1979 St Andrews Church Fire

A pall of smoke hung over Lanarkshire on the afternoon of Monday 3rd September 1979. Upon investigation it was found that the St Andrews’s Church (formerly Stonefield Parish Church) on Glasgow Road was on fire. The fire representing the latest incident in a string of bad luck for this church.

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Blackened and weary, firefighters worked hard to put out the blaze

As brave firemen worked hard to put out the blaze, members of the congregation watched their heroic efforts and must have reflected upon the catalogue of bad luck that had happened to their place of worship that had affected them over the decades.

The fire was first noticed when a workman returned from his lunch and made his way back to the upper part of the church roof. He was conducting repairs to the roof and upon his return smelled burning around 2.45pm. It is likely the fire was an accident and connected to his blowtorch and equipment left in the roof whilst he had been away.

The fire brigade were called and 8 fire engines responded promptly racing to the scene. By the time of their arrival, the fire had spread quickly across the wooden, roof rafters, the whole building appearing to be ablaze. Other emergency services arrived and police closed off Glasgow Road diverting traffic.

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Firemen accessed the roof using many ladders

Two turntable ladders and breathing apparatus were soon set up, bringing this excellent equipment into fighting the blaze. With such a rapid and extensive response, the fire was soon brought into control, but at a cost. The damage to the building was immediately apparent.

A senior fire officer at the scene said, “We’ll need to stay behind and do a lot of work inside the building, stripping out false ceilings as the fire could still be lit behind them.”

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Turntable ladders brought in hydraulically controlled

Following the fire, church officials started to take stock of the damage, which was estimated at several thousand pounds and by the Wednesday officials had concluded the church would need an entire new roof.

Falling debris had also massively damaged the inside of the building, which was only 9 months away from being 100 years old. Another major worry was the extensive damage to the pipe organ, which had come to Blantyre from Hamilton Town Hall just after WW2.

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Fire seemed to have followed St Andrews Church throughout the years. St Andrew’s was actually the product of 3 Blantyre churches merging throughout the years. Burleigh, Stonefield and Anderson. The first merger was of Burleigh and Stonefield. Shortly after that joining of congregations, both the former Burleigh Church and its church hall were both burned to the ground.

The Anderson Church in Stonefield Road then merged with Stonefield-Burleigh in Glasgow Road to become St Andrew’s. The congregation moved into the Glasgow Road building. Then in June 1978, vandals broke into the church on Stonefield Road and set fire to the Anderson Church, leaving only a couple of walls which had to be entirely demolished. This came following vandalism to the Anderson Church Hall. Rev James Gregory had been very vocal in asking the council for help to prevent vandalism.

The September 1979 fire was deemed as an accident. Members of the church met the following week and agreed to continue worshipping in another church, until such a time that St Andrews could be refitted out. They issued a statement that week stating “there is no doubt that we will not abandon this great building, but are in the hands of the current surveyors assessing the damage.”

By the 21st September 1979 the St Andrews Congregation were meeting temporarily on Sundays further along Glasgow Road at the Livingstone Memorial Church. Rev Gregory , the St Andrews minister was optimistic in stating he wanted to meet with Architects as quickly as possible, not realising the damaging report Surveyors were about to issue, that would ultimately propose demolition as the Church’s fate.

From the book, “Blantyre Explained” by Paul Veverka (c) 2018

Featuring Blantyre Project Social Media with permission. Strictly not for use by others on or offline, our visitors said:

John Dunsmore I can mind standing well back. Watching this catasphory was so sad it was my. Church back then 💔
Betty McLean Lovely old church what a shame.

John Cornfield My auld man Jimmy Cornfield was the Station Officer in charge of this fire 🔥 and all the fire fighters involved in extinguishing the blaze !
I vividly remember coming back from work with my cousin Joe Smith coming East from Springwells and stopping and bleathring to him !
Him in his Fireman 👨‍🚒 uniform and the pumps outside on Glasgow Road I was And am so proud of my dad !
He lost the fight to save this Church as my younger brother James who also joined the Fire Brigade a couple of years later took great delight in remembering him
And now 1 of my sons Christopher has kept up the tradition and joined the Scottish Fire and rescue service and passed out during this summer 2018 happy days and wonderful memories
Elaine Speirs Was it arson? Setting fire to a place of worship is the lowest of the lows.

Blantyre Project official story in this instance was a workmans blowtorch left on at lunchtime.

Marian Maguire My husband John maguire was one of the fireman at this fire, Hamilton Station. I remember walking down Glasgow road and watching it as he waved from the roof. Jimmy cornfield was his station officer, they don’t make them like that anymore. The picture shown is of Ian Cutherbertson who at the time if the fire was at bellshill station. He retired and opened a fish farm at Crail, and used to deliver fish to the fire station at Hamilton.

Marian Maguire Yes Blantyre project I do believe that was what did happen.

Tom Thomson I remember very well I was married in this fine church in November 1968, and was involved in road closures with the roads department when it was burning a sad day for me.

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