A history of Saint Andrew’s 1895-1995, the first 100 years
“The prayer of the memorial of residents at Blackrock, near Dublin, asking the Assembly to sanction the organisation of a congregation was unanimously granted.” With these laconic words in the record of the General Assembly in June 1895 a century of work and worship was launched in what is now Saint Andrew’s Church Blackrock.
The story of that hundred years begins, in fact, almost a year earlier when a meeting of some Presbyterians who lived in the Blackrock area took place on 29th July 1894 in the Town Hall in Blackrock to consider the possibility of founding a new congregation in the area. On October 7th a deputation was appointed to go to the Mission Board which was due to meet on 10th October to put their case and the at that meeting a grant was made to the group and a committee of ministers was place]d in charge. That small group continued to meet for worship each Sunday and in the month of October 1894 the following collections were taken up:
7th October 7. 10
14th October 8. 5
21st October 14. 1
28th October 13. 5 1/2
Total £ 2. 3. 9 1/2
Mr. James Snowdon, later to be our first minister, had been licensed to preach on 11th April 1893 but had not yet been ordained. He wrote on 13th October 1894 asking to be considered as a licentiate for the Blackrock congregation. He was already known to the group and was highly regarded. He was accordingly appointed. The group now had an unordained preacher and no church but undaunted they continued to meet in the town hall where they had to pay £ 4.0.0 per annum to the caretaker for the extra duties involved in making the premises available for services each Sunday.
Eventually, at the General Assembly in 1895 approval was given for the organisation of a congregation and so Blackrock Presbyterian Church as it was then called came into being.
Discussions about a suitable site for a Church immediately took place and the premises known as Albion House, Merrion Avenue, the site of the present church was decided upon. Meanwhile, Mr James Snowdon continued to minister to the small congregation and was ordained in York Road, Kingstown on 10th October, 1895. Things moved rapidly and on 19th November 1895 the contract for the purchase of Albion House was signed at the cost of £ 750. Ten days later at a meeting on 29th November 1895 Mr Hewat, to whom we in Saint Andrew’s owe so much, suggested a name for Saint Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and that name was St. Andrew’s.
A Building Fund had been established and by January 1896 this stood at £ 304. Encouraged by this the committee decided to advertise for an architect to prepare plans for a church. Mr. Hewat generously donated the sum of £ 800 and this enabled the purchase of Albion House to be completed on 21st March 1896.
The architects who were appointed were Messers. Murray and Forrester of London and the work soon commenced. The builder who successfully tendered for the work was a Mr. P. Caulfield of Booterstown. His tender for the construction of the church and a hall was just over £ 5000. However, if a cheaper temporary hall was built it would cost £ 3760.12.6 and so this was accepted. The foundation stone which is in the vestibule was laid on October 29th 1898 by Mrs. Hewat, and records show there was good attendance notwithstanding the very inclement weather. Work obviously proceeded at a good rate because the first service was held in the church on 5th February 1899. The previous day the committee reported the gift of the communion table and baptismal font and these items still grace our church.
The architecture of the Church is of interest. It is of octagonal shape with a tower at the front. Originally the floor sloped from the two side doors down the side aisles. The pulpit was in the arched recess where it is today and the communion table occupied a central position on a raised platform in front. Within two years of the opening of the church the death of Mr Hewat took place but he generously bequeathed the sum of £ 2000 to the church in the establishment of which he played so vital a part. The debt on the church was immediately cleared which enabled the Manse to be built. This was done in 1902/3.
The Church in 1905
By 1908 it was decided to build what was described as an iron hall at the rear of the church at the cost of £ 168.10.9. This hall was to serve St. Andrew’s until the present hall was built in 1959. In the early years the music was provided by an American organ, a type of harmonium. This was not considered suitable and an appeal was made to Mr. Andrew Carnegie, the great multi-millionaire philanthropist. He agreed to pay the second half of the cost of the organ if the congregation raised the first half. This was done and the organ which cost in all over £900 was installed in the alcove. The pulpit was moved to one side. This work was done during April and May 1912 and the church reopened on June 2nd 1912.
Postcard from 1911
The Great War loomed and during it St. Andrews’s was to lose six young members. Five died on the field of battle and one, a Saint John Ambulance brigade member had been shot in Dublin in 1916. On January 15th 1922 the memorial tablet bearing their names was unveiled by the Lord Chancellor. During the 1920s and 1930s Rev James Snowden continued to lead the congregation, though it is obvious from his signature at the time that he was not in good health. On Armistice Day, November 10th 1935 he preached his last sermon in Saint Andrew’s taking as his text “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course”. On 20th January 1936 he died having served St. Andrew’s for 41 years. He was buried in Deansgrange Cemetery on 24th January, 1936.
The second minister in Saint Andrew’s was Rev J Noel Thompson of Shearer Memorial Church, Glasgow who accepted the call to come to Dublin and he was installed on 10th September, 1936. Early in his ministry a lectern dedicated to the memory of Rev James Snowdon was installed and it is from this lectern that the word of God is regularly read.
At the end of the Second World War when St. Andrew’s was 50 years old discussions took place about how both the ending of the war and the anniversary should be marked. Some wanted to replace the old hall but another more modest proposal prevailed. An organ screen, bearing the dates 1845 and 1945 was erected. Soon, however, dry rot was discovered in the floor of the church and it was decided to install a concrete floor, a central aisle and to move the organ to the position it now occupies in the archway. The church was closed for some time as the work was done but it reopened and rededicated on 17th June 1949. In December, 1951 a visitation of Presbytery recognised in Rev. J Noel Thompson “a master of pulpit style and eloquence, a preacher of outstanding gifts with a message relevant to the needs and problems of the hour.”
However, increasing illness finally forced him to retire in 1956 at the early age of 52 years having served St Andrew’s for 20 years.
Once again St Andrew’s issued a call, this time to Rev. Desmond Black of Islandmagee, Co Down, who was installed on 24th January 1957. It soon became apparent that the old hall was inadequate and plans for a new hall were then considered. This hall was to cost £15,000 and under the leadership of the new young minister the work went ahead, the money was raised and the present hall was opened by Mrs. Scott McLeod, the wife of the then US Ambassador to Ireland and was dedicated by the moderator of the General Assembly, Rt Rev. T.A.B Smyth on 5th December 1959. This addition to the Church gave a great boost to the congregation and the numbers grew. The number of children in the Sunday School stood at an all time high. Rev. Desmond Black was a most popular minister who served St. Andrew’s loyally until his retirement on grounds of ill health in 1985. He died the following year on 26th June 1986.
For the fourth time St Andrew’s issued a call, this time to Rev. George Denis Campbell, our present minister who came to Blackrock from Stranorlar and Donoughmore in Donegal. He was installed on 28th February 1986 and it fell to him to be the minister in the year of St Andrew’s centenary. To mark that occasion considerable works have been undertaken by the committee. The interior of the Church was totally redecorated, the stonework outside the door cleaned, the bronze plaque over the door was burnished to reveal its message “Ardens sed virens” and last but not least the toilet accommodation in the hall was redesigned creating a new room to be known as “The Centenary Room”.
So it is with a strong faith and trust in Almighty God that the congregation of St Andrew’s confidently looks forward to the future