History of St Peter's

by Bruce Jamieson
with additional, recent material by Paul Goldfinch

The Early Years

Episcopalians have worshipped in Linlithgow for hundreds of years. Even during periods of difficulty an Episcopalian form of worship must have continued in the town. A document from the year 1745 records that Clementina Walkinshaw, beloved of Bonnie Prince Charlie, attended a wedding in the 'Episcopal Meeting House' in Linlithgow High Street.

Such meeting houses were quite common in places where congregations were small and it was not until 1928 that a purpose-built place of worship was constructed to serve the Linlithgow Episcopalians.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, Episcopacy in Scotland was beginning to recover from centuries of persecution and restriction. Numbers were increasing all over the country. In 1900 there were 116,000 registered Episcopalians in Scotland and by 1921 the number had risen to 147,000. To cater for this growing demand, cathedrals were being built in Perth, Inverness and Edinburgh and churches all over Scotland.

In Linlithgow, the small but go-ahead congregation was also contemplating how best to serve future generations of Episcopalians in the town.


A Mission Church

Calling itself the "St. Peter's Episcopal Mission in Linlithgow", the growing congregation had met in a variety of "mission rooms" including rented shop premises, a disused Public House and a rented hall in the High Street.

Three services were held every Sunday: a 9.30 Holy Communion; an 11.15 Matins Service and a 6.30 Evensong. About 20 people met regularly with the services being taken by the Reverend F.W. Moore of St. Catherine's, Bo'ness or by "missioners" such as W. Kewley and V.C. Sutherland.

In 1914, the hall then being used for worship was taken over by the army and the need to secure more permanent premises became even more pressing.

In 1915, the St Peter's Mission took on a resident organist, Mr Kehoe, and a full-time, salaried lay reader, Mr. S. E. Easter. On October 31st, the congregation moved to new "Mission Rooms" at 105 High Street.

The "Mission" was still attached to the "Mother Establishment" in Bo'ness and the priests in charge, Rev. E. J. Thompson and then the Rev. J. H. Light both realised the desirability of finding a permanent religious base in Linlithgow.

In the minutes of the Vestry for August 31st, 1917, reference is made to the "possibility of obtaining a new, larger, airier building". For the moment, however, the Linlithgow congregation realised that funds were not available to construct their own church. Instead, in March 1918, the first service was held in what the 'Church Services Register' calls "our New Church". This was actually the vacant Craigmailen U.F. Church at the top of Dog Well Wynd and by August 1918 a regular congregation of between 12 and 15 people was worshipping there every Sunday. On August 2nd, 1918, the sum of £1 5s 6d was raised in a special collection for the "Royal Scots Prisoners of War Fund".

On November 17th, 1918, the Church Services Register records a "Thanksgiving for Victory Service" during which the Rev. Light preached on a text from Psalm 118.

On October 13th, 1918, George, Bishop of Edinburgh, preached to a congregation of 29 people and a collection of 8s 9d was raised. The Bishop was pleased to note that a healthy Sunday School had been established and met regularly on Sunday afternoons. The records reveal that the Sunday School did not meet on April 27th, 1919, however, due to an "exceptionally heavy snowstorm".

On July 6th, 1919, there was a Thanksgiving Service for Peace. Twenty members of the congregation attended tto mark the fact that, on the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, the First World War was finally at an end.

The end of the war brought increasing population mobility and several new church members moved into the town. In order to attract new members and also to raise badly needed funds, a fete was held in the Freemason's Hall, after being officially opened by Miss Ferrier. An admission charge of 3d. was charged; 6d. if one took tea. From the various stalls, a total of £30.00 was made. Other events merited the gracious patronage of Lady Lodge, Mrs. Maconochie of Avontoun and Mr. Kidd, M.P.

By 1920 the congregation had grown to 51 with 27 communicants and several of these made donations to the church. From Miss Ferrier came a pair of brass candlesticks in memory of her family. Mrs. Durus presented an altar cross and a chair for the sanctuary.

In 1921 the one-time lay-reader came back as the ordained Father Easter and he ministered to an active congregation which included families such as the Howards, Dawsons, de Charterises, Newlands, Peakes, Dougals and Allans.

Monthly social gatherings were started where the members "enjoyed each other's company and partook of refreshment and games".

A free-will offering system was introduced. Despite the enthusiasm of the congregation however and all their fund-raising efforts, it was still realised that the church’s income was barely keeping pace with the drain of on-going expenses, including a lay-reader's salary of £50 a year.

By 1922 the building fund stood at only £12 and the need to find permanent accommodation was becoming even more urgent. Dry rot had been found in the U.F. Church and it was essential to "transfer to a better, smaller and more convenient building".

A special meeting to discuss the emergency was held on October 5, 1922 and it was agreed to move temporarily into the U.F. Church Hall and then to move out of U.F. premises completely by the following Easter.

The Vestry went to look at the possibility of using the Dymock Hall, an old Knight Templar's building behind what is now the 'Four Mary's Pub', but it was found unsuitable. Instead, St. Peter's Mission moved once again into rented premise: rooms belonging to the 'Scotch Girls Friendly Society' at 257 High Street (next to what is now the dentist's surgery).

By all accounts, these were not the most attractive premises. The Vestry Records refer to them as:

"in a poor state and shared with the Friendly Society of Gardiners".

Nevertheless, an enthusiastic congregation of around 30 people crowded into the rooms every Sunday. On January 20th, 1924, some 72 people squeezed in to witness a 'Lantern Service' given by the Rev. Easter.

At his last service for St. Peter's Mission, on March 1st, 1924, Rev. Easter referred in "most enthusiastic tones" about the secure future of the Linlithgow Episcopal church. On his appointment as priest-in-charge in 1924, the Rev. W. S. Snow made contact with the Bishop of Edinburgh, George Walpole, and arranged to discuss the sorry situation whereby a growing congregation, now numbering 80 people, had to meet in such an undesirable building.

An extra effort was put into the 1925 Sale of Work which was opened by Bishop Walpole himself. Donations of goods from 'Birds Custard', 'Horlicks', 'Foster Clark' and 'Knights of Silvertown' and the provision of free 'novelties' from 'Stamberts' ensured a healthy profit and the mammoth fund-raising effort was on.


A Permanent Building

On Sunday, February 7th, 1926, the Minutes record the particular interest which Bishop Walpole took in Linlithgow and its desire for a new church and announced that: "the kind Bishop has secured a sight (sic) for a church in the High Street at the price of £100."

The minute goes on to state that the Bishop was going on an Easter lecture tour of America where he hoped to persuade his friends, especially in the Diocese of Washington, to assist in building a Church in Linlithgow. Urgency in the matter increased on the news that the Society of Gardiners was leaving the shared meeting room and that St. Peter's would have to pay all the costs necessary to maintain and service it.

A meeting of the congregation duly took place, on April 13th, 1926, in 257 High Street, with the Lord Bishop of Edinburgh himself in the chair. The Bishop produced pictures of a proposed new church and distributed 200 picture cards to be sold by the congregation. He announced that the cost of building the church would be about £1600 and then asked what sum was in the building fund. He was informed that it stood at a paltry £6!

It was agreed to go for a slightly cheaper building, at around the £1,000 mark, if the architect J. Walker Todd, of the firm Dick, Peddie and Todd, would draw up suitably amended plans. The Bishop promised about £500 from his forthcoming tour of America and said he was sure that the Walker Trust would donate a suitable sum. Nevertheless, he stressed that there would still be some leeway to make up and that it would still take: "much Hope, Patience, Prayer, Work and Fund-raising".

To stress this latter point, he duly offered a prize to the largest collector of funds. Enthused by the Bishop's exhortations, the congregation agreed to proceed forthwith and to start clearing the old buildings at 151-153 High Street. Things did not work out as smoothly as had been hoped and some delay did inevitably occur.

At the AGM on February 15th, 1927, there was little progress to report but enthusiasm was still high and congregational numbers increased accordingly to 94, with an additional 23 attending the Sunday School. Meanwhile, services had to be held in a room in the Palace Hotel at the east end of the High Street.


The Present Church

Eventually, work on Linlithgow's Scottish Episcopal Church was started. On May 18th, 1927, the Foundation Stone was laid by Colonel Maclaren of the Craigs and the contractors went to work: W. Hardie, builders; D. McPherson, plasterers; G. Downie of Bo'ness, joiner and glazier; A. Hamilton, electrician; Turner and Rowley of Falkirk, plumbers.

One year later, the building was complete, although the workmen, especially the painters of D. Ballantine of Bo'ness, were busy right up to midnight on the 29 May. The next day, the "Linlithgowshire Gazette" recorded that an impressive procession had occurred from the Masonic Hall to the new church:

"Wednesday, May 30, 1928: In brilliant sunshine a large party of clergy, along with Provost Hebson, the Bailies and the town halberdiers marched to the church door where the Bishop struck the closed door with his pastoral staff and proclaimed 'Open me the gates of righteousness that I may go into them and give thanks unto the Lord.'"


A Change of Name

Inside, the service of consecration was performed by Bishop Walpole who dedicated the church to St. Mildred in memory of his late wife. Fifty five people were present in the new building and they contributed a collection of £110 10s 4d towards the "St. Mildred's Building Fund". At the conclusion of the service, a wooden memorial tablet was then unveiled to commemorate the work of women in the church. The church was thereafter duly opened to regular services of worship.

The Bishop was back again at St. Mildred's on July 8th. He was pleased to note that there were 32 people present in the congregation but pointed out that the usual attendance was around half that number and that if all creditors were to be paid off then a healthier congregation was necessary.

It did indeed take some time to pay off all creditors. The first minuted Vestry Meeting to be held in the new church was on September 18th, 1928. Its prime object was to plan a Church Sale to raise funds in an attempt to pay off the outstanding debt on the building. At the same meeting, it was also announced that Mr. McKnight had agreed to ring the bell before services and that a suitable place was being sought to hang the bell. It is difficult to think where such a bell might have been placed but, by all accounts, it was somewhere above the main door. In the 1970s, the bell was removed and donated to St. Catherine's, Bo'ness.

The Rev. Snow remained as Priest in Charge of St. Mildred's until 1931. During that time, he was assisted by Lay Readers J. Cook, P. Nugent, W. Lees and J. Partridge. Miss Jessie Peake took over the running of the Sunday School which met every Sunday afternoon at 2pm and attracted around twenty children.

After a brief interregnum, during which C.A.W. Harvey took the services, the church secured the ministrations of Rev. J. L. Stretch (shared as always with St Catherine's, Bo'ness).

In 1938, after 10 years in charge, Miss Peake left the Sunday School and handed control over to Mrs Christie. Her husband was also called to help in the running of the church when Rev. Stretch left in 1939.

A long interregnum followed perhaps, exacerbated by the war years. A mysterious 'Rev. A. H. J.' (the only signature in the Service Register) took many of the services along with G. K. B. Henderson and Douglas Banyard.

It was not until 1945 that a permanent preacher, Rev. Leslie V Statton, was appointed, By then, attendances at Sunday Services had dropped away and only about 8 hardy souls made a regular appearance at morning Eucharist. Even a busy Sunday, such as that on May 29th, 1949, when Bishop Kenneth Carey visited, only saw 17 members present.

The Rev. O. L .S. Dover only lasted for a year (from February 1950 until October 1951) until he left to become Assistant Curate of St. Wilfred's in Harrogate.

Another long vacancy lasted until February 1953 when the Rev. William Bell Lunn was appointed to the joint charge. He lasted slightly longer - until June 1957 when, once again, a succession of some 12 celebrants held services until the appointment of Rev. J. A. Richardson in December 1958. Under his ministry, numbers rose to an average attendance of 28 at Holy Eucharist, 12 at Matins and 9 at Evensong. 'Special' services such as Easter and Christmas Day saw over 50 people in church.

A Women's Guild branch was set up and the church saw a new flourishing of social events held in the Burgh Halls and in Cross House. It was with great sadness that the congregation heard, in December, 1964, that Rev Richardson was to move on.

Once again, a rota of priests including the Reverends Coles, Connell and Cameron took Sunday services until, on August 8th, 1965, the Rev. Richard Lindsay was appointed and gave his first sermon in St. Mildred's on the theme of "Heaven and Hell".

In 1968, the Rev. Sydney Howard took over and he remained longer than many priests-in-charge, officiating at St. Mildred's until 1976. During this time he resided, as did all priests of the joint charge, in the Parsonage at 2 Riverview Terrace, Bo'ness.

During this time, in the early 1970s, a small but loyal congregation, numbering in single figures, kept the Episcopal flag flying in Linlithgow. Only on occasions such as Easter Day or at baptisms were double figures achieved. Between April 20th and 9th May, 1970, no services were held at all in Linlithgow due to a lengthy redecoration exercise in the church.

On the departure of Rev. Howard, Sunday mornings were presided over by Treasurer, Mr. N. Mundy, and by long-serving member (and still resident organist) Dr. Harry Payne.

In addition to the departure of their priest, St Mildred's also lost another fixture in 1976 when the wooden hut built in the rig behind the church in 1960 by volunteer labour (and never quite completed) was demolished.


Link with St Columba's, Bathgate

After a short inter-regnum of just four months, in September, 1976, the Rev. David Hardie, already installed at St Columba's in Bathgate, was appointed to St. Mildred's, Linlithgow, in a newly created joint charge.

With the increasing growth of Linlithgow, the congregation began slowly to swell in number. A Sunday School was re-established although, due to the disappearance of the church 'hut', this had to meet in the nearby Guide Hall in Dog Well Wynd.


Change of Name ... Again

Congregational numbers and general enthusiasm continued to increase throughout the charge of Edward Robertson who was licensed as priest-in-charge by Bishop Alastair Haggart on May 30th 1978. It was during Rev. Robertson's term of office that the church reverted to its original name. In 1978, on the fiftieth anniversary of its inauguration (as St. Mildred's), the church was officially renamed as the church of St. Peter the Apostle, Linlithgow.

Sandy Peebles (1982-1987) brought his years of experience in the Colonial service and in the Royal Navy to bear on his services and his jovial manner greatly enlivened many church occasions. His portly figure was also the first to be enclothed in a new cope made by Marjorie Heminsley from Chinese brocade brought from China in 1900 by Captain Hogg, a Grangemouth seafarer.

On November 21st, 1987, Rev. Colin Reed was appointed priest in charge and in 1988 he presided over the 60th Anniversary celebrations, assisted by Richard Holloway, Bishop of Edinburgh, who had made his first visit to the church as bishop for a service of Confirmation in November 1986. The Bishop was back in December 1988 to officiate at another confirmation service, attended by almost 70 members of the congregation.

Such was the expansion of St. Peter's that on June 1st, 1991, it was established as an independent congregation. After 63 years of being part of a shared charge, the church would be going it alone under the spiritual guidance of its first ever independent priest, Rev. Colin Reed.

On his departure to Wishaw, in 1994, the interregnum was ably filled by Father Kevin Pearson before he too moved on to St. Michael and All Saints Church in Edinburgh (and from there, in 2010, to be Bishop of Argyll and the Isles). On November 27th, 100 people squeezed into the tiny church to witness Bishop Richard confirm several members of the congregation.


Linked ... Again

It was to this healthy congregation that Stuart Bonney was called in 1996. On February 11th in that year, Rev. Bonney was inducted as priest in charge of St. Peter's Linlithgow and St. Columba's, Bathgate at a service held in St. Mary's, Grangemouth. St. Peter's was once again part of a joint charge but very much in control of its own affairs with its priest living in the new Rectory at Acredales in Linlithgow. Rev. Bonney brought his wife, Alison and their children, Rachel and Martha into the Rectory and the church benefited from a new-found family atmosphere. Many social gatherings were organised including ceilidhs in the Burgh Halls, barbecues in the Bathgate Hills, Garden Clean-Ups in the rig behind the church and participation in the Cardboard Boat Races at the Canal Basin. Rev. Bonney also kept up his involvement in prison chaplaincy by ministering to the inmates at the Polmont Young Offenders Institute.

In 2002, the Rev. Bonney decided to enter teaching and, once again, St. Peter's was plunged into an interregnum. Thanks to the ministrations of the Rev. Duncan McCosh as interim Rector, the Reverends Alex Black, David Bunyan, Richard Percival and Ann Smith ensured that services continued during the several months until the appointment of a new priest-in-charge.

On July 29th, 2002, Linlithgow welcomed the first female Episcopal priest in its history when the Rev. Ruth Innes was inducted at a service held in St. Columba's, Bathgate, presided over by the recently appointed Bishop of Edinburgh, Brian Smith.

By this time, St Peter's, Linlithgow was in good heart spiritually, but the church building itself needed urgent attention and had done so for some time. The roof especially was in need of considerable repair and a fund-raising campaign was aiming to raise the £25,000 required. The efforts of the congregation, with the assistance of grants from the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Scottish Churches Architectural Heritage Trust and donations from local churches and visitors, raised enough money to enable the repairs to be completed early in 2003. An anonymous donor offered to pay the full cost of interior and exterior redecoration and this was duly completed in April 2003. The Episcopal congregation of Linlithgow continued to grow and worship in the small but beautiful building which celebrated its 75th anniversary in May 2003.

Rev Innes did much to enhance the perception of St Peter's in the burgh, not least through her participation in Linlithgow's Marches. Indeed, in 2005 she gave the speech at the Provost's Breakfast, in the final year that prominent local Episcopalian Bruce Jamieson was Provost. This was the first time that speech had ever been given by a lady, and hers was reckoned a great success - though visually she was in competition with fellow guest Miss Scotland who was also present!

Rev Innes left St Peter's in February 2006, to move to St Mark's, Portobello. During the interregnum which followed her move, the congregation was spiritually under the charge of an Interim Rector, the Very Rev Jim Mein, newly retired Dean of the Diocese of Edinburgh and local resident. Rev Mein was no stranger to St Peter's. Indeed, during the interregnum of 1977, when he was priest at Bo'ness and Grangemouth, he was also our spiritual leader and as such was the person responsible for the revitalisation which saw the 1978 re-launch of the church under its present name.

However, the vacancy was a short one, and at the end of June 2006 St Peter's was delighted to welcome its new priest-in-charge, Rev Philip Blackledge. Pip, as he is known, was inducted to the charge by Bishop Brian Smith, at a ceremony in St Columba's Bathgate, on 21 June.

Rev Blackledge was responsible for suggesting to the congregation a number of changes in the layout of the church, changes aimed at making the layout of the small building to be more people friendly, and especially more child friendly. Whether for that reason or another, the congregation grew steadily in size, and grew particularly in terms of the number of children to be found either in church or at the Sunday School and Creche.

But soon the congregation faced once again the challenge of finding a new priest, for Pip moved to a new charge, with his last service in St Peter's being on the morning of Sunday, 1 January 2012. For the following nine months the church reverted to having an Interim Pastor, with Rev Marion Chatterley travelling from Edinburh to fulfil that role.

Once again St Peter's was lucky: the interregnum was a short one, and - much though we valued the presence and contribution of Marion - on 1 September 2012 we were happy to welcome Rev Christine Barclay as our new Rector. Note that title: change in the canons of the Episcopal Church since the time of Pip's appointment meant that for the first time St Peter's was promoted to having a rector rather than a priest-in-charge. Though the size of the building meant that once again the formal institution was held in our partner church of St Columba's in Bathgate.

In the time Christine has been with us, she has already made her mark and, with her Westie Millie, become a familiar and well-loved figure around Linlithgow.

What of the future?

The facilities offered by St Peter's are very limited due to the confines of the rig in which the church stands. Any extension to the building would need to be to the rear where the ground slopes steeply upwards and access is only by a narrow pend shared with the neighbouring property. However, some new construction in the near future - or an alternative arrangement for Sunday services - may be unavoidable as legislation concerning disabled access and child safety, for example, will demand more space and facilities. The high cost could prove daunting as income from the small congregation is, inevitably, at a relatively low level, but this would be another challenge for St Peter's folk: fund-raising and appeals for donations may once more become increasingly important!