Industrial Revolution. Prior to that Kirkton (later known as High Blantyre) was a rural community. It was through the Industrial Revolution that ‘Low Blantyre’ was developed with its close proximity to the river Clyde.
In 1785 everything in Blantyre changed when David Dale erected the first cotton spinning mill on the banks of the Clyde. The mills were then bought by James Monteith of Glasgow in 1792 with his brother Henry as partner. They created a ‘village’ near the mills in order to house their growing workforce. The population of Blantyre at that time was not sufficient to staff the mills and the opportunities for work brought an influx of people to the area. The population expanded 200% by 1801 and continued to rise. In 1828, Henry Monteith and Company erected a chapel/school for their workers. Used as a school during the day (David Livingstone attended it), it was used as a church on Sundays in connection with the Church of Scotland. It was not a parish church, but more of a ‘mission church’. High Blantyre was still the only parish church at this time.
The Disruption and Anderson Free Church
The 19th century saw many tensions within the Church of Scotland. Much of these tensions were concerned with the ‘call’ of a minister to a charge (church): should it be the land owner or the congregation itself. This came to a head in 1843 when about one third of the ministers left it and formed the ‘Free Church of Scotland’. The minister of Blantyre at the time was the Rev. James Anderson and he broke away with many of his people and formed a branch of the Free Church in the town. A church was built at once simply called ‘Blantyre Free Church’. In 1846, the church was burned down. Their new church was built in 1872 on Stonefield Road. It was built of light grey sandstone in shape of the cross (as seen from photo). In 1900 it became ‘Blantyre United Free Church’. In 1929, it went into the union to reform the Church of Scotland and was renamed ‘Anderson Church of Scotland’, after its first minister, Rev. James Anderson. A hall was built next to it in 1939.
For a few years, it became linked with Stonefield Parish and in 1978 was formally united with Stonefield Parish Church to become St. Andrews. The question of which building was to be used for worship was answered by fire! The Anderson church, which had been empty for some time, was burned down on 8th June 1978. The church hall remains today as Smith’s Funeral Parlour.
Burleigh Memorial Church
There must have been a connection between the Anderson Church and the Burleigh Church, because it was also a Free Church. It began life as a ‘mission church’ for the east end of the town. A mission hall was erected in 1878 in Herbertson Street, off Glasgow Road. In 1892 it was raised to full church status and so a church was built next to the mission hall, which then became the church hall. And was known as ‘Blantyre East Free Church’. In 1889 it was given its first minister, Rev. John Burleigh. In 1900 it became ‘Blantyre East United Free Church’. Like the Anderson, it joined to form part of the new Church of Scotland in 1929 and became known as ‘Blantyre East Church of Scotland’. After World War 2 it was renamed ‘Burleigh Memorial Church of Scotland’ after its first Minister (Rev. John Burleigh 1889-1922).
The first union and readjustment in the town was in 1965 when the Burleigh Memorial was united with Stonefield Parish to become ‘Stonefield Burleigh Memorial Parish Church’. It was decided that the Burleigh halls would be used as the halls of the new congregation, but that the Stonefield buiilding would become the church for Sunday worship. However, the church hall was burned down in 1973 and the Burleigh Church in 1974.
Stonefield Parish Church
The present St Andrew’s Parish Church stands on the site of the former Stonefield Parish. By now, ‘low Blantyre’ was growing due to the cotton mills although this tailed off in the 1870s but was superseded by the discovery of coal deposits and the opening of six collieries bringing an income for thousands.
But there was no ‘Church of Scotland’ presence in Low Blantyre, only the Free Church. In 1880, a new 900 seat church (the largest in Blantyre) was opened. The first minister was Rev. Thomas Pryde. It was not, however, opened as a separate parish church, but was rather termed a ‘chapel of ease’ under the wings of Blantyre Parish Church (at High Blantyre). Ten years later it was raised to parish church status and became a separate parish from High Blantyre. The Established Church now had two churches as did the Free Church.
At around the same time Livingstone Memorial Church was also built (1882) and in 1900 became a part of the United Free Church and then in 1929 became a part of the Church of Scotland. A little earlier in 1877 a priest took up residence in Blantyre (the first since 1567!) and after the purchase of land on Glasgow Road a church was erected in 1878. Plans were drawn for a new larger building about twenty years later and the current St Joseph’s was opened in 1905.
But back to Stonefield… In 1902 the bell from Blantyre mill which used to summon David Livingstone to work, was presented to Stonefield Church as a coronation gift. It continued to be used as the church bell until it was given in 1922 to Low Blantyre Public School. It is now back in the Livingstone Centre.
During the first half of the 20th century, Low Blantyre continued to prosper with the many side industries springing up from coal mining. Stonefield Church itself was quite prosperous and well attended by local GPs, businessmen and shopkeepers. The church had strong links with the Cooperative Society. It did not have halls next to it as every other church did. It used halls a short walk away. The Church ran two Sunday Schools: a morning one for the congregation’s children and an afternoon one mainly for miner’s children.
In 1949 the fine 3 manual pipe organ from Hamilton Town Hall was dedicated in its new residence having been rebuilt by H. Hilsdon Ltd. Stonefield Church could boast of having ‘the finest organ in Lanarkshire’. Thus it could also attract some of the finest organists. The most famous was ‘Hitler’s pianist’. The story of how Walter Hambock left Germany and arrived in Scotland is told by Jack Webster in an article in ‘The Herald’ of 23rd December 1996. He was a professor of music and set up business in Strichen, Aberdeenshire. Mr. Hambock became organist of Stonefield Church from 1968-1970.
By the 1960’s the last of the coal mines on which Blantyre’s prosperity and expansion relied closed down. This inevitably resulted in a high level of unemployment which had a ‘ripple effect’ on many other businesses in the community.
Church membership at Stonefield Parish Church never exceeded 600 at its height. This was maintained throughout the sixties, but by the mid-seventies was beginning to show decline.
Unions and Readjustments
In 1965, Stonefield Parish Church was united with the Burleigh Memorial Church to become ‘Stonefield Burleigh Memorial Parish Church’. A second union took place in 1978 when the Anderson Church joined the union. At that time the church was renamed St Andrew’s Parish Church (Stonefield Burleigh Memorial Anderson Parish Church would have been quite a mouthful!).
In 1976, the Rev James Gregory became the Minister first of the linked charges then of the united congregation.
On 3rd September 1979, however, Stonefield Parish Church suffered the fate of all the other church buildings and was accidentally set on fire. The roof was being restored at the time when a workman left his blowtorch on while he went for his lunch. The building was just 9 months away from its centenary! At first it was thought that repair would be possible with a new roof, but soon it was discovered that the whole remaining church would need to be demolished, partly as a result of weaknesses in the walls from the land disturbance caused by mining (the reason why the spire had been removed years earlier). Despite losing their church building, the congregation remained resilient. During the next 3 years they met in the Livingstone Memorial Church each Sunday afternoon.
On 21st March 1982, the new St Andrew’s Church was opened by the Rev. John Handley, Moderator of Hamilton Presbytery. Also in attendance were the Very Reverend professor Robin Barbour, former Moderator of the General Assembly and the architect, Mr. R. Robertson. It was built at a cost of £187,000. The main sanctuary has seating for 180, but a sliding partition connecting with the hall provides seating for 400 if necessary.
With decline in numbers as part of the modern church’s challenge, St Andrew’s embarked on a philosophy of mission. The church became a ‘mission partner’ with St Ninian’s Centre in Crieff and a program of mission development began. The laity was challenged to become part of the vision building and the church was structured to develop mission. A Tea Room was established which has become a welcome community resource that continues to this day. A ‘Mustard Seed Prayer Group’ was formed and healing services were introduced. In 1992, Rev James Gregory retired.
Uncertain Days for St Andrew’s
In the late 1980s and early 1990s the Presbytery’s Unions and Readjustments committee (now known as Parish Planning) was going through a very enthusiastic stage! With the membership of St Andrew’s having dropped to 211 it was not considered by some a viable option to keep the church open.
With the other Church of Scotland congregations in the town also in numerical decline, it seemed that yet another union was necessary. The most obvious union would be for a link between St Andrew’s Parish Church and Low Blantyre’s other parish church – the Livingstone Memorial. After a long series of meetings with the presbytery committee a compromise was reached. St Andrew’s would be allowed to call another minister but on ‘terminable tenure’ basis. This meant that the ministry would not be permanent and could be terminated by the Presbytery within a few years to allow a union with another church.
In 1993, Rev Ian Meredith, a Minister in the United Reformed Church in England, was called to St Andrew’s. The mid 90s saw some considerable growth. New groups were started such as the Women’s Friendship Circle and various small study groups. A local homeless Scout group was offered accommodation, and various community groups were given space to use. Mission development was given a greater impetus, and we embarked on new publicity programmes. By 1995 the main sanctuary seating 180 was full and the partition was opened to allow an overflow into the hall. This is now permanent each Sunday. As a result the Sunday School had to find alternative accommodation, and were able to do so at a local youth centre, Terminal 1, a short walk from the church.
In 1996 and 1997 the other two parish ministers in Blantyre (Rev Peter Price from Blantyre Old and Rev Jim Hunter from Livingstone Memorial) retired and with Rev Meredith on Terminable Tenure readjustment and unions could be finalised for Blantyre.
However, the growth in membership of St Andrew’s in the years preceding this meant that it was not so easy now to consider a union. In part this was due to accommodation problems., but St Andrew’s had also settled on a more contemporary approach to church life and worship. Livingstone Memorial had retained a more traditional ethos. It was felt that there was good reason to retain a range of different worship styles for the Church of Scotland for a growing town and so it was that St Andrew’s and Livingstone Memorial resisted any plans for union.
In 1997 Blantyre Old Parish Church was given permission to call a new minister on an unrestricted basis and subsequently Rev Rosemary Smith was inducted in 1997. Thus Blantyre Old would not be part of any readjustment plan. In September 1997, the Presbytery of Hamilton announced that St Andrew’s was also now to be given full status and that the Terminal Tenure was to be removed. Accordingly, Rev Ian Meredith was formally inducted to the new full status charge on, appropriately enough, St Andrew’s Day – 30th November 1997.
The removal of the inevitable uncertainty that had been hanging over the congregation encouraged investment in the facilities. In 1999 the Church of the Nazarene building, which is located behind St Andrew’s Church, was bought primarily to accommodate the Sunday Funday Club but also to provide increased space for other organisations. Study groups and worship services in the more intimate Nazarene Hall (as it is now called) are held regularly.
1999 was a frantic year in the short 20 year history since the new St Andrew’s building was opened. Not only was the Nazarene Hall purchased but also a new manse in Glasgow Road to meet the requirements of the Church of Scotland.
Not long after the completion of these purchases Rev Ian Meredith resigned his post. There was considerable anxiety that this would lead to more uncertainty. However, a sympathetic response from presbytery was received and approval was granted almost immediately to continue on full status and seek a new minister without delay or restriction.
This was achieved in a very short time, with Rev Peter Johnston being ordained and inducted into his first charge in April 2001, only 6 months after Rev Meredith’s departure.