History of the Parish
of New Cumnock
by Robert Guthrie
The changing face of the church on the castlehill. The small white original Free
Church built in 1845 and the Arthur Memorial United Free Church built in 1913.
Mr. William Arthur of Wellhill
'The Arthur Trust'
'The memory of William Arthur of Wellhill, and afterward of Arthur's Seat, Pathhead, will ever be
held in grateful remembrance in New Cumnock. Mr. Arthur was born at Wellhill in 1810. On the
retiral of his father he suceeded to the tenancy of his farm, one of considerable extent on the estate of
the Marquess of Bute, and that he worked sucessfully and well for the greater part of his lifetime. As
the burden of years increased, he gave up the cares of business and went to live in Pathhead, where
he died in 1894. Always careful in money matters, he was yet generous to a degree as his last will
and testament abundantly proved. In a very signal way he gave effect to a divine injunction, and
"remembered the poor and needy." His estate amounted to nearly £10,000. Of this sum he desired
that £1000 be invested on behalf of poor people. After payment of certain legacies three-fifths of the
residue he desired to be devoted to a building fund for the Castle Free Church, and the remaining
two-fifths to the furtherance of any object which might meet with the approval of the Trustees. From
the interest of the £1000 referred to, forty-four of the deserving poor receive each a half-sovereign
at the Whitsunday and Martinmas terms'. Helen J Steven 'The Cumnocks Old and New'
The Arthur Family
The Arthur family tombstone is found in the Auld Kirkyard,
appropriately situated between the ruins of the Auld Kirk
and the Arthur Memorial Church. Here rests David Arthur
of Wellhill and his wife Jane Findlay, their infant son James,
their son John Findlay Arthur, and their son William Arthur
and his wife Elizabeth Houston.
John Findlay Arthur Esq., M.D., born in New Cumnock
in 1807 was Surgeon Major in His Majesty's Indian Army.
A batchelor he lived in Lochside House where we find him
in the 1881 Census Records, aged 74 with his servants
Grace Neilson (Wigton) and Jessie Swift (Australia). He
died in 1886.
William Arthur born in New Cumnock in1810,
succeeded his father in Wellhill, where he lived with his wife
Elizabeth Houston born in New Cumnock in 1827 and her
80 year old mother Mary Houston, born in Thiskin, Bute.
Alexander Arthur, born in New Cumnock in 1817 also appears in the 1881 Census Records,
living at Benston Farm with his wife Elspeth Arthur, born New Cumnock 1814. Here too lived
their son Gilbert Johnston Arthur born in New Cumnock in 1848, named after Gilbert Johnstone
the minister of the Free Church at that time. Their son Alexander Arthur and granddaughters
Margaret Baird Taylor and Margaret Ellen Harper Arthur made up the other family members that
lived at Benston in 1881.
'Our Heroes & Gentlemen'
1914-1918 : M.Breckenridge, D.Brown, A. Buchanan,
M. Craig, W.Craig, W.Dowie, J.Galston, J.Irvine, J.Lugan,
G. McDonald, W. McDonald, H.McDonald, J.Park, J.Purdie,
E.Smith, A. Sturrock, D.Turnbull, W.Turnbull, W.G.Tweedie
1939-1945 :W.Turnbull, J.Calderwood, J.Rorrison, A.Rush
MINISTERS OF THE ARTHUR MEMORIAL CHURCH
1913 - 1936 : Reverend William Scott
The Reverend Scott had been minister on the castlehill for over 25 years when the new church was
erected, a joyful time for him and his congregation. A year later their lives would be turned upside-
down with the outbreak of the Great War. By the end of the War, nineteen young men of the
church had lost their lives. Their names are solemnly listed on the elegant Celtic cross that stands in
the grounds of the church. Another four names would join their number after World War II.
Completed in 1913 the Arthur Memorial Church is a fitting
tribute indeed to the memory of William Arthur of Wellhill.
The architect was W Beddoes Rees from Cardiff and his
work on the caslte-hill has been described as 'oddly alien
in its robust free-style detailing'. It is unique, for of all the
churches in New Cumnock it is the only one with a steeple.
Between the World Wars, the Church would bring a further sense of unity to the country with the
Union of 1929 and the coming together of the Established Church and United Free Church. 'The
driving force behind the Union movement was the growing sense shared by forward-
looking people of the magnitude and urgency of the task confronting the Christian Church
generally, and, in Scotland particularly the two great Presbyterian Churches which
between them embraced the bulk of the professing Christian population.' [J.H.S. Burleigh]
The Reverend Scott certainly fell into the category of forward-looking for long had he desired to
work more closely with the Established congregation, 'just along the road in the parish church'.
Seven years later, in 1936, the Reverend Scott retired after nearly fifty eventful years on the
castlehill. Locally he had witnessed the Arthur Memorial Church rise from the site of the original
free church and nationally he had seen the creation of the United Free Church and finally that
church returning to the fold of the Established Church. He left the Arthur Memorial Church in a
relatively strong position within the community, however the closer contacts that he had craved
for so long would ultimately contribute to these numbers falling away over the next half-century.
The Reverend Andrew Lowrie, as George Sanderson explains 'had a hard act to follow' and the
church fell into 'a slow but terminal decline'. In the Third Statistical Account of Scotland, Ayrshire
(1951) it is described as 'still an active church, but its membership has declined to 240 and
its attendance to 30'. [J. Strawhorn & W. Boyd]. By the 1970's the congregation had moved
to the Martyrs' Kirk, and the Arthur Memorial Church functions only as a memorial.
My only direct contact with this fine church was as a Lifeboy in the
Boys' Brigade for a few years in the late1960's. The Company met
in the Church Hall, on the site of the old Free Church School.
A new lease of life is on the horizon for the church. It will be
used as a local refuge which surely would meet with the
approval of the William Arthur of Wellhill. Hopefully this new
role for the church will secure the future of this special
building into and beyond its centenary year of 2013.