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SLAMANNAN PARISH THROUGH THE CHANGING YEARS

BY

REV JAMES WAUGH, M.A., H.C.F

(October 1977)

CHAPTER 7 

THE CHURCH IN SLAMANNAN FROM THE REFORMATION TO THE PRESENT DAY

 

The Scottish Parliament on the 24th August 1560 passed Acts ending the authority of the Pope over the Scottish Church and doing away with the Mass.  At that time there was a move to prevent the bishops, abbots, priests, vicars and other clergy of the Roman Catholic Church from taking office in the Reformed Church. Events proved that that could not be achieved.  Very many of the clergy of the Roman Church still continued to minister as before as did Sir Richard Fleming at Slamannan.  Time proved that many of those clergy of the old church were incorporated into the ranks of the new church.  Prof, Gordon Donaldson maintains that over half of the ministers of the Reformed Church of Scotland had held office in the old Roman Catholic Church in Scotland. Very many of those ex-clergy of the Roman Church did not have the qualifications to be fully ordained ministers of the Church, and so in the early days of the Scottish Reformation some stopgap orders of the ministry had to be created.  From the beginning there were Readers who were simply assistants to the parish minister. They were allowed to read the prescribed prayers, but not to administer the Sacraments. There were men called Exhorters who could conduct the whole of the Sunday Service, including the sermon.  Those men were better prepared for the work of the church than the Readers. When the first few years of the Reformation were over there were more trained men available for the church and so in 1570 the office of Exhorter was abolished.  By 1572 the Readers had become men of education, trained for the work of the church, and so in that year Readers were allowed to have the responsibility for parishes, which had no minister.  They were allowed to administer the Sacrament of Baptism and to officiate at marriages.

By 1574 there were 289 ministers and 715 Readers in the Church of Scotland. It will be seen from what has been said about Sir Richard Fleming that he was a vicar and chaplain from the Roman Catholic Church who went over to the Reformation Church.  He passed through the stages of Exhorter and Reader before becoming the minister of Slamannan in 1574.  As we have seen in the last chapter, this was made possible by putting his signature to the articles drawn up by the Synod on 6th October 1574.   The names and history of the ministers who came after Sir Richard Fleming can be found in "Fasti Ecclesiae Scotanae" in reference libraries, including the Falkirk Library. Slamannan at the Reformation was a charge in the Presbytery of Stirling, but on the 8th July 1589, it was transferred to the Presbytery of Linlithgow.

In Sir Richard Fleming's first years as minister of Slamannan something of the old Pre-Reformaation Church remained for there was still talk of bishops.  However, the work of Andrew Melville and the Second Book of Discipline led to the confirming of a complete Presbyterian system with synods, presbyteries and kirk sessions in 1590. About this time James VI of Scotland began to have a soft side for the English Episcopal system.  By 1612 he had achieved Episcopacy as the legal church system in Scotland. This change only affected the position and rights of the clergy for the form of worship was unchanged.  The records, that we have, seem to show that the changes during those years did not cause any problems in Slamannan for no minister till the Restoration in 1660 seems to have made any protests or have given up his church for reasons of conscience. I can find only one minister who was put out of his Charge.  That was the Rev, Robert Sempill who was minister at Lesmahagow before coming to Slamannan. He joined the Protesters in l65l but did not lose his charge.   He left Lesmahagow for Slamannan where he was inducted on 13th April 1658. He was suspended by the Presbytery of Linlithgow on 19th September 1660, and was deposed on 5th November of that same year.

It was just after Mr. Sempill had been outed from Slamannan Church and Parish that the Rescissory Act was passed in 1661.  That ended Presbyterianism until the Act of 1690 re-established it again, and introduced the form of church government in Scotland, which has lasted to the present day.  The Rescissory

Act led to the re-awakening of the spirit of the National Covenant, which had been signed by thousands of people in Greyfriars Church and Churchyard, Edinburgh on 28th February 1638 and which had been accepted by the Scottish Parliament in 1639.  Two years after the Rescissory Act was passed there was another Act which said that all ministers who were not prepared to accept Episcopacy and seek recognition by patron and bishop were to give up their parishes.  The Rev, George Phin, who was inducted to Slamannan on 21st August, l66l, seems to have accepted those terms for he remained minister of the parish till his death on 19th February, 1689.  He was buried at Torphichen.  Though Mr. Phin did not resign from his church and parish, 300 ministers did so.  Many of those 300 ministers, though they had given up their Charge, did not leave the district, and many of their former members turned to them for spiritual guidance.  This led the Authorities to pass what has been called the Bishops Dragnet Act of 1663, which forced the people to attend the services in the parish church conducted by the recognised Episcopal Parish Minister.  It also compelled the deposed ministers to leave the parish, which had formerly been their Charge.

 

Those actions of the authorities did not wipe out Presbyterian worship.  They only drove it under-ground.  Meetings for worship were held in secret places.  Those meetings-received the name of Conventicles, and were sometimes held in farmhouses, in hidden glens or on the open moorland.  They were sometimes conducted by deposed ministers whose preaching came to attract vast crowds.  The Conventicle Act was passed in 1670 to put an end to open air services or Conventicles.  The government sent soldiers to search for those Conventicles and put an end to them.  One well-known place where Conventicles were held was at Craigmad, near Blackbraes in the Parish of Falkirk, close to its border with Muiravonside Parish.  The Conventicles at Craigmad became famous.

It is amusing to think that the Kirk Session of Falkirk did not want to be blamed for those Conventicles for they would give the people of Falkirk a bad name. They maintained that it was not the people of their own parish but people from Slamannan Parish who were responsible for the Conventicles at Craigmad.  Attention was drawn to the fact that Slamannan had been noted for its adherence to the cause of the Protesters before the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, and the Presbytery Records show that it continued to uphold the Covenant even after the Restoration.  A manuscript written in 1728 by the Rev. William Hastie, Minister of Slamannan, tells of the difficulties his father, Mr. John Hastie, had to face because of his Coventanting sympathies. The actual manuscript is in the hands of Mrs. Menzies a direct descendant of the Rev. William Hastie who built the Pirnielodge Farmhouse in 1735.  An extract of that manuscript can be found in "Records of Falkirk Kirk Session” by George I. Murray.  There is a copy of the two volumes of that book in the Reference Department of the Falkirk Public Library.   That spirit of protest continued well into the l8th century for in 1737 a petition was received from some people in Slamannan Parish to be received into the Presbytery of the Secession Church.  If that petition was favourably received by the Secession Church, then no group was set up in the parish, but the Slamannan Petitioners may have been received into the Secession Church at Cumbernauld.

The Kirk Session Minutes of Slamannan Parish Church begin in l68l, though there are some loose papers, dated 1635, which look like Communion Rolls. Those Minutes can be seen in the Scottish Record Office in Edinburgh.  I shall just note a few of the entries from those Minutes.  The first is that of llth February 1722, when the question of a new church bell was raised. The minister, the Rev. William Hastie, and Mr. Robert Ure were reported as having attended a meeting of the Heritors on 5th January, at which Messrs. James Waddell of Balquhatston and Patrick Salmon of the Whins had been chosen to take down the old bell which had hung there since before the Reformation.  They were to take it to Edinburgh to have it re-cast, and to take 100 merks (approximately 5.55) with them.  They were to get the best terms they could from the bell-founders and report back to the Heritors. Terms were agreed between the Heritors1 representatives and the famous bell-founders Meikle & Maxwell, Edinburgh. That bell made in 1722 was re-cast from the old bell, and so it went back to Pre-Reformation times. That is the bell on the present church, and it links it with the church of the 13th century.  The bell bears the following inscription "R.M. fecit, Edn, for Slamannan, 1722".  One other bell of that century was a handbell.  It was first mentioned in the Kirk Session Minutes for 20th May 1731.  The Session requested the minister, the Rev. William Hastie, to go to Edinburgh to buy a handbell to be used at funerals.  On the l6th June 1731, Mr. Hastie reported to the Kirk Session that he had paid 11/- (55p) for the bell.  The inscription put on the bell was “Slamannan, 1731".  The Session agreed that those who asked for the use of the handbell at funerals should pay 2d (about Ip in modern currency) which would be given to the Beadle "for his pains in ringing". Very many years later that bell disappeared, no one knows how, but it turned up again in April 1955 when Mr. Andrew Scott found it in an antique shop and brought it back to Slamannan.  His sister, Mrs, John Menzies, and her husband are now possessors of that bell.

A Minute of the Slamannan Kirk Session, dated 7th April 1713, notes that several of the Parish of Falkirk had brought their children to Slamannan Church for baptism, but they were unwilling to pay the ordinary dues on such occasions to the Session Clerk.   It was agreed at that meeting that in future none of the Falkirk Parish would have children baptised in Slamannan unless they had spoken beforehand to the Session Clerk and had paid him and the Beadle according to use and wont.  This entry from the Session Minutes is referred to for its relevance to what was to happen some years later.   Those people, who came seeking baptism at Slamannan Church, lived on the north side of the River Avon, which was in the Parish of Falkirk, nearly four miles from their Parish Church. "The Records of the Falkirk Kirk Session" by George I. Murray points out that the way of those people to the Falkirk Parish Church lay through "impassible flow mosses, and so bad wayes, as that they cannot be supposed to attend the ordinances at all".  On the other hand, the 200 people involved lived within a mile of Slamannan.  It was, therefore, proposed by the Presbytery that the lands of Ellrig, Easter Jaw, Wester Jaw and Croftannie should be joined to Slamannan.  That was in 1723. It was another two years before further moves were made.  The Minutes of the of the Presbytery of Linlithgow, dated 8th December 1725 show that the Right Honourable Lords of Council and Session, Commissioners of Plantation of Kirks and Valuation of Teinds by a decree, dated l8th November, 1725, had disjoined the above lands from the Kirk and Parish of Falkirk and had annexed them to the Kirk and Parish of Slamannan.  The Slamannan Parishioners refused to accept that decision.  This was reported to a meeting of the Presbytery on 22nd March 1726. Thinking that the opposition of the Parishioners to the scheme was because no portion of the Falkirk stipend had been assigned for the lands to be annexed, the Falkirk minister, the Rev. James Anderson, offered to give the teinds of the part of Falkirk annexed to Slamannan to the parish minister, the Rev. William Hastie, and his successors.  Mr. Anderson, however, did not commit his successors to follow his example.  When Mr. Anderson was no longer minister of Falkirk the teinds for Ellrig, Easter Jaw, Wester Jaw and Croftannie were paid to the Falkirk minister.   In fact, this remained true till 1940 when the Presbytery of Linlithgow recommended that 50 of the surplus stipend of Falkirk should go to Slamannan Churches after a period of over 200 years.

The disagreement between the parties involved meant that the people of the places mentioned were really without a church for they were accepted neither by Falkirk nor Slamannan.  The Slamannan minister, the Rev. William Hastie, was placed in a very awkward position for if he obeyed the instructions of the

Presbytery by acting as minister for those people on the north side of the River Avon he would have to face the opposition of his own parishioners of Slamannan.

The struggle continued till the middle of 1730 when matters were finally settled.  To find room for the people of the Annexation in the church two schemes were considered.  One was to move the east gable 8 ft. further to the east.  The other was to build an aisle on the north wall of the church.  The church walls and roof were not to be damaged and the lofts and seats were to be left in good condition.  The second scheme was agreed to, and the aisle on the north wall remained till the church was taken down in 1810.

In March 1753, the minister and heritors of Slamannan reported to the   Presbytery of Linlithgow that their church was in a very bad condition and that repairs were urgently needed.  They asked the Presbytery to visit the church to see it for themselves. They did so on 2nd May 1753, and skilled tradesmen were brought to give their views on the condition of the church.  Their report was that the roof was badly in need of repair, as were the walls, except the gables and a small part of the west end of the northside wall.  They estimated that the cost of the repairs would be 107, exclusive of transport charges.  The Presbytery authorised the work to be done, the cost to be met by the Heritors.  That was the last major repair work to the church until it was demolished in l8l0.

 

By the beginning of March 1809, the Heritors of Slamannan considered that the time had come to do something about the church for it was in a very bad state of repair.  They appointed a committee, which was authorised to employ two skilled tradesmen to inspect the church.  The tradsmen chosen were Messrs. Thomas Bain, Drumbowie, and William Black, Falkirk.  They reported that the rhones or roof gutters and the drop pipes were beymd repair, and that the roof was in a very bad condition.  Their considered opinion was that there was no use of trying to re-arrange the seating of the church to hold six or seven hundred people.  They recommended the taking down of the church and the building of a new one.  They felt that to reconstruct the existing church would be a waste of money.  An outlay of 10 on roof repairs would keep it watertight for another year.   Their advice was accepted by the Heritors. The repairs to the roof were carried out, and the committee were given the go ahead to prepare a plan or plans for a suitable church building.  The committee had a look at the South united Presbyterian Church in the Cow Wynd, Falkirk.  The minister there was the Rev. James Brownlee.  That church was nicknamed "The Tattie Kirk", probably because all the farmers for miles around supplied bags of potatoes to be sold for the Church Fund.  It had been built in l806 at a cost of 800 for a congregation of 580.   Its shape was octagonal.  In fact, that church still stands in the Cow Wynd though it has not been used as a church since 1880 when the congregation moved to Grahams Road.   Another of the churches looked at was the Associate Burgher Church at Avonbridge, which was built in 1804 for under 200, and remained in use until the present one, now Church of Scotland, was built in 1889.  The Avonbridge Church was of the square type.  On 30th December 1809, three plans were considered by the Heritors for a new church.  Two of the plans were very much alike for one was octagonal and the other was an oblong octagonal.  The third plan was nearly square.  At a meeting on 12th January, l8l0, the Heritors finally agreed to accept the square plan.  The offer of Mr. James Warden, joiner, Falkirk of 924 was accepted.  The yard of Mr. William Arthur, mason, which was near the church, was leased to store the materials from the dismantled building.  Those materials were to be put at the disposal of Mr. Warden, the contractor for the new building.  The Heritors agreed to pay Mr. Warden 200 as a first instalment when the work was started, 200 when the walls and roof were finished, and 200 when the doors, windows and floors were in place. The balance of the money would be paid when the work was completed, inspected, found satisfactory and the keys delivered to the Heritors. The church was completed before the end of l8l0, but the Heritors were not quite satisfied with the work.  It was the 26th April, l8ll before they finally agreed to take the church off the contractor's hands.  An unusual feature of the church is the Adam's ceiling.  There is a photograph of it in "Antiquities of Stirlingshire". It is a feature that seems to have impressed many visitors.

Since much of the stone of the old church went into the new building, there is a wonderful continuity with the past.  Stones that re-echoed to the prayers of Pro-Reformation days still re-echoe to the prayers of today.  Some of the stones of the old church were taken from Mr, Arthur's yard to help in the building of local cottages and farmhouses for in those days no prepared stones were left lying unused.   An earlier example of this was seen at Arthur's 0'0n near Carronshore.  It was a beehive shaped building that was supposed to go back to Roman times.  A local farmer used many of the stones from that building in the l8th century to repair a dam. (Editors Note: actually it was Lord Bruce of Stenhouse who demolished it)  Some of the stones of the old Pre-reformation Church of Slamannan are probably built into Loanhead Cottage, Southfield, Slamannan, which is now owned by Mr. George A, Stephen. There is a recess in the north wall of the Cottage in which there is a stone hollowed out to form a circular basin 2 inches deep.  On one side of the basin there is a slot, 3/4 inch wide, which is cut to the bottom of it, and that slot ends in a small hole like a drain.  That stone basin was probably fixed in that position to preserve it.  In an article in the "Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser" on 6th September, 1958, Mr, James W, Dobbie, a native of Slamannan, suggested that that stone basin had been a lavabo into which the server poured water over the hands of the priest.  The word comes from the first word of the Psalm recited by the priest when he performs the ritual washing of hands in the course of the Mass. Mr. Stephen kindly allowed me to see the basin, and I am inclined to agree with Mr. Dobbie. Mr. Dobbie also suggested that after the basin had been taken from Mr, Arthur's yard it was used to keep salt in.

 

In August, l892, there was a plan to enlarge the choir seating and alter the platform without losing any of the congregational seats.  Seven years later on 1st August, l899. The minister, the Rev, Allan Reid, sent a letter to the Heritors about the condition of the church fabric, and they appointed a committee to look into the matter.  At a meeting on 6th June 1900, they agreed to carry out extensive repairs and improvements, which included heating for the church.  The cost was to be shared by the congregation and the Heritors.

The Old Parish Church Manse was taken down in l857. It was reckoned to be over 150 years old at that time.  It had been frequently repaired and extended in past years.  By 1857 it was considered that a new manse was needed for the minister, the Rev. Robert S. Home, who had been inducted to Slamannan Church on 10th July 1856.  The manse was completed in April, 13579 and was ready for occupation by 1st August that year.  By November Mr, Home had moved into his new home.

When the population grew in the Limerigg district the Slamannan Parish Church started a mission there. The first missionary was the Rev. George Waugh, BD, who served there during his student days and remained until he was called to be a missionary in the Punjab, India in 1890.  He was later to become Principal of Sialkot College in the Punjab. The Limerigg Mission had started in the early l880s and had a Mission Church by 1885, the same year as the Roman Catholic Church opened their chapel at Barnmuir.  Mr. Waugh was followed by the Rev A, Brown, who left Limerigg in April 1893, to become minister of Kirtle Church, Dumfriesshire.  When the pits closed the population in Limerigg district decreased, but the services were still held in the mission church, though there was not enough work to employ a missionary. One of the last missionaries in Limerigg was Mr. Arnot who went there in April 1901.  The corrugated iron mission church at Limerigg continued to house the people there till it was wrecked by a gale that swept over Scotland on Sunday, 30th December, 195l.

The restoration work on the church was carried out almost entirely by the minister, the Rev. Alexander Cameron, MA., on the 19th April, 1953.  In the busy mining days the Slamannan Church was alive to its responsibilities for it held Sunday Schools in several of the mining villages including Southfield, Drumclair, Limerigg and others.

 

In other ways the Slamannan Parish Church was showing itself abreast of a changing world.   In October, l894 a Woman1s Guild was started.  In November of that same year it raised money to put an organ in the church.  In October 1898, a bazaar was held to raise funds for a church hall.  On that occasion the aim was 700, but nearly 1,000 was realised.  It was May 1900 before building began because it was found necessary to lay a concrete foundation, and that had caused some delay.  One year later there was a Sale of Work to clear off the money needed for the new hall.  The sum needed was €250 but 412 was received.  The total cost of the building was 1,400.  It was ready for use by the end of 1901.  In August 1908 a wall was built in front of the hall. Iron railings surmounted it.  This was provided by the generosity of a member of the Parish Church.

 

A note in the "Falkirk Herald" of October 9th, 1920, made mention of a Communion Cup used the previous Sunday that had been presented to the congregation in 1720.   There were actually two Cups presented at that time by Messrs. Mitchell of Balmitchell Fana. In 1838 the congregation was presented with another two Communion Cups; one was from Mr. Waddell of Balquhatston and the other was from Mr, Ralston of Ellrig.  In 1929 the Free Church and the Established Church of Scotland united under the title "The Church of Scotland". In November of that year the Presbytery fixed the names of the two churches in Slamannan, The former Free Church became Balquhatston Church and the former Parish Church became St. Laurence Church. On 25th October 1945 the two churches were united under the name St. Laurence who had been the old patron saint of the parish.

In September 1935, the gifts of a pulpit, Communion Table, Elders Seat and Moderator's Chair were presented to the Church by Viscount Home of Slamannan whose father had been minister of the parish from 10th July, l856 till his death on 19th January 1894.  The Rev. Nenion Elliot, BD., minister of the parish dedicated the gifts.  Viscount Horne and other members of the family attended the service.  On the Communion Table is the following inscription, "The Communion Table, chairs and benches form part of Sir Robert Horned gift to this Church in memory of his father and mother, September 1st, 1935".  The inscription on the pulpit reads, "To the Glory of God and in memory of the Rev, Robert Stevenson Horne, who for 30 years preached from this place, and of Mary Lochhead, his wife, who during his ministry in this parish supported him with her love and help, this pulpit is presented by their son, Robert, to this Church and Congregation, September 1st, 1935".

Since the Second World War many changes have been made in the church, manse and halls.   One final word concerns what is called the Session House at the gate to the graveyard.  It is similar to two others in Scotland of which Muiravonside is one. It was used as a collecting house.  In January 1961, when that building was being reconstructed inside, the foundations of an older building were discovered when the floor was lifted.

 

Published by :

Falkirk District Council,
Department of Libraries and Museums

ISBN  0 906586 02 X
September 1979

 

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