Stonefield Parish Church

From the Book, “Blantyre Glasgow Road South – The Real Story” by Paul Veverka (c) 2017

Stonefield Parish Church

   The Stonefield Parish Church was located on Glasgow Road at the western corner of Church Street during the late 19th Century and through most of the 20th.

Church zoned

Stonefield Parish Church shown on the 1962 map

   It was originally noted as being a “Chapel of Ease” later to become known as Stonefield Parish. This “Chapel of Ease” came about as the Old Parish Church built at High Blantyre in 1863, was still subject to overcrowding. Some residents from Low Blantyre had far to walk and so it made sense that another church should be built, which would remain under Blantyre Parish Church. The Provost of Hamilton, John Clark Forrest, a prominent landowner in the town, donated the site for the Church in 1876 although it was not formerly bought until 1878. Like the shops and homes to the east, it was yet another building constructed in the late 1870’s.

   On 23rd April 1876, a Blantyre Session House record, recorded by Rev Stewart Wright of High Blantyre commented on the greatly increased population of Blantyre and how it now needed a new church. Rev Wright read out the following proposed letter, which was to be distributed throughout the Parish. “Every one acquainted with Blantyre is aware of the thorough change that has passed over the parish. A little time ago it was a retired, thinly populated agricultural district, but now it has become the important centre of a vast mining population. In 1871, the inhabitants numbered about 3500; a census lately taken shows them to have increased to 8000, and we may safely predict, from the evidence everywhere around us, that in five years more the eight thousand will have doubled.”

1950 Aeiral Stonefield Parish

1950 Aerial View Church

 Rev Stewart continued, “In these circumstances the minister and the kirk-session feel that there is the most urgent call upon them to be up and doing, so as to provide church accommodation for this vast multitude. Within the bounds of the parish there are at present but two churches, Established and Free, both of which cannot accommodate more than 1300 people. The United Presbyterians have a church on the coannes? Which can hold 400 more, and the Roman Catholics are about to erect a chapel for their adherents, perhaps numbering about 700; so there is thus a large and increasing population for whom it is incumbent upon the Church of Scotland to provide, without unnecessary delay, religious ordinances. Therefore, the minister and kirk-session send forth this appeal to all who love our Zion, and are concerned for the religious instruction of our people, to grant them sympathy and help, that they may, to some extent, meet those spirited demands of their parish.

   A site has been promised on the Glasgow and Hamilton Road, in the very centre of the district of Stonefield that is being so quickly populated. The proposed church is to accommodate 900 sitters, and will cost between £4000 and £5000. Grants in aid are expected from the Home Mission, the Baird Trust, and the Ferguson Request; but others, too, must be willing and ready to contribute as God has given them power, if we are soon to see erected here for His service, and to His glory, a “holy and a beautiful house.” Your name, as a contributor, will be gladly received by Stewart Wright, minister of Blantyre; or Mr. L. W. Adamson, Rosebank, Blantyre, treasurer. The manse at Blantyre.”

   The action was made to print this letter and to progress with the new Church to be paid for from funds in the Session accounts and refunded by subscriptions, i.e. it was to ultimately be paid for by the people of Blantyre.

   A letter by Rev Stewart Wright appeared in the Glasgow Herald on Friday 1st March 1878, stating, “SIR- Will you kindly insert in your journal the enclosed circular, which I recently issued, and in which I plead for subscriptions to defray the expenses of a new church that is now in course of erection in my parish. The population has so vastly increased that there is urgent need for this new church. The mass of the people are poor, being miners and their families, who consequently cannot afford to give much. The people of Scotland have nobly responded to the appeal, which I issued in behalf of the many families who were rendered destitute by the recent terrible colliery explosion. I feel assured that I shall not now plead in vain for sympathy and help to meet the spiritual wants of those who are still with us.”

Building the Church

   By 1878 subscription monies had been received to start the build. The Foundation stone was laid by Rev Stewart Wright and John Clark Forrest overseeing a small ceremony in May 1878. Mr. A. J. Smith of Glasgow, architect, drew up the plans for the church, which was 80 feet long and 47 feet wide, and the spire rose up to 100 feet from a large square pedestal feature. Built by William Adam Builders & Joiners of Main Street, High Blantyre, the church was designed in the Norman Gothic style and included an apse behind the pulpit to accommodate a choir and an organ, and all the side windows were of elaborate design with gablets (separate pitched roofs) over them.


Interior Stonefield Parish Church

   It was officially opened on Tuesday 29th June 1880 and including the galleries, could seat 900 people. It is unknown if the £5,000 budget was adhered to. The Church was entered from Glasgow Road via ornate large gates between stone pillars, the entrance on a walled perimeter. Rev. Thomas Pryde was ordained to be the pastorate of the church and was first to do so, when it opened.

   A note in the Kirk Session book on 7th August 1880, records the opening event as described by the Rev Stewart Wright of High Blantyre Old Parish. Noting the opening date and the aforementioned ordainment, it was stated that Rev Wright himself conducted the ceremony and services along with Rev Scott, minister of Bargeddie who spoke from the bible Matthew IX v 37. Rev Wright offered prayers.

   After the service the ladies of the Parish presented Rev. Pryde with a pulpit gown, hymnbook and bands. Rev. Pryde said his thanks for the gift and the young minister then shook hands with the leaving congregation. A note was also entered about the glorious church being constructed in such a populous place. It did remain under the Blantyre Parish Church control until 1890 when it was raised to a “Quoad Sacra” Parish with its own Kirk Session and Stonefield Parish Church was then recognised in its own right.

   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 (Stonefield Parish) School. After the 1970’s, it was returned back to the David Livingstone Centre, where it now is hung from the gable of Shuttle Row.

General Booth’s Visit to the Church   


General Booth’s Motor Car Tour of 1904 visiting the church

   1904 saw General Booth travel through Scotland is his much celebrated motorcar tour, a cavalcade of early cars travelling from Land’s End to Aberdeen. William Booth, the evangelist preacher, remembered for being the founder of the Salvation Army was on a grand adventure. This was at a time when motor travel was still in its infancy and Booth covered 1,224 miles in 29 days, speaking at 75 indoor, 36 outdoor, and 53 overflow meetings. During September, he stopped at Stonefield Parish Church to speak about the new car contraption and an audience of 1,500 people packed into the church (that could accommodate 900). Outside 3,000 people had assembled in the open air, quite a considerable percentage of Blantyre’s population, given the event had been advertised in advance. Dr Grant presided and afterwards the General was treated to tea.


William Booth addresses crowds on his motor car tour of 1904

Church Life & Ministers

   In 1909 the minister Rev. Thomas Pryde was also in charge of the Sunday school. At the same time the session clerk was Donald McLean. Secretary of the Sunday school was a Miss Gray. Choirmaster was William Steven. Harmounium player was Miss Steven.

   Treasurer of bible class was Miss Steven. Secretary was Miss J.W Steven.

   The Church also had a Senior Women’s Guild. During 1909, the President was Miss Shaw. Miss Gray was President of the Junior Guild. Positions of authority within the Recreation and Rambling Club included President, Rev. Mr. Pryde, Treasurer M. McArthur and Secretary George Gray. Rev. Thomas Pryde retired in 1919.

   On Thursday evening 21st February 1918, the Junior Choir of Stonefield Parish Church rendered the kinderspiel entitled “Don Quixote” in the Co-operative Hall, Stonefield, Rev. Thomas Pryde, M.A.. presided, and notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather there was a large turnout. The children rendered their several pieces with pleasing effect, and great credit was due to the conductor, Mr. Malcolm Young, for the excellent manner in which he had the young ones trained. By then the Church had address 139 Glasgow Road.

   During the 1920’s, Rev. W.H. McDiarmid was minister, but left to go to a church in Forfar in June 1929.

  During 1921 and 1922, this church faced a serious crisis and the building and congregation was the subject of discussion at the monthly meetings of Hamilton Presbytery. The fabric of the Church had been wrecked by underground workings and this forced the congregation to worship in temporary buildings built alongside the church some time earlier, which quickly became not watertight. A proposed restoration scheme of the old church was discussed at a cost of £4,000 held up extensively as the contractors asked for guarantees that they would be paid.

   The Scotsman on Wednesday 28th September 1921 revealed some things about problems at the Stonefield Parish Church – “The serious position in which the congregation of Stonefield Parish Church, Blantyre, now find themselves was the subject of discussion yesterday at the monthly meeting of Hamilton Presbytery. The fabric of the church was wrecked by underground workings; and for some time back the congregation have been worshipping in temporary accommodation, which in turn is now declared to be not wind and watertight. A proposed restoration scheme of the old church at a cost of about £4000 has met with frequent delays on the part of the Baird Trust and the Home Mission Committee, who ask for guarantees of security for the future. The reply to this is that to ask for secure foundations in a mining area like Blantyre is equivalent to asking for the moon. A remit has once more been made to the Committee already appointed by the Presbytery to consider the whole matter, with power to take expert opinion if thought desirable, also to estimate what financial assistance ought to be given by the Presbytery, and report.”.

   The church steeple was completely demolished in 1921 to make it safer and garden fetes were still being held in Summer 1922 to raise more money for completing the building repairs.

   In 1927, the pulpit of the old Village Chapel / School was transferred to Stonefield Parish Church for use there, a pulpit that David Livingstone himself would have cast eyes upon a century earlier.

   Jubilee Celebrations were held in summer 1930 and Rev. E. Sherwood Gunson M.A minister of New Monkland Parish Church during the afternoon service of Sunday 22nd June 1930, dedicated a handsome fumed Oak communion table and chairs, which were a gift of Mr. and Mrs Andrew Wright or Burtonlea, Blantyre. These were in memory of the late Rev. Thomas Pryde. The church that year had a ratable value of £109.

Post WW2 Years

   During the 1940’s the minister was Rev. Duncan Finlayson. M.A who lived in the Stonefield Church Manse in Herbertson Street. In the mid 1950’s it was Rev. R. H. Porter.

   The church was well attended by local GPs, businessmen and shopkeepers and had strong links with the Cooperative Society. It did not have halls next to it as every other church did but instead used halls a short walk away at the Caldwell Institute. The exception to this was the temporary hall erected in the 1920’s whilst repairs were conducted.

   The Church ran two Sunday Schools: a morning one for the congregation’s children and an afternoon one mainly for miner’s children. Sunday classes were at 12 midday and 6.30pm.

   Residents were surprised in December 1946, when many thinking the church congregation was in decline, witnessed the church filled to capacity and more when 1,000 people packed into the building. The occasion was a post war midnight service on that Christmas Eve, a celebration of peace and thankfulness.

   Stonefield Church could boast of having ‘the finest organ in Lanarkshire’. On the evening of Friday 20th May 1949 at 7.30pm, a service of thanksgiving and dedication took place at Stonefield Parish Church, on Glasgow Road. The occasion was also to acknowledge a most beautiful gift of a 3 manual pipe organ to the church was given from Hamilton Town Hall. With the Second World War ended, an inscription was thought appropriate to be inlaid into the organ itself, which read: “To the Glory of God. In thanksgiving for his safe keeping in time of stress, and as a memorial of those who, for us, laid down their lives 1914-1918 and 1939-1945.” The organ was made by Messrs. H Hilsdon Ltd of Glasgow. There were 3 manuals, 27 stops and 15 couplers making a total of 42 stops. It was a remarkable piece of equipment being all-electric. Andrew Wright & Sons Ltd undertook the builders work, T&W Roberts did the joinery, Robert White undertook the electrical work and Charles Messer & Son did the plasterwork. It is unknown what became of the organ.

   The organ attracted some of the finest organists. The most famous was ‘Hitler’s pianist’ (explored next). Mr. Hambock became organist of Stonefield Church from 1968-1970.

   By the 1960’s the last of the coalmines on which Blantyre’s prosperity and expansion relied upon, had 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 rapid decline.

   In 1965, Stonefield Parish Church was united with the Burleigh Memorial Church to become ‘Stonefield Burleigh Memorial Parish Church’.

1979 Stonefield Church fire

1979 Stonefield Parish Church from Elm Street on the day of the fire

   In 1976, the Rev James Gregory became the Minister first of the linked charges then of the united congregation. 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!).

   On 3rd September 1979, Stonefield Parish Church suffered the fate of many other Blantyre 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 as a result of weaknesses in the wall and from the land disturbance caused by mining (the reason why the spire had been removed years earlier). The previous photo was taken from Elm Street looking at the back of the church on that very day, the sky thick with black acrid smoke.

   In truth, the whole incident was highly suspicious to many people, given the timing and clearance of all other buildings around it.

1979 Stonefield Parish Church

Stonefield Parish Church in 1979, a year before demolition. Photo courtesy late Neil Gordon

   Despite losing their church building, the congregation remained resilient. During the next 3 years they travelled further west and met in the Livingstone Memorial Church each Sunday afternoon, boosting the congregation there.

   However, the Stonefield Parish Church was a boarded up ruin in Winter 1979 and was demolished in 1980, the land cleared completely to make way for the brand new St Andrew’s Church. Stonefield Parish Church has fond memories for many people in Blantyre, especially all those happy couples who married or had children christened there.

   Source: Blantyre Project with minor content added with kind permission from St Andrews Church.

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