In this section
The first, pre-Reformation, church built in the three communities that form our present parish was at Auldcathie, about half a mile north west of Winchburgh. The earliest record we have dates from 1198 when the Prior of St Andrews in Fife, an important centre of the mediaeval church in Scotland, granted the chapel to one William Gifford.
Our Parish had a further link with St Andrews, through Patrick Hamilton of Kingscavil, one of the first martyrs of the Reformation, who was burnt at the stake there in 1528. After the Reformation there were difficulties in finding a minister for Auldcathie. To keep things going, “Exhorters” were sent out from the Parish of Abercorn and Cramond, but in 1618 the position was regularised by the Commissioners of Parliament who united the Parishes of Dalmeny and Auldcathie. As the poorest part of an exceptionally poor parish, it was not surprising that the Church at Auldcathie fell into disrepair and ruin.
In 1864 West Lothian was transformed by the first ‘oil boom’ and Paraffin Young’s first shale-oil works at Bathgate expanded with another 38 plants that year and another 80 the next. Hamlets of a few cottages grew rapidly into villages and towns. Our Parish was no exception. Railway and construction workers, miners and workers in shale oil production came to live among the farmers and farm labourers. The spiritual needs of the parish’s growing population soon outgrew the part-time ministry from St Michael’s Church in Linlithgow for the west side of the parish, and from Kirkliston Parish Church for the east side.
The first new Church to be built in our Parish was at Philipstoun, where the Earl of Hopetoun granted the site to the United Presbyterian Congregation of Western Pardovan and Philipstoun in April 1888. In Winchburgh a “mission church” was built in 1891, under the care George Fullerton, who had been assisting the Kirkliston Minister by looking after Westerton, Winchburgh and Niddry. The following year Mr. Fullerton was ordained as minister of what was now officially a Chapel of Ease, and the Earl of Hopetoun gave the site of the present building. Among its trustees was Robert Braes, Farmer at Niddry, father of one of our present elders, William, and his brother Robert who served faithfully for many years as an elder until his death..
In 1904 boundaries were revised and Winchburgh became an independent Parish, including the lands of Auldcathie. Among its first Elders, who had previously served in Kirkliston Church, was one Andrew Newton, who became Session Clerk and Sunday School Superintendent. The combined service of Mr Newton Snr and his son, also called Andrew, who later held the same offices, spanned the 20th century.
Meantime in Kingscavil, the village there too was growing, and the iron church serving as the Chapel of Ease for St.Michael’s Linlithgow became inadequate for the needs of the Community. Matters came to a crisis when it was wrecked by a storm in 1900. The present building was erected with all due deliberate haste on a site gifted by Captain Johnston Stewart of Champfleurie, and dedicated in May 1902 with the Reverend Thomas Lugton as its first Minister. After a hopeful start, a bitter blow was dealt to the community of Kingscavil when the impossibility of extending its sewerage meant re-location to the village of Bridgend, some three miles away. The Congregation, however, remained faithful to the Church at Kingscavil, despite its isolation and years of Sunday Worship at the early hour of 9.00am. In Bridgend itself a Mission Hall was built and looked after by the Minister of Pardovan.
The 20th century saw great changes and upheaval in our Parish and indeed the whole of Scotland, with two great terrible wars, the rise and fall of the shale industry, the introduction and passing of new light industries, vast changes in agriculture and the growth in commuting for work to Edinburgh and Glasgow. All this affected the churches. Already in 1946 change came when Winchburgh united with the former United Free Church of Abercorn South and Winchburgh, which stood at Woodend. That church has been demolished but its bell was gifted to the church at Abakalinka in eastern Nigeria, and transported there through the kindness of the Parish of Cramond, which paid the costs.
The 1950s was a decade of hope with post war reconstruction and the parish busy with active organisations such as Boys Brigade and the Girls’ Club. The church hall was hive of activity, and the scene of amateur pantomimes and plays fondly remembered for decades after. But things were changing fast all over Britain, and the pace of change in the parish quickened with the end of the shale oil industry in 1963.
A declining population, a declining membership and consequent financial pressures led inevitably to changes for the parish. In 1965 the Parish of Pardovan and Kingscavil, now united, were linked with Winchburgh. This meant that they continued to run their own affairs, each with a Kirk Session and Congregational Board, but shared the services of one Minister. In 1997 the two linked Parishes were united under one minister, as before, but administered by one Kirk Session and one Congregational Board, and known as the Parish of Pardovan, Kingscavil and Winchburgh, or “PKW” for short. Uniting the parishes meant the painful decision to give up the Church building in Philipstoun, Pardovan Church, which was sold and is now a private residence. The proceeds of the sale, however, enabled renovations at the two remaining churches in Kingscavil and Winchburgh to be carried out, and the replacement of the original Mission Hall in Bridgend with a modern and well-appointed building on the foundations of the old one. The New Mission Hall has become a focus for new church led activities and outreach in Bridgend.
As a result of re-adjustments between the Presbyteries of Edinburgh and of West Lothian, the Parish of Abercorn was linked to PKW on All Saints Day 2000, and has as its present Minister the Rev. Scott Marshall, whose manse is in Winchburgh. So the 21st Century saw the renewal of an old relationship, recalling the support given to the church at Auldcathie by the church at Abercorn in the 16th century, and the start of a close and fruitful relationship between the parishes.
The parish continues to develop under Scott’s ministry, having become both an Eco Congregation and a Fairtrade Church, and has recently undertaken a major refurbishment of the interior of Winchburgh Church to fit it for the needs of ministry to a changing parish.