Early Christianity

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Mearns Parish Kirk

A church was established on this site in the late 12th century. The first priest was Helia de Perthic (Partick ), the brother of Robert de Pollok.  Helia ‘gifted ‘ the church to the monastery at Paisley which had been founded by Walter Fitzalan, the High Steward of Scotland, in 1163. It is clear that religious activity took place on this site from Celtic times for there exist several references to an altar to St Bride (452A.D-525A.D.). One is to be found  in an endowment of an altar to St Mary by Herbert de Maxwell dated 1273.   Herbert provided six merks of silver from his mills in Mearns for the provision of the altar and for the supply of a priest. Also, Captain George Maxwell left two cows in support of the altar to St Bride of Mearns and one cow in support of St Mary in 1522.

Mearns Parish Kirk

The present church building dates from 1813.  In 1932 a chancel, vestry and session house were added to the building. The square building on the left of the entrance was the original session house. Two sentry box like structures stand at the entrance to the church. These were erected  to discourage grave robbers - click here to view the video.

An account of a grave robbing from the Kirkyard is contained  in Reminiscences of Glasgow and the West of Scotland written by Peter Mackenzie and published in 1866. A copy can be found in the Mitchell Library, Glasgow.  From unpublished diaries it is clear that there was still considerable alarm about the resurrectionists  in the Mearns community as late as 1858.  

An incident in relation to the appointment of a new minister in the 1830s caused dissension amongst the parishioners of Mearns Kirk. A description of the incident is contained in the diary of William Allison* of Malletsheugh Farm, who was ordained an elder in Mearns Kirk in 1830. William Allison (1787-1866) and his wife Ann Bennie (1797-1863) lived at Malletsheugh Farm from 1830 until 1836 when they moved to Thorn Farm, East Kilpatrick. The extract below, written at Malletsheugh Farm, is from his diary which is lodged in the William Patrick Library, Kirkintilloch:

“After the death of Dr McLatchie (August 13th 1833) it was expected that the parish would have had their choice of minister as at the late  election for Parliament the electors exerted themselves much in returning Sir Michael Stewart, the patron, in return for which he promised to give  them the first favour in his power.  Regardless of all however he presented Mr McKellar to the Presbetry to be minister of the gospel at Mearns  Kirk: this ungrateful conduct excited several disgust however Mr. McKellar was well  approved by the Presbetry & generally approved by the  parish in his trial sermon & consequently received peacefully and  of course on Feb 20 he was ordained at Mearns Kirk.”

Mearns Kirk has been served by thirty-nine Ministers since its foundation, eight prior to the Reformation.

 
Newton Mearns Parish Church

The origins of Newton Mearns Parish Church are to be found in the Secession Church which recognised the Praying Society of Mearns, which had existed from 1643 and had joined with the neighbouring societies of Eaglesham and Neilston in 1739. The first church, the Reformed Presbyterian Church, was built in 1743 in the Main Street of Newton and a two storey manse built next to it. The first minister, Andrew Thomson, was ordained on 26th March 1746, three weeks before the Battle of Culloden.

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In 1747,  the Burgess Oath which required the citizens wishing to become a burgess to sign an oath stating that they agreed “to profess and allow the true religion presently professed by the realm” and to renounce “the Roman religion called Papistry”. They believed that the wording of the oath indicated a swearing of allegiance to the Established Church. Those in the Secession Church who supported the Oath and viewed it as a vow of loyalty to Protestantism termed themselves Burghers and those against who believed that in signing it they were approving  the “Established Church with all its corruptions” were termed Anti-Burghers.

Andrew Thomson, the minister in Mearns, and his congregation initially sided with the Burghers but within a short time Thomson and some of his congregation changed to side with the Anti-Burghers. The Burghers claimed ownership of the church and manse and there began a legal dispute which went as far as the Court of Session. This culminated in a victory for the Burgher faction who took over the church premises. Mr Thomson and the Anti-Burghers, with the support of James Pollok of Over Balgray, built a second church and manse which they occupied in 1754. This manse latterly became a private house, known as Newton House. It stood in the area now occupied by the north car park of the shopping centre and  was demolished in 1967.

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The Burgher congregation subsequently diminished and was unable to maintain the original church and manse. In 1760, they offered the properties back to the Anti-Burgher congregation who accepted the offer of the church but preferred to continue to use the new manse they had built. 

Newton Mearns Parish Church
The third church which could seat 400 people was built in 1836
Manse
The third manse was built at 204 Ayr Road in 1866. It is now a private house.
The third church was demolished in 1938 when the present church was built on the same site.
The third church was demolished in 1938 when the present church was built on the same site.
In the vestibule, there are two stones dated 1743 and 1759, the dates of the foundation of the first and second churches
In the vestibule, there are two stones dated 1743 and 1759, the dates of the foundation of the first and second churches

 

The Church of Broom

In 1941, Broom Church was initially a church extension project. The building, which was a dual purpose church and hall, later became known as the Ninian Hall.  The site  was chosen because of proposed housing development in the area.  The building went ahead, but the church building was soon too small for the growing congregation. In April 1958,  building  of a new Church began. The sanctuary was dedicated on Friday 15th May 1959.and in 1962 side rooms were added to the church hall.  In 1967,  a new hall,  the Columba Hall, was opened by Very Rev. Lord MacLeod of Fuinary.

The Church of Broom

 

Maxwell Mearns Castle Parish Church

The origins of Maxwell Mearns Castle Parish Church go back to 1864 when the original Maxwell Church, sited in Pollok Street on the south side of Glasgow, was founded. When the M8 was being constructed, the church had to be demolished to make way for the Kingston Bridge. The congregation were given temporary accommodation in Kirkhill Primary School in Newton Mearns where, for a few months, they held services until a suitable location was found for the new church at Mearns Castle. Services in the hall of the Castle began in June 1970 and members from the old Maxwell were joined by a growing number of local people while the new church was  being built adjacent to the castle. Once the church was completed the castle was no longer used.

Maxwell Mearns Castle Parish Church

 

St Cadoc’s Catholic Church

A small Church in Barrhead Road was built in the early 1900s to provide for Catholic families, many of whom were descendants of  Irish and Highland immigrants  who  had found employment in the local cloth processing works in the 19th century. This building was used until the present St Cadoc’s Church was opened in Fruin Avenue in 1981.

St Cadoc’s Catholic Church
St Cadoc’s Catholic Church

Newton Mearns Baptist Church

Newton Mearns Baptist church started life in 1982 when twenty-four people from Queens Park Baptist Church answered a call to start a new church in Newton Mearns.  As word got around, the church outgrew the first  two temporary homes - Capelrig House and Crookfur Primary School - before spending almost ten years at Eastwood High School.  In 1997 the church finally moved into the present, purpose built church building.

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Newton Mearns Hebrew Congregation

Newton Mearns Hebrew Congregation is an orthodox community established in 1954. The congregants originally met in a hall on the Ayr Road, which is now the site of Glasgow New Synagogue. Later, services were held in Fairweather Hall. The former building at Larchfield Court was constructed in 1968 and its foundation stone was laid by Arnold Berkley. This building was destroyed by fire in 1973. The Walton Family laid the foundation stone for the new building. Today, there are around 425 members.

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Glasgow Reform Synagogue

The Glasgow Reform Synagogue has been in existence for over seventy-five years. It is sited on the Ayr Road in a building with an interesting religious history. It was originally built as the hall for Mearns Parish Kirk in 1910. When the new church hall was opened in 1971, the old hall was used for worship by  the Newton Mearns Hebrew Congregation until they built their new synagogue nearby. Currently, the building is the only Reform Synagogue in Scotland  and has over 350 members.

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In the secular society in which we live, it is difficult for us to understand how important religious belief and practice were to the people living in the 15th and 16th centuries. It was often a case of life or death.

During the Reformation, Catholic doctrine and observance were suppressed often with severe penalties for non compliance. Eventually however, the Presbyterian form of Church governance was accepted and when James VI  imposed the episcopal system of government of the church by bishops  it was a blow to the church and the people of Scotland.

When Charles l later approved the imposition of the reading of Laud’s liturgy in churches throughout the country, replacing the Book of Common Order, the opposition became stronger.

In 1557 a National Covenant had been signed “for the mutual action of Protestants”. This was renewed in 1638 when the General Assembly of the Church agreed to the abolition of episcopacy, bishops, canons and the liturgy. Those who supported the National Covenant were known as Covenanters and those who agreed with the supposed changes were known as Royalists. A Scottish army was raised in 1639 to defend the Covenant and local landowners had to raise money to support the cause. The Covenanting army surrounded Caerlaverock Castle, the seat of Robert Lord Maxwell who was opposed to the Covenanters and after a siege of thirteen weeks he had to surrender. The castle was captured and demolished.

Initial success was followed by disillusion and disappointment and eventually the Scots joined with Cromwell and Renfrewshire men fought on the side of the Roundheads at Marston Moor in 1644.  Cromwell subsequently imposed his rule in Scotland and the billeting of troops caused the people severe hardship.

When Charles ll was restored in 1660, he passed an Act to abolish Presbyterianism. Severe fines were imposed on Covenanters and amongst those fined in Mearns were John Rankin of Newton and John Smith of Malletsheugh. The episcopal system was re-established and non conforming ministers were turned out of their churches and homes. This included William Thomson minister of Mearns.  

The Covenanters now had nowhere to hold their meetings and they held secret meetings called “Conventicles”. Government troops were stationed in and around Mearns to enforce the church law and stop the illegal meetings.

Despite the threat of danger, hundreds of worshippers would meet in secret locations in hollows on the moors with lookout sentries posted to warn of the approach of Government soldiers. Anyone suspected of being a Covenanter sympathiser was punished with ever increasing severity and suspicion of attending a conventicle was also sufficient reason to merit punishment. This however made the Covenanters more determined.

In 1666 the Covenanter army was defeated by General Dalyell at Rullion Green near Edinburgh. Ten Covenanters were beheaded in Edinburgh, one of whom was John Shields of Titwood, thought to be of Mearns. William Mure of Caldwell had supported the Covenanters and was forced to escape into exile. His lands of Capelrig were confiscated and given to General Dalyell. They were not restored to the Mure family until 1690.

In 1675, an Act of Parliament decreed that additional troops were to be allocated to each area to continue to suppress illegal meetings. Troops were garrisoned in Mearns Castle at this time. In 1676, a further Act of repression levied penalties on anyone allowing a conventicle to be held on their premises. Covenanters then met on the moors as this was common ground and only the participants could be punished if caught.

Further persecution came with the “Test Act” of 1678. It required all landowners to take an oath of loyalty which meant denying the Covenant. Failure to take the oath, led to troops being billeted on the landowner. These troops were not well disciplined and unruly and in addition to his property being damaged the landowner had to maintain them.

The result of the increased persecution was an uprising which resulted in the Battle of Drumclog in 1679, a victory for the Covenanters but their success was short lived and they were severely defeated at Bothwell Brig just months later. Twelve hundred men were taken prisoner and four hundred were killed.

More troops were deployed in the west of Scotland and imprisonment and killing became an everyday occurrence. These were referred to as “The Killing Times”. Huge fines were imposed on landowners and two we know of in Mearns are John Pollok of Fa’side and Matthew Stuart of Newton.

In 1688, the “Glorious Revolution led to William and Mary coming to the throne and Presbyterianism once again became the government of the Church of Scotland. Many good men had lost their lives for their beliefs and the Covenanting times lived long in the memories of the people of Mearns.

The Covenanter Gravestone at Eaglesham Churchyard
The Covenanter Gravestone at Eaglesham Churchyard

 

Eaglesham Churchyard
Eaglesham Churchyard
The Covenanter Memorial
The Covenanter Memorial commemorates John Howie of Lochgoin, author of “The Scots Worthies”, a standard classic on Scottish Covenanters and the famous men whose lives he documented. It was erected in 1896 on the “Top” near Lochgoin Farm at the point where Covenanting guards kept watch for the troops.

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Capelrig Cross

The reason for the siting of the Capelrig Cross, a Celtic cross, near Holm Farm, Barcapel in the lands of the old Capelrig Estate is now lost in the mists of time. It does however provide evidence of religious activity in Mearns from the 9th or 10th century. A number of these free standing  crosses existed to the south and south west of Glasgow and one explanation for finding them over such a large area is that they were boundary markers of ecclesiastical areas.

The name Capelrig or Chapelrig, which is documented as early as the 12th century, is thought to be derived from “Chapel on the ridge”. A chapel, possibly associated with St. Conval, may have stood on this site and been associated with the Capelrig Cross. Although no trace of a  church or chapel has been found, A. D.  Lacaille, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, in his paper to the Society 1927, reported that he had examined the lower walls of some of the buildings at Holm Farm and he considered that they were of ancient construction. He also reported on the existence of some ancient structure which, although obscured by a stable partly built over it, could possibly be the original chapel. He considered that  the proximity of a medieval circular, stone roofed doocot, similar to those frequently found near monasteries, suggests that there may have been an ecclesiastical settlement in the area.

The site of the cross with the Holm Farm in the background
The site of the cross with the Holm Farm in the background

After the Reformation, the lands of Capelrig became a temporal lordship, but suggestions that the cross was erected by the Knights Templar or their successors, the Knights Hospitaller, to mark their ownership cannot be substantiated as the cross predates their occupation of the Capelrig lands.

By 1926, when Lacaille carried out his detailed study of the cross, the lands where it was sited to the north of Capelrig House had been purchased by Sir Thomas Clements who built Barcapel House. He agreed that, in order to protect the cross from further damage, it should be removed and preserved in a Glasgow Museum.

Mr Alexander Anderson was in charge of the removal and before excavations began the surrounding area was examined. Flat slabs were found, suggesting that there could have been a pavement at the foot of the cross and a path leading to it.

The discovery of the socket. The gentleman top left is T. C. F. Brochtie, Director of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery.
The discovery of the socket. The gentleman top left is T. C. F. Brochtie, Director of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery.

Initial attempts to move the shaft were not successful and it was only after digging much deeper that it was discovered that it was fixed into a large boulder which in turn was fixed in place with a mixture of clay and small gravel. This, according to Lacaille, indicated that the cross stood in its original position.  

The Socket
The Socket
Remains of Surrounding Fence
Remains of Surrounding Fence

The top of the cross was missing and the total length of the remaining shaft was 7 feet 7 inches, tapering from the base to the head, making it one of the largest of its type in Renfrewshire. Carved from blonde sandstone, the cross-shaft is decorated with rectangular, framed panels with interlace ornamentation of Celtic pattern on all four faces, although these are extremely worn through weathering and also from animals in the field.

The four faces of the cross. The darker areas indicate the remaining carving.
The four faces of the cross. The darker areas indicate the remaining carving.

In 1926 the cross was removed to Kelvingrove Art Gallery where it was on display for many years. At present it is stored in the Glasgow Museum Resource Centre.

The cross in the Glasgow Museum Resource Centre today
The cross in the Glasgow Museum Resource Centre today

The Legend

There is a legend associated with the cross in local folklore. An old rhyme gives some clues.

“Yont Capelrig and Lyon Cross
And eke the auld hare stane
There’s rowth o’ bonnie siller lies
Wha finds the king will sain.”

The site of the cross is reputed to be one of the points of a triangle, at the centre of which great treasure is to be found.  A second point is in the middle of the Ryat Linn reservoir. The legend however does not disclose the position of the third point!

The Templars  

Founded in 1118 AD, ostensibly to protect pilgrims to the Holy Land, the Knights Templar became immensely rich, acquiring property throughout Christendom.  They owned the lands of Capelrig and had smaller holdings in most of the estates of Mearns; at Newton, Southfield, Broom, Blackhouse, Shawhill and Burnhouse.  

In 1309, the Knights Templar lost their lands to the Knights Hospitaller which was a military order but, unlike the Knights Templar, maintained  their charitable status which included the healing of the sick.  During building operations at Mearns Kirk in 1932, a sculptured stone inscribed with a cross inside a circle with a sword parallel to the cross was discovered. It is thought to be a Templar stone and today it lies against the wall of the church.

The Templar Stone at Mearns Kirk
The Templar Stone at Mearns Kirk

Acknowledgements

All photographs are reproduced by kind permission of Glasgow Museums.

The full text of A D Lacaille's paper can be found at: http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/psas/
"The Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland - Volume  61"

 

 


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