Although the parish of Avendale was created in the late 11th or early 12th century, more than 400 years before the Reformation of the 16th century, little information has survived about the early parish churches. There is a record of a church existing in Strathaven in 1288, but its whereabouts we don’t know. Perhaps the local names Threestanes and Kirklandpark give an indication. However, before Avendale was built on its present site in 1772, the people of Strathaven worshipped in St Mary’s Kirk which was situated in the graveyard facing Strathaven Castle, probably about where the telephone exchange is now. The first regular ordained minister in Strathaven after the Reformation was David Cunningham who was inducted in 1563, and it is worthy of note that the parish church of Avendale has remained in continuous communion with the established Church of Scotland.
St Mary’s Kirk in time became too small for the growing population of the town. The Heritors – i.e. the landowners and property owners of the parish – decided to build a new church in Kirk Street or Arran Street as it had been known. At that time, the Heritors of a parish were liable for the payment of ‘public burdens connected with the Parish’ which included the administration of schools, providing for the poor and the upkeep of church property. They bore the whole cost of construction.
Initially the new building did not seem to be considered an unqualified success. The Rev William Proudfoot – the then minister of Avendale – writing in The National Statistical Account for Scotland for 1845 records; ” It says little for the taste of the heritors of former days that they permitted it (the church) to be moved to its present site. Even when first built it was far too small for the inhabitants; and that no attention was paid to the application of the people of Strathaven to have it enlarged, which they offered to do in part at their own expense, evinced a very improper spirit on the part of the heritors. After it was built it remained unseated for considerably more than twenty years; and after it was seated more than one law-suit before the Supreme Court took place respecting the divisions of seats. It is seated to contain about 800 sitters so that there is a grievous deficiency of church accommodation. The 4000 inhabitants of the town have a legal right to only 24 sittings in the parish church. About two thirds of the country population and a great number in the town, profess to belong to the Established Church; but of course there must be among these many who do not attend public worship; and on inquiring the cause of absence, they meet us daily with the unanswerable reply ‘We have no seat!’ “
The square exterior of the church, which is now a listed building, has survived the years with very little change, but the interior has undergone substantial modification, resulting in what has been described as a beautiful place of worship. It was not always so. Even after seating was installed throughout the church, there was very little room left for the townspeople – almost all the seats were reserved for the Heritors.
The centre section of the gallery to the south of the church was reserved for the senior Heritor, the Duke of Hamilton and his family and tenants. Even today this area is known as the Duke’s Loft and the window bears the family coat of arms. It has to be said, however, that at this period the Hamilton family, particularly the. Duchess Ann, was very generous to Avendale Church. We still use a pair of silver communion cups which she presented to the church in 1704.
Following the provision of seating, little more was done until 1879 when a complete reconstruction was carried out. The roof had rotted and so the opportunity was taken to heighten the wafts and elevation of the roof, construct a pulpit, provide beating and transfer the entrance from the north to the south of the building. In 1891 the attractive wooden ceiling was formed.
In 1929, the year when the churches, which had separated from the Church of Scotland in the Disruption of 1843 became reunited with the established church, parishes were reallocated. At the same time the Presbytery of Hamilton decided that Avendale should henceforth be known as Avendale Old Parish Church, thus it might seem, acknowledging its place in the history of the town and environs.
The next major work was in 1934 when the Hilsdon two manual and pedal pipe organ was installed and to accommodate the organ chamber, small extensions to the front of the building were added on each side of the bell tower. The bell which calls us to worship today is the only part of St Mary’s which has survived the centuries. It bears the inscription “Cast in Edinburgh in 1750 for Strachaven (sic) Kirk These alterations meant that two of the long windows in the front wall had to be removed. At the same time, the pulpit and the choir areas were redesigned and refurbished. More recently in 1990 the central heating system was updated and in 1991 the choir pews were removed and the platform remodelled resulting in a handsome and spacious chancel.
The main hall of Avendale was built of-grey sandstone in 1906 and, fifty years later, the area between the church and the hall was built up to form the session room, the kitchen, and choir room. 1993 saw the completion of an extension to the halls area on the east side, providing a new vestry, church office, two additional meeting rooms, facilities for the disabled, and a spacious reception area with the main entrance to the church once again facing north to Kirk Street. At the time, the opportunity was taken to give names to the various rooms. The church now seats 700.
In 1996 the clock tower was repaired the clock face replaced and the striking mechanism modified. Now all it takes to start the bell is the flick of a switch. To reduce the strain on the tower. the bell itself has been immobilised and the hammer moves to strike the bell.
During 1997 there was some repair work done to the sanctuary. This was because part of the coving above the pulpit fell – fortunately, not during a service!! The opportunity was taken to rewire and redecorate the sanctuary area. At the same time, the new lighting system and the cross above the pulpit were installed. The pulpit light, in memory of Tom Drysdale, was repositioned above the wooden cross in the Hall of Fellowship. In 1998 the old glass doors leading into the Sanctuary from the Hall of Fellowship were replaced with wrought-iron gates. The Celtic design takes up the theme of the stained glass window next to the gates. Both the gates and the window are remarkable for their simplicity and provide a very fitting entrance into God’s House.
As part of the Millennium Project, undertaken and supported by the congregation, the grounds at the front and side of Avendale were given a facelift. A new wall and railings were erected and the ground round the front and sides of the building was repaved The sign of he Trinity was incorporated into the paving. Floodlighting which illuminates the whole of the front of the building was provided.
The Millennium Project was dedicated at a special service on Sunday 27 May 2001 The Rev A!an Gibson was assisted in this service by the Rev James P Fraser and the Rev R Forbes Walker former ministers of Avendale and Drumclog.
On either side of the door under the rear gallery hang the flags of the Strathaven Branch of the British Legion. These flags were given to Avendale & Drumclog for safe-keeping after the Branch was disbanded and were dedicated at a special service on 26 May 2002. The service was conducted by the Minister Rev Alan Gibson, and was attended by officials of the British Legion and civic leaders.