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Old Parish Church

Researched by Carrick McDonald

© Rutherglen Heritage Society

From the script of 'Rutherglen Old Parish Church', a programme which features in CamGlen Radio’s ‘Halfway to Burgh’ local history series.


The text in blue is from an interview with Hugh Millar, Session Clerk at the church, recorded in 2017, which featured in the programme.

Right, Rutherglen Old Parish Church. Completed in 1902, this is the fourth church building on the site.


Rutherglen Old Parish Church is on Rutherglen Main Street, just along the road from the town hall. It’s right across from the Royal Bank, and behind the statue of Dr. Gorman.

The church’s connection to this site goes back for nearly one and a half thousand years. The church that’s there today is the fourth building on that site, and the earliest of the four dates back to the 6th. Century. I was to find out that those church buildings have witnessed some really important events in Scottish history.

Hugh Millar, who is the Session Clerk, showed me around the church, and its historic churchyard. He told me of its long history and central role in the story of the Royal Burgh of Rutherglen.

Hugh began by telling me about the present day church building.

"The present building is at least the fourth to stand on this site.  It was designed by the well-known Glasgow architect, Sir John James Burnet and built between 1900 and 1902.  At 4 p.m. on Saturday, 31 May 1902, the service of dedication of this building began.  The guest preacher was a former Moderator of the General Assembly with a rather unfortunate name for a clergyman – he was called Dr. Pagan."

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J J Burnet was one of Glasgow’s foremost Victorian architects, and is associated with a large number of well known buildings in the city, including: the Athenaeum in Nelson Mandela Place, the Clydeport Building in Robertson Street, the Cenotaph in George Square and Charing Cross Mansions.

Left, J. J. Burnet, architect of the present church.

"The present church has a number of notable architectural features. An incumbents board which you pass on your way in to the church lists all known ministers of the Old Parish Church since the Reformation.  Among these is Rev. John Dickson, one of the leaders of the Covenanting Movement.  Mr Dickson was eventually to be imprisoned on the Bass Rock."

The first minister listed on the incumbents board is James Muirhead, who became minister in 1586. The Rev. Dickson, who Hugh mentioned, was minister here in 1650, and spent 6 years on the Bass Rock, imprisoned there for being a leading Covenanter. The Covenanters were those people in Scotland who signed the National Covenant in 1638, in protest against the interference by the Stuart kings in the affairs of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

Right, the Incumbents board, listing all the ministers of the church since the Reformation


"In 1679 the Rutherglen Rising took place – this event consisted of the burning at Rutherglen of the edicts of Charles II and is seen as the prelude to the battle of Bothwell Bridge."

The Rutherglen Declaration

On the 29th. May 1679, in an act of open defiance in Rutherglen, a group of Covenanters publicly burnt copies of the acts of government which had overthrown the Covenant. Conflict ensued, and on the 1st. June, a group of armed Covenanters defeated a force of government dragoons under the command of John Graham of Claverhouse, otherwise known as 'Bonny Dundee', at the Battle of Drumclog. The Covenanters’ euphoria was short lived, however. Just three weeks later, Claverhouse was a commander in the Duke of Monmouth’s government army which crushed the Covenanters at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge.

Left, 'Bonnie Dundee' - John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st. Viscount Dundee, commander of the government dragoons at the Battle of Drumclog. (Public domain image)

"Above the former "Councillors’ Gallery" which looked on to the pulpit is a wood carving of the Rutherglen Coat of Arms depicting the Virgin Mary and Child – prior to the Reformation our church was called the church of St. Mary the Virgin.  The Coat of Arms also depicts a sailing boat – a reference to the fact that, at one time, Rutherglen was one of the main ports in the West of Scotland.  This Coat of Arms reminds us not only of the history of the church but also the history of Rutherglen, and of the strong relationship between the church and the town. Other important features of the church are the stained glass windows.  The North window (facing King Street) was installed in memory of the Rev William Ferrie Stevenson who was minister here for 46 years and was the driving force behind the raising of the £10,000 which it cost to erect this building."

Payment for the present church at Rutherglen was made from donations from the congregation, and by local landowners, known as heritors, who were compelled by law to contribute to the building of new Church of Scotland buildings. The Rev. Stevenson appears to have been very successful in cajoling his congregation, the heritors, and the town council, into contributing to the building fund.

"The South window (facing Main Street) is the war memorial window installed in 1920 in memory of those who were killed in the First World War.  Underneath it is a large brass plaque listing the citizens of Rutherglen who were killed in the Great War, including Private James Richardson of the Manitoba Regiment who received the Victoria Cross - the highest military award granted for exceptional valour."

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Above, plaque below the War Memorial window listing citizens of Rutherglen killed in World War I, including Pte. Richardson

James Richardson, VC


James Richardson was a member of the 2nd. Rutherglen BB Company. He emigrated to Canada and when WWI broke out, he became a Piper in the 72nd Seaforth Highlanders of Canada and went overseas as part of the Seaforth contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

During the Battle of the Somme in 1916, his company was held up by very strong barbed-wire, and came 


under intense enemy fire. Piper Richardson, who had obtained permission to play the company 'over the top' strode up and down outside the barbed-wire playing his pipes, which so inspired the company that the wire was rushed and the enemy position captured. Later Piper Richardson was detailed to take back a wounded comrade and some prisoners, but after proceeding some distance he insisted on turning back to recover his pipes which he had left behind. He was never seen again.


His grave is in the Adanac Military Cemetery in France. The stone bears the symbol of the Canadian Maple Leaf and the Victoria Cross. The inscription reads simply: “28930, Private James C. Richardson, 16th. Battalion, Canadian Infantry, 8th. October 1916, age 20.”

Richardson VC Family Reformer 1980.jpg

Above left, Private James Richardson, VC. .Picture credit: Library & Archives Canada. Above right, his parents and sister, standing at his grave during a visit to France in 1936. Picture credit: Rutherglen Reformer.

The South Window

In the audio clip below, Session Clerk Hugh Millar tells us about the stained glass in the magnificent war memorial South Window. Hugh highlights the French influence in the design.

Hugh Millar OP Church South Window Stained Glass
00:00 / 00:56

Since that recording was made, Hugh has advised me that the stained glass windows were restored somewhat earlier than 2008. The restoration work was done in 2000/2001, prior to the celebration in 2002 of the centenary of the present church building.

Left, South window, Rutherglen Old Parish Church. Note the depiction of Christ on the cross, (middle window at the top) unusual in a  Church of Scotland building.

"Finally, high above our heads are our crocodiles. These are not particularly fierce members of our congregation but are beams of wood just below the roof which jut out into the church and are carved to look like crocodiles’ heads.  We have no idea why crocodiles, nor what, if any, is their significance."

William Wallace

"William Wallace has a double connection to the church here.  It is believed that, on 8 February 1297, he signed a peace treaty with the English – a treaty which lasted only a couple of months. 

Then, in the summer of 1305, Sir John Menteith met here with Sir Aymer De Valence who, it is said, persuaded Sir John to betray William Wallace for a sum of gold, a parcel of lands and the undying gratitude of King Edward I.

Wallace was subsequently captured by Menteith at Robroyston on August 3rd and handed over to De Valence and Sir John Clifford for trial and execution in Smithfield, London. We are very grateful to the Society of William Wallace which donated two very fine plaques commemorating these events."


Above, the unveiling of two plaques in 2017, commemorating William Wallace’s association with the Old Parish church. Pictured from left: Session Clerk Hugh Millar, James Kelly MSP, Margaret Ferrier MP and Gary Stewart, Convener of the Society of William Wallace.

Picture credit: Life & Work.

The Earlier Church Buildings

"The site may have been a place of Christian worship before any church was built here.  However, the first church is believed to have been founded by St Conval, a follower of St Kentigern who is also known as St Mungo.  This would suggest that it was built between 603 A.D. (when Glasgow Cathedral was founded) and 612 A.D. when Conval died. 


This was just a few years after the death in 597 of St Columba and, at the time, the Prophet Muḥammad was alive and founding Islam.  The first church was probably a not-very-robust wattle and daub structure which was probably regularly rebuilt but very little is known about it, other than that it was probably part of the Celtic tradition."

St. Conval

Saint Conval was the son of an Irish chieftain. He travelled to Strathclyde to become a follower of St. Mungo. It’s said that Conval arrived at what later became Glasgow  around the year 590AD. Medieval sources suggest he became Archdeacon of Glasgow. St Conval today gives his name to a primary school in Pollokshaws, a church in Linwood, a cemetery in Paisley, a well in Eastwood and a Masonic lodge in Giffnock. There is also a chapel dedicated to him at St Conan's Kirk in Argyll.

Right, statue of St. Conval. 


This was just a few years after the death in 597 of St Columba and, at the time, the Prophet Muḥammad was alive and founding Islam.  The first church was probably a not-very-robust wattle and daub structure which was probably regularly rebuilt but very little is known about it, other than that it was probably part of the Celtic tradition."

"The second Church, also known both as the Medieval Church and the Pre-Reformation Church, was built around 1100 A.D. and demolished in the early 1790s.  Until 1560 it was the Roman Catholic church of St. Mary the Virgin.  The gable wall of that building can still be seen at the side of St Mary’s Tower.  The Scottish Parliament called by the Guardians of Scotland met on 10 May 1300 in the mediaeval church.

The area round the church and graveyard was once the site of an important ‘Fair’.  In his Book of Common Order published in 1564, John Knox lists what he called the ‘Fairies of Scotland’ i.e. Fairs of Scotland.  St. Luke’s Fair is listed as being held on October 18th in ‘Ruglane’.  October 18th is St. Luke’s Day and the Kirk Session has for some years decided to have a service of Communion on the Sunday


Above, the second (Medieval) church.             

Picture credit: Rutherglen Old Parish Church

nearest to that date to mark St. Luke’s Day and so maintain a link with this tradition of the past."

On the church’s website, there’s a super drawing (shown above, right) of St. Mary’s tower and steeple, sitting neatly on the end of the medieval church. When that church was demolished in the late 18th. century, the tower was left standing on its own, as it does to this day.


"The third Church on this site was built in 1794.  During the demolition of the second church a stone statue of St. Eloi, the patron saint of hammermen was unearthed, as was a very old sundial.  The statue of St. Eloi is now kept in the Low Parks Museums in Hamilton."

Left, the third church.             

Picture credit: Rutherglen Old Parish Church

From Rutherglen Lore

William Ross Shearer, 1922


At the demolition of the church in 1900, the foundation stone, on being examined, contained some interesting relics and an engraved steel plate with superscription in Latin, of which the following is a translation:


'To take the place of the Church of Rutherglen, distinguished in the highest degree among public buildings, whether you look to its antiquity or to the great and holy men therewith connected, now, after a long course of years, almost ruinous, this new Church, in the year of our Lord 1794, while George the Third is reigning in the British Isles, Robert Park, Provost of the Town, Andrew Harvie and Robert Freebairn, Magistrates, and other citizens of Rutherglen, also James Jeffray, Architect, Henry Bell and James Patterson, Builders, have, under the guidance of God, caused to be erected.'​

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Above, W. Ross Shearer, author, Rutherglen Lore

© 2019 by Rutherglen Heritage Society. 

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