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The Church

 
Pre 1200.
There is good reason to believe that there was an early Christian building occupying the site of the present day stone built church. This structure, probably built of wood with a roof of reed thatch, is thought to have been founded by St. Machan sometime in the 6th century. The only relic of this early building remaining is a hollowed stone, believed to be used for the communal grinding of grain. Today this stone is carefully preserved in the church.

1200 - 1700.
A second church of stone construction was dedicated on 13th September 1244 by Bishop David De Bernham. (This dedication is recorded in the Pontifical that the Bishop used during this period, which is now in the National Library of France.) It is not known when this was actually constructed, but from remaining architectural fragments it is thought to have been circa 1200.

This church probably stood in its original state until the early 1400s when civil war broke out. The war was between King James II of Scotland and the Douglas family (whose stronghold was at nearby Abercorn). In 1445 Crichton the chancellor marched into West Lothian. Carrying fire and sword through the baronies of Abercorn, Blackness and Stathbrock, driving away sheep, horses and cattle and sacking and burning the area. It is almost certain that Ecclesmachan suffered in this devastation.

No serious attempt was made to repair the damage to churches in the area until the appointment of William Elphinstone as "Official of the Archdeaconry of Lothian". The Bishop set out to rebuild the destroyed churches in the district and his work at Ecclesmachan was completed in the 1500s. There is evidence of this link in the form of a coat of arms preserved in the church (originally built into the south wall and moved inside in the early 1900s).

In the period prior to the reformation the church appears to have belonged to Torphichen Preceptor. We could not trace any further details from this period other than records of post-reformation Ministers, the first being John Mowbray 1563 - 1588.

1700 - 1800.
After the reformation there seems to have been some alterations made, but other than some pieces of monuments there is no accurate record of these. In 1710 a fourth period of restoration took place, to the nucleus of the original building an Aisle was added to the north side, consisting of a burial vault on ground level with a laird's loft and retiring room above. A belfry was also added, this to the west side of the church, unfortunately there are no plans or drawings of this belfry to include in our outline drawings.

1800 - 1900.
In 1806 the roof was strengthened and for the first time the rafters and supports were covered by a lath and plaster ceiling being made. About 1822 the church was again restored (under supervision of the Rev. Henry Liston), where the following changes took place:

  • The laird's loft and the outside stair of the north aisle were removed, the lower storey of the north aisle was opened into the church and partly filled with pews, partly by a vestibule and stairs to the upper floor, where the remains of the retiring room became a vestry.
  • A gallery took the place of the laird's loft and similar galleries were added across the east and west ends.
  • Windows were pierced into the north wall of the nave, the side walls of the north aisle and on the south wall (to light the end galleries).
  • The old chancel window on the south wall was converted into a doorway, imitated from the older door to the east and adjusted to a corresponding position from the west end.

Between 1850 and 1900 a new bell was cast and installed (cast in 1854 by C&G Mears of London). In 1873 after a heating system was installed; (under the supervision of the Rev. Alex Shepherd), changes made to the seating, a new pulpit installed and the two south windows filled with stained glass, the church was thoroughly cleaned and redecorated.

1900 - 2000.
A major reconstruction, which was planned in 1906 and undertaken in 1908, increased the size of the church and raised the seating capacity from some 153 to over 320. The cost for this work, some 1,500, being raised by the parishioners. One of the fundraising items was The Ecclesmachan Cookbook, compiled by a farmer's wife from the parish (Mary F. Keay), printed in nearby Broxburn (by Alex F. Steel) and sold extensively throughout the area. (There is still an original copy of this book in the West Lothian History Library). Major changes were made to improve and enlarge the building, but in the 1700s style of (and without disturbing) the south wall. These changes included:

  • A Chancel, a small organ chamber and a Vestry were added to the west gable. (This by normal tradition would have been to the east side but some parishioners objected to building over the graves on the east side.)
  • New windows were made in the north and east to improve the lighting.
  • A new door was made in the north gable, with an external porch (to which a pre-1710 monument was built into the wall).
  • The belfry from the west gable was re-erected on the north gable.
  • A sundial, properly calculated for keeping time, was placed in a panel on the south abutment of the new chancel arch.
  • Plain crosses were placed on the east gable and on the new west gable, this symbol of Christianity re-appearing on the building after a long absence.
  • The north aisle was extended to the east and west, the original north wall being largely re-used in it's new position, with the old nave roof edge being supported by steel beams (encased in plaster) and stone columns of Tuscan style.
  • The building was re-roofed and the walls re-plastered.
  • New pews were installed and the whole area under the floor laid with asphalt.
  • The heating system was refitted and augmented to cope with the enlarged church.
  • The stone fireplace from the north aisle was rebuilt in the Vestry, surrounded by old-fashioned blue and white Dutch tiles.
  • The new windows in the west gable were filled with stained glass in memory of Dr. Liston (upper) and the Rev. John Smith (lower).

During the renovations the Sunday services were held in the village school. The church was officially re-opened Wed. Dec 30 1908 by the Rev. A. Grant and dedicated by Rev. Prof. Cooper, D.D. There was a large audience for this event, including many visitors from Broxburn, Uphall and other surrounding parishes as well as ministers representing the Presbytery of Linlithgow. You can view a picture of the inside of the church taken around the time of this major re-construction by clicking here. This picture appears by permission of West Lothian History and Amenity Society.

On Wed. 13th September 1944 the church celebrated the 700th anniversary of its dedication by Bishop De Burnham. In the order of service there was no attempt to recreate any ceremonial of the original dedication service, although the 'bringing in' of the bible by the beadle was an interesting link to the carrying in of the 'Holy Gospels' by the Bishop's assistants. The form of service used 700 years before was quite different from that of the Church of Scotland in 1944, not just in style but that it was largely in Latin and unintelligible to hardly any of those attending other than those officiating!

In April 1963 a new bell, cast in the Loughborough bell foundry of John Taylor & Co., was dedicated to T.P. Nathaniel, for 33 years an elder of the church.

In 1976 Ecclesmachan church joined with Uphall north parish church and became known as Strathbrock parish church and is now signed as 'Strathbrock, Church of St. Machan'.

Outline Drawings & Pictures.
We have constructed four outline drawings to indicate the changes made to the church building over the centuries. You can view these by clicking here.

Below is a list of other photographs we have taken recently, with some brief information. If you click on the title a new window will open and the image will load. Once the new window loads you will have the option to view the next photo or close it.

The church from the south-east.
A picture of the outside of the building onto the south and east walls.
The church organ.
This picture shows how the organ is neatly tucked into an alcove btween the Chancel and the Vestry.
The church interior supports.
Here you can see the stone pillars and beams (plastered) supporting the building where the original (1244) north wall ran.
The church interior west wall.
A picture of the west wall and the Chancel. The upper (round) stained-glass window is the Dr. Liston memorial.

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