|History - Stonefield Parish Church|
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Stonefield Parish Church
The present St Andrew's Parish Church stands on the site of the former Stonefield Parish. By now, ‘low Blantyre’ was growing due to the cotton mills although this tailed off in the 1870s but was superseded by the discovery of coal deposits and the opening of six collieries bringing an income for thousands.
But there was no ‘Church of Scotland’ presence in Low Blantyre, only the Free Church. In 1880, a new 900 seat church (the largest in Blantyre) was opened. The first minister was Rev. Thomas Pryde. It was not, however, opened as a separate parish church, but was rather termed a ‘chapel of ease’ under the wings of Blantyre Parish Church (at High Blantyre). Ten years later it was raised to parish church status and became a separate parish from High Blantyre. The Established Church now had two churches as did the Free Church.
At around the same time Livingstone Memorial Church was also built (1882) and in 1900 became a part of the United Free Church and then in 1929 became a part of the Church of Scotland. A little earlier in 1877 a priest took up residence in Blantyre (the first since 1567!) and after the purchase of land on Glasgow Road a church was erected in 1878. Plans were drawn for a new larger building about twenty years later and the current St Joseph's was opened in 1905.
But back to Stonefield... In 1902 the bell from Blantyre mill which used to summon David Livingstone to work, was presented to Stonefield Church as a coronation gift. It continued to be used as the church bell until it was given in 1922 to Low Blantyre Public School. It is now back in the Livingstone Centre.
During the first half of the 20th century, Low Blantyre continued to prosper with the many side industries springing up from coal mining. Stonefield Church itself was quite prosperous and well attended by local GPs, businessmen and shopkeepers. The church had strong links with the Cooperative Society. It did not have halls next to it as every other church did. It used halls a short walk away. The Church ran two Sunday Schools: a morning one for the congregation’s children and an afternoon one mainly for miner’s children.
In 1949 the fine 3 manual pipe organ from Hamilton Town Hall was dedicated in its new residence having been rebuilt by H. Hilsdon Ltd. Stonefield Church could boast of having ‘the finest organ in Lanarkshire’. Thus it could also attract some of the finest organists. The most famous was ‘Hitler’s pianist’. The story of how Walter Hambock left Germany and arrived in Scotland is told by Jack Webster in an article in ‘The Herald’ of 23rd December 1996. He was a professor of music and set up business in Strichen, Aberdeenshire. Mr. Hambock became organist of Stonefield Church from 1968-1970.
By the 1960’s the last of the coal mines on which Blantyre’s prosperity and expansion relied closed down. This inevitably resulted in a high level of unemployment which had a ‘ripple effect’ on many other businesses in the community.
Church membership at Stonefield Parish Church never exceeded 600 at its height. This was maintained throughout the sixties, but by the mid-seventies was beginning to show decline.