Congregational Church – was established 8th March 1877 and was formed with 56 members allegedly in a temporary church on land belonging to Mr. John Craig. Plans were immediately set out for their own church, securing a relatively square piece of isolated ground measuring 140 feet by 155 feet. The idea came about, just 6 months before the Blantyre Mining Disaster, and the proposed church was to be in a very rural position, with fields of sheep all around. Craig Street as we know it today, hadn’t yet been constructed and was still a simple track called the “Slag Road.” It was a time before Calder Street School, before the police station at Victoria Street, before the Miners Welfare. Indeed, the nearest neighbouring buildings to the church were Stonefield Farm (Hasties), the new primary school at Glasgow Road and Auchinraith Colliery to the south. To give you an indication of how isolated the church was, the nearest building, the Stonefield Primary School was 0.2km away.
It is likely that nearby landowner John Craig was the benefactor of this first church, perhaps even donating the land for it, the street later being called in his honour. Rev H Liddell, called the church “The Evangelical Union Church” or the “EU Church” and clearance and setting out the land and boundaries commenced on 10th April 1878 with the foundation laid on 9th May 1878 under ceremony by Mr. William Wilson Esq of Glasgow. It took almost exactly 5 months to construct.
In 1878 the Rev William Wylie was accepted as the first minister beforehand and was inducted on 5th May that year and would surely have been present at the foundation ceremony 3 days later. Rev Wylie would only stay in Blantyre a short time, before being called to his hometown of Kikrcaldy where he ministered until his death in 1916. Applications were made to integrate the new church into the Evangelical Union on 3rd October 1878 ahead of the opening.
The church opened officially on Monday 6th October 1878. The bulding was made of stone and stood in a central position on the land, which was fenced off by railings on the front and fences to the rear. It had a piched roof, with a circular window facing west at the apex. Also on the western side were 2 large arched shaped windows accompanied with a smaller arched window at either side of them. Each side of the church had at least four arched windows. An intimation board faced on to the street. Entrance was through a porch on the north side near the roadway, the doorway elevated up steps. The rear of the church was of a lower pitch, had back door access and may have been used as a small hall. Coalbunkers were located against the eastern façade. Speaking of which, the church was heated by coal fires, with chimneys shown on the north and south faces. A small path led from Clay Road through an iron-railing gate up to the entrance. The roof was made of slates with an intricate design on the stone corbels. The road is known to have been in a terrible condition, which would later prompt an upgrade to become Craig Street.
Around 1900, a group was formed with other members of churches, which from time to time would walk up Sydes Brae to Auchentibber carrying a small box containing a portable organ and hold meetings in the school hall. Before 1900, the church also had a silver band, which was seated in the choir area and played during services.
Around this time Rev John MacMillan was minister who would later be inducted into St James Church in Glasgow in 1925. In 1909 and 1910, the Rev. W.B Blackwood of Aberdeen was minister, before leaving to minister in Shetland.
In November 1911, Rev Smissen of Linlithgow declined the opportunity to go to Blantyre. Throughout the First World War years from March 1912, the Rev. J. Brand-Crombie was minister until he left for Annan in April 1917.
On Wednesday 6th June 1917, the Rev. W.A Falconer was the minister and by then the church was being called “The Congregational Church” and very often the “E.U Congregational Church”. He is known to have been there also in 1918. On 18th March 1918, Rev Falconer and his wife suffered the untimely death of his child James Morgan Falconer at the EU Manse house. That week, his personal friends and fellow ministers Mr. James Campbell of the Anderson Church and Rev C Turnbull of Old Parish Church stepped in for him, to conduct services. Rev William Gray of Carluke assisted in April. On Sunday 13th October 1918, he conducted three anniversary services to commemorative 40 years of the church. His wife is noted as the soloist.
In 1920 when structural faults and cracks were identified, local fundraising commenced to finance the reinforcement of the church and re-slate the roof, which by then was in need of repair. Efforts raised enough to salvage the church for another few decades.
In the mid 1920’s, Rev. D. W Thomson was minister and was the frist to draw attention to the Rev. JJ McNair of the state of the David Livingstone birthplace at Shuttle Roll, setting in motion a sequence of events that would see the formation of the David Livingstone Memorial Centre. He pointed out its possibilities to McNair, who was at that time the President of the Congregational Union of Scotland and a man largely responsible for the creation of the Livingstone centre.
The church minister in 1929 was Rev. Thomas Shanks who had transferred from Arbroath. In 1930, according to the valuation roll, the managers of Blantyre Evangelical Union owned the Church, which by then had address 55 Craig Street. By 1941, the Rev. James Hamilton of Motherwell was minister of the church but had left by 1951.
The building was demolished in 1954 when it was discovered that underground workings had made the building unsafe. A parchment was found behind one of the foundation stones documenting some of the above information. The parchment the note was written on was on headed paper for “Craig’s Hall, High Blantyre”, a hall known to belong to Mr. John Craig at School Lane. The connection ends there though, with Mr. Craig simply using a piece of his headed stationery to put his words on. Mr Craig was farmer at Bellsfield and owned a lot of land throughout Auchinraith.
The present church was constructed shortly after in 1958 opening as the Congregational Church. An unimpressive building, clad in wood, with a relatively flat roof, the new church was constructed within the original square plot. It was set back allowing a front area, originally intended for parking, but rapidly grew impractical for that use. The wood cladding was painted and is today, black. The plot was large enough for a large hall to be constructed to the south of the church. The hall is single storey hall, with roughcast exterior.
The minister’s manse was also constructed around that time, a building of modern and unusual appearance, resembling a large “chalet” with steep pitches on the roof. The fences around the permiter were replaced with a brick wall and new fencing, although some of the railings immediately in front of the hall remain the original “spiked” iron railings from 1878.
In 1993, the church left the Congregational Union and joined the Congregational Federation in Scotland. The current minister in 2016 is Malcolm Anderson who has been there a number of years. The 2nd Blantyre Boys Brigade including the Anchor Boys has been based at the hall for several decades, recently celebrating their 50th Anniversary in March 2016. The hall is also used for Stonefield Nursery School, which has out of school care for children, and also home to the Ark Childrens Club.
(c) Researched by Paul Veverka for “Blantyre Explained” forthcoming book.
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