POTTED HISTORY No 3: St Michael’s Church
The Founding of the Church
By 1904 pressure was building for the foundation of an episcopal church in Elie. In that year Mr. David Marwick, a solicitor from Edinburgh and owner of the Marine Hotel in Elie, proposed that episcopal services be held in Earlsferry Town Hall. The Rector of St John’s, Pittenweem, (to which church people from Elie had been having to travel for episcopal services), was not pleased as a disputatious correspondence in the East Fife Record records. However, Mr. Marwick prevailed; and then from the start of holding of services in Earlsferry Town Hall, it was only a matter of weeks before plans were being made for the provision of a church building.
Strenuous efforts were made to raise the necessary money, and by late 1904 the supporters were ready to go ahead. One of those now commemorated as a founder, Mrs. Caroline Outhwaite of Craigforth, made a site available. Speirs and Co. of Glasgow was one of several firms supplying prefabricated iron buildings of which many were erected, including two in St Andrews – one for All Saints Episcopal Church and one for St James Roman Catholic Church; most have now disappeared but St Michael’s is one of the survivors still in use for worship. The foundation stone was laid on 9 February 1905, appropriately by Mrs. Outhwaite, the first services were conducted less than a month later, on 4 March 1905, and the church was formally dedicated on 4 July 1905. The local press was much impressed and singled out the ‘sixteen incandescent gas lights’ for particular praise.
There was still some debt; a very successful two day ‘Fancy Fair and Bazaar’ was held in the garden of Craigforth on 28 and 29 August 1905 and the debt was soon cleared.
The Years 1905 – 1924
St Michael’s continued to serve members of the Scottish Episcopal Church from this time on. There were from the beginning strong ties between members of the church and with both the Golf House Club and the Thistle Club. A work party of ladies was indefatigable in holding large annual sales of work which brought in regular much needed money. When the Great War came there was great patriotic feeling and they turned some of their energies to knitting comforts for the troops. Five members of the congregation lost their lives in the war, including James Hassard Short who was a nephew of Mrs. Outhwaite.
The new owners at first continued leasing the land to the church but in 1923 intimated that they would like to terminate the lease in November 1924. Canon Christopher Bowstead who owned St Gabriel’s Bield, offered it as a new site for St Michael’s. While negotiations were going on, he suddenly died in March 1924, and bequeathed the site for the new church. The work of dismantling and re-erecting the church took about two months and in December 1924 the East Fife Observer carried a report of the reopening of the church on its new site.
The years 1924 – 1953
A cataclysmic event took place on the Saturday night of 29 November 1953, recorded in the East Fife Record and Observer. Damp wood had been left by the boiler to dry out, and it ignited. By the generosity of the Paris Church services were held in the Wood Memorial Hall until the church was restored; it was reusable by 31 October 1954. One of the casualties of the fire had been the original pipe organ. A small organ was installed which was used until the acquisition of the present very fine chamber organ in 1979. Other items destroyed in the fire were church soft furnishings and hymn books. By the efforts of the congregation and the generosity of many donors, a new organ was eventually acquired, and gifts of linen and hymn books and other items followed in due course, most of which are among the treasures of the church still in use.
From 1953 – 2005
From the time of its foundation until 1955 St Michaels and St John’s had been independent of each other, and served by separate priests. In that year the Revd. Alexander Cumming was instituted to serve both churches, though constitutionally they remained quite separate charges. However, following a vacancy in 1978 services and pastoral care were provided from St Andrews, but this arrangement was short-lived, and since 1983 the two churches have been united under one priest in charge.
In 2005 St Michael’s celebrated the centenary of its foundation. This was commemorated in various ways. On 18 January 1905 there had been a great fund-raising concert in Earlsferry Town Hall. This was so fully reported in the East Fife Record that in January 2005, exactly one hundred years later, the programme was recreated and a concert given before a most appreciative audience. The climax came In September 2005 when there were services of thanksgiving, and a splendid flower festival, interpreting ‘Angels from the Realms of Glory’ .