History of the Parish
of New Cumnock
by Robert Guthrie
The Martyrs' Kirk
The Reverend Robert Craig the last minister of the 'Auld Kirk' became the first minister of the
new parish church. It was built on landed gifted by the Marquis of Bute, the patron of the
church, a few hundred yards along the main thoroughfare from the Auld Kirk on the Castlehill.
The foundation stone was laid in 1831 and Helen J Steven in her classic 'Cumnocks Old and
New' picks up the story.
' The building is seated for 1000 persons and is well and substantially built, with tall,
latticed, ecclesiastical windows, and handsome clock tower. The clock in the tower is of
later date, having been presented in 1872 by W.Alison Cuninghame, Esq., of Logan.
The dial is 3'6" square, and the pendulum 14 feet in length. It was erected at a cost of
hundred guineas. The interior of the church is light and pleasing, well and comfortably
seated. The pulpit is of the old three-decker style, with sounding board and precentor's
desk. The singing, now-a-days, is led by a harmonium. The acoustics of the church are
perfect. The front seats of the gallery are held by the heritos of the parish. The principal
heritors are the Marquis of Bute, Lady Stuart Menteth, Sir Reginald Cathcart (of
Carleton, Bart.), the Hon. Geoffrey Browne Guthrie, Mrs. Thomas Carmichael, and Mr.
William Hyslop of the Bank. Unfortunately only Lady Stuart Menteth and Mr. Hyslop
are resident heritors, but they both take a deep and active interest in the church and
parish. The church cost £2000, which represented more , sixty years ago, than the same
sum at the present value of money. It was opened on the 26th May 1883, when Mr.
Craig preached with great acceptance to a large congregation.'
George Sanderson in 'New Cumnock Far and Away' provides some local knowledge
and identifies David Reid of Barshare as the main contractor and explains that he was
under orders from the heritors to use local materials, the stone was quarried in New
Cumnock and the cement was prepared from the best available lime from Polquhirter and
Benston. How fitting that the lime that had been used so successfully to improve the lands
of this rural community would now bind the fabric of their new church .
This new parish church of New
Cumnock was the first documented
work of architect James Ingram, though
some commentators cannot resist
drawing comparisons with nearby
Mauchline Parish Church erected
shortly before in 1829. Ingram's later
works included Fullarton Parish
Church, Irvine (1837) and Winton
Place Church, Kilmarnock (1860). His
most noted work is probaly the Palace
Theatre in Kilmarnock (1862-63).
Mauchline Parish Church
The parish church remains the most striking building
in the town and little wonder that it featured
regularly in picture postcards of New Cumnock.
MINISTERS OF THE MARTYRS KIRK
1833-1836 : Reverend Robert Craig
The Reverend Robert Craig continued as parish minsiter in the new church after having
spent his first few years in the Auld Kirk. In a letter dated August 22nd, 1833 from the
Manse of New Cumnock he writes of his new church 'It is commodious and handsome,
and our congregation has nearly doubled in consequence of its accommodation. I
trust the change which it has wrought on the outward appearance of the people - it
has by the force of congruity vastly improved their dress - will only be a sign of
inward renovation in many, accomplished by the sight of the glorious temple into
which the Gospel is intended to call men.' However, the parish or his new building
would not contain him for much longer. The Marquis of Bute enticed him away in 1836
presenting him to the people of Rothesay, on the Island of Bute.
1836-1843 : Reverend Matthew Kirkland
The Reverend Matthew Kirkland was presented to the parish by the Marquis of Bute, in
1836 and quickly gained the affection of his parishioners. He was charged with compiling
the New Statistical Account of the parish in 1838, beginning with unispiring observation
'The history of the parish possesses but little public interest', although he did
concede 'that many of the inhabitants suffered for their attachment to Presbyterian
prinicples in the reign of Charles II'. Five years later and the Reverend Kirkland left
his own mark on the ecclesiastical history of the parish in the Disruption year of 1843.
He was one of 450 ministers to attend the First General Assembly of the Free Church of
Scotland, in Edinburgh in 1843, signing the Deed of Demission, and joined the Free
Secession. As Steven bluntly records 'He was declared no longer the a minister of
the Church of Scotland on the 24th May, 1843'. His story is continued under the story
of the Free Church in New Cumnock.
1843-1894 : Reverend Robert Murray
The Reverend Robert Elliot Murray, born in Eddleton, Peebleshire in 1817 was ordained
minister in August, 1843. His elder brother the Reverend James Murray was minister at
Old Cumnock . Both men found themselves in the position of preaching to 'pews almost
empty' such was the impact of the Disruption in the parishes of the Cumnock Old and
New . The brothers were both literary men, with James the elder the more prolific, and
Robert 'issued a dainty volume of verse' entitled "The Dayspring from on High and
other Poems" .
'Thoughts are like clouds - as sunshine on the hills,
They come and go; though we court their presence
E'er so much, they will not stay to bless us'
The young minister persevered and with some style for he matched the Reverend Thomas
Young's fifty-one years of active service. Many of his lost sheep would eventually return
to the fold with almost 500 names on the communion roll by 1880. A year later in 1881
Census Records, the 62 year-old minister is found in the Castle Manse with his
housekeeper Christina Thomson and domestic servant Sarah Hart. He passed away on
26th November 1894, aged 77 years. His tombstone can be found embedded in the
south wall of the Auld Kirkyard. A memorial tablet in the Martyrs Kirk reminds the
onlooker of 'An earnest scholar, a faithful pastor, a loving and gentle minister'.
1894-1920 : Reverend James Millar
To be completed......