A detailed history of the church and its congregation

For those who wish to delve deeply into the history of our church, there follows a detailed description of the church and its congregation.

A History of the Congregation of St James the Less

St James’ beginnings in the nineteenth century

In the second half of the 19th century, the Episcopal Church in Scotland experienced a revival of its fortunes following the long period of disestablishment.  By 1843 there were estimated to be around 7,000 Episcopalians in Glasgow and the Gorbals.  These were mainly Irish immigrants and a small number of poor or working class Highlanders.  The growing problem of the urban poor in the city in the latter half of the 19th century, particularly the ‘unchurched Episcopalians’ was increasingly becoming the focus for the Episcopalian clergy’s missionary activity in Glasgow.

Missions were aimed at those with no direct church links particularly among the working class and immigrant workers as well as members of other churches.  ‘…the spontaneous and unregulated creation of missions in shop-fronts or huts wherever there seemed to be a demand…were almost invariably begun by local clergy and congregations with local resources and only became the concern of the Diocese when they ran into debt.’

Prior to its removal to its present West-End site, the clergy and congregation of St Mary’s Chapel in Renfield Street were actively involved in setting up missions in the industrial areas of Glasgow where there was often inadequate housing and little church activity.  With the help of subscriptions, donations of land and voluntary help from active lay members, missions were established in Cowcaddens, Townhead, Maryhill, Port Dundas and Possilpark.

The Revd Oldham, senior incumbent of St Mary’s 1853-1878 started a mission in the Townhead area of the City.  He did this to accommodate his ‘poor Episcopalians’ who were shortly to be greatly inconvenienced by St Mary’s westward move.

He was supported by John Tennant of Messrs Tennant of St Rollox who in 1867 gave £200 and lent a room in Garngad. In 1869 the mission then known as St Mungo’s moved to a rented hall in Barony Street.  A curate from St Mary’s was given the responsibility of looking after the gathering congregation.

A small iron church was erected in 1872, and was replaced in 1874 by a brick church at Grafton Street near Stirling Rd.  Revd. Oldham helped this new church open a mission in Springburn which eventually became the Church of St James the Less.

St James, Mollinsburn Street, Springburn

The original St James the Less Church was built in 1881 on a site in Mollinsburn Street, Springburn, in the north of Glasgow, and shortly afterwards the church was extended (plans can be seen in St Andrew’s Chapel).  The name (Mollinsburn) is Gaelic English for ‘the burn of the little hillocks’ and the street was named for the village of Mollinsburn situated midway between Chryston and Condorrat on the Cumbernauld Road, which was gifted to the Church by Thomas Christie of Bedlay.

The site was part of the lands of Bedlay, Mollins and Petershill which trace their ownership back through the Dunlop family, Merchants of Glasgow in the 18th century, via Robert, fourth Lord Boyd in the reign of Queen Mary in the 16th century, through George Colquhoun in 1535 to more ancient times when the estate formed part of the Cathedral Church of Glasgow and was gifted to the bishoprick of William the Lion in the twelfth century.

Thomas Craig Christie (1816-1910) was a merchant in the City of Glasgow whose family came originally from Aberdeenshire.  His grandfather settled in Paisley in the 18th century and over the next three generations the family were involved in manufacture and trade to the Baltic, Rio de Janeiro and latterly in Glasgow.  Thomas Craig Christie of Bedlay succeeded to the estates of Bedlay, Mollins and Petershill on the death of his wife Catherine Cameron Campbell in 1854.  As the only surviving daughter, she had inherited them from her father James and her uncle Alexander Campbell.

The Growth of Springburn

Springburn had grown from a small rural community at the beginning of the 19th century into the largest locomotive-building centre in Europe by its end.  On 27th September 1831 Glasgow’s first locomotive-worked railway was opened at St Rollox.  The Garnkirk and Glasgow Railway was built to bring coal from the Monklands coalfields to Tennant’s Chemical Works in Sighthill.  In 1841 the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway Company drove a line through Springburn and later established the Cowlairs Locomotive Works in 1842, probably among the first railway workshops in Britain.  The first employees settled in Springvale village to the south of Springburn which was home to the workers employed by Joseph Findlay’s cotton spinning mill.

This was followed by the establishment of the Caledonian or St Rollox Works in 1856; Neilson’s Hydepark Locomotive Building works moved to Springburn from Hydepark St Anderson in 1861.  In 1903 Hydepark and Atlas Works amalgamated with the Queen’s Park works of Polmadie in Springburn to become the North British Locomotive Company.  Springburn thus became what has been described as the ‘Scottish Railway Metropolis’.

In the years after 1840, the rapid industrialisation transformed Springburn into a place of high employment with a large influx of people from all over Britain seeking work.  Initially 15,000 railway navvies were engaged there in building the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway.  As the boom progressed, people came from the rural areas of the Scottish Highlands and Ireland as well as from Edinburgh and England.

In 1856 the Caledonian moved their 350 employees from Greenock to new premises at St Rollox and the population continued to grow significantly.  By the end of the 19th century almost every family in Springburn was dependent, directly or indirectly, on the railways for a living, and in 1914 the Springburn wards had the highest proportion of Irish born in Glasgow.

By mid-century Springburn’s almost frontier character was described by an early missionary to the Garngad and St Rollox areas in 1854: ‘Intemperance, Sabbath Desecration, and other forms of wickedness prevail to a fearful extent in the district.’  The first church was built in Springburn in 1842 and by the end of the century a dozen churches had been built in the area.

St James becomes an Incumbency

In July 1894 the matter of St James’ having its own constitution was raised in connection with the legal requirements of the feu contract with Possil Estate.  It was noted that, in accordance with the title deeds of the Church, a constitution could not be obtained until the Mission was raised to an Incumbency.  In the early 1900s the Charge gained its independence and was raised to an Incumbency with Canon Rollo becoming its first Rector.

Thomas Christie, its benefactor, was a prominent Lay Official, Diocesan Auditor and a Trustee of St James.  In 1894 his son Walter was appointed a Trustee and Lay Elector of St James the Less.  In 1895 the congregational meeting agreed that a request be made to Thomas Christie for a site opposite the Church in Mollinsburn Street large enough to build a parish hall and Parsonage.

However an alternative suggestion was subsequently agreed and instead they approached Col. T. Carter Campbell owner of Possil Estate who agreed to rent a site on the west side of Balgray Road opposite Springburn Park at an annual rent of £20 per acre per annum.  The Parsonage was to be built at a cost of £1,032.14s.4d. and was designed by a Mr. Walton, Architect, of Bothwell Street.

During the 1890s, St James Church carried out an active social programme of Social Gatherings and Children’s Operas while its Literary and Debating Society offered regular lectures.  The Literary society boasted over fifty members ‘including a number of young ladies of the congregation’.  As St James levied no seat-rents, all of these events, annual Bazaars and Spring Fairs, concerts and soirées of the St James Amateur Minstrels were regularly held in aid of the Church organ fund, the building debt and the Parsonage fund.

A Church organ was estimated to cost £200 in 1893 and the Building debt in 1894 was £5676.  Entries in the Church accounts show donations to rental of the parsonage by the Managers of Atlas Works and of Braby and Co’s Works in Petershill Road.

St James also supported a Cricket club, a Sunday School, their own branch of the Glasgow foundry Boys’ Religious Society and annual picnics and outings.

However this picture of Springburn at this time must also be balanced by the epidemics of smallpox, scarlet fever and measles which were rife in the area with a temporary fever hospital being set up at St Rollox in 1892.

Unemployment was high during this period and a soup kitchen was set up in St Rollox serving women and children only.  Around 1500 were served every day.  Men were employed at relief works in Springburn and Ruchill parks in stone breaking and were paid a minimum of 7/- per week.

The weekly death rate was noted at 25 per 1000 population in the week of 15 February 1892.  The Register of Burials for St James during the period 1889-1907 shows an extremely high proportion of infant and child mortality.

Shortly after the First World War, the hall was extended (and the magnificent Eagle Lectern dedicated) as a memorial to those of the congregation who had given their lives in the service of their country, and it was further extended in the 1950s.

All during this period, when Springburn railway works gave full employment to those in the area, St James continued to play a significant part in the life of the community round about it.

Springburn’s Decline and the Move to Bishopbriggs

Then came the rapid decline of Springburn with the closure of the brass and steel foundries, and suddenly all this, coupled with the planning blight, devastated the community and threatened the life of every church in the area, not only St James.  The threat of closure faced the church, but Anglicans moving into a now rapidly expanding Bishopbriggs brought new life to the congregation.

However in the early 1970s, a new threat to the congregation materialised in the shape of the Springburn Expressway.  By 1974 it seemed certain that the church would have to be demolished and rebuilt elsewhere, so negotiations were begun in the May of that year for the acquisition of the present site.

In 1975 St Andrews-by-the-Green, the oldest church in Glasgow of any denomination with the exception of St Mungo’s Cathedral, was closed after two hundred and twenty five years of continuous service to the Episcopal Church.

In fact this church for a long time had acted as the Pro-Cathedral of the Diocese and was, in a very real sense, the mother church of the Episcopal Church in Glasgow, and the St James congregation was very fortunate to fall heir to many of its historical possessions.

Meanwhile, uncertainty began afresh as the line of the new roadway continued to fluctuate.  At last, in May 1979, agreement was reached with Strathclyde Regional Council for the payment of compensation and the new church was begun that summer.

The Ellen Sennett memorial cross was laid in place of a foundation stone on 15th March 1980 by the Rt Revd Francis Moncrieff, and the new church was dedicated by the Rt Revd Frederick Goldie, his successor as Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway, on 20th September of the same year.

The church stands as a memorial to all those who first gathered the congregation together and built the old buildings, to the many families who loved and worshipped in them, to those whose vision, faith and determination, prevented the closure of the church during the difficult years and so enabled the church to qualify for the compensation which helped to pay for the building of the present church.

As revised by Anni Donaldson 13 August 1997

25th Anniversary (2005) Reflections on the move from Springburn to Bishopbriggs.

The 25th anniversary of the move from Springburn to Bishopbriggs provoked members of the congregation to reminisce about the old church in Mollinsburn St and its transition to the modern church standing in Bishopbriggs today.  Those with a lifelong and continuing association which began prior to 1939 shared their memories as did those who joined the church in the 1960s, 1980s and 1990s.  What has emerged is a picture of a church which is different but which in many ways remains the same.

Alice Adamson’s association with St James began before the Second World War.  Baptised in Springburn Parish Church – her father’s church – she attended St James with her English, Anglican mother.  Alice was typical of many members of St James’ congregation in those days:  her grandmother had come to Glasgow from Stoke and had met Alice’s Irish grandfather who was employed in the Springburn railway works.  As a child, Alice enjoyed Sunday School at St James with her teacher Miss Norris.

War broke out when I was 12…  I joined the choir at 14 when men went off to war.  We were allowed to sit in the front seats, not in the choir – no women were allowed in the choir – but there was one woman.  We had robes made from black-out material, pleated at the shoulder, with a white collar, jabeau and four cornered hat…

The three Sunday services were all sung, we did the Magnificat, Te Deum and Psalms – I loved the psalms.  There was a good, old organ, and a choir master.  One was the father-in-law of John Graham who became a minister later in life in Dennistoun and when he retired he came here to Bishopbriggs…  We did the whole of Stainer’s Crucifixion, then we helped at another church in Lenzie, who did the Messiah and the Choir went there.

Alice met her husband Alan who had also joined the Choir and they were married in St James in 1947.  The couple continued to be involved in St James’ busy music scene and to help out at its lively youth club through the 1950s.  Alice remembers:

Many choristers were also members of the AYPA (Anglican Young People’s Association) Youth Club.  We had many friends there, Marjorie Kilshaw ran the AYPA.  My friend Sadie and her husband Bill Dean also ran a youth club not attached to AYPA.  We had outings and lots of shows were put on, we built a stage in the hall and kept it tidy.  Teenagers did dancing, Alan and I did duets, lots of people were involved.

The Church played a big part in the life of the wider Adamson family and Alice and Alan’s involvement with St James continued for many years.  The picture Alice paints of St James in Springburn is of a busy church with a congregation dedicated to its survival, with many activities for children and young people and a lively annual calendar of social and musical events.

By the late 1960s the small town of Bishopbriggs was expanding.  Joan and John Edge from Rugby were among the many new arrivals from south of the border at that time whose Anglican background drew them to St James in Springburn.  The congregation of St James – the ‘English Church’ – with its second and third generation English families experienced a new influx of English members.  Young couples and their growing families travelled from Bishopbriggs to Springburn every Sunday to attend services, Sunday School and choir practice.  Joan remembers attending sewing classes and the Young Wives’ Group run by the then Rector’s wife.  John joined the Vestry and their sons sang in the Choir.  After completing his B.D. Degree in 1987, John was licensed as a lay reader and continued to serve St James for many years.

In the early years of St James’ new life in Bishopbriggs, its Springburn connections continued.  Great pride was taken in the new building and in maintaining its Springburn traditions.  However, by the 1990s, the culture of Springburn was giving way to the culture of Bishopbriggs.  The demise of the annual Sale of Work provides an interesting example of the process of change. According to the Revd. Robin Paisley:

The transition of Sale of Work to Festive Fayre to Summer Fete was pivotal in St James becoming more settled in the culture of Bishopbriggs.

Traditionally held every year on the first Saturday in November, in Hyde Park then later in Albert Secondary Schools, the event continued to be held in Springburn after the move to Bishopbriggs.  The Sale reflected the congregation’s commitment to continuing the culture of Springburn and was a decades’ old fixture which raised much-needed money for church funds.  It was a way in which members of the congregation, particularly women, who were not working could support the church by turning their time and their talents into money.  Teams of people offered craft skills by knitting, sewing, baking, making sweets and Christmas decorations.  Robin recalls people from Balornock, Barmulloch and Springburn talking about it with great fondness, always keeping a note in their diaries and turning up in great numbers.

The original format of the Sale of Work did not survive the move to Bishopbriggs however.  Competition from other local events, a drop in demand, and changes in fashion meant that people were not prepared to pay for the high quality, hand-crafted goods on sale.  In the late 1990s the Sale evolved into a Summer Fete which concentrated less on fundraising than on encouraging people to visit the church.  According to Robin:

Many don’t realise it is a church, the Celtic cross and the stained glass windows are clearly not strong enough clues!  St James is not an example of a traditional church.  The building is like an icon of where St James is now – a different sort of church.

Stewardship and fellowship are key elements in the life of the present day church of St James the Less.  Active Stewardship has meant that people contribute financially, or by giving their time to the work of the church.  This has helped St James create a well organised and more financially stable church with the freedom to concentrate on new priorities.  In the last ten years St James has been active in extending its welcome to new members, in developing a lively music and arts programme and in ecumenical collaborations with other local churches.  In the last five years, it has concentrated much effort on campaigning heavily for international debt relief and trade justice.

St James has been successful in attracting ‘lapsed’ Episcopalians, former Springburn residents and other ‘returnees’ to church attendance.  Many who were formerly members of different churches have found its services meaningful and its welcome warm.  Robin maintained that:

The Church is different in the way it looks and people’s experience of it is different from their preconceptions.  Recent visitors actually enjoyed it although when they came they were quite nervous – positively different from what they expected.

Caryl Haglington – a member for over 10 years – who attended both Church of Scotland and Methodist churches in her youth likes attending church at St James because

You are not just sitting there being preached at all the time.  You are as important in the service as everybody else is.  You are not a spectator…  I can’t remember being in a Church where people laugh so much.  You associate church with Sunday hats and your best clothes and behaving yourself but it’s not like that here…

…Folk have just arrived, new English arrivals, also a family from Zimbabwe.  People who come to Bishopbriggs looking for a church end up here because they like the atmosphere.  It’s a bridge between the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church.

Kate Atkinson, who was brought up a Roman Catholic and whose husband was baptised in St James in Springburn, became more and more involved in St James five to ten years ago.  Accompanying her mother-in-law, Doris Atkinson – a long-standing member – Kate was apprehensive at first but soon realised

…how lovely the service is, how friendly the people are.  They always make people who are visiting feel comfortable and that is something you don’t get in other churches.  The support here is good and that’s what I enjoy and any skills I have I can put them to use.  I get so much from the church and I’m glad that I can return it.

Established originally as a part of the Scottish Episcopalian Church’s Mission to the poor and mainly Irish population in Springburn in the 1870s, St James survived through the influx of Anglicans, mainly skilled workers from England, in the late 19th century.  Threats of closure continued to arise at times during the 20th century and particularly in the late 1960s when it suffered a long inter-regnum and no Rector could be found.  Now, in the twenty-first century, the congregation of St James the Less, unlike many other churches, is no longer in decline, accommodates a curacy and has a congregation which is steadily growing.  Aside from the many newcomers who join, Kate feels that

There is now a really good youth group again and a good size Sunday school which means another generation growing up.

In Caryl’s view, St James is

..  a tolerant church…  it’s small and cosy.  I remember the first time my grandson Craig came.  It was one of those evenings when the sun was shining through the stained glass windows and he said, Grandma this place is very red!

As red is one of the colours associated with the Holy Spirit, Craig’s comment is another way of putting what many say they experience when they spend time in the church—a sense of God’s presence and peace.

The congregation of St James has continued to extend its faith and its vision outward towards individuals and communities at home and abroad and through its anti-poverty work.  Although the church building has been transformed, in the 25 years since St James the Less moved to Bishopbriggs the character of the church community does not appear to have changed.  What remains and continues is the warmth of the people in its congregation and their active fellowship towards others. Caryl summed it up,

It’s always been a place that was very welcoming, like joining a family.

Reflections compiled by Anni Donaldson August 2005
from interviews in June/July 2005

List of Clergy

W E Bradshaw                                1875-1879
C H Brooke                                     1879-1883
P Phelan                                          1883-1886
A T Pullin                                        1886
W P Thomas                                   1887
W F Rooker                                     1888
W Rollo                                           1889-1913
J D Jowitt                                        1913-1923
P C Lampriere                                1923-1927
G A P Henderson                            1927-1933
M J McAleer                                   1933-1941
J MacDougall                                  1941-1951
N D Wyatt                                       1951-1956
H P Duff                                          1956-1962
J F Culross                                       1962-1965
Vacant                                            1965-1968
D W J Reid                                      1968-1973
H G C Lee                                        1973-1986
Vacant                                            1986-1987
S D N Barrett                                  1987-1994
S R Paisley                                      1995- 2006

S Marsh                                          2006-

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