Skip to content

The Fourth Statistical Account of East Lothian

Belief

The Church of Scotland has been the only belief system operating in the parish during this period, although members of other religions live in the parish. Places of worship were the parish church in Gladsmuir and Macmerry village hall. In Samuelston, Gladsmuir church converted two old farm cottages into a church hall in 1938. A Men's Guild was held here until the 1950s when the hall was no longer used for church purposes, as the population of the village had dwindled. The building was handed back to the owner, the local farmer who owned Samuelston West, Mid and East Mains. He sold it for conversion into a house.

A Men's Guild was also held in Gladsmuir church hall. The Woman's Guild continued to meet over the years. The Sunday school and bible class met in the church hall after spending part of the service in the church.

However, from the late 1970s, Gladsmuir church hall ceased to be used for church functions, due to its position on the south side of the A1 road; the traffic had increased to such an extent that it was dangerous for people crossing over to the hall, especially the children going to Sunday school and bible class. It was then decided that they should meet in three rooms of the manse.

The Woman's Guild met monthly in the manse dining room.

There was an opening devotional prayer and a hymn, often by the minister, or the minister's wife - this was an expected part of her duties.

Jean Shirlaw

These arrangements continued until the minister retired in 1984, when the charges of Gladsmuir and Longniddry were linked and the Gladsmuir manse was sold. Part of the glebe had been sold in 1948 to the council, to accommodate an extension to the graveyard, and a further part was sold in 1973. The walled garden too had been sold in 1973, and a house built there.

After 1984, the Sunday school met for a short time in the church and then, for the following 14 years, a small class was held in Macmerry village hall, when the twice monthly church services were held there. From c1997, due to little response, there was no Sunday school.

The Woman's Guild continued to be active, meeting monthly in Macmerry village hall. During the year it put on a sale of work and a concert with refreshments for the senior citizens.

Little development was possible in the church life because of the situation of the church and the lack of the hall. The linkage with Longniddry held good for 17 years but Gladsmuir church was finding the going hard by 2000. A faithful body of members gave valiant support, and pastoral work continued with the part-time assistance of Rev Laurie Underwood. Services were held every week at Gladsmuir and twice a month at Macmerry village hall.

Ministers
1914-50 William Reid Wiseman
1950-54 Crichton Robertson
1955-85 Robert SS Shirlaw
May 1984 linked with Longniddry under Longniddry minister
1985-date A Graham Black

Here, and throughout the text, Jean Shirlaw shares her recollections of church life at Gladsmuir

Pre-war, there was a common communion cup; individual cups were just coming in by 1955 - people were probably increasingly aware of the possibility of passing on infection. The common cup contained fermented wine - port; the elders always used the common cup.

The elders would be seated round the minister (as per the last supper). The wine and bread were blessed; the elders served the common cup to their fellow elders, serving the minister

last (although this did not happen in every church). Generally the communion elements were removed before the congregation went out.

The only bit of colour in the church was the pulpit fall - white for weddings and funerals.

The use of these depended on the individual minister; the bigger churches often had embroidered hassocks/kneelers.

Disjunction Certificates were used by the Church of Scotland to keep a head count, and to introduce communicants to a new area if they moved. To "Get your lines" became less common as the period progressed.

The minister offered several different courses for those who wished to join the church. A communion class was held to prepare new communicants; they would sit be asked to stand to take their vows of membership of the church. The minister would then give the right hand of fellowship, followed by the elders and the session clerk who would give each of the new members a free will offering book and their communion card. Different churches adopted different ways - in some it was voluntary whether congregations had free will offerings

There were seat rent envelopes, where the rent was paid twice a year, but this was abolished in the 1970s. Where previously the church was divided into different estates and workers, no one could then claim the right to a certain pew, but a few of the older members felt they still had a right to their pew, and were none too happy if someone else sat in it! There was a separate manse pew. Cards were placed at the pew ends for guidance.

On rites of passage:

Funerals - the coffin was left in the house so that it could be viewed; most burials took place within four days. From the 1960s-1970s, instead of the coffin remaining in the house, it would be taken to a funeral parlour from where it would be taken to the church if the family wanted a service there before burial or cremation.

Women went to funerals only from the 1960s and 1970s; post-war, the men would gather at the graveyard. From the late 1970s, women would be invited to 'take a cord'. The interment of ashes became more common from the mid 1970s. There was one instance in the 1950s, at Trabroun, where there was a wake; prayers were said around an open coffin and a tipple taken. However, this appears to have been a one-off.

Weddings - banns were read, or hung outside the registrar's or in church - on two Sundays. During the war, the banns were proclaimed at the church door.

Weddings took place in the church or in the vestry, and sometimes in the manse, with at least two held i n our lounge. This became unusual in later years, but under the Rev Wiseman appears to have been more common. In the 1970s, a couple were married in the manse, and their taxi driver acted as best man, while I was the bridesmaid. A baby was also baptised in the manse, complete with an official photographer.

Particular to East Lothian was 'a creeling' when somebody put a creel on the back of the bride, and a piper had a bottle of whisky.

Wendy Goldstraw (nee Bruce) shares her memories.

On how her family were drawn to Gladsmuir church:

Apparently, when the family moved to Seton Mains in Grandpa Bruce's time in the 1920s, the family kept attending church in Edinburgh. Then my father won a couple of ducks in the Gladsmuir raffle, got friendly with the minister and started attending Gladsmuir - gradually the rest of the family followed. There were family pews and I remember at one time there were several rows of Bruces, and my birth certificate has an endorsement by Rev W. Wiseman on the back regarding my baptism. I was at church on one occasion (1960s) with Margot Bruce and young John (aged about four) - I would be about twelve. He had been very well behaved but, it all got too much for him and a loud voice rang out "I'm fed up now Mummy".

On the services

I remember services such as Harvest Festival and Remembrance Sunday; for example, Remembrance Sunday was for me the start of what war and sacrifice was all about. And wondering whether the Boy Scouts would hit the lights with their flag! The Christmas tree was always one of the biggest.

I remember thinking there must be something special about Communion because I wasn't allowed to go, but for every other service I was encouraged to go!

I got told off by my Aunt Mary for not wearing a hat - but my mother said it was OK because Mrs Shirlaw (the minister's wife) was not wearing one!

Bob's (Rev R. Shirlaw) voice filled the whole church - no need of a microphone! Yet when there was a christening - the babies just looked up at him in wonder! I remember especially - I suppose I would be classified as a young adult then - being godmother to Susan and Fiona; and being bridesmaid to my cousin, Margaret.

On special occasions

The church fetes (as an adult too but especially as a child) - selling raffle tickets, the tombola, the wonderful baking, the wonderful vegetables gifted by Sir David Lowe and the delicious soup my mother would make with them afterwards.

And on attending Gladsmuir church as an adult:

Adult memories are more ordinary with the exception of our wedding, and the first Communion Brian and I attended after our marriage. Memories are of special services, and of gradually declining attendances.

The church is run by the Kirk Session with elders taking specific and general roles. Since April 2001, there has also been a Congregational Board (Brian is treasurer and I am clerk); Graham Black chairs both. I guess that is the linkage with Longniddry. The session, in particular, takes a more active role. Betty Jeffrey in particular is a very good session clerk; John Robertson is gift aid convenor and Bob McIntyre is fabric convenor and both do a lot of work. Because Graham has to divide his time between Longniddry and Gladsmuir, we usually have Rev. Laurie Underwood taking the services and she is very good - especially with the children.

The usual services happen of course - Christmas communion, Harvest Thanksgiving, Remembrance etc. There are also special ones such as Songs of Praise, one to celebrate the Macmerry Gala with the Queen and her Court present, an annual joint service with Longniddry, and occasional ones with perhaps a special choir or band present.

Macmerry has retained a strong sense of community. The gala was an annual event throughout this period, although it saw some changes. It used to involve tea and buns and races for the children, but in 1949 a gala queen was introduced and the crowning of the queen became a focal point for the event. The celebrations now take place over a weekend in the middle of June. A gala committee plans and organises the celebrations.

The community was very active in the 1970s and 1980s before the building of the bypass, in campaigning for road improvements after a series of accidents. The Macmerry Road Safety Action group campaigned successfully for a pedestrian crossing in 1976.

<< Previous | Next >>