Our two-part series looking at how the community of Shandon has changed since the first houses were built in the 1830s looks at the churches and schools in the area...

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AFTER World War Two, change really began to affect Shandon.

Local historian and Helensburgh Heritage Trust director Alistair McIntyre has investigated the community’s history, and he began by looking at the rise and fall of Shandon Pier.

In May 1943 the Chief Constable stated that Ritchie Brothers were not willing to continue the Shandon steamer service, then run between Clynder and a newly-built pier at Gullybridge, and the suggestion was made that the County Council should take over.

The chairman of the County Council suggested that perhaps either the Naval authorities or the Ministry of War might consider running the service, and it was agreed this possibility should be investigated.

The outcome was that Ritchie Brothers continued to run the ferry with the aid of a Government subsidy, but, with the withdrawal of this support in 1946, they once more announced they would be giving up.

All was seemingly not lost, however, when it was disclosed later in the year that a Mr Fleck had agreed to take over the ferry.

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Unfortunately, it turned out that this was conditional on his being able to berth at Rosneath Pier, and in December 1947 the service came to an end, because the Ministry of Transport would not agree to this arrangement. It was the end of an era.

The presence of Gullybridge Pier thereafter provided an unofficial amenity for other than travellers.

For quite a few years, it was the habitual haunt of numerous sea-anglers, and it was unusual to pass by and not see a cluster of anglers sitting patiently at the end of the pier.

With the major programme of road widening and straightening of the main road between Rhu and Faslane in 1969-70, virtually all traces of the pier were erased.

Shandon pier had closed as a public facility in 1915, but it continued to be used by the crews of laid-up ships moored in the loch, until the onset of the Second World War.

Looking at the history of Shandon Church, Alistair says that it owed its birth to the great schism in the Church of Scotland in 1843.

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Known as The Disruption, it came about because of severe tensions within the Church, particularly over the issue of patronage — should the power to appoint new ministers lie with the landowners (the heritors), or with the congregation?

With almost half the ministers leaving the Established Church to form the Free Church of Scotland, the strong belief within the new denomination was that this right should lie firmly with congregations.

The then minister at Rhu, the Rev John Laurie Fogo, remained within the Church of Scotland, carrying most of his congregation with him, but there were supporters of the Free Church in the district who decided to form their own church.

Adherents initially met in a granary forming part of the distillery at Aldownick, Rhu, in 1843, and just a year later, Shandon Free Church opened its doors. It was a sturdy, but relatively plain building, designed by the architect John Burnet.

The Rev Neil Brodie was appointed the first minister. Previously he had been minister at St Andrews, Kilmarnock, and had initially remained within the Established Church after The Disruption, but his conscience subsequently induced him to demit his charge there.

Rhu itself never had a Free Church, and so Shandon enjoyed a relatively large catchment area.

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Mr Brodie proved to be an energetic and forward-thinking minister, and with the support of the Kirk Session, a school, along with schoolmaster’s house, was opened the following year, not far from the church, again designed by Burnet.

With both church and school in operation, they helped form a real focal point for the ever-growing community. The manse came later, in 1864.

It must be significant that when a pier was built in 1886, it was located almost opposite the Free Church.

In 1882, the Rev Hugh Miller became minister, and proved to be a dynamic force in the life of church and community.

The Church itself was transformed into a much more imposing building the year after, with the addition of tower, transepts, stone porch and buttresses, designed by architect William Landless.

It was also around this time that Mr Miller helped form the Shandon Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Society. This type of organisation was being established in many other local communities in Scotland.

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They often developed into highly influential bodies, once more helping to give a sense of community wherever they arose. The one at Shandon was still in existence when the Second World War broke out.

In 1900, the Free Church nationally joined with the United Presbyterians to become the United Free Church, so the church was now known as Shandon United Free Church.

An even more momentous national event took place in 1929, when the United Free Church joined with the Church of Scotland.

The idea of linking Shandon and Rhu churches had been talked about as early as 1925, almost certainly stimulated by the fact there was a vacancy for a minister at Shandon at the time.

However, the vacancy was subsequently filled, and the merger plan dropped. The 1929 union resulted in there being two Church of Scotland places of worship within a relatively short distance of one another.

However, both had ministers and congregations in place, and so they continued to function as in the past.

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It was probably inevitable that a merger would take place eventually, and in 1954, following the death of the then minister at Shandon, the Rev George Bennett, this took place.

Even so, Shandon Church of Scotland was not rendered redundant, and services still took place, taken by the Rhu-based minister.

A major crisis in the life of the building came in early 1981, when it was disclosed that the fabric of the church was suffering from dry rot.

The estimate for dealing with the rot and carrying out the re-slating work was put at £15,000.

Dumbarton Presbytery backed the decision to close. The congregation at this point numbered 75 people.

The building was put up for sale, and after comprehensive re-working, including the removal of much of the steeple, it was converted into four luxury homes in 1984.

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The story of what was built in 1845 as Shandon Free Church School is also worth telling.

The momentous Education (Scotland) Act of 1872, which made education compulsory for all those aged 5-13, had a big impact upon the school.

All churches run by the Church of Scotland and those of the Free Church of Scotland now came within the orbit of the state system.

The school was designated Shandon Public School, and it went on to flourish for many years.

In the 20th century, small one-teacher schools often had female teachers. In the 1920s, Miss Campbell taught the pupils, and in 1931, Mrs Margaret Willan became schoolmistress.

She had taught for the previous 12 years at Glen Fruin School, and it was quite common for teachers to move from one small school to another, often not too far from the previous one.

The little school was threatened with closure in 1938, but it gained a reprieve. The entry for Shandon in the Third Statistical Account of Scotland gives 1949 as the date of closure.

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Post-war, schools like this were re-designated, so in the later years, it became Shandon Primary School.

It was around this time that many small schools in the area closed their doors for the last time, including Glen Fruin School and Glen Mallan School.

By now roads and road transport made it more cost-effective for pupils in scattered areas to be taken by bus to bigger centres of population, and so to bigger schools.

However, a school is always a focal point for any community, and many regret the closure of such amenities, a process which continues up and down the country to this day.

One poignant reminder of the former Shandon School remains. Beside a headstone to members of the Walker family at Faslane Cemetery, there stands a smaller memorial.

It bears the inscription: “In memory of Mary and Heather from teacher and pupils of Shandon School”.

The main headstone reveals that Heather was laid to rest in 1941, aged six years, while Mary died in 1943 at the age of ten years.

If you have a story from Helensburgh and Lomond's past that you think could be worth telling in a future Eye on Millig column, email the details to eyemillig@btinternet.com.

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