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Scottish Episcopal Church

Charity Number: SCO1170


And ancient faith that knows no guide
And industry enbrowned with toil
And hearts resolved and hearts prepared
The blessings they enjoy to guard.


The old Dalmonach Hall in 2006; the old print-works next door having just been demolished.

These lines from Tobias Smollett’s poem To Leven Water may be applied justifiably to the men and women who built St Mungo’s Scottish Episcopal Church in Alexandria. The little red sandstone church situated on Main Street was dedicated and opened for worship on the Second Sunday in Advent on December 9th, 1894, by the Right Reverend William Thomas Harrison, Bishop of Glasgow & Galloway.

At the evensong that day (with a congregation of 400 – standing room only!), the bishop was again present and preached a sermon on the text “In this place will I give praise (Haggai 11:9).

The church, consisting only of the nave measuring 65 feet long by 30 feet wide with seating for 240 worshippers, was constructed with a view to future extension. The architect was Mr J.M. Crawford and the joinery work was done by a Mr James Shearer of Alexandria. Records indicate that the cost of the building to date at December 8th, 1894, had been £1,400.

Further fund raising work was done by the congregation for a side aisle which was built in 1902/3 when the Rev’d James G.S. Syme was priest-in-charge. The infilling in the arches was not removed until the 1950s (and then only two bays were opened to link in with the rest of the church); until that time the aisle was not dedicated for worship but was used as the Church Hall, for Sunday School and congregational meetings during the weekdays. Later a small section was boarded off to serve as sacristy and vestry. In 1908/9 the Church Hall was built during the incumbency of the first rector, the Rev’d H.H.H. Boyes who, not inappropriately, was commonly referred to as Hip, Hip, Hooray Boys.

The congregation was first gathered together in 1873 by the Rev’d William Stephen, rector of the Episcopal Church in Dumbarton. Each Sunday afternoon, he would walk the four miles to conduct a service held in shop premises in Bank Street.

This was the first time in almost 200 years that Episcopal services had taken place in the area. At the time of the 1689 revolution, when William III abolished bishops in the Church of Scotland and made it presbyterian, the Rev’d William McKenzie, minister and vicar of the ancient parish of Bonhill (the title “Vicar” survived the Reformation and was used into the 17th century), was ejected because he refused to pray for King William and Queen Mary. He remained, like most of the clergy in Dunbartonshire, a steadfast Episcopalian and a staunch Jacobite; he continued to minister to like-minded of his former parishioners — though where, we do not know. Most of his fellow clergy in Dunbartonshire were likewise ejected for refusing to give up episcopacy.

Bonhill itself had produced a bishop in the 15th century: Thomas of Bonhill, Bishop of Galloway 1415-?1422.

From 1873 to 1889, just one service had to suffice. There was no administration of the sacraments and Episcopalians in the Vale of Leven had to make the four miles’ journey into Dumbarton for baptisms, marriages and to receive Holy Communion. However, the congregation grew steadfastly as the population of the district grew and in 1889, the congregation became an Independent Mission with its own priest-in-charge, the Rev’d Walter Hildesley, who resided in John Street, Alexandria. The sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion were now administered and marriages solemnised in Dalmonach Hall, Bonhill. This hall was rented from Messrs. J. Black & Co., calico printers, for use on Sundays and Wednesday evenings at a rental of £8-10s-0d per annum.

The congregation grew fairly rapidly as the population of the district grew and by 1890 it numbered some 300 souls. It was made up of Scottish folk and many families from Lancashire in connection with the textile trade who were members of the Church of England but the largest part was of Irish extraction who, being members of the Church of Ireland, naturally found their spiritual home in the Episcopal Church.

The Rev’d Walter Hildesley was a remarkable person. The church registers reveal him as a man of High Church principle, celebrating the eucharist daily in his own home. He used the Scottish Liturgy from the beginning of the Mission (and indeed there was a clause in the old constitution, which was only superseded recently, to the effect that the Church of England’s 1662 Prayer Book Liturgy was not be used at St Mungo’s, only the Scottish Liturgy!). Yet despite his High Church leanings he was also Grand Master of the local Orange Lodge. He firmly asserted the independence of the Vale of Leven Missions from St Augustine’s, Dumbarton; this Dr Stephen took pains to contradict when the new Church of St Mungo’s was dedicated in 1894 under a new priest-in-charge.

The Rev’d Mr Hildesley’s ambitious vision also meant that he was not content with the use of a hired hall for worship. He was determined that Episcopalians in the Vale of Leven should have their own church.

A building fund was begun and on 28th January, 1891, an application for a grant of £200 towards the building fund was made to the Walker Trust in Edinburgh. The application reveals the humble state of the congregation.

“The Congregation has been for some years ministered to by the Rector of Dumbarton, but on 1st September 1889, was formed into an independent mission. At present we worship in a hired hall attached to one of the printfield for which we pay a rental of £8-10/- per annum and only have the use of it on Sundays and Wednesday nights. This is a great hinderance to the work. We began to collect for a permanent church in November last and have already raise entirely among ourselves £30. “We have not any rich people — as the congregation is composed exclusively (with the exception of a schoolmaster and the daughter of a doctor) of labouring people. Wages are low (average 18/- a week), rent is high and the strike has impoverished us very much. We hope you will be able to give us this grant so that we can begin to build, for the grant will be devoted entirely to the Building Fund.” Signed by the Rev’d W. Hildersley, Frederick Craig (Secretary), James Innes and William Yates.

It is hardly surprising that the trustees judged the application to be somewhat premature and no grant was given. Undeterred, the following year, a following application was made, dated 4th February, 1892, and it reveals considerable progress. A very suitable site had been secured and building work was scheduled to begin that April. The trustees gave favourable consideration to this second application and made a grant of £100. (The previous assertion that the congregation was composed “exclusively . . of labouring people” was certainly not true by this point, if it had been true before.) The land on which St Mungo’s was to be built had been given by the local laird, Alexander Smollett, who had left the Established Church of Scotland and joined the Episcopal Church over a dispute about someone else sitting in his pew one Sunday. The Campbells of Tullichewan Castle were alse members and gave generously for the new church.