The Story of Houston & Killellan Kirk
No one knows exactly when Houston got its first place of worship or where it was built but in all probability it was in the 8th century, near Greenhill Farm, Houston. The oldest surviving church building is the ruined Kirk of Kilallan which bears the date of 1635. This ruin is situated in Barochan Cross Road about 4 miles west of the centre of Houston. An evening service in the churchyard there is held annually in July, when old Psalms are sung to tunes well known to the parishioners of the time.
As a result of the Decree of Union which took place in 1771, the Kirk of Kilallan was no longer required and soon became a ruin. Worship then centred around a fairly modest building which was erected on the site of our present Church around 1775. It was envisaged that a new church, big enough to hold the united body, would be built at Houston but, because of the considerable costs involved, in the event only galleries were added to the existing building.
Around 1870, Mrs Ellice of Glengarry was given permission by Paisley Presbytery to build a new church, on the present site, in memory of her young son, Alexander Archibald Spiers of Elderslie, who had died shortly after being elected as MP for West Renfrewshire. By the early 1930's, this building was badly in need of repairs and by this time responsibility for any church repairs fell on the congregation. Fortunately, the Laird came to the rescue and he agreed to carry out a scheme of restoration, improvements and re-decoration in memory of his mother. This work was completed in 1938 and, apart from the installation of two new stained glass windows and the resiting of the organ, the church has remained virtually unchanged up to the present day.
The West Church was built in 1844 at the time of the Disruption when a body of members of Houston Kirk broke away to form a congregation of the newly constituted Free (later to become the United Free) Church. In March 1941, a fire broke out in the loft of the church. This resulted in the complete destruction of the church. However, in 1949, it was agreed that the two congregations would unite on the understanding that worship would be held in Houston and Killellan Kirk and that the rebuilt 'West Church' would provide hall accommodation. As a result, the original part (next to the main street) was reopened in 1953 and an additional hall was added in 1989. The main hall was also refurbished at this time, adding 3 committee rooms and extra storage facilities.
In 2016 an extension was added to the church and it was named The Killellan Halls.
Ministers at Houston West 1843-1949
Alexander Robertson Findlay 1843-1874
John Scott, M.A. 1857-1887
George Lang, M.A. 1887-1932
Steele Henderson Rentoul, B.A. 1932-1933
James Wyllie Girvan 1934-1949
Ministers at Houston & Killellan 1771-
John Monteath (I) MA 1771-1797
John Monteath (II) MA DD 1797-1843
Peter Dale 1843-1856
George Burns MA 1857-1863
Alexander McLaren MA, DD 1863-1890
Daniel Kirkwood MA, BD 1890-1916
George Muir MA, BD 1917-1939
Andrew Herron MA, BD, LLB 1940-1959
George K. M. Mortimer 1960-1978
John M.A. Thomson BD, ThM 1978-88
Georgina M. Baxendale BD 1989-2006
Donald Campbell BD 2007-2016
Gary D. Noonan BA 2018-
The Church Windows
A word should be said about the glass in the kirk, for that is one of its outstanding features.
Beginning at the west end, the three beautiful windows above the effigies were the gift of John and Mary Gardner who lived at Woodend, being intended as a memorial to those who had given their lives in the Great War (their names are engraved on the marble stone in the wall to the right of the pulpit). They are the work of Douglas Strachan (Edinburgh), famous artist in this medium, their subject being our twin saints Fillan and Peter. Moving in a clock-wise direction, the four windows in the north wall and also the very lovely east window behind the pulpit are part of the original building of 1875.
Turning to the south wall we come to the St John window, given in 1880 by the Laird in memory of his great-uncle, General Charles Hagart, CB (1815-79). Next is the St Peter window installed by the congregation in 1975 in Mr Mortimer's time to mark the centenary of the present building. Next is the window dedicated to St Andrew, the gift of Mrs Speirs in memory of her husband Archibald Alexander Speirs (1869-1958) - the Laird of the day. Which brings us to the Sancta Barbara window in the corner. Saint Barbara is the patron saint of those who build churches (hence the little model cradled in her arm) and that was installed by the Laird on the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Church, to commemorate his grandmother, Mrs Ellice, who had been responsible for its building.
So we have come round full circle. If, at this point, we raise our eyes we can catch a glimpse of a most attractive rose window, part of the original design.
The Killallan Bell
Killallan Church was originally founded in the 7th Century by Allanus, a disciple of St Mirren. The prefix “kil-“ means “cell of” hence KILLALLAN. There is no “correct” spelling: this varies from document to document but in all probability “Killallan” is the original spelling. The church is located on what is known as the High Road from Houston to Kilmacolm, approximately 2 miles from Houston.
The old Kirk building as a ruin dating from the 11th Century and lies not far from the original site. It was dedicated to St Fillan. It is recorded as being given to the abbey of Paisley in 1164 by Walter Fitzallan, the son of King Malcolm’s High Steward. The building was much altered in 1635 to suit Presbyterian ways following the Reformation.
With the movement of the population eastward the Presbytery of Paisley in 1760 agreed to merge Killallan with Houston. This union took place in 1771 on the death of the incumbent Minister of Houston. The church of Kllallan was abandoned, but he combined congregation continues to worship once a year in Killallan churchyard.
When the church was closed, the bell was removed and handed over to the heritor, William Fleming, Laird of Barochan, within whose lands the Church Stood. The bell was possible cast in the 12th or 13th Century. Its original inscription recorded the name of St Fillan, to whom the church was dedicated. At the time of the Reformation, the General Assembly of the church of Scotland decided that all references to saints were to be removed from Churches. The bell was accordingly recast in 1618, to remove the name St Fillan.
The inscription on the upper part of the bell in a plain band reads “CAROLUS-HOG-ME-FECIT 1618”.
The Charles Hog who “made me” was probably the son of George Hog, who cast a bell for Closeburn, Dumfriesshire in 1604. The Closeburn bell inscription APVD POTTERRAW, means that the foundry was in or near a street of that name in Edinburgh.
William Fleming of Barochan hung the bell on a tree at Barochan House, where it was rung each day to signal the finishing time for work on the estate.
A crack appeared in the bell and it was recast for a second time in 1844. the inscription was retained, but a new one added on the opposite side:-
“Killallan Bell – David Burgess – Founder – Glasgow – 1844”.
Later owners of Barochan House continued to use the bell until the Second World War when it was decreed that bells were only to be rung in the event of an enemy invasion. The family of the late Mrs Henderson handed it over to Houston & Killellan Kirk in 1998, when Barochan House was being cleared prior to its sale.
The researching of the history of the Killallan Bell, and the work associated with locating the Bell in Houston & Killellan church were carried out by:-
G.M.Brown, A.McGregor, G. Allan, W.D.S.McLay, D.Whittle, F.Wynd & Mrs A Scott.
The bell and plaque were unveiled on 24 November, 2002 by Ronald G. Cameron, Senior Elder.