The Mission Sabbath School - The Free Church - James Davie, Martyr - Episcopalian Church - Established Church - Wesleyan Methodist Church - Church of Christ - Roman Catholic Church
Church buildings during the first fifty years of Armadale's history were unprovided, and those who desired to attend religious services were obliged to walk either to Bathgate or Whitburn. But with the religious enthusiasm caused through the Disruption in 1843, when 474 clergymen seceded from the Established Church and formed the Free Church of Scotland, an effort was made to form a Free Church in Armadale.
The first religious institution to be established in Armadale was the ‘Mission Sabbath School' which was first held in the old Subscription School, in North Street, and afterwards in the new Subscription School, in South Street, now the Town Hall. This school was first formed by a few of Armadale's most devout Christian men and women, most notable amongst whom wore George Brown, shoemaker; Thomas Harvie, farmer; Thomas Wilson, mineral borer; Matthew Wilson, grocer; John Waugh, Birkenshaw; and Henry Drysdale; and Misses Brock and Harvie, all of whom have crossed the bourne, except Thomas Wilson. It was making great headway when Mr. Taylor, a missionary, was provided to minister to the people by the various employers contributing to his maintenance, and on his arrival and joining in the school work, it took the name by which it has been widely known, The Mission Sabbath School, and its great success was due to its being un-denominational. When churches became fully established in the then village, the support of the missionary was withdrawn, but this in no way affected the existence of the "Mission Sabbath School." Many of Armadale's Churchmen have been identified with the work of the Mission School, but none more so than ex-Provost Thomas Pow who, on being elected unanimously by his fellow-teachers to be President, became a power of strength to all who followed his lead. President Pow had behind him a large staff of able teachers, who devoted themselves to the work with an earnestness that was begotten of a genuine love for the work, and their work prospered to such an extent that the schoolhouse was filled each Sabbath by the children of parents belonging to all the churches, and of many who knew no church at all.
Many of the young men of those good old days grew in their strength and love for the work of God, and became divinity students, and are now filling pulpits at home and abroad.
Mr Pow, after more than a, quarter of a century labouring for the welfare of the school, relinquished his position in favour of a younger aspirant, and retired into private life.
Mr Pow's withdrawal from the presidency of the Mission School marked a new epoch in its history. A Sabbath School that had become so well established and deservedly popular on account of its un-sectarian lines, began to cool in its fervour, and gradually fell back, until by the close of the last century it ceased to exist.
Many are the happy recollections of the old Mission School, with its annual trip in the summer, when the day was recognised as a public holiday and the shops were closed, and most of the inhabitants joined in the day's outing. Then the annual soiree was looked forward to with no little interest; many speakers from the platform entertained young and old alike not with sermons, but with racy stories that proved an excellent guide in the journey of life. The school had the un-stinted support of the public, and enjoyed the special privilege of the use of the Subscription School building, even after it became the Town Hall, free of charge; but a younger and more selfish generation sprang up with new ideas for the government of the school, and as is generally the rule where selfishness gets in, everything else goes out, and this proved the case with the Mission Sabbath School, and it came to an inglorious end.
The Free Church in Bathgate, having a considerable membership in Armadale, sent a missionary to work up the village in the person of the Rev. Alex. Rodger, a zealous young probationer. He soon gained the confidence and affection of a large following, who set about to provide ways and means for putting themselves into the possession of a meeting-place of their own.
By the spring of the year 1860 a feu was secured almost opposite the school, where they had been used to worship in, at the head of the hill, in South Street, and at once it was arranged to proceed with the building of the first sacred edifice in the rising town. The foundation was laid in the spring of that year, and shortly afterwards the ceremony of laying the memorial stone was conducted by Professor Sir James Young Simpson, of chloroform fame, whose connection with Bathgate and the mother church, apart from his Christian personality, made him a fit and proper person for the high honour. A large gathering was present, and after declaring- the stone "well and truly laid", the distinguished doctor turned to address the audience, first congratulating them on the site they had chosen for the church, and then referring to its close proximity to the spot where, in Covenanting days, one had died in defence of the truth.
Professor Simpson, as he is known all over the world, was referring to the martyrdom of James Davie, who was shot at Blackdub Farm in the year 1673, and as the incident may not be very well known locally, it may not be amiss to give it a place here in passing.
The Rev. John H. Thomson, in his book, entitled "The Martyr Graves of Scotland," gives the following description of James Davie's martyrdom:-
"The tombstone . . . lies in the centre of Bathgate Old Churchyard, to the south of the church. It is a flat stone, seven feet in length, by three in breadth. The inscription is:-
Here lies the Body of JAMES DAVIE, who was shot at Blackdub, April, 1673, by HERON, for his adhering to the word of GOD and Scotland's Covenanted work of Reformation in opposition to POPERY, PRELACY, PERJURY, and TYRANNY. Repaired by a few men in this Parish.
"Davie formed one of a congregation that assembled to worship their God and Redeemer in a hollow on the farm of Blackdub, to the west of the parish, when they were dispersed by a party of dragoons. The congregation had got timely warning of their approach, and fled across a strip of deep moss, which stopped their pursuers. When they crossed, they stood still and looked over to their enemies, and fancied they were now in safety. The soldiers fired at them. The only shot which took effect was that which killed James Davie."
The farms of Blackdub and Westfield are now part of the farm of Netherhouses, to the west of Armadale Railway Station, and are at present tenanted by Robert Law, who was once good enough to show the writer the spot where Davie is supposed to have met his death at the hands of Heron's dragoons.
The building of the Free Church was soon finished and opened, when the dedication service was conducted by the late Rev. Dr. Burns, Kirkliston, and the Rev. Alex. Rodger, who had worked so indefatigably as a missionary for the church, was duly "set apart" by the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery.
Within the next five years the Episcopalian, the Church of Scotland, and the Wesleyan Methodist Churches in the order given were all built.
The Rev. Mr. Rodger, after a few years' strenuous work, in which his health failed him, retired, and was succeeded by the Rev. James Anderson, in whose reign, in 1868, the palatial manse was built.
Mr Anderson was an exceedingly earnest worker, and was proud of the fact that he preached the publicans out of his church. His earnestness, however, brought him into fame as a terror to evil-doers, and his trenchant preaching brought those in want of a minister to induce him into a richer field. Polmont Free Church succeeded in "calling " him in 1874.
Many of Mr. Andersen's young members, who were roused by his enthusiasm, were preparing for the ministry, and had made hopeful progress in their studies, when the Rev. Archibald Black was called to succeed Mr. Anderson. Mr. Black was more of the theologian, and less of the rousing worker. His teaching was much sought after by the young aspirants to the pulpit, who became stricken with a fresh enthusiasm which carried them to the goal of their ambition.
The Rev. Mr. Black, who was called to Dundee in 1880, was succeeded by the Rev. James Roy, B.D., who, after a number of years, was followed by the Rev. Peter Macdonald, B.D., a young man, and a powerful and instructive preacher. During Mr. Macdonald's ministry the church had to be enlarged in order to accommodate the number that came to hear him preach. Accepting a "call" from the Holyrood Free Church in 1896, Mr. Macdonald severed his connection with Armadale, when the choice of a successor fell upon the Rev. William Russell Paterson, M.A., the present minister.
Early in the history of the Free Church the want of a hall in which to conduct the various meetings in connection with the church was felt, and an effort was being made to provide such a place when a sum of £200 was sent by an anonymous friend to provide the hall, and with this sum the church managers purchased two houses opposite the church gate and had them converted into a small hall and designated "The Christian Institute." Although the name of the generous donor of the £200 was not published, it was generally well known that it was Mrs, better known as Lady, Gillespie of Torbanehill, a granddaughter to Lord Armadale, to whose religious proclivities all the other churches were much indebted. The Institute has since been sold, and a well-equipped hall built within the church grounds.
The original elders of the Free Church who were mainly instrumental in raising the funds to build the church were George Brown, shoemaker, who, until he was through age no longer fit, took a large share of the church work upon him, and was the minister's principal help for many years; the saintly Thomas Harvie, of Barbauchlaw Mill, who transferred from Whitburn, where he held the position of elder, and whose daily life was the finest example of a Christian that one could behold; John and Thomas Wilson, James Naismith, and Walter Hunter. Of the original office-bearers who held office as deacons, and are at present elders of the church, there remain Thomas and John Pow, who delight in reviewing the past history of the church, and never tire of recounting the many interesting and personal incidents connected with many of their co-workers now gone to the great majority.
The building of the Free Church seemed to put some ecclesiastical life into the people of Armadale. The large number of Episcopalians that were attracted to the district by the newly-opened works encouraged them to build a church, when Lady Gillespie gave such support to the scheme that the road leading to the church that was soon built was named Gillespie Street, a cul-de-sac which is better known as "The Marches," since Barbauchlaw, Hopetoun, and Hardhill lands march at the corner where the church is built.
The Rev. Mr. M'Laughland, who was first-sent to minister to this body, built a number of houses, and made it a condition that if the tenants lived in these houses for twenty years and paid their rent, the house would then become their own. None of the tenants, however, complied with this condition. Mr. M'Laughland removed to England, and the church for a short time was without a pastor, until the Rev. Hudson Teape was appointed. Mr. Teape became very popular by his taking an active part in all that pertained to the town's welfare. After a number of years' successful ministry, he removed north, and was succeeded by the Rev. Mr. Temple, a great scholar, who did much to educate, free of charge, those whose education had been neglected. He was a heavy loser by the failure of the City of Glasgow Bank, being a shareholder, and much sympathy was felt for him. He was succeeded on his retiral by the Rev. Joseph Druce, the present rector, who refused to take up his abode in the Priory, as the house was not in a satisfactory condition, but soon afterwards bought the present Priory from Mr. Wood of Bathville, who had built it for another purpose, on Bathville estate.
In 1863 the Parish Church at Bathgate erected a church building on the Bullion Brae, now Academy Street, when the Rev. James Kerr took charge of the mission. He had the happy knack of earning the highest opinion of everybody, whether of his own church or not, through his kindly disposition and the earnestness of his manner. Mr. Kerr was a passenger in the ill-fated S.S. "London," for Australia, when that ship foundered in the Bay of Biscay in January, 1866.
The Rev. John Scott followed Mr. Kerr in the church, and was equally happy in his disposition, and deservedly popular in many ways. Mr. Scott took a great interest in educational affairs, and was a most conspicuous Chairman of the School Board in its early history. His aim was to give the children of the town greater facilities for learning, and he early advocated the building of a new school in order to bring all the children under one roof. His scheme was strongly opposed, but he was a keen debater, and he won at the end, but had to suffer much abuse from many who declared that the new school would be an empty building in a few years. Mr. Scott retorted that in the course of other ten years the school would require to be extended, a saying that proved true, and the third addition to the first building was opened in the month of May this year.
The Rev. Mr. Scott was succeeded by the Rev. Robert Cameron, from Largs, in the autumn of 1881. Mr. Cameron has also been a conspicuous member of the School Board, and held the position of chairman for many years, but retired three years ago.
Mr Cameron, on taking up the charge of the Established Church Mission in Armadale, set to work to have the church endowed, and in July, 1884, a three days' bazaar was held in the Public School for that purpose, when the necessary funds were forthcoming, and the church made into a quoad sacra parish.
Mr Cameron's manse was originally built by Mrs Brock in the plantation known as The Beeches, a short- distance from the site of the old mansion-house of the estate known as The Place. It afterwards became the manse of the Wesleyan Methodist minister, Mr. Fletcher, in the seventies, before it was acquired by the Established Church.
The Wesleyan body, towards the end of the sixties, made an effort to raise funds to erect a building in which to hold their services. They were fortunate in securing the assistance of that good Christian, Lady Gillespie of Torbanehill, and at the level crossing near the east end of the burgh the little chapel was built in the year 1865. The Rev. Mr. Fletcher was its first and most conspicuous minister, and was so popular that he was allowed to remain in Armadale for six years. According to the Church's method, there have been many pastors, and the Bathville Works manager's house near the station, after the bankruptcy of Messrs John Watson and Sons in 1873, was procured for the minister's residence, but has since been sold to Mr. Alex. Leckie, although it is still known as "The Manse".
Church building had now evidently reached its ambition, as no effort was made to add to the sacred buildings until 1899, when the increasing and healthy state of the "Church of Christ" warranted the members in erecting a meeting-house in South Street, nearly opposite to where stand the cottages originally built for Buttries store and offices.
The Roman Catholics have been growing steadily in the district since the famous invasion of the harvesters, and are now of a mind that they should have a place of worship in the town to save them from going to Bathgate. The proposal of the Armadale members of the Church to have a building of their own met with general approval towards the end of 1905. A fund was opened and such effort made to swell it that by the end of November the Rev. Father Eardly, curate to the Rev. Father M'Daniel, Bathgate, was appointed priest over Armadale, and plans were prepared for the erection of a chapel-school. Father Eardly, however, departed from the district unexpectedly in the month of July - a circumstance that checked the building preparations for a time. The Rev. Thomas M'Donna succeeded Mr. Eardly, and the building of the chapel may be expected in the near future.