HISTORY OF THE CHURCH
In 1964 the two Church of Scotland charges in Neilston – ‘Old’ and ‘South’ – united to form the present Neilston Parish Church.
Neilston South was the Free Church which originated in a mission in 1870 and passed through the United Free Church from 1900 till 1929 when it joined the Church of Scotland. A church was built on High Street in 1873 to be joined in 1930 by a hall. These premises now form the Church halls.
Neilston (Old)was the original Parish Church dating from medieval times when it was supplied by monks, firstly from Glasgow, then after 1163 AD when monks travelled from Paisley Abbey over the Gleniffer and Fereneze Braes via the ‘Monks’ Trail’ to take services in the Church of Neilston.
At the Reformation the church passed to the reformed Church of Scotland and was under the care of the Ministers of the Abbey Church of Paisley, who sent Readers to take the services. Not until 1589 was there a settled ministry, which has continued unbroken to the present day.
The evolution of the church building was as follows:
Until 1760 the buildings appear to have been a long,low rectangle. In 1762 two wings were added which made the church into ‘T plan’ – a popular style of building in the 18th century. It was still single storey but there is evidence in the stonework of these wings, that there was a ‘Heritors Loft’ in each of them, most likely entered from outside stairs. There do not appear to have been any pews, but there may have been some wooden benches,while many brought their own stools or stood about the floor. The Church was adorned by a tower in 1789,the same one as today.
A major building programme from 1796 until 1798 filled in the corners of the T shape, with the walls raised to make the building the present shape and size, with a new roof added. The lofts were removed and the gallery erected on three sides, this time with inside stairs, and,being open to the church, were an unusual feature. Pews were installed in all parts of the church. Next, in 1814, porches were built at the side entrances; a vestry/session house at the foot of the tower in 1820; and a completer-roofing in 1827. The organ was built-in the mid-1880s and this necessitated a reordering of the chancel with a new pulpit.
More modifications were made in 1953 when a new vestry and choir room were created under the galleries flanking the pulpit. The chancel rails were removed.
Various memorials have been added over the years. A marble plaque to the Reverend Peter MacLeod; First World War memorial windows were inserted into the ancient Gothic window in the North Wall (1920), together with Communion Table and Chairs. Two stained-glass windows were added in memory of the parents and uncle (Robert Craig) of Margaret Glen of Carlibar, in the South Wall, on either side of the organ. The brass plaques to commemorate those of the South Church, who died in the First World War were incorporated in later years, with various other memorials added from time to time.
Outside the Church is the burial ground, which served the parish for generations, but is now closed to new interments. There are many stones commemorating long forgotten residents. There is an entrance to a burial vault in the north wall, under the church floor, belonging to the ancient Mure family of Caldwell – last opened in 1912. There are two other vaults – one belonging to Dunlop of Arthur lee, and the other to Cochrane of Kirktonfield, in the Churchyard.
At the gates of the Churchyard are the‘Roundhouses’. The circular one is older and was the original Session House. This was used by elders to collect for the Poor Fund which was the Kirk Session’s responsibility. It may also have been used by watchmen to guard against grave robbers in the early 1800s.
There have been over twenty ministers in 300 years. Alexander Fleming DD, 1804–1844 is well known for his tussles with authority over the question of provision of sufficient accommodation in the church, and with the Heritor’s over seat rents. Robert Barr MA TDJP, 1895–1952 was the longest serving minister. In the South Church,the longest serving minister was Alexander Fergusson, 1873–1917.
In October 1998 the Congregational Board decided to re-roof the church. In December of that year violent storms severely damaged the roof. This was further compounded shortly after, when more of the roof was removed by severe weather. The congregation left the building on the 6th of January 1999 and moved over to the Church Halls (the former South Church) where they worshipped for over five years, before returning to a completely refurbished Church, both inside and out, on the 6th of June 2004. The Reverend Alexander Macdonald, who was a tower of strength during this period, was assisted at a special re-dedication service on that day by four other ministers, including one of his predecessors - the Rev Robert S Whiteford MA and the Rev George Hewitt,the Presbytery Moderator. Thereafter, a large and joyous congregation retired to a lunch on the Manse lawns.
The Reverend Sandy Macdonald retired slightly early in 2006, due to ill health and after a period of vacancy the Reverend Agnes P Low was inducted as our minister in January 2008, and served with distinction until her untimely death in June 2011,following a period of illness.
In July 2011 the Church suffered an arson attack which was fortunately spotted early before any real damage could occur. The after effects were contained to the front vestibule, with smoke damage to the vestry. Due to the hard work and dedication of the church members, the congregation were only out of the Church for two Sundays. In September of the same year the lead was stolen from the low room of the entrance vestibules on either side of the church, with some water damage to both roofs, which was quickly repaired.
In October 2011,a re-dedication service was held for two new stained glass windows on either side of the Church. These had been commissioned by the 1st Neilston Boys’ Brigade Company in celebration of their 50th Anniversary. Designed and manufactured by the renown artist Elizabeth Skea, they are a beautiful addition to our Sanctuary, and represent the ‘Community’ and the ‘Boys’ Brigade’ respectively.
Joyfully, in February of 2013, the Reverend Fiona Maxwell was inducted into service within Neilston Parish Church and she continued to lead us in worship, with both vigour and enthusiasm, until October 2018. Fiona moved to take charge of the Kay Park Church in Kilmarnock.
In the period between 2018 and 2020, the Reverend Maureen Leitch acted as Locum, guiding and leading the congregation through an uncertain period.
On the 3rd December 2020 the Reverend Mathew Ritchie was inducted as Minister.
List of Ministers
Ministers and Readers from Paisley Abbey
Rev Patrick Adamson 1574- 1584
Rev Patrick Sharpe 1584- 1589
Mr Robert Arthur (Reader) 1574- 1578
Mr James Davidson (Reader) 1578- 1580
Mr John Ramage (Reader) 1580- 1589
Ministers who took full charge of Neilston Parish Church
Rev John Brown 1589- 1591
Rev James Livingston MA 1591- 1593
Rev George Maxwell 1593- 1595
Rev Andrew Law MA 1595- 1632
Rev John Law MA 1632- 1649
Rev William Semple MA 1649- 1657
Rev Hugh Walker MA 1657- 1662
Rev Alexander Kinnear MA 1663- 1672
Rev Andrew Millar MA 1672- 1687
Rev John Kinnear MA 1687- 1688
Rev David Brown 1688- 1703
Rev John Miller 1703- 1733
Rev Alexander Clark MA 1733- 1737
Rev Henry Millar 1737- 1772
Rev John Wilson 1772- 1784
Rev John Monteath MA 1785- 1798
Rev William Hood 1798- 1804
Rev Dr Alexander Fleming MA, DD 1804- 1844
Rev Hugh Aird 1845- 1872
Rev Thomas Miller 1873- 1878
Rev Peter MacLeod 1879- 1894
Neilston Old Parish Church
(The word ‘Old’ was added to the name of the Church in 1929until 1964)
Rev Robert Barr MA, TD, JP 1895- 1952
Rev Robert S Whiteford MA 1953- 1964
Neilston South Parish Church
(Free Church 1873-1900, United Free Church 1900-1929, Churchof Scotland 1929-1964)
Rev Archibald Fergusson 1873- 1917
Rev John A Hunter MA, BD 1916- 1920
Rev John D Connell 1921- 1925
Rev Kenneth E Macaulay MA 1925- 1934
Rev James McDonald 1934- 1945
Rev Harry S Watson 1945- 1962
Neilston Parish Church
(Union of Churches - 1964)
Rev Robert S Whiteford MA 1964- 1967
Rev John McArthur MA 1968- 1978
Rev Fraser R Aitken MA, BD 1978- 1984
Rev Alexander Macdonald MA 1984- 2006
Rev Agnes P Low MA 2008- 2011
Rev Fiona Maxwell MA 2013- 2018
Rev Matthew Ritchie MA 2020 -