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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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