Pictured here in 1903 is the Stonefield Parish Church (corner of Glasgow Road and Church Street). The present St Andrew’s Parish Church stands on the site of the former Stonefield Parish. By the 1800’s ‘low Blantyre’ was growing due to the cotton mills although this tailed off in the 1870s but was superseded by the discovery of coal deposits and the opening of six collieries bringing an income for thousands. In 1878 a new church was planned to be built on this site to accommodate those worshipers, which eventually opened in 1880.
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. At the time of 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, 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 problem was that contractors had stated that asking for secure foundations in a mining town like Blantyre, was “like asking for the moon.” Expert opinion was sought and the restoration proceeded with guarantees in place.
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.
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.
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). 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 and current 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.