Maybole Parish Church
A History of the Two Churches
By Bobby Paul
The Parish Church in Cassillis Road was built thirty-four years before that in Coral Glen and so it would seem prudent to begin our history with the elder of the two.
It was twelve years since the death of Robert Burns and three years since Trafalgar and the people of Maybole were ready to begin worshipping in their brand new church in what was then a brand new street on the very fringes of the town, almost in the countryside.
There was no stained glass, no organ, no choir, and no heating. Notwithstanding, it must have seemed a welcome boon after spending two years worshipping in the open air in the old kirkyard, the minister at that time, the Rev. Dr James Wright, having considered its dilapidated predecessor too dangerous even to enter. Probably for this reason it was hastily and cheaply constructed, and, as the heritors and then the Session and congregation were to discover, cheapness is rarely true economy. It has now stood among us for two centuries gaining for itself a nickname viz., “The Big Kirk”, and, for those who have had to defray the cost of repairs, something of a reputation.
At last in 1841, after many appeals from a long-suffering congregation, two stoves were installed. We are told that the worshippers were often distracted during the services by the beadle with his shovel stoking up the fires. In the following year gas lighting was introduced. It was also in this year that the West Kirk was constructed in answer to the call of Dr Chalmers and others for church extension, and also resulting from the generous gift of Sir Charles Fergusson Bt. of Kilkerran.
About this time there was a great increase in the numbers of people of all conditions and classes who were zealous in the pursuit of their religion; so much so that the existing buildings were gradually becoming inadequate to contain them all. Would that Dr Chalmers’ problem were ours today!
Also about this time the vexed question of patronage within the Church of Scotland was coming to a head and in 1844 The Disruption occurred with the subsequent establishment of the Free Church. Many disgruntled worshippers followed their disgruntled ministers and “went out” to found their own church. Maybole was no exception. In this way the new church in the “Glen”, yet in its infancy, found itself surplus to requirements in spite of being designated a “Chapel of Ease.” However as the years moved on things improved and in 1862 the good Sir James, son of the founder, built a manse just to the South of the church and endowed close by “two acres and eleven poles” for the minister’s glebe. The following year a small hall was erected against the South wall. It is worth noting that in 1859 the congregation and Sir James agreed to purchase and erect a bell above the church. It was erected in an attractive little bell-cote surmounted by a stone cross directly above the East entrance.
Meanwhile, in Cassillis Road at the old church progress continued apace. To delineate every repair and replacement that took place would be a mammoth task since scarce a year went by without some part of the building requiring attention. However in 1891 a fine Foster and Andrews organ was installed, although the first organ erected in a Maybole church was in the West. This instrument was replaced in 1920 by a new pipe organ which was vamped by hand. But in 1949 it was converted to electricity. Right at the beginning of the twentieth century the layout and seating arrangement of the West was radically changed, and by the time this was finally accomplished in 1902, three new stained glass windows had been put into the West wall above the pulpit. The central one was erected by A & F Dunlop of the USA in memory of their sister, and two smaller ones on either side in memory of a former elder James Nisbet who had served for more than thirty years.
Coincidentally, it was in 1900 that every window in the old church on the South side was converted to stained glass. They commemorate members, now long gone, whose names however require no explanatory comments – Alexander Jack, John Marshall, and John Gray. The two windows on the West side, now removed for display in the New Church, comprised the War Memorial. They depict Melchizedek the king of Salem presenting Abram with bread and wine on his return from rescuing his nephew Lot. The subject is very appropriate since the famous debate in Maybole between Knox and the Abbot of Crossraguel hinged on the widely held belief that the bread and wine already mentioned were a type of the Mass. Two windows on the East side, also removed and earmarked for the New Church, depict Nehemiah building the wall at Jerusalem after the return from exile in Babylon. They commemorate the Rev David Swan who with his Session and congregation undertook the most radical and ambitious renovation the church had ever seen.
It took place between 1928 and 1930. The seating arrangement was completely changed so that the congregation faced the East where the pulpit was also placed. Before this everyone had faced the pulpit on the south side which was the focal point. The disposition of the stained glass demonstrates this admirably. The original horse-shoe shaped gallery was removed altogether and a smaller gallery built, also facing east. When the old gallery was being dismantled the many shortcomings and botched work of the original builders came to light, which by today’s rules and regulations would constitute criminal negligence. Mr Swan had often expressed apprehension at the manner in which the gallery swayed ominously when the congregation were leaving the church at the end of the services. His decision to get rid of it may well have been providential!
The last major building project at the West was in 1961 when a much larger hall was constructed a few yards to the South of the church itself. It was erected mainly by volunteer labour and occasioned much congratulatory comment by the people of the town. The West Kirk in its architectural design differs markedly from all other ecclesiastical buildings in Maybole. It is a pleasant cruciform shape and, situated on its little knoll, has a somewhat commanding presence. Last, but not least, there is a stone memorial to the fallen in the East wall near the entrance.
Perhaps the greatest difference between worship today and in the 19th century is to be observed in the Sacrament of communion. At the Reformation the old religion was formally abolished by an act of parliament and with it went the observance of Easter, Christmas and, of course, Saints’ days, these being considered facets of false religion and Popish. However these festivals had provided the people with welcome respite from a life of grinding drudgery. With their demise it was essential that an alternative should be found and it was. It was called the “Communion Season.” It began on a Wednesday, the Day of Preparation. Friday was a Fast Day when all those considered worthy to partake of the Lord’s Table received a token, usually a small piece of wood with a number on it. Saturday was devoted to prayer, and the elements were dispensed on the Sabbath. The following day was one of Thanksgiving.
It is well documented that on the Sunday of Communion the highways and byways were choked with hundreds and hundreds of the faithful all wending their way to the Parish Kirk. In the 18th Century and well into the 19th the proceedings took place out of doors, in the case of the church in Maybole, on the rising ground to the North, there being in those days no Barns Terrace, and no railway until about 1856. The records show that in the year 1830 the heritors provided a new Communion “tent,” which was a canvas structure housing a moveable pulpit from which the preachers, usually half a dozen or so, delivered their sermons, each in their turn. Between sermons, worshippers, on production of their tokens, were conducted to tables to receive Communion.
Considering the number of sermons, the length of a 19th century homily, and the vast numbers to be served, there was plenty of time for those who had to wait hours on end to slope off for some “liquid refreshment.” If the reader is at all sceptical, he should consult Robert Burns’ “The Holy Fair”, which is a satirical description of a late 18th century Communion Sunday in Mauchline. These alfresco Communions probably came to an end with the building of the halls in 1883, such proceedings then being rendered impracticable. In Kirkoswald, however, they continued until 1890. It can be safely concluded, therefore, that sometime after the middle of the 19th century the present day style of Communion was instituted.
This is endorsed by the fact that at this time, Lady Fergusson of Kilkerran presented the minister and congregation in the Glen Kirk with a handsome Communion Service of silver cups and flagons. This would suggest that instead of everyone from everywhere in the parish gathering at the parish church, a new order had been inaugurated. Holy Communion was celebrated twice a year in May and November as it still is. On the Sunday preceding it a Preparatory Service took place at which new members were received, usually referred to as “young communicants.” Communion itself was celebrated twice on the Sunday – in the morning and in the afternoon. In the evening there was a service of Thanksgiving. All the elders attending the Communion Services presented a pleasing and fine sight apparelled as they were in morning dress: black tail coat, wing collar and white bow tie. This form of attire which was absolutely de rigueur was abandoned only in very recent times. In the Old Church the first occasion on which women were ordained in the Eldership was in 1979. In order to symbolise the continuity with the Communion Table the bookboards in every pew had white linen runners on them, a practice which continues to the present day.
The innovation of individual glasses was first introduced in November 1949. Prior to this, every worshipper in the church drank from the common cup as the ministers and the elders still do.
Baptism is not much mentioned in great detail in contemporary or historical church documents, which is surprising since it is one of the two Sacraments peculiar to the Church of Scotland. The exception is, of course, The Westminster Confession of Faith where in chapter XXVIII the spiritual benefits which it endows upon the recipient are most eloquently set forth. Infants and indeed adults are eligible for this Sacrament and in one’s lifetime it is to be administered but once. Properly administered, the person has water sprinkled or poured upon him signifying his solemn admission into the visible church. Salvation is not assured because of this ordinance having been administered. Likewise it is not unattainable without it.
It is only in the last 75 years or so that baptisms have regularly been performed in church. The font in the Old Church dating from 1930 and that in the West Church from 1950 bear witness to this. It was not uncommon in a household where, for whatever reasons, the children had not been baptised for the minister when visiting to have the children line up and administer the Sacrament communally, the receptacle being used to hold the water often an ordinary teacup.
After the Reformation, Christmas and Easter were stricken from the calendar in Scotland. Christmas in particular, did not re-emerge as a holy day for well nigh 400 years. Until well after the Second World War it was for most people an ordinary working day. The singing of hymns in church appropriate to the circumstances prevailing upon the birth of Our Lord was a well established practice by the beginning of the twentieth century. But that was about as far as it went. As the century progressed a Christmas party was held for the children of the Sunday School. Every organisation within the church such as the Boys’ Brigade and the Women’s Guild eventually had a party as well. A Christmas tree soon made an appearance. At first confined to the hall, it was eventually admitted to the church itself.
From the Christian point of view celebrations within the church emerged piecemeal-fashion into what we know today as Christmas, with a watchnight service on Christmas Eve and a service of praise on the day itself regardless of whatever day of the week it happens to fall upon. A nativity play performed by the children of the Sunday School, although nowadays almost obligatory, is really of fairly recent origin.
It is often said that an elder’s duties are threefold – to attend meetings of the Session, to look after his or her district, and to assist in distributing the bread and wine on Communion Sunday. However, having said that, above all else it is incumbent upon the elder to set an example to others. There is no better way of doing this than by elders being assiduous in their attendance at church. In visiting they can encourage the parents to send their children to Sunday School, and by becoming the parishioners’ friend, gradually prevail upon the reluctant attender to go to church more often and perhaps thereby induce him to become part of the life of the church. The proverbial saying “a friend in need is a friend indeed” is never more true than when visiting the sick and infirm.
An elder is not just an elder in church or when visiting those in his district. He is an elder no matter where he is and regardless of to whom he happens to be speaking or dealing with. In order to achieve all this there is one paramount duty he must not neglect – he must pray. The days when an elder could summon, or cause to be summoned, a parishioner before the Session to be censured for some misdemeanour are long gone. Nowadays he might instead offer friendship and affection, even as Our Lord did.
These few words more or less sum up what an elder’s duties are and what is expected of him or her. These duties have really not changed in the four and a half centuries since the foundation of the Church of Scotland to the present day.
The Boys’ Brigade
The Boys’ Brigade was founded in 1883 by William Smith of Thurso. It was the very first of the uniformed organisations for young people to be established. The new organisation’s badge was an anchor bearing the motto “Sure and Steadfast.” This was taken from the Authorised Version of the Bible, from the Epistle to the Hebrews, Chapter 6, verse 19. “Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.” The organisation’s aim was quite clear from the beginning:-
“The advancement of Christ’s Kingdom among Boys and the promotion of habits of Reverence, Discipline, Self Respect, and all that tends towards a true Christian Manliness.”
(The word “Obedience” was added some ten years later.)
Soon the well known uniform came into vogue – the pill-box, belt and haversack, while the officers opted for the Glengarry as their headgear.
The exact date of the inception of the Maybole Company is not clear but they were certainly going strong in 1891. In the June issue of the West Parish Monthly letter for that year the Rev Roderick Lawson has this to say:- “The Boys’ Brigade have now begun their meetings, and I expect both Sergeant Connelly and Private Hodgson to be present at one of our musters this summer, to put the lads through a little drill. Meanwhile, Mr Templeton, with Sergeants Graham and Macdonald, are getting the recruits into order. Every boy who makes a fair number of attendances will receive a cap at the end of the season.”
From the above letter I think it is safe to assume that the Maybole company of the B.B. Saw the light of day in 1891 or perhaps a little before that date. Also it might be assumed that one or more of the gentlemen mentioned held the captaincy of the company and quite possibly did so well into the 20th century. In more recent times the captaincy has been held by:-
Mr Quentin Wilson
Mr Alexander Fielding
Mr James Pringle
Mr William Boyce
Like all organisations changes have taken place over the years. The Life Boys were absorbed by the B.B. and became their Junior Section. In the recent past the pill-box was replace by the Glengarry, just like the officers. It is not generally known that the B.B. has a special handshake after the fashion of the Freemasons.
Every company has different groups for different ages.
Age Group Name
6 – 9 years The Anchor Boys
8 – 12 years Junior Section
11 – 16 years Company Section
15 – 18 years Seniors
In the early days the company’s activities seem to have been centred in the West Parish Church. However, later on these seem to have alternated between the West and the Old Church. The company has its colours, which were the gift of the Women’s Guild of both churches.
Publication of Banns
The public declaration of an intended marriage, made on three successive Sundays, in the parish churches of the betrothed was, until fairly recently, the accepted mode of giving anyone the opportunity to raise an objection to any proposed union. To fail to do so for whatever reason constituted a criminal offence. The late Mrs Agnes Paul recounted that one Sunday morning in the parish kirk the Rev. David Swan omitted to publish the banns of a forthcoming marriage. On entering the vestry after the service, he remembered his omission and hastily summoned the beadle Mr William Colvin, who convened the dispersing congregation by ringing the hand bell from the steps leading to Cassillis Road. And there from the top step with his flock assembled on the public highway, Mr Swan published the banns. Thus the day was saved and perhaps a unique event had taken place in the church in Maybole.
Mrs Grace Kidd
Mrs Kidd recalls her mother telling her about the planting of the trees which grace the grounds of the West Parish Church on the left side of the drive as you go up to the manse. Each tree was planted every time a young man in the congregation left to enlist in the army to serve on the continent of Europe in the First World War. At first they went as volunteers but as the full horror of that infamous conflict was realised, conscription was resorted to. As these fine trees, some oak, some sycamores, matured they began to produce seed which found its way on to the sloping ground below in Coral Glen, thus providing the natural woodland we all know so well and are inclined to take for granted.
Walls of Jericho
Gordon Reid, a former minister of Maybole Old, was leading the Sunday School through the story of Joshua bringing down the walls of Jericho. This involved the children in marching up and down the aisles making a great deal of noise with drums and other instruments. Next day it was discovered that a large section of the ceiling had fallen. It was treated as a great joke but the consequences could have been grave had the accident happened as the children were marching.
A Cleaner for the Minister
The Reverend Colin Renwick was speaking to the children about needing help with cleaning up in the manse. He had led the children, as he thought, to the point where they could have been expected to respond to the question “What do I need?” with answers such as brushes or vacuum cleaners. His talk dissolved in laughter when Colin Banyard called out “A wife!”