Gladsmuir Longniddry | Belief

Longniddry during the last half of the 20th century certainly contained Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, members of many other Christian sects and denominations, and a handful of Muslims. However, the only religious organisation in Longniddry with a place of worship was the Church of Scotland; members of other denominations and faiths in the village go elsewhere for worship.

Longniddry parish church is a plain stone box, built in 1925, with a little belfry; an extension was completed in 1978. It was originally a ‘chapel of ease’ under Gladsmuir, then from 1937 a church extension charge, then erected into a parish in 1944. Up until then Longniddry’s parish church had been at Gladsmuir, which is still the usual burial ground for Longniddry. A new manse was completed next to the church in 1985.

The parishes of Longniddry and Gladsmuir were linked in 1984. Each retains its own church and Kirk Session, the minister serving both, but living in Longniddry.

1940-59 John Ford McLeod
1959-70 Robert Inch Johnstone
1972-2003 Andrew Graham Black
May 1984 linked with Gladsmuir under Longniddry minister

A wide variety of activities and organisations are centred on Longniddry parish church. There is Sunday school, TYC (Today’s Young Christians) for teenagers, Woman’s Guild, Young Women’s Group, theatre bus and Traidcraft. The Wednesday Club for pensioners, the WRI and playgroup also meet in the church hall.

George Millar, former session clerk, comments on matters to do with Longniddry Parish Church:

The growth of the village since 1945 has resulted in a radical change in the social and economic character of the church. In 1945, when the Kirk Session numbered 15, there were two farmers, two policemen, two village grocers, the stationmaster, the postman, one schoolteacher, three manual workers, and three who worked in the town. Today (2000), there are 43 elders in the church, of which 13 are women, twelve are men who are retired, and the remaining 18 are all engaged professionally or hold positions in national or international companies.

In 1945 the church income struggled to reach £700, today it generates around £70,000.

The church operates two services each Sunday at 9.15am and 10.30am. There is a well-attended Sunday school for children aged between three and eleven years old, and the TYC (Today’s Young Christians) provides Christian education and recreational activities for the twelve-16 age group. A crèche is provided for young children during the 10.30am service.

The two main women’s organisations are sharply differentiated by age, the Young Women’s Group and the Guild. The men who are activists are mainly channelled into the decision-making courts and committees. Community activities include a monthly church magazine, which is delivered to every household in the parish by some 50 lady visitors, a church and hospital transport service, and a theatre bus.

The church has a difficult job to modernise or popularise [its] music, considering the vast gaps in generational and musical taste. In 1973, the church replaced the Scottish Psalter and Church Hymnary with the Church Hymnary Third Edition, and this is now supplemented with the BBC Songs of Praise Book. In 1981, the Good News Bible was introduced into the services, and while this modern version may be more precise and up to date, it does not contain the poetry and flavour of the King James’ version.

And a further personal view of changes in the church from David Robertson:

The minister in the 1950s was Mr McLeod, a stout ba’ faced man with a very upper crust mode of speech. He was a powerful preacher and would thump on the book board of the pulpit with his fist. He made a majestic entry into the body of the kirk down the central aisle preceded by the beadle bearing the pulpit bible. In those days the bell was rung for a full ten minutes before services. Worship began with the singing of a metrical psalm, and ended with a paraphrase before the benediction. Singing was slow and solemn, and ‘amen’ was sung at the end of every hymn. The authorised version of the bible was used, and prayers were couched in the same archaic language.

In the 1960s the minister was Mr Johnstone, who was very keen on youth work and local politics. He had an artificial leg, a prominent nose, a ‘hingin lip’ and a lantern jaw, and was called ‘Ahab’ by the youths of the village. Some of his congregation were unhappy about his involvement in politics and the fact that his wife worked. During Mr Johnstone’s time evening services were replaced by an early morning service. In the early 1960s substantial numbers of teenagers still joined the church as a matter of course at the age of 16. Most were never seen again. Mr Johnstone was a pedestrian preacher, and church attendances fell away inexorably, and while the church was increasingly deserted by the original residents of the village, incomers seemed disinclined to make up the deficit.

By contrast, Mr Johnstone’s successor Graham Black, a man of consummate goodness and sincerity, drew large numbers of new Longniddry residents into the church, to such an extent that ‘natives’ are now very much a minority in the congregation. The Good News Bible is used, modern hymns are much in vogue, lengthy and flamboyant children’s addresses feature strongly, and the Apostles’ Creed has staged a comeback from the middle ages. Non-alcoholic wine is used at communion, psalms are almost never heard, and informality has become a cardinal virtue. Attitudes are very much more liberal and tolerant than in the 1950s, and the common media stereotypes of dour Scottish Presbyterianism bear little resemblance to the church in Longniddry.

Most Longniddry people are well-disposed towards the church, but only a tiny proportion of the total population ever attend services. This seems enough, however, to keep the church flourishing.

Some views on baptism:

Baptisms within the church occur on a regular basis, although many parents, especially those without a church connection, decide not to have their child baptised, but to leave any church involvement to be decided by the child as he reaches maturity’.

George Millar

In the 1950s and into the 1960s most babies were baptised, even when the parents’ church connections were tenuous. Nowadays most parents no longer think baptism necessary or desirable.

On confirmation:

Fifty years ago, becoming a member of the church was for many an automatic thing, as part of the process of growing up in the community. However, today this commitment is not seen as something teenagers wish to embrace as a matter of course, and it would appear that nowadays the majority of young people have in fact switched worlds, stepping out of the communal world of the church, which of course is often identified with their parents, in search of an alternative social world.

George Millar

Simply known as ‘joining the church’, this followed on naturally in the 1950s and 1960s from Sunday school and bible class, and a significant number of young people joined the church at the age of 16 as a matter of course. This is not now typical. Only a minority of village children have a church connection, and only a fraction of that number retain any connection with the church beyond their early teens.

Waiting for the bride. The women of the village spectating at a wedding in 1951 (A&J Gordon)

Waiting for the bride. The women of the village spectating at a wedding in 1951 (A&J Gordon)

On courtship:

In the 1950s and 1960s boys and girls met at school, at dances, at youth clubs, and in the public park on summer evenings. Not surprisingly, it was very common for Longniddry teenagers to have girlfriends or boyfriends from Port Seton and Prestonpans. ‘Winchin’ (going steady) was the usual practice. Couples were recognised as belonging to each other, and these matches might last for weeks, months or years. It was not unknown for couples to marry in their early 20s after ‘winchin’ since their early teens. A more usual pattern was to have a few false starts with other partners, go steady for two or three years, and then become ‘engaged’. Engagement was recognised as the mark of maturity and impending responsibility, and would probably last a year or two while the couple planned and saved for their marriage. These were arrangements decided upon by the couple themselves. Asking a girl’s father’s permission was something from the dim and distant past, if indeed it had ever been a factor at all.

‘Winchin’ couples would always be together at dances, parties, or socials. Going to the pictures was common, and in the 1960s the cafes in Port Seton were well patronised. Pubs in neighbouring communities were popular with older couples with transport in the 1960s. The dunes along the beach and the woods and fields around the village afforded privacy for the main objective of the game.

Those still unattached in their late teens or early 20s would seek greener pastures further afield, particularly in Edinburgh. North Berwick was also a very popular pick-up spot in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Life was rather different for the sons and daughters of Kings Road and Gosford Road, almost all of whom were sent to single-sex private schools in Edinburgh around the age of ten or eleven. Some indeed even had their primary education there. With occasional exceptions, these young people did not mix socially, never mind sexually, with ‘Village’ teenagers.

On marriage:

Within the church a number of marriage ceremonies are conducted each year. However, the church has also come to accept that living with a partner is no barrier to church membership and involvement with the church organisations.

George Millar

Marriage in the 1950s and 1960s was usually in church with the bride in a white wedding dress. The couples’ banns would have been called in church previously, with the minister formally announcing, ‘There is a purpose of marriage between … of which full and final proclamation is hereby made.’ It was customary to marry in the bride’s church rather than the groom’s, and customary for the bride’s parents to bear the expenses of the wedding. If the ceremony was in Longniddry, photographs would be taken outside the church by Longniddry photographers A. & J. Gordon, and sample copies displayed in their studio window. A crowd of local women and children always gathered on the pavement outside the church. Confetti was thrown with liberal abandon, and lay in drifts in the gutter for days after. As the wedding party drove off, coins were scattered for the children. The reception would usually be in a hotel in a neighbouring town or village, as there were no facilities for wedding receptions in Longniddry. This would usually include dancing to a ‘live’ band, usually a Scottish country dance band. When the farmer of Longniddry Farm married around 1950 the reception took the form of a ‘kirn’ in the farm granary.

It sometimes happened that pregnancy was the cause of the marriage. This was supposedly frowned upon, but was more often a cause for quiet amusement than condemnation. The birth of a child to an unmarried mother was a fairly rare event, but such children were never discriminated against in any way.

Attitudes to courtship and marriage seem to have changed greatly since the 1950s and 1960s. Teenagers seem much more inclined to play the field than to ‘go steady’. It is now more or less taken for granted that both boys and girls will be sexually experienced by their late teens, and it has become common for established couples to move in together. Whereas in the 1950s and 1960s the usual age for marriage was in the early or mid 20s, now it is occurring much later, and almost all couples who marry will have lived together first. It is also not unusual for partners living together to have children. From being a near-compulsory requirement of society, marriage seems to be on the point of becoming an optional extra.

Whereas in the 1950s and 1960s pre-marital sex tended to be a furtive business of discreet fornication behind hedges, it has now come to be regarded almost as a right akin to ‘Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness’. Parents whose sons or daughters are living with partners may not wholeheartedly approve, but the usual attitude is, ‘What can you do? You don’t want to lose them’.

Couples who do marry are much less likely to marry in church. However, this does not necessarily mean that more couples are favouring a simple civil ceremony in a registry office. Many couples are now opting to be married in lavish ceremonies in hotels with a minister hired as part of the show, or are married in romantic settings such as Dirleton Castle or Seton Collegiate Church. An innovation of the past couple of decades is that it is now de rigeur for the main male participants to deck themselves out in what passes for Highland dress. In the 1950s and 1960s kilts were only worn on such occasions by toffs, military men, or eccentrics.

There are still a few weddings each year in Longniddry Parish Church. There were four in the year 2000 and six are planned for 2001.

It is still true that the vast majority of couples living in Longniddry are married. Partly this is because housing here is expensive and beyond the reach of most young people who do not yet have established careers. In any case Longniddry is probably not the sort of environment favoured by young unmarried partners, who might be inclined to perceive it as staid suburbia. However, it is very likely that increasing numbers of older partners who have decided not to bother with marriage, will settle in Longniddry in future years, and although married couples are currently the norm, this may not always be so.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that a great deal of ‘high jinks’ went on during the war years and immediately thereafter. Similarly, teenagers growing up in the early 1960s gained the impression that there had been more scope locally for sexual adventure in the 1950s than in their own time. The official consensus of opinion in Longniddry in those days was that sexual activity outside marriage was ‘wrong’. In fact of course a great deal of it did go on, but was mostly conducted discreetly. Respectable girls were supposed to say no, although sometimes respectability could be more a case of succumbing only after lengthy persuasion instead of participating enthusiastically from the outset. All the same, the ideal of the virgin bride was probably often enough attained in reality. The ‘sexual revolution’ which is supposed to have been the hallmark of the 1960s probably took a little longer to arrive in Longniddry. Certainly, virginity in both sexes persisting for several years beyond the age of consent was not unusual in the Longniddry of the 1960s.

Adultery was not unknown in the 1950s and 1960s. This was always roundly condemned but at the same time the gossip was greatly savoured and was often a source of much amusement. No matter how discreet the participants tried to be, the whole village seemed to be party to what was going on.

The traditional parish burial ground for Longniddry was Gladsmuir churchyard. At one time it was common for friends and neighbours who were not going to be present at the graveside to follow the hearse on foot as far as the Lorne Bridge at the foot of the Coal Road leading to Gladsmuir. This custom persisted well into living memory, and was probably last observed in the 1950s. It was also customary for neighbours to keep their curtains closed as a mark of respect when the funeral party was leaving. Funeral arrangements would almost always be entrusted to East Lothian Co-operative Society, and they probably still deal with most local funerals.

Since the 1950s cremation has greatly increased in popularity, and nowadays the usual funeral rite for a Longniddry resident will be cremation in Edinburgh. Humanist or secular funerals are very rare, and unless the deceased has belonged to some other religion or denomination, or was an active member of a Church of Scotland congregation outwith Longniddry, the vast majority of funerals of Longniddry residents are still conducted by the parish minister.