From the book, “Blantyre Glasgow Road South – The Real Story” by Paul Veverka (c) 2017
Burleigh Church (United East Free Church)
The Burleigh Church was a former church also known as the East Free Church or East United Free Church at Herbertson Street corner of Glasgow Road, Low Blantyre. Before the church was built, the congregation met in a mission hall, which evolved over the years. The story is exclusively revealed by this book.
The Beginnings: The church had its roots back in 1876, at a time when Stonefield and Springwell was in its infancy. At that time in need of further religious outlets, a small mission was set up. Requiring a venue for worship, during its first years, church members rented Dall’s Shop in Gilmour’s Building on the north side of Glasgow Road for £25 per annum, before moving temporarily in 1877 into a larger shop in Henderson’s Buildings for 7 months.
Next, in early 1878, the mission moved temporarily again to the Masonic Hall above the Livingstonian Bar on the corner of nearby Forrest Street and Glasgow Road. (Which would later become the Blantyre Electric Picture Company). It is safe to say the group were choosing locations carefully centered around this area.
Mission Hall: Whilst the mission was at the Masonic Hall, work began on creating a more permanent mission hall nearby at the corner of Herbertson Street and Glasgow Road, Low Blantyre, directly across the Glasgow Road from Gilmour’s Building. Construction took place at a similar time to the construction of Henderson’s Buildings to the east. A small plot of land was secured at the corner of Glasgow Road and Herbertson Street and by May 1878, a new mission hall had been built, as pictured in this widely distributed photo just over a decade later.
The hall was a significant building, made of stone and slate, with large windows at the east and west in the shape of a cross. This was a tradition in church and chapel building where windows were carefully positioned to welcome and see out the light of the day. Four more windows on the north side let in plenty of light. It was heated by coal with fireplaces at each gable. A wooden picket fence was erected around the perimeter and a small tended garden. The entrance was from Herbertson Street where the door faced out upon. Across Herbertson Street was the former Blantyre Police Station, the entrance to which can be seen on the right of the photo. Beyond were fields all the way to Birdsfield at High Blantyre.
The first recognized minister, rather than preachers was Rev. John Burleigh who commenced there in September 1889.
Requirement for a Church
The Church: The small mission flourished and a short time after John Burleigh arrived, the Free Church assembly raised the status of the mission to full church. Plans were drawn up for a permanent church, which was to be built on the ground already bought to the north, encapsulated by the boundary of Glasgow Road and Herbertson Street and immediately nearby to the mission hall. The new church was to be named the ‘East Free Church’ and would seat over 500 people. The existing mission building next to it would not be redundant but instead would function as a hall only and used as a Sunday school. During 1890 and 1891, a significant budget of £1,620 was raised, which is around a quarter of a million pounds in today’s money.
The first foundation stone for this permanent church was laid on 12th March 1892 and the church was finally opened on Saturday, 3rd December 1892. It is unknown if it met budget requirements. The new church was a prominent feature and had later allocated address, 103 Glasgow Road, situated on the south side, directly across Glasgow Road from Gilmour’s Building. The hall, part of Herbertson Street. In 1895 the church was managed by the Free Church Mission, through Robert Beveridge, treasurer who lived in Hamilton. In 1900 the Church became ‘The Blantyre East United Free Church’ or EUFC managed by the Trustees of the Evangelical Union Church through John Bryan, a shoemaker in Burnbank. Behind the mission hall in Herbertson Street was only ever one other building on that side of the street. In the early 20th Century it was Blantyre’s first telephone exchange.
The early 1900’s saw the church have its up and downs with regards to debt on the church buildings and problems with underground workings.
Mr. James Gilmour was the session clerk at the Burleigh.
Rev John Burleigh lived at the Burleigh Manse house, more commonly referred to as Abbeygreen, which was further west at 2 Church Street, which we’ll explore later in this book. During his time as minister, he married many, many couples in his church.
Pre WW1 Years
On Thursday 8th February 1900 Mr. George Kelly and Miss Maggie Robertson on the occasion of their approaching marriage were made the recipients of gifts from their fellow members of the choir of the East Free Church. News reports of the time commented, “The company met in the hall adjoining the church. After tea, the Rev. Burleigh spoke in flattering terms of the respect that Mr Kelly and Miss Robertson were held and in the name of the choir, presented them with a walking stick and reading lamp respectively. Mr Kelly then gave a speech of thanks. During the evening, songs were sung by Messrs T Eadie, J Robertson and Andrew Robertson, bottler of the Springwell Factory. Miss Taggart showed excellent elocutionary power in her rendering of ‘Oor Folks’. Games were entered into with great zest and altogether a very enjoyable evening was spent.”
On Thursday 26th March 1900 a service of song entitled “General Gordon” was given in the Blantyre East Free Church, by the juvenile choir, under the leadership of Mr. Andrew Robertson. Rev John Burleigh presided. The piece was also illustrated with limelight views. The entertainment on the whole was much appreciated with proceeds in the aid of the African war, for local soldiers families. A nice sum of money was handed over after meeting expenses.
In 1909, the Church roll call was as follows: Minister was still Rev. John Burleigh; Choirmaster, Jas. Robertson; Session Clerk, Jas. Robertson; Clerk of Deacon’s Court, Daniel McDade; Church Officer, James Wright; Sunday School Supt., James Murdoch. Agencies: — Sunday Morning Guild — President, Rev. John Burleigh; Minister’s Bible Class; and Guild of Help.
Post WW1 Years
On Friday 2nd October 1914, Rev Burleigh gleefully told the congregation that the church was at last debt free. It was welcome relief and heartening news, given that all news at the time was war related. That same day, the church celebrated 25 years of Rev Burleigh being minister.
In 1915, the church was owned by Trustees of the Stonefield East United Free Church per George Baird, 10 Hospital Road, High Blantyre, a situation that would continue until 1929.
In November 1918 when the armistice and end of WW1 was sounded, the 3 united free churches in Blantyre including East Free came together for a joint service at the larger Livingstone Memorial Church, with ministers from all churches attending and large crowds descending upon the building. What a sight that must have been in Blantyre as the Church Bells rang out in victory and in the name of future peace.
There was great sadness in the congregation when Rev. John Burleigh died on 28th October 1922 and some relief from that grief when Rev. Alexander Ross took over.
Like the Anderson Church at Stonefield Road, The East Free Church joined to form part of the new Church of Scotland in 1929, dropping the terms “free” and was thereafter known as ‘Blantyre East Church of Scotland’ According to the valuation roll of 1930, the congregation of the “Blantyre East Church of Scotland” owned the church and indeed the nearby mission hall.
During the first week of September 1931, egged on by a companion a Blantyre boy smashed several ornate windows of the church but was later caught out and put on probation.
As you would expect from most churches and halls, several community organisations took place in and around the building. Scouts, Brownies, Sunday school, Women’s guild are to name a few.
Around 1945, the “Blantyre East Church of Scotland” was again renamed this time to “Burleigh Memorial Church of Scotland” in honour of the man who had served as the first minister for 33 years.
During the mid 1950’s, the pastor was Rev. J. M Barker. Mrs. Roberts became the church organist, a member of the well known family living across Herbertson Street. The Roberts family were regulars at the church, some of the men being elders in their time.
According to former elders, due to dwindling numbers, the first union and readjustment in the town was in 1965 when the Burleigh Memorial Church was united with Stonefield Parish Church to become ‘Stonefield Burleigh Memorial Parish Church’. It was decided that the Burleigh would be used as the halls of the new congregation and that the larger, Stonefield building to the west would become the church for Sunday worship. The Burleigh Church Hall was well used for family functions, brownies and guides, wedding celebrations, youth fellowship classes as well as other entertaining and educational pursuits like country dancing, music and singing classes.
As with other churches in Blantyre throughout the 1970’s, mysterious fires set their fate most likely caused by widespread vandalism that decade. In 1973, the mission hall at Herbertson Street burned down and was unsalvageable. A year later in January 1974, the Burleigh Church burned down also.
The beautiful ornate mosaics salvaged from Cochrane’s Chapel, Calderglen that had been in the church in 1925 were thankfully salvaged, cleaned up and then gifted to Hamilton Town Hall, where they still are today above the entrance staircase.
I was astounded by the scale of them! The two mosaics have been lovingly restored and are so colourful with the utmost fine craftsmanship visible in the detail. Vibrant colours jump out and they are each well over 2.5m tall by 1.2m wide. It looks like the original wood backing was lifted out with them. Amazed, I took several photos but felt very sad on two counts. 1. Why are the mosaics in Hamilton now and not still somewhere in Blantyre? 2. Why was there no plaque or story beside them.
To any passers by they are just two random mosaics, when in fact they have wonderful history attached to them from another town. The history is lost in Hamilton and I feel irrelevant there. In that location they serve only as nice decorations on the library wall.
Following the fire, the stained glass windows of the church were allegedly saved also and moved to Ayrshire. The ruined buildings were then demolished a few years before other Glasgow Road tenements. The site of the Burleigh Church is now the western part and offices of modern Gavin Watson Printers.
Rev John Burleigh
Rev. John Burleigh was born in Lesmahagow at a scenic area named Abbeygreen. He was the minister in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century of the Burleigh Church. He was the first minister who commenced at the church on 24th September 1889. John married Marion Braid, the daughter of Andrew Braid a grocer, and he lived with his wife and her father at his home at Coatshill Cottage in 1891. In 1892, Marion had passed away and this coincided with the building of the Church. His daughter married a Mr Fyfe, also in the clergy a minister of Bellshill. John lived with his wife and family at Abbeygreen Manse, at 2 and 4 Church Street, the manse house of the Burleigh Church. He was a 50 year old widower in 1901 but remarried in 1906 to Janet Hunter in Edinburgh.
The marriage quickly produced 3 girls. He died on 28th October 1922.
Wedding of Miss Burleigh
Before we leave the Burleigh Church, there’s a wonderful description of a 1920’s wedding that took place there. None other than Rev Burleigh’s daughters wedding! Sadly, Rev John Burleigh had not lived to see it.
Miss Jean Murdoch Burleigh’s marriage was solemnised in East U.F. Church, Blantyre. On Wednesday, April 14th 1926 Rev. Jas. Stanley Fyfe, Duns East U.F. Church, and Miss Jean Murdoch Burleigh, elder daughter of the late Rev. John Burleigh. Much public interest was taken in the event, and at the hour of the wedding, 11.30am, the congregation almost filled the church while many assembled outside to witness the coming and going of the bridal party and guests.
For the occasion, the church had been decorated with roses, tulips and ferns, and made a charming setting for the bride who wore a gown of cream crepe de chine, with lace overdress, and veil with orange blossoms. She carried a sheaf of lilies, and was given away by her mother. The bridesmaids were Miss Elizabeth Burleigh, sister of the bride; and Miss Margaret Fyfe, sister of the bridegroom. Their dresses respectively were of peach and powder blue crepe de chine, and each wore a string of pearls, a gift from the bridegroom, and carried bouquets of lilies, roses and sweet peas. The best man was Mr John Broadfoot, and ceremony was performed by Rev. W. A. Ross. Ushers were Messrs Wm. Hunter and Shannon.
As the bridal party entered the church, Mr John Danskin, jun, played the Wedding March by Wagner. The congregation sang the 2nd paraphrase, and the hymn ‘The Voice that breathed o’er Eden,’ and at the conclusion the doxology, ‘The Lord bless thee and keep thee,’ was sung. As the wedding party retired from the church the organist played Mendelssohn’s Wedding March. After the ceremony, the reception was held at Abbeygreen at the corner of Church Street, Blantyre and later in the day, Rev and new Mrs Fyfe left for their honeymoon, the bride travelling in a wine coloured two piece suit, with hat and scarf.
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