My history colleague and friend Gordon Cook, kindly provides today’s article which is on the humble beginnings of the Livingstone Memorial Church. Accompanying the words is a lovely colourised postcard from around 1904, showing the church in all its glory and of course the much narrower Glasgow Road.
Gordon writes, “With the rapid increase in population due mainly to the opening up of the coal mines in the early 1870s, Church accommodation in Blantyre was found to be at a premium. With only the Established Church at High Blantyre, and the Free Church in Stonefield Road available, Mr William Steel, of Janebank, Glasgow Road, invited Mr James Walker, Mr James Smith, and other like mended people to come to his house for prayer and bible study. These meetings proved very successful, and the 37 regular attenders decided to make an approach for assistance to Dr Scott, secretary of the Home Mission Board of the United Presbyterian Church. This was the same denomination (born out of the patronage debate thirty years previously) as Wooddean Church, which was built by the worshippers from Blantyre Mills in 1853, after holding services for a few years in the village school-room.
Dr Scott helped to secure a lease on a double shop in Grimson’s Building on Glasgow Road, for Sunday services. A temporary pulpit was erected and benches were laid in rows for the congregation. Students for the most part conducted these early services, the first one being John Elder, who went on to be a minister at Coldstream. Mr A. Ruddocks was taken on for a year as their evangelist while Rev. T. R. Anderson of Saffronhall, Hamilton, supervised the company.
Near the end of 1877, prompted by Dr Scott, negotiations took place with the firm of Henry Monteith & Co., and resulted in the purchase of a large field on Glasgow Road (where the present Church stands). In January 1878, with Presbytery’s permission, 43 of the 47 members of this new congregation partook of communion for the first time, Rev. William Baird of Cambuslang with three of his elders officiating.
The Home Mission Board next purchased a second-hand hut that had formerly served as a place of worship for a Parkhead Church, and it was erected in the aforementioned field and formerly opened on Sunday the 2nd of June 1878. Services were conducted by Rev. G. L. Carstairs of Glasgow in the morning, and by Rev. Baird of Cambuslang in the afternoon, while Rev. Dr Young of Woodlands, Glasgow, preached in the evening service.
At the end of 1878 the membership roll had surpassed 100, then, early in 1879, they were officially declared to be a congregation of the United Presbyterian Church, this was soon followed by three members, James Barr, C. N. Houston, and William Steel being ordained as elders. Before 1879 was out, a call was presented to Rev. Robert Mackenzie M.A., a preacher of the Word from Scone.
The ordination of Rev. Mackenzie at Blantyre’s newest Church took place at the hut on Thursday the 12th of February 1880. In June 1880 a building committee was formed, with the object of securing a permanent place of worship. At a meeting on Tuesday the 23rd of November, the committee accepted a set of plans supplied by the firm of McKissock & Rowan, Glasgow, for a new Church which would have seating for 600 at a cost of around £3,000.
The committee had been instructed that some part of the new building must be “distinctly a memorial to Livingstone.” There is a tradition that says the Livingstone family was behind this request, in fact it said they forwarded the idea of the tower itself, but whether that was the case or not, the decision was made to have the niche included in the tower, that it might be filled at a later date.
So from humble beginnings in 1877, the new Livingstone Memorial U.P. Church building was officially opened on Sunday the 17th of September 1882. But as we have seen, it was incomplete, the alcove, or niche, in the tower would remain vacant for quite some time to come.”