As we approach the final years of our century. this
claim has more than a hollow ring, but the exploitation of coal and the
making of iron and steel brought about the great expansion of Motherwell
in the 19th century, with all the problems of overcrowding and squalor.
In a sixteen year period at the turn of the century, the population
within the Burgh boundaries rose from 18,000 to 36,000 and Motherwell
was "literally bursting at the seams". Religion and church
expansion played its part in this period of growth. In 1900, the United
Free Church of Scotland was created by the amalgamation of the Free
Church and the United Presbyterian Church. These two bodies were the
offspring of previous schisms in the Church of Scotland; the United
Presbyterian Church having broken away in the 18th century, and the
United Free being the result of the split in 1843.
Being outside the established church, the
congregations of the United Free Churches were left to rely on their own
resources. Thus, when the Presbytery of Hamilton decided to expand in
Motherwell and to build the Manse Road Church, the responsibility for
costs, and the resultant debt, were put on the local body of
To this situation, in 1911, came the Rev John
Ebenezer Mcintyre to take his part as the first Minister of the Manse
Road United Free Church. The new Minister came from the Parish of
Hightae and Dalton in Dumfriesshire and, at thirty-seven years of age,
he had considerable experience in the hazards of church and missionary
life. Before going to the Parish in Dumfriesshire, he had been a
missionary in China and had had to flee as
a consequence of the Boxer Rising. He experienced a
severe bout of illness on his return to Scotland and his planned
marriage to Catherine Campbell Morison was delayed until 1905.
By the time of the transfer to Motherwell, the
McIntyre family had additions of two boys. John and William and a
daughter, Anne. This threesome was to be increased to a quartet with the
birth of Robert Douglas McIntyre on 15th December 1913.
Describing his experiences in getting established in
Motherwell, the Rev McIntyre set out the nature of the challenge:
"I was inducted ‘over the congregation to be gathered here’.
There was no single member. Within three months, we gathered round the
Lord’s table. Seventy adults had joined the fellowship ...
there was a debt of £1,400 on the Hall -
now the Church - and the
Presbytery insisted that the new congregation should pay that
Some explanation is required of these comments. The
plan was initially to build a church hail and then to build the church.
What happened was that. despite several attempts. the envisaged church
was never built, so that today’s visitor to Manse Road Church sees the
building, in all essentials, in which the McIntyre Family worshipped in
the years immediately before and during the First World War.
Hindsight assists us in providing an explanation of
this apparent failure to complete the planned expansion by the United
Free Church. Organised religion had reached its peak in Scotland by the
turn of the century and the future held little but steady decline. It
was not long before moves were set in train to reunite with the Church
of Scotland, a process which was achieved 1929. But this was in the
future and did not immediately impinge on the McIntyre Family.
There can be little doubt that the children felt
secure but they were not cosseted. The Rev John McIntyre was a man of
considerable ability with a strong desire to express himself
Fortunately, we are able to glean more than a sense of this from his own
writings. He made it plain that, "It is of the greatest importance
that parents should lead their children to take an interest in public
affairs." and cautions, "Do not try to make your children of
your party. Do not make them young Conservatives or young Socialists.
but young thinkers".
Few could better his advice to budding politicians
given in an essay on Abraham Lincoln. "The political life is apt to
attract the worst and the best -the worst, because fame and money can be
most cheaply obtained in it, the best, because all must know that he who
would do good in that life must be prepared for misrepresentation,
malice, envy, hatred, for strife and continuous conflict, for
temptations more powerful, more seductive and less obvious than those of
any other life and with no promise of success. There will be for the
most successful, years of unrequited toil and not the most sanguine can
have any firm hope that he will live to see the result of his
This strong commitment to service and learning was to
embrace the McIntyre household. John McIntyre was himself a son of the
manse and his wife Catherine was a daughter of the manse who held strong
opinions on woman’s rights.
Politics and political discussions were part of the
normal household activities, and local political figures like Bill
Ballinger, a leading Engineering Union personality and Secretary of the
local Labour Party, and the Rev James Barr were within the McIntyre
During the 1914-18 War, Motherwell experienced the
benefits and strains of this period. There was considerable expansion of
industrial activity in both coal and steel. Munitions production, led by
Colville’s two steelworks, resulted, for example, in the increase in
the labour force at the Dalzell Works from 2,800 in 1914 to 5,000 at the
end of the War. One of the most notable events of the period was the
employment of around ninety women in armaments work which included
The Rev McIntyre’s own politics were of the old
style. He had spoken in favour of a variety of Liberal candidates during
his time in Dumfriesshire but he had a strong pacifist bent and the
horrors of war must have placed a great burden on his conscience.
Industrial strife in the town during the War years
was the precursor to party political organisation
and campaigning in the immediate post-war period. The startling result
of this was the election of J. T. W. Newbold as a Communist candidate
for Motherwell in 1922.
It is in this atmosphere of a supportive and
stimulating home that Robert spent his early formative years in a house
owned by his father in Adele Street, Motherwell.
Early schooling for him was at the Knowetop School
which is under a mile from Adele Street and within walking distance. He
spent a vety short time there and then, like his
brothers and sister, attended the then Hairnilton Academy which,
at the time, was fee paying. Despite the fact that the fees were small,
£2-3 per term, the payment for a family of four must have placed
some strain on the Rev McIntyre’s budget.
There is no doubt that the McIntyre quartet were all
talented, with differing and independent interests. Although a close
family and all going to the same school, there is little evidence of any
concerted effort to journey together to and from school, which involved
a considerable walk and tram car journey from the "Ha-penny"
stop to Hamilton Cross and a further walk to the Academy.