Church Overview

 

The church is behind the presbytery house which fronts the street. A simple rectangular church with lancet windows by Charles Goldie, 1878. The furnishings are thought to be by Scott Morton & Co. The red-brick hall behind is by Reginald Fairley, 1924.

Loanhead of Lasswade

 

"God gives all men all earth to love,

But, since man’s heart is small,

Ordains for each one spot shall prove

Beloved over all. ”

                                        Kipling

 

 

Before the Industrial Revolution, Loanhead had at first glance little to recommend it, apart from a few cattered cottages and an abundance of whins and heather. It was never mentioned in official documents except as “Loanhead of Lasswade” i.e. the place at the head of the lane that led to Lasswade. However, even unknown to the few inhabitants of the area, the local countryside had something else besides whin and heather, the same “black stanes” that the monks from nearby Newbattle Abbey, had dug from the earth since the fourteenth century.

Although Robert Adamson, Burgess of Edinburgh, was granted the right to win “the Haill cole of esweid” in 1528, almost two hundred years were to pass before any serious attempt at mining began. So, like many other places in Scotland, it was coal that helped Loanhead grow into a sizeable community, but today, unlike them, Loanhead is still producing an abundance of coal. Last year the local Bilston Glen Colliery produced more than a million tons.

The ruins of the church that looked after the spiritual needs of the people, can still be seen in the old churchyard at Lasswade. It was opened and dedicated on May 5th 1240 by Bishop David di Bernham of St. Andrews and continued to serve the people for more than three hundred years. The last known priest before the Reformation was Rev. William Niddrie who was appointed to Lasswade in 1529.

 

It is impossible to say when the faith was first preached locally. As far back as 360 A.D. we know of the young Ninian going to Rome, where he was consecrated Bishop, and coming home with Papal authority to preach the Gospel. We remember St. Columba, St. Aidan and St. Eatu, who founded the monastery of Old Melrose about 650 A.D. From Melrose came St. Cuthbert, who worked untiringly in this part of Scotland. However, succeeding generations did not build very successfully on the solid foundations laid by these great missionaries. Long before the Norsemen came to terrorize the country, local chiefs were fighting each other with incredible ferocity. For centuries, the Church struggled to survive, and it was not until the eleventh century that she received new life and vigour with the coming of St. Margaret to our shores. With her son, David I, continuing "her"great work, a new dawn had broken in the Church’s history. Indeed a new era in the country itself had begun. Now, not only spiritually, but in the fields of education and commerce, Scotland could compare with any other country.

 

Our area of Scotland was part of this great revival, beginning with the foundation of St. Mary’s Abbey at Newbattle when King David brought the Cistercians from Melrose in 1140.

Over the years many other places of worship were built in the surrounding countryside - Cockpen, St. Michael’s Inveresk, Soutra Hill and (as we have already mentioned), Lasswade.

In our own present parish of St. Margaret, that magnificent gem, the Collegiate Church of St. Matthew at Roslin, was founded in 1450.

 

The faith flourished but so did the wealth of the Church, and when the Reformation came to Scotland, this temporal prosperity was used as an excuse for wholesale plunder and desecration. It is one of the ironies of history that Newbattle Abbey, which had done so much to invigorate the locality, both spiritually and materially, now had as its Abbot, one Mark Ker.

Renouncing his Catholic faith, Ker enthusiastically pushed the new religion. History records that he subscribed to the “Contract to defend the liberty of the Evangel of Christ”, while Parliament made him Commendator of the Abbey of Newbattle.

 

The Reformation saw the virtual extinction of the Catholic faith in this area. The records of  the nearby parish of Liberton tell that conversion to Protestantism was complete. We can assume the same applied to Loanhead. Penal laws were passed to make life impossible for nonconformists. Scotland differed from England in that there was no escape here from Protestant worship by the payment of fines. In 1571 the Archbishopof St. Andrews was hanged, “dying as he had lived one obstinat papist”. During the periods of intense persecution in the seventeenth century when many priests and lay people suffered, survival for any Catholic seemed almost impossible. Many lay people went into permanent exile to preserve their faith. We all recall the martyrdom of St. John Ogilvie in 1615, but perhaps less well known is the fact that he was hanged in Glasgow after a much shorter period of prison and torture than several of his Jesuit brethren who died in their beds.

 

1793 saw the first Catholic Relief Act, but it was not passed without a great deal of opposition. When relief for Catholics was first mooted, resolutions of protest were passed by various bodies all over the country, similar in content to the following published in an Edinburgh newspaper of 1779:  “The ten incorporated trades, merchants and a respectable number of the inhabitants of the town of Dalkeith, alarmed with the apprehension of a repeal of the Penal Statutes against Popery, have lately held several meetings to deliberate on this subject, and were unanimously of the opinion that however much they are disposed to allow all reasonable liberty of conscience so far as may be consistent with the peace and safety of the kingdom, yet, the members of the Church of Rome, being confessedly subjects of a foreign jurisdiction which with them has power to dispense with all laws and obligations, even most sacred oaths when it may promote their own wicked purposes, and having embraced a religion not only fraught with the grossest and most impious absurdities and superstitious, but which openly avows such principles as are inconsistent with the peace and safety of civil society, a religion that has all along been propagated by fire and sword, plots, massacres and persecutions--that such can have no title to legal toleration. They therefore resolved to concur with other societies in promoting every prudent and constitutional measure for preventing such repeal, and immediately opened a public subscription which is already filled up with a considerable sum for the purpose of carrying said measures into execution”. Was it fear of slowly awakening Catholicism that prompted such a resolution or could Dr. Johnson’s remarks on Londoners and Popery equally apply to the Scots: “There are ten thousand stout fellows in the streets of London ready to fight to the death against Popery, though they know not whether it be a man or a horse?

 

The repeal of the Penal Laws, the Industrial Revolution demanding manpower never envisaged before, periodic famine in Ireland, all helped the resurgence of Catholicism. The new century saw changes that could never have been imagined a generation earlier. In 1814, St. Mary’s Cathedral, Broughton Street, Edinburgh was opened followed by St. Patrick’s Church about twenty years later. Meanwhile in 1827, Pope Leo XII had divided Scotland into three Vicariates - Northern, Western and Eastern. In December 1834 a small group of Ursuline sisters came to Edinburgh. Of more immediate interest to us was the opening in 1845 by Father Carruthers of a church in Portobello to serve the Catholics of Portobello, Dalkeith, Leith and Musselburgh. Within five years the parish priest of Portobello, Father Mantica, was saying Mass occasionally in Dalkeith. We can be certain that the Catholics of Loanhead gladly walked the five miles to the tiny attic in Dalkeith to worship God and receive the Sacraments.

 

1854 was a significant year in the history of the church locally. On 25th March, feast of the  Annunciation, the parish of St. David, Dalkeith was founded and two years later, St. David’s Church was opened, thanks to the generosity of Lady Cecil, Dowager Marchioness of Lothian, a recent convert to the faith. For more than twenty years, the Catholics of Dalkeith were pleased to share their magnificent church with their fellow Catholics from Loanhead, Roslin and Penicuik.

St. David’s congregation of less than a thousand grew rapidly. Since the Industrial Revolution, there had always been a trickle of workless Irishmen to Scotland, but after the Great Famine of 1847 the trickle turnéd into a flood that lasted for decades. These unfortunate people brought nothing with them except a capacity for hard work (and some might add hard drinking) and their Catholic faith. Like other industrial areas in Scotland, the Lothians received a large quota of Irish families. Indeed it can be said that by 1870, the Church in Scotland had lost much of its traditional membership by emigration to the New World, to be succeeded by tens of thousands of poverty stricken Irish Catholics. Prompted by the growth in the local Catholic community, in 1871 Lady Lothian, always eager to help financially, bought a site for a church in Roslin, to serve both Penicuik and Loanhead.

However, it was soon apparent that both villages needed a church and the ground at Roslin was sold. Meanwhile the Jesuit Fathers at Dalkeith, in spite of their numerous other commitments, said Mass locally as need arose. The building of the reservoir in the Moorfoot hills supplying Edinburgh with water saw a big influx of Irish workers, and Mass was said there once a month in a temporary wooden chapel built by the contractor. Mass was also said whenever possible in both Roslin and Bilston. This piece of research was received with some surprise by the present parishioners who had no idea that before St. Margaret’s was built, there were so many Mass centres in the parish. Strange to relate, there seems to be no record that Mass was ever said in Loanhead itself.

 

However, a site was eventually bought in Loanhead for £323 and in 1876, a church from designs by Mr. C. Goldie was built under the supervision of Fr. Thomson, S.J. Dalkeith. The building cost £1543 and once again Lady Lothian was the chief benefactress. Sadly, she did not live to see the church completed, dying in Rome in 1877. 

 

1878 was an historic year in the history of the church in Scotland with the restoration of the hierarchy in March. Earlier this year His Eminence Cardinal Gordon Gray summed up what the restoration meant: “The Apostolic Letter of Leo XIII of March 4th, 1878 did far more than replace with six diocesan bishops, the three Vicars Apostolic who, since 1827 under the direction of the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide, had guided the re-emerging Church in Scotland; far more than restore the Church to the status and prestige it had enjoyed before the Reformation. It restored to the Church the responsibility for shaping its own pastoral policy, for rebuilding its necessary structures and for the provision of its spiritual and material needs from its own native resources in manpower and finance” .

 

Two months later, St. Margaret’s Loanhead became the first church opened in the new Archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh. On Sunday, May 26th, 1878, St. Margaret’s was solemnly opened by Archbishop Strain. We can only guess at the feelings of rejoicing and thanksgiving of the three hundred local Catholics; feelings certainly not conveyed by the brief statement in the "Scotsman" of Monday, May 27th: “A new Roman Catholic Chapel was opened yesterday at Loanhead by the Right Rev. Dr. Strain, Archbishop of St. Andrews who sang High Mass, assisted by the Rev. Fathers Thomson of Dalkeith and Whyte of Edinburgh as deacon and sub-deacon. The Archbishop also preached. The building has a plain but good effect".

 

St. David’s, Dalkeith continued to serve St. Margaret’s for three years, with Mass every second Sunday until 1881, when Loanhead became a separate parish with Fr. E.J. Hannan as parish priest. Fr. Hannan was a native of Co. Limerick and in certain circles may be best remembered as founder member of Hibernian F.C. For twelve months Fr. Hannan also had care of Penicuik before it too became a separate parish.

 

Twelve parish priests have looked after the spiritual needs of St. Margaret’s parishioners during the past century:

Rev. Joseph Hannan 1881 1884

Rev John Lee 1884 1890

Rev. Frederick Hoban 1890 1901

Rev Charles Murdoch 1901 1912

Rev. Patrick Green 1912 1916

Rev Joseph Long 1916 1917

Rev Dominic Hart 1917 1923

Rev. P.J. Burns 1923 1926

Rev. Ed. Morrison 1926 1936

 

Father Morrison’s successor, Father William Maccabe, now Canon Maccabe, parish priest of Lennoxtown, although less than two years at St. Margaret’s is remembered with deep affection, not only by the older parishioners but by many non-Catholics in the village, with whom he established the most cordial relations. The story is still told of a famous parish mission conducted by Fr. Maccabe’s brother, a Passionist Father. Senior parishioners recall with tears in their eyes many incidents from that mission. Fr. Maccabe’s fervent support of a certain football team in the West of Scotland still evokes smiles, particularly when Saturday evening Confessions called before the football results were known in these pre-T.V. days.

 

His successor was Fr. Patrick Carden, who ministered here for thirty years, easily the longest serving priest in the history of St. Margaret’s parish. The memory of his work will assuredly last. His pulpit oratory in a pulpit that could hardly contain his fine physique is still fresh in many minds. He was, to quote one parishioner “a very hard taskmaster, but the fruits of his straightforward manner were soon seen and appreciated by the people”. Money was very scarce in his early years in the thirties at Loanhead, but he always seemed at ease in clearing debt, no matter how great. But as indicated earlier, it was in the pulpit that he had his greatest success. He was, to quote the same parishioner “in his element when preaching, especially on the parables” .

 

Another parishioner, who was a four week old baby when Father Carden came to Loanhead from Duns, gives her impressions of the priest and the man. “I remember vividly his weekly visits to us at school. He was very generously built and there is no doubt that when he was in the room he ‘commanded’ one’s attention. The teaching of our faith mattered greatly to him, and often he would fire quick questions hoping to catch us ‘napping’. Thanks to our dedicated teachers, I think we always managed the correct answers. I remember an occasion after one of his 'sessions' in the school; we were playing during the break and with all the conviction of an eight year old I said: "If Fr. Carden ever leaves Loanhead, I will stop going to Church".

“As I grew older, I became more aware of Father Carden, the man, who had his failings like the rest of us, but his love for and loyalty to Christ and His Church could never be questioned.

At times, some of us ‘perfect beings’ believed there were things he should not have done or said, but people in trouble, who went to him for advice and consolation always came away wiser and happier.

"There is no doubt in my mind that my strong faith owes much to his, perhaps lengthy, but strongly worded and well prepared sermons. It is with sadness that I look back and wish I had gone to visit Fr. Carden in his last illness. I didn’t and he died without my being able to say ‘Farewell and thank you for spending yourself for me’. I wasn’t worth it."

 

After the death of Fr. Carden in November 1967, Fr. Thomas Rhatigan was appointed parish priest in January 1968. It has been his privilege to see St. Margaret’s Church adapted to the needs of the modern liturgy, a task made simple by having no less a parishioner than Mr. Charles Gray to carry out the renovations. Although Mr. Gray is an architect responsible for many beautiful churches throughout Scotland and beyond, he makes no secret of his pride and joy in the ‘new’ St. Margaret’s, a pride and joy that is shared by his fellow parishioners. 

The Catholic population of the parish is about eight hundred at present, almost three times that of 1878. The increase has been more or less gradual over the past hundred years, with one sudden fall in 'numbers less than twenty years after the church opened, when the Clippens Oil Works closed down.

 

The Second World War brought a number of Catholic families from Lanarkshire to Loanhead most of whom have settled permanently in St. Margaret’s. In the nineteen fifties, the Catholic population almost doubled, when the parish cared for the new Southhouse building scheme. This” sudden increase was always regarded as a temporary phenomenon, and it was no surprise when the numbers fell from 1350 to 700 with the establishment of the new St. Catherine’s parish in 1958. Since then the building of two small private estates at Loanhead and Roslin has added about one hundred souls to that number.

 

During this period in the nineteen fifties, Fr. Carden had the help of four assistant priests.

Fr. Eamon O’Brien, who is now parish priest of Selkirk, became the first assistant in September 1951. He was succeeded inthe following year by Fr. Thomas Hanlon. Fr. Hanlon is presently parish priest of Polmont. His successor in 1953 was Fr. Daniel McGuinness who worked here for three years. He was followed by Fr. Liam Healy who left in March 1958 when St. Margaret’s reverted to its original status of a small country parish. Frs. McGuinness and Healy now work in Whitburn and Boghall respectively.

 

 

St. Margaret’s Loanhead became the first church opened in the new Archdiocese of

St. Andrews and Edinburgh.

 

On Sunday, May 26th, 1878, St. Margaret’s was solemnly opened by Archbishop Strain. We can only guess at the feelings of rejoicing and thanksgiving of the three hundred local Catholics; feelings certainly not conveyed by the brief statement in the "Scotsman" of Monday, May 27th:

“A new Roman Catholic Chapel was opened yesterday at Loanhead by the Right Rev. Dr. Strain, Archbishop of St. Andrews who sang High Mass, assisted by the Rev. Fathers Thomson of Dalkeith and Whyte of Edinburgh as deacon and sub-deacon. The Archbishop also preached. The building has a plain but good effect".

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