A Short History of Alva Parish Church

This short history was prepared in 2012 by Alan Kimmitt who was in the final stages of training for the ministry.

 

 

Alva is one of a series of small mill towns which run along the base of the Ochil Hills in Clackmannanshire. However, for many years, Alva was an isolated part of Stirlingshire, completely surrounded by Clackmannanshire to the west, south and east and by Perthshire to the north. Local oral tradition links this anomaly and local silver mining to the origin of the term ‘Sterling Silver’. In a glen above Alva high quality silver ore was extracted, “producing 12 ounces of silver from 14 ounces of ore”.[1] Alva Parish Church still uses two communion cups made from local silver.

 

Alva is believed to have been a site of Christian worship, associated with St. Serf, since the time of the Celtic Christianity. A church building in Alva was established by at least the 11th century, operating as an outpost of Cambuskenneth Abbey.[2]

 

Following the Reformation and the founding of the Presbytery of Stirling in 1581, Robert Mainteith became the first minister in Alva, but he was subsequently “deposed for incapacity.” Initially, the minister of Alva also covered Tillicoultry Parish. But, in 1631, Alexander Bruce rebuilt the church and increased the stipend, “procuring a disjunction from the parish of Tillicoultry.”[3] Mrs. Drummond described the community of Alva as being like a large family who helped each other out of difficulties.[4] Several hundred years later, I have found the same attitude to be a hallmark of the Alva community.

 

The parish church, known as St. Serf’s, was rebuilt again in 1815 and, with several subsequent alterations and expansions, remained in use on the same site as the original pre-Reformation building. It was located “a little to the East of the village, upon an eminence, commanding a fine view of the valley of the Devon.”[5] However, this site is a moderate walk ‘up the brae’ from the current centre of town.

 

In the early 19th century, national changes in the church had an effect on Alva. In 1838 a petition was made to the United Secession Presbytery in Stirling for a preaching station in Alva and in 1842, work was completed on the United Secession Church. This subsequently became United Presbyterian after the national merger with the Relief Church in 1847.

 

At the time of the disruption in 1843, Rev. Andrew Brown, then parish minister in Alva, “intended to ‘go out’, but on the way to the Presbytery the wheel came off his gig near Balquharn. This incident prevented his attendance, and he looked on it as a sign from God that he was to remain in the Parish Church”.[6]

 

A Free Church was established in Alva around 1850 and following the union of the United Presbyterian and Free churches in 1900, there were two United Free congregations in Alva. The previous Free Church became known as the West Church and the previously United Presbyterian Church was named after Rev. Dr. John Eadie, who had been prominent in the United Secession Church, professor at the University of Glasgow and born in Alva in 1810. According to Mrs. Drummond, neither of Eadie’s parents attended the parish church. Being from different traditions, each Sunday, John’s father walked west to Blairlogie Relief Church and his mother walked east to Tillicoultry Secession Church. John chose to go with his mother because she carried cheese in her pocket as refreshment.[7]

 

At the union in 1929, the Church of Scotland parish was divided, with the Western part becoming Eadie parish and the Eastern part becoming St. Serf’s parish. [8] However, as was the case in other places, the Eadie congregation was predominantly the more affluent mill owners, managers and shopkeepers, whereas St. Serf’s had a larger congregation which included many of the mill workers. In 1931, the West Church was closed and the members were allowed to choose between the two remaining churches. The West Kirk building became St. Serf’s hall.[9]

 

In 1981, Stirling Presbytery made a decision to unite St. Serf’s and Eadie churches. After dry rot was found in St. Serf’s a decision was made to retain the Eadie Church building, which is also more centrally located. The service of union took place on 23rd August 1984. Marshall’s construction company were engaged to make the building into a safe ruin. However, it was destroyed when the burning of some timbers inside the church led to a major fire.

 

Marrying the different traditions to create the new Alva Parish Church was not straightforward. A ‘model’ constitution was adopted to replace the previously different constitutions and provision was made for the differing practice at communion. In 1989, the church was extended to make more space in the chancel area. At that time, the memorial window, font and chairs from St. Serf’s were installed. The communion table from St. Serf’s was moved into the vestibule area. The small Eadie pulpit was replaced by one from St Brides in Callander and the St Serf’s organ was gifted to Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church in Glasgow. The Eadie organ was dismantled and rebuilt as part of the refurbishment.

 

Bibliography

 

Brown, Andrew. “Second Statistical Account of Alva, 1841.” In The First and Second Statistical Accounts. Alloa: Clackmannan District Libraries, 1987.

Drummond, Mrs. The History of Alva and District from the Early Christian Period to 1900. Clackmannan District Libraries, 1981.

Duncan, John. “First Statistical Account of Alva, 1796.” In The First and Second Statistical Accounts. Alloa: Clackmannan District Libraries, 1987.

Gordon, T. C. “The County of Clackmannan.” In The third statistical account of Scotland. Vol. 18. Glasgow: Collins, 1966.

“Open Day Information Leaflet”. Alva Parish Church, 2004.



[1] Duncan, “First Statistical Account of Alva, 1796,” 8.

[2] Drummond, The History of Alva and District from the Early Christian Period to 1900, 1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Drummond, The History of Alva and District from the Early Christian Period to 1900, 5.

[5] Brown, “Second Statistical Account of Alva, 1841,” 11.

[6] Duncan, “First Statistical Account of Alva, 1796,” 8.

[7] Drummond, The History of Alva and District from the Early Christian Period to 1900, 8.

[8] “Open Day Information Leaflet.”

[9] Gordon, “The County of Clackmannan,” 563.