The Free Church – A Short History

Free Church
The Free Church was opened in 1867 . This one was burnt down in 1905 . It was subsequently rebuilt

Early records of the Free Church indicate that by 1864 there were a sufficient number of members and adherents to merit discussion of the building of a Free Church within the parish. An extract of a minute of the 22nd September 1864 indicates that there were two elders and a communion roll of 25, which suggests that membership had been steadily increasing in the years following the Disruption in 1843 The church was built in 1866/67 and was opened for public worship on the 4th August 1867. The Stirling Observer and Midland Counties Advertiser of the 22nd August 1867 records the following:

The new Free Church in connection with the Home Mission Station here was opened for worship on Sabbath the 4th current, when excellent discourses were delivered by the Rev Sir Henry Moncrieff in the forenoon, and by the Rev James Nicol, of the Free St Enoch’s Glasgow in the afternoon, and on both occasions the church was completely filled, many having to be accommodated in the passages. The collection amounted to £31 10s. On the Tuesday evening following a soiree was held in the church, which was crowded on the occasion. The chair was occupied by the Rev Mr Fiddis of Killearn and suitable addresses were given by the Rev Mr McQueen, Milngavie, Rev Mr Gardner, Glasgow, Rev Mr Dykes, who has just entered on the charge of the mission, George Roy Esq. and James Torrens Esq., Glasgow. The building, which is of gothic structure, is from designs by Mr Baird, West Regent Street, Glasgow and does much credit to the architect and to all concerned in its erection, and the site, which was granted by Professor Graham of Ballewan, is one of the finest and most romantic in the Strath. From the easy access to Glasgow by the Blane Valley Railway, which has lately been opened, for passenger traffic, Strathblane is likely soon to become one of the most favourite feuing localities in the neighbourhood of the city.

The minute book of the Free Church records on the 5th June 1870 that the station was now a regular charge of the church within the Free Presbytery of Dumbarton. Guthrie Smith records that the neat little church and manse belonging to the Free Church stand on the site of the old village of Netherton and the first ordained minister was the Rev George Rennie, who was succeeded by the Rev Thomas F Robertson, who was ordained on the 18th April, 1872.

As the Free Church was entirely self financing and relied on its members for contributions, it was important for the church to have in its midst members of some means. It is known that Mr Keyden of Craigend Castle was a member, as were various members of the Coubrough family, the owners of the printworks. By March 1871 the minute book was recording a communion roll of 71 and a roll of adherents over 14 years of age of 40, which steadily increased during the 1870's. The closure of the printworks affected the Free Church and in 1904 a presbytery report on what was now the United Free Church recorded that there had been a fall in numbers resulting in a membership of 68, a sabbath school of 23 and a bible class of 12 members. It was noted that the minister visited each member 4 times a year.

Mr Rennie was succeeded by the Rev Robertson who went to New Zealand in 1889. He in turn was succeeded by the Rev Theodore Johnston who remained as minister until he retired in 1934 and the churches united.

In 1884 the church was noted for being the first Free Church in Scotland to have an organ. It had been installed by EW Coubrough in memory of his parents. In 1893 the church was extended and renovated thus providing accommodation for 250 persons.

Disaster - Fire !

Disaster struck in November 1905 when the church was totally destroyed by fire early on a Sunday morning. The cause of the fire was unknown though it was suspected that straw in a ventilator might have been set alight by a spark from a nearby traction engine.
Great excitement swept through the village as people rushed to see what was happening. although they could only stand by and watch the fire burn. Fortunately men going up on the roof to stop sparks etc. landing on it saved the nearby manse. The Glasgow Fire Brigade was contacted but due to the distance to be covered and the heavy nature of the roads, it was decided that they could not reach the building in time.
Following the disastrous fire, the Deacons' Court of the UF Church approached Mr Coubrough to see if they could use the pavilion for their Services. It took about 18 months to rebuild the church and during this time services were held in the pavilion. The cost of rebuilding the church was approximately £1,930 and part of the cost was met out of subscriptions and the sale of scrap metal collected.
In June 1939 there had been talk of building a new manse and a "manse scheme" was duly set up. However, the advent of the Second World War and the subsequent difficulties with regard to building permits meant that the idea was abandoned and the monies returned to the donors.
In March 1961 the Annual Stated Meeting of the Parish Church decided that the needs of the parish would be best served by using one church and it was accordingly agreed that Blanefield Church be no longer used as a place of worship. The sub committee appointed by the general trustees recommended that both the church and the manse at Blanefield be disposed of and the amount realised from the sale be used towards the cost of a new manse. Ground was secured for the new manse opposite the Parish Church and it was completed in 1964.

Free Church History

The Free Church can trace its origins to the Reformed Church which came into being in 1560 and was established in 1567. The Reformed Church was not happy about any interference from the state. This difference continued and in 1733 they broke away from the established church to form the Secession Church. The issue behind this move was "Patronage", the right to choose the minister. The state passed the "Patronage Act" giving this right to the landowners. The church maintained that this right belonged to the people. This led to further unrest and resulted in the formation of the Relief Church in 1761. There was a third breakaway in 1843, which was the "Disruption" associated with Thomas Chalmers and led to the formation of the Free Church. While the Seceders and Relief came about by the separation of one or two at a time, the "Disruption" saw over 400 ministers resign from the Church of Scotland. There followed a series of Unions. In 1847 the Secession Church and the Relief Church united to become the United Presbyterian Church. In 1900 the Free Church united with the United Presbyterian Church to become the United Free Church. A minority did not go into that union and continue today as the Free Church of Scotland. In 1929 the United Free Church united with the Established Church - the Church of Scotland. A minority did not go into that union and continue today as the United Free Church.

In 1900 the Church became the United Free Church . While the amalgamation of the Presbyterian churches took place nationally in 1929 it did not happen in the parish until 1934 when the ministers of both churches - Mr Moyes and Mr Johnston - agreed to retire. Both men were firm friends and there are records saying that Mr Johnstone preached in the Parish Church on a number of occasions. Thereafter the evening services were held in the Blanefield Church until 1961.

Free Church Ministers - Strathblane

Rev George Rennie 1867 - 1872
Rev Thomas F Robertson 1872-1889
Rev Theodore Johnstone 1889-1934

Rev Andrew Gardner mentioned in 1864.

From Church to House

Following the decision to sell the church, the effects of Blanefield Church were disposed of. The pulpit went to Larbert Congregation, the pews to Whitehill Church in Hamilton and the bell was removed and taken to Balloch. The organ, which was an old water organ, was dismantled by organ builders who intended to use it for spares.

The Glasgow Herald of the 16th February 1962 carried an article entitled "Conversion from Disused Church to Modern". The church had been bought by a Mr Crawford who had retired from his job as Principal of Dundee College of Art. He and his wife were looking for accommodation with plenty of studio and living space and Blanefield Church fitted the bill. With the assistance of their family the Crawfords set about converting the church with a studio at one end and a "balcony" containing bedrooms, bathroom etc. The vestry was made into a modern kitchen and the chancel became the dining room. The building, though now a private house, still retains the grandeur of the former UnitedFree Church.

©Alison Dryden, Strathblane Heritage Society 2004