Coalburn Parish Church
Before the Church
Unlike its neighbours, Lesmahagow and Douglas, Coalburn does not have a long history. It was created from the hamlets of Braehead, Bankend, Bellfield, Auchenbegg and Shoulderigg, each of them sited near to collieries. Over the past 80 years these have almost all disappeared. None of the above were well populated and, as a result, there was no church. Worshippers had to go either to Lesmahagow or Douglas. There were however, Sabbath Schools in Coalburn, Bankend, Braehead and Bellfield.
The village grew from the middle of the 19th century as the demand for coal escalated. The need for a church building was met in the Braehead area, where most of the houses were privately built, unlike elsewhere where the houses were owned by the coalmasters.
The first building, costing £351, opened in 1893 as a Mission Station of Abbeygreen Church, Lesmahagow. The first recorded Session Meeting was held on 4th December with Rev. H Matthewson of Crossford as Interim Moderator. Rev. Peter Walker was appointed as minister and on 24th December 1895, the Church became an Ordained Charge.
Rev. Peter Walker
Twenty years later, a bell was purchased and erected outwith the main building.
This building, made of corrugated iron and lined with wood, was destroyed by fire in 1918 and replaced in 1922 by the current building. The only item saved from the fire was a wooden collection plate.
After the fire, services were held in the Victoria Hall, while the Sunday School used the Masonic Hall.
Sunday School Outing from the original church in c. 1914
It is not certain what happened at this outing, but this report from the Hamilton Advertiser in 1918 gives an indication of what normally happened at a Sunday School Outing:-
Coalburn United Free Church On Saturday, June 29th, the children of the Sabbath School connected with this congregation had their annual summer trip. By the
kindness of Miss Greenshields, the field adjoining the Westoun Planting, as in former occasions, was placed at the disposal of the children.
Assembling in large numbers at the Masonic Hall, the bright processon, with flags waving and in exuberant spirits, set out about one o' clock. The march was most enjoyable. Arriving at the field about two o' clock, the whole afternoon was spent in the most delightful summer amusements. Refreshments of tea and bread were served at intervals. The local Brass Band accompanied the trip, and added greatly to the day.
The new building was erected in 1922 at a cost of £ 3,960. In 1930, the Church dropped the Free Church part of the title to became Coalburn Church of Scotland.
This photo shows the rebuilt church in the 1920s with the entire Sunday School assembled for a photograph prior to an outing.
A few years later, the villagers welcomed a new minister, Rev. Thomas Hawthorn, who was responsible for setting up a Scout Troop in 1935, while his wife did likewise with the Women's Guild in November of that year. The Second World War interrupted his time in charge and he enlisted.
Sunday School teachers in 1939:
Back row; Nana McGill, Mary Mitchell, Mrs. Garrett, Helen McClyment and Sheena Hay.
Middle row; John Mowat, Jessie Ferrie, Maggie Cullen, Mary Mowat and Geordie Scanlon.
At front; Mary Richardson.
Next in the pulpit was the Rev. John Brown whose tenure ceased after three years in 1946. He was known as the Blind Minister. Three years later, the Rev. William Campbell was selected to lead the Coalburn faithful. He introduced a Men's Group. The numbers attending the services increased during his ministry. When he decided to seek pastures new, it meant another vacancy.
The next minister, Rev. Brian Cross, moved from London to the village in 1961. He remained in post until he retired in 1998.
Rev. Brian Cross. From the order of service for a Service of Thanksgiving for his life and witness held in the church on 17th May 2015, following his death a year earlier.
By 1968, the last collieries in the district had closed which resulted in many members moving away from the village. In 1971, the first lady elders were ordained; they were Mrs Mary Lynch, Mrs Jenny Strang and Mrs Isabella Robertson.
Coalburn Church in c.1970
Coalburn Church in 1985. Notice that the somewhat derelict building to the right of the church in the previous image has become the Coalburn Silver Band Hall.
Despite the loss of members over the previous years, the Women's Guild celebrated 50 years in 1985.
Some of the Guild members in 1985: L to R, Mrs Sadie Laird, Mrs Elizabeth Cowan, Miss Betty Barrie, Mrs Peggy Shankley and Mrs Grace Donaghue.
Inside Coalburn Church in 1993. Photographer: Peter McLeish
Within the church there was a wall hanging depicting the village, past and present. This was completed by the children of the Sunday School to celebrate the church´s centenary in 1993.
Wall hanging commemorating the centenary of the church in 1993. Photographer: Peter McLeish
It was obvious that changes were afoot in the Church of Scotland; not only were there female elders but female ministers also. Churches were finding it less easy to fill a vacancy and linkages between churches was being seen as a way in overcoming this difficulty. Coalburn was no different and, when it became known that Rev. Cross was about to retire in 1998, the possibility of a Deferred Linkage being formed with Lesmahagow Old Parish Church was under consideration, especially as that church had two years earlier filled a vacancy. So it came about that the new minister, Rev Sheila Mitchell had two charges and conducted a service at Lesmahagow on Sundays at 10 am followed by a service at Coalburn at 12 noon.
The manse was now vacant and the Church Hall was in need of repair, so the idea of altering the Church building to incorporate a hall was proposed and this was done. The sale of both the manse and the hall provided the bulk of the finance required for the proposed changes.
In addition to the building alterations, Rev. Mitchell was keen to get the two congregations to cement the social side and several functions were arranged which were well supported by members from both churches. These proved popular in the short time she ministered in Coalburn and formed her legacy prior to moving on in 2002.
The church was refurbished in 2001 during which the wooden pews were removed. These were replaced by indivdual chairs which enabled the church to be used in different ways for other events. The wall hanging was refurbished for the re-dedication service, and two additional wall hangings were donated.
The inside and outside of the church after refurbishment in 2001. Photographer: Peter McLeish
The last Minister
Filling the vacancy left by the departure of Rev. Mitchell in 2002 was next up for those tasked with the role and success came in 2004 when the Rev. Aileen Robson preached as sole nominee at both churches and was unanimously accepted. To encourage more children to come to the church, she suggested that consideration should be given to a change of time and day as far as the Sunday School was concerned as well as a change of title. The name of "The Zone" was chosen and a Wednesday evening from 6 to 7pm suggested. This was confirmed by the Kirk Session and the result was an increase in numbers which continues at this time; as always, additional children will be made welcome.
More change and no ordained minister
Rev. Aileen Robson moved on in 2011. As a result of a shortage of qualified ministers in the Church of Scotland, no replacement was available and the church has been served by a succession of locum ministers. Within that period, The Zone and Guild continued.
Guild members 2014:
Back row; Jean Thomson, Mary Aitken, Rose Simpson Millie Sommerville and Marion Overend.
Middle row; Margaret Lundie, Agnes Blackwood, Mary Robertson and Margaret Findlay.
Front row; Jean Savage, Mary Mowat, Jean Allan and Madge Shaw.
In 2017, a further radical change combined the two churches in one parish, the Parish of Coalburn and Lesmahagow Old. The Interim Moderator of this parish is Mr Alan Grant, who had been locum minister for a number of years. Three Elders (Janis Callan, William Dempster and Doreen Shankley} were ordained earlier in 2017.
A Service of Union for Lesmahagow Old Parish Church and Coalburn Parish Church was held on Thursday, September 28 2017 which was attended by the Presbytery of Lanark.
Coalburn Church Nov 2013. Photographer: David Halls
Article updated 22nd October 2018 to incorporate the material in the brochure "125 years of Coalburn Church" prepared by Peter McLeish for the 125th Anniversary.