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A Short History of the Parish.

Uddingston area
By the middle of the nineteenth century, Uddingston, like most of the other villages and towns in Lanarkshire, was beginning to show the effects of industrialisation; many of the traditional handcrafts and disappeared and workers, who had formerly been employed in weaving or agriculture, were now to be found in smithies or foundries.  Besides providing sources of employment for local residents, the new industries were responsible for bringing other workers to the village and an indication of the origin of some of the incomers was to be found in the nickname “Wee Ireland” given to houses adjoining Wilkies Plough Works on the Old Mill Road.  These houses, which were opposite the Co-operative, have now been demolished and the site is used as a car park.  However, this Irish immigration had brought few Catholics to the village for according to the late Robert McElhinney of Croftbank Crescent there were only about six Catholic families in Uddingston in 1848.  In the first half of the century Catholics were more inclined to settle in the Tannochside area where the coal pits provided a ready source of employment.  Around 1848 there was a dramatic increase in the Catholic population of Glasgow and its surrounding districts, owing to a large influx of people fleeing the ravages of the Irish Famine, but relatively few of these work-seeking immigrants settled in Uddingston as they were more attracted to places such as Coatbridge or Motherwell where the Industrial Revolution had made greater impact and the opportunities for work were more plentiful.  However, the rate of settlement in Uddingston increased rapidly in the second half of the century owing to industrial expansion and the building of two railway links to Glasgow, and it was the latter of these which hastened the demand for commuter villas in the area.  The estimated population of Uddingston in 1881 was 3,542 – four times the total of 1850.  There is no reference, however, to the number of Catholic residents in the village at that time.

In 1843, Uddingston and Tannochside came within the parochial boundaries of the new St Mary’s parish in Hamilton; and so they remained for the next thirty-nine years.  Catholics in Uddingston and Tannochside had to walk to Hamilton in all kinds of weather and it will be readily appreciated that attendance at Mass in those days must have been a real test of Faith.  With the opening of Holy Family Parish, Mossend, in 1868 and St Mary’s, Coatbridge, in 1874, the Catholics in Tannochside had a choice of nearer churches whilst those in the village were still obliged to make the long walk to Hamilton.

Establishing of St John the Baptist Mission
It must have come as a great relief to the people of Tannochside and Uddingston when the Hierarchy decided to open a new Mission in Uddingston in September 1882.  Archbishop Eyre of Glasgow appointed Fr. Denis McCarthy as the first parish priest and he celebrated his first public Mass in the Victoria Hall, Crofthead Street, in October 1882.  He continued to use this hall for Mass until the new chapel–school was built the following year.  The first baptism in the new parish was recorded on the 8th October, 1882, when John Boyd, son of Peter and Mary Jane Boyd (nee Farmer) was baptised by Fr. McCarthy, the godparents on this occasion being John Clancy and Mary Cosgrove.

A site at the northern end of the Old Mill Road, bounded by the L.M.S. and L.N.E.R. railways, was chosen for the erection of a new chapel-school and presbytery, and construction work commenced in the autumn of 1882.  Rapid progress was made and the new buildings were completed by the following summer.

The important and imposing ceremony to mark the opening of the new Parish was held on Sunday, 24th June 1883.  The chapel-school dedicated to the patronage of St John the Baptist, was solemnly opened by Archbishop Eyre of Glasgow who presided and preached at the opening High Mass in the forenoon; the Right Rev. John Aloysius Maguire, who was himself later to become Archbishop of Glasgow, preached the sermon at the Solemn Benediction in the evening.

The first entry into the Catholic Directory for the Clergy and Laity of Scotland, 1883 reads:
Uddingston, 1882, Rev Denis McCarthy (1877).
On Sunday, Mass at 9, 11; Sunday School at 2.30pm.
The Mission was opened in Sept 1882.  A Chapel-School (St John the Baptist) and presbytery are being built.  In the meantime the Sunday Services are held in a rented hall.

“The school buildings comprised of a large schoolroom and a suitably proportioned classroom.  There are separate entrances, sheds, playgrounds etc. for boys and girls.  At one end of the schoolroom, and separated from it by folding doors, there is a small but artistic sanctuary, and adjoining this is the sacristy.  When the folding doors of the sanctuary, and also those separating the classroom from the schoolroom, are opened, a chapel is formed 96 feet long by 33 broad, giving accommodation for about 600 persons.  The buildings are designed in the early English style, and form a prominent feature in the district.  The architects were Messrs. Bruce and Sturrock, Glasgow”.  (Extract from the Catholic Directory for Scotland 1884 p 214)  The school had its own official opening and first intake of 116 pupils on 13th August 1883.

The Old Chapel-School (picture above!)


Though the chapel-school is generally regarded as the first chapel in Uddingston, the late Fr. Gilbert Hill of Greyfriars uncovered evidence of an earlier one in the course of his historical research and David Jamieson, our local historian, included this information in his history of the village.  The Lady Chapel, as it was known, is thought to have been built, about the beginning of the 7th Century and it was dedicated to St. Laserian, the first Bishop of Leighlin in Ireland, who was also known as St. Molaise.  The chapel was situated near the River Clyde where the railway bridge crosses the river but evidence of its existence has disappeared as the site is now covered by the railway embankment.  Though many place names in the West of Scotland bear witness to the missionary activity of St. Molaise, the only reminder of his work in Uddingston is the name ‘Lady Isle’ given to one of the streets in the Knowehead Council Estate.

In 1883, the parochial boundaries of the new St John the Baptist’s parish stretched from Bothwellpark to Calderbraes, taking in the land lying between the natural boundaries of the River Clyde and the River Calder – a very extensive area indeed.  Bearing in mind that transport facilities were very limited, one can appreciate the difficulties experienced by our early parish priests in caring for such a scattered and fragmented parish and tribute must be paid to Fr. Denis McCarthy, Fr. John Murphy and Fr. Ronald Mortimer for their pioneering efforts to establish the spiritual and social foundations of their charge under such difficult conditions.

Establishing the new Mission posed financial challenges for Fr Denis McCarthy.  Extracts from the first Annual Return of Mission to the Archdiocese of Glasgow in 1883 show that the number in the congregation as 770 and the total number of Baptisms as 52.  Financially the parish had very humble beginnings as the Annual Income for the year was £395-14-7d, the Expenditure was £343-10-5d leaving a balance of £52-4-2d.

On 23rd November 1883, Fr Denis McCarthy made a request to the Archdiocese for a loan and grant to the value of £200 as the Mission had incurred debts of £3,775.  He writes on the request form, “the ordinary income of year September 1882 to September 1883 was insufficient to meet ordinary expenditure.  The extraordinary expenditure incurred in furnishing the house, altar, school (apparatus) was covered by the extraordinary income.  …During last year no interest on debt has been paid by the Mission.  …Total interest and feu duties for 1884 amounted to £286-9-10d”.

Also noted on the request form, “ the population is composed, with one exception, of miners and labourers”.   A letter in support of the loan and grant states, “the income is very good for this Mission – it amounts to nearly ten shillings per head of the population”.

By 16th April 1883 building work carried out at the School and Chapel house amounted to £2,057.

Growth of the Mission
In 1886 Fr John Murphy PP, in the Annual Mission Returns to the Archdioceses, gives a census figure of 850, constructed as follows:

Area                          Church population
Uddingston                          265
Tannochside                        254
Nackerty                                96
Thorniewood                        55
Bothwell                                22
Bothwell Park                     145
Allowing for mistakes         13
Total                                    850

When Fr. Arthur Beyaert, a Belgian priest, took charge of the parish in 1897 the Catholic population was growing rapidly owning to the opening of coal mines in the area and it was principally on account of this increase that Fr. Matthew Burke was appointed as his curate in 1899.  An indication of the growth that was taking place is given by the following statistics compiled from the Baptismal Register;
1882-1890    Total baptisms    424
1891-1900    Total baptisms    1000
1901-1910    Total baptisms    2141

An all-time record was established in year 1908 when 252 baptisms were recorded – a population explosion!  Judging from these figures, it is not surprising to find that a new school extension for infants was built in 1899.  As the chapel-school was also becoming too small to accommodate the growing congregation, plans were drawn up to build a much larger church on a site adjoining the presbytery.  See appendix xx for numbers in congregation, baptisms, confirmations, marriages and school roll.

In spite of the fact that financial support was unpredictable in a largely mining community owing to strikes and pit closures at the turn of the century, Fr Beyaert forged ahead with his plans to build a new church.  Encouraged by his zeal and drive the parishioners subscribed faithfully to the Building Fund though their donations were very much limited by their meagre incomes.  Conscious of the economic difficulties of his parishioners and the financial burden confronting them, Fr Beyaert enlisted the financial and material support of his relatives and friends in Belgium.  They responded generously to his appeal by providing the High Altar and most of the oak furnishings for the sanctuary; the present Stations of the Cross were donated by the Beyaert family.  It was mainly due to the untiring efforts and enthusiasm of Fr Beyaert that the present St John’s church, capable of seating 1,000 people, was ready for opening in March 1902.

“the church has a large frontage to the Old Mill Road.  The style of architecture is severe Gothic, and the design is a most harmonious one, by Mr Fredrick Vincent Burke, of Messrs. Tennant & Burke, Glasgow.  The edifice is mot substantially built, and measures 132 feet long by 60 feet broad.  The church is internally divided into a chancel, middle nave, and two side aisles – the chancel arch separating the sanctuary fro the main body of the church.  In line with the chancel are two sacristies, while the confessionals and baptistery are placed at the end of the church.  The high altar is a most artistic and beautiful piece of workmanship, and is of carved oak and gilded – the altar being universally admired by experts and others who have visited the church.  Over the tabernacle of the altar there is a large canopy treated in the same was as the altar – of carved oak and gilded, while the eye is attracted by a pretty carved and gilded panel in the rear of the canopy.  At the side of the altar are two magnificent candelabra and pedestals – a gift from the Flynn Family, Uddingston.  from the chancel arch there is a large sanctuary lamp, with corona, for numerous candles,  the altar rails and pulpit are of elaborate carved oak.  The church is seated for nearly 1,000 persons, but with little difficulty, accommodation could be provided for 1,200 or 1,300 persons”. (Catholic Directory Scotland, 1903, p217)

St John the Baptist, Chapel House and Church

According to a report issued at the time, the solemn opening of the new church on the 15th March, 1902, was a very impressive ceremony.  As guests arrived, they were met at the conservatory by a military guard of honour and among the dignitaries who attend was the Spanish Consul who was living in Douglas Gardens at the time.  Twenty-six priest and nine altar boys in the sanctuary assisted at the Solemn High Mass celebrated by the Very Rev. Canon Dyer of St Mary’s, Glasgow, and a large choir, conducted by Mr John McCusker, led the capacity congregation in singing the Mass.  It was an ironic twist of fate that Fr Beyaert, who had put so much effort into preparing for this great day, was unable to attend because of an injured foot.  After Mass, 160 guests were entertained to lunch in the large hall in the Royal Buildings at Uddingston Cross.  In the evening Solemn Benediction was conducted by Fr Van Hecke and the sermon was given by Fr John Murphy who had been parish priest in St John’s from 1887 to 1890.  He congratulated the parishioners for the fervour and zeal which they had shown towards the building of the new church.

Interior of old church – photo from centenary book

Shortly after celebrating his Silver Jubilee on the 18th March, 1904, Fr Beyaert set about the task of building the League of the Cross Hall in the North British Road to provide a social centre for his parishioners but, sadly, his enjoyment of the new church and hall was short-lived as he was replaced as parish priest in 1908.  Extraordinary expenses for the School and Hall at this time amounted to £1,079-4-5d

Fr Beyaert’s successor was the well-remembered, energetic and genial Fr James Towie whose long term of office in St John’s had a rather depressing start.  The opening of the new St Bride’s chapel school in Bothwell in 1910 brought about the transfer of many of St John’s parishioners and school children to the new parish and this decrease in the congregation was aggravated by the fact that many miners were leaving the district because of pit closures or frequent strikes.  However, in spite of his depleted source of income, Fr Towie continued to reduce the debt incurred by the new church and hall and his adverse comments about ‘snowflakes’ (the old silver three-penny pieces) in the offertory collection were probably well-intended.  It should be noted, however, that he was always sensitive to the needs of his parishioners and collections were suspended during the strikes.

A few months after the outbreak of the First World War an Uddingston soldier had a chance meeting Bruges with his former parish priest, Fr Beyaert, who was then resident in Belgium.  It was shortly after this meeting that Fr Beyaert was taken captive by the Germans and sentenced to four years imprisonment for collaborating with the British Forces.  The Belgium connection was again renewed in 1915 when war refugee families from Belgium were accommodated in Viewpark House and fourteen Belgium nuns were housed in Bothwell Castle Mansion (now demolished) which was then owned by the Earl of Home.

Another interesting, but little-known St John’s link with the First World War was recently brought to light by Jim Daly of Kylepark.  His brother-in-law, Johnny Power, whilst fighting with the British Forces in France in 1915, came across a much-dented and battered chalice in the ruins of the Cathedral in Arras.  Johnny rescued the chalice from the rubble, carried it with him during his service in France and eventually brought it home to Uddingston.  His parents, Mr and Mrs John Power, had the chalice repaired and presented it to Fr Towie on the occasion of his Silver Jubilee.  He took the chalice with him when he was transferred to Port Glasgow and there it remained for many years until it was traced and brought back to Uddingston by Jim Daly.  This chalice, which is still used regularly at Mass, should remind us to pray for the souls of those parishioners who sacrificed their lives, in the two World Wars.

The Chalice, alongside a missal used in the chapel school in the 1890’s, and an
altar-card brought from Belgium by Fr Beyaert

In 1920 Fr Towie celebrated his Silver Jubilee and it was about that time that he purchased the old Victoria Hall (situated in Crofthead Street, approximately where the rear entrance to Tunnock’s factory is currently situated), from Mr Green, of Playhouse fame.  The ‘Old Vic’ as it was affectionately know, soon became the hub of social activities in the parish.  Fr O’Brien’s Dramatic Club, Fr Watt’s Sunday Evening Concerts and the parochial Dances were all held in the Old Vic, and it is a measure of their popularity that patrons from surrounding parishes were frequent attenders at these functions.  Though there is no accurate information available, it is believed that it was in the 1920’s that a pipe organ was installed in the church and a tennis court and putting green were laid out on the ground adjoining the school.  Voluntary labour for these projects was readily available and forthcoming as the miners in the village were then involved in the long drawn-out Miner’s Strike of 1926.  A parochial magazine issued in 1927, to mark the Silver Jubilee of the church lists a wide variety of spiritual and secular organisations indicating that parochial life in St John’s was then in a very healthy state.

Fr Towie’s Silver Jubilee Concert 1920

The driving force behind all these activities was the popular parish priest, Fr Towie, whose extrovert personality penetrated all barriers of class and religion – a forerunner of the ecumenical movement.  Some of the older parishioners still speak respectfully of his blackthorn walking-stick, reputedly used to encourage wayward worshippers, Catholic and Protestant alike.  It was certainly a loss, felt by the whole village community, when Fr Towie was transferred to Port Glasgow in 1930.  Leaving a parish which was then showing the fruits of his labours, and parting from the many friends he had made during his twenty-three years in Uddingston, must have been a great wrench for Fr Towie but at least he could take consolation from the fact that his long stay in St John’s had allowed him to see many of his plans for the parish reach a fruitful conclusion.

During the time of Fr Towie, the first ‘St John the Baptist Parish Quarterly’ magazine was published in August 1927.  The parochial notes section shows that Fr Towie, Parish Priest, Fr A Watt, Senior Assistant and Fr Daniel O’Brien served in the parish at that time.  Sunday Mass: 8.00am, 10.00am (for children), 11.30am (with Sermon).  Benediction on Sunday at 6.00pm.  Parish groups included the Altar Society, Sacred Heart, St Vincent de Paul, Boy’s Guild and Girl’s Guild, and some of their members formed a Dramatic Club and Athletic club, Boy Scouts and Women’s Social Guild.  The Day School was under the auspices of the Franciscan Sisters (from Bothwell), with an average roll of 1,026.  Also noted in the magazine under ‘Items of Interest’ was the following; ‘Dr B Culhane has severed his connection with Uddingston and left to take on another practice in Derby’.  Described as, ‘a gentleman of the first order’, and a most devoted medical adviser.  He carries with him the grateful thanks of a parish he served for seven years.  The practice has been taken over by an old St John’s boy in the person of Dr Thomas McElhinney, one whom the parish is very proud of and one whom the parishioners will find a very worthy successor to Dr B Culhane”.

After the period of parochial expansion and development, which seem to have peaked during Fr Towie’s pastorate, it was natural to expect that a time for consolidation would follow and it was at the beginning of such a period that Fr Patrick McCarthy took up his appointment as parish priest in 1930.  The more cautious parochial policy was one which was very much dictated by the harsh economic climate of the ‘Hungry Thirties’ and it is a great tribute to his careful management and guidance that he succeeded in reducing the parochial debt during such difficult times.

Like his predecessor, Fr McCarthy soon became a familiar figure in the village and many still recall how he toured the parish at a leisurely pace, perched precariously on a sturdy upright Raleigh bicycle.  However, owing to his retiring nature and lacking the health and vitality of Fr Towie, Fr McCarthy tended to confine his attention to the spiritual life of the parish, leaving the organisation of the social activities to his curates, Fr O’Brien, Fr Heaney and Fr Forbes.  Under their leadership and direction the tennis club, dramatic club, football and billiard teams all continued to flourish and frequent reference is still made to the honours achieved in their respective activities.  Records show that in 1934 the income generated by the tennis club was £36-0-0d.  By 1936 the much beloved ‘Old Vic’ was demolished at a cost of £21-5-0d.
There is evidence from parish records that by 1935 a telephone had been installed in the chapel house; the telephone number was 156.   The expenses for this device were £7-17-2d.

Whilst there appeared to be a thriving parish with many activities there was also an awareness of events beyond the parish boundaries.  In 1937 there was a collection for ‘Spanish Children’ who were victims of the Spanish Civil War (July 1936- April 1939 – founding of the General Franco dictatorship) and the sum of £12 was raised for this cause.  Closer to home, in the same year, the ‘Achill Bothy Fire’ occurred in Kirkintilloch.  Ten young men from Achill, one of the largest islands off the coast of Ireland, and as was the tradition in that area, came to Scotland from May until October where they worked as ‘tatie-hokers’.  The migrants were in the employment of the Glasgow based company, W&A Graham Ltd.  The bothy caught fire and ten men aged 13-23 years lost their lives on 16 September 1937.  The parishioners, many of Irish ancestry, gave £13-10-11d to the disaster fund.

A milestone in the life of St John’s was reached in 1939 when the parish boundaries were re-organised to accommodate the newly-formed St Columba’s parish in Viewpark.  The consequent loss of parishioners to the new parish, the outbreak of the Second World War, resulting in the departure of many young people to the Army, Navy and Air Force, and the many restrictions imposed by the war, all brought difficult times; however, in spite of these adversities most of the parochial organisations continued to function.  Outstanding among these was the Senior Dramatic Club whose war-time productions in the Miners’ Welfare dispelled many an hour of war-time gloom.  Dan Geraghty, Pat Cassidy, Barbara Smythe, Margaret Hendry, Frank Hannaway, Pat Darroch, Willie O’Neill and Charlie McCormick – to name but a few – all gave polished and versatile performances worthy of any professional stage.  One such performance was ‘Beneath the Wee Red Lums’, by T.M. Watson, a Scots comedy in four acts.

It is interesting to note in 1941 the Christmas census of the congregation is reported as:
Uddingston                                                     1,525
Alpine Terrace (New Edinburgh Road)       241
Birkenshaw housing scheme                         798
Total                                                                2,546

Charlie McCormick’s talents were not confined to the stage, however, as he spent many laborious hours compiling and editing the Parish Magazine (price one penny).  The following extracts from a January 1945 edition, characteristic of Charlie’s fluent and homely style, provide a flavour of parochial life during those troubled times:

Continued at Histrory 2 – News from the Front