CHURCH OF OUR LADY AND ST. JOHN’s BLACKWOOD

The present parish of Blackwood includes within its boundaries the villages of Blackwood, Kirkmuirhill, Lesmahagow, Netherburn, Auchenheath and Crossford. Of these the village of Lesmahagow is undoubtedly the one with a long church history. The name Lesmahagow is probably derived from les, a contraction of the Latin word ecclesia (church) and Mahago, a corruption of the name St. Machute or Machutus who until the Reformation was its patron saint.

In 1144 King David I., on the advice and counsel of John Achaius, Bishop of Glasgow, gave to the Abbey of Kelso the church of Lesmahagow and the lands attached to the church. A prior and monks from Tiron in the Diocese of Chartres in France were established in Lesmahagow.

In 1400 Abbot Patrick of Lesmahagow granted to Ronald Wer (Weir), bailie of Lesmahagow, half the church lands of Blackwood and Dermoundyston and the whole of Mossmynyne.

In 1773 Catherine Weir, a descendant of Rothaldus and heiress of Blackwood, married the Honourable Charles Hope, second son of the Earl of Hopetoun. Their eldest surviving son, William, of the 1st Dragoon Guards, succeeded to the estates of Blackwood and Craigiehall and took the name Hope-Vere. A descendant, Colonel Hope-Vere resided in Blackwood Estate when the church of Our Lady and St. John was built. Colonel Hope-Vere was married three times. His first marriage was to Louisa Maud who was killed on the estate on 20th April 1882 while horse riding. She is buried on the Estate near the Dovecot.

His second marriage was to a French Countess, Marie Elizabeth Francoise, by whom he had three children; Edward, Rachel and Ralph. Edward became First Secretary in the Diplomatic Service. He remained a bachelor, died on 4th November 1924 and is buried in the church grounds. His mother died on 15th August 1937 and is buried near her son.

The grounds on which the church is built were donated by the Hope-Vere family. The Lancaster family generously contributed to the building funds for the church and presbytery. John Lancaster, a native of Cardiff, was a mine owner and lived in Heathfield House before he moved to Auchenheath House. One of his daughters married a Hughes of Glasgow and their son Pilot Officer Hughes R.A.F.V.R. was killed in action on 22nd July 1944 and is burried in the grounds of the church.

The Industrial Revolution and its need for coal made the area an important mining centre. People seeking work came to the district. The potato famine in Ireland and the drift from the Highlands brought many Catholics to the area. St. Mary´s in Hamilton (1843) was the earliest mission established in the district. This was followed by the mission in Strathaven (1859) which served Larkhall, Lesmahagow, Douglas, Blackwood and Stonehouse.

In 1872 a chapel-school was opened in Larkhall with a resident priest Rev. Duncan Gillies, Lesmahagow was now served from Larkhall and mass was said every fourth Sunday of the month at 12 noon in a rented hall in Daisy Bank, Trows Road and a neighbouring house was used for confessions, a Sunday School for instruction was also organised. Father Gillies was succeeded by Father Donald McKay in 1876 who continued to attend Lesmahagow. In 1879 a Belgian priest, Father Paul Pies was appointed to Larkhall and he began to say mass at Draffan on the third Sunday of every month for the Catholics of the neighbourhood who were mostly employed in the gas-coal pits of the district.

Both Lesmahagow and Draffan were inconvenient in the extreme for the scattered population in this southern area of the Larkhall parish. A central location was needed and a proper building was imperative. Blackwood was considered the central location and the subscriptions in aid of this project were to be sent to Archbishop Eyre or to the priest in charge of Larkhall. The scheme of erecting a church found a most generous supporter in Mr Lancaster of Heathfield House who not only subscribed handsomely towards the building fund but gave Father Paul Pies every assistance during the progression of the works.