History of the Parish
of New Cumnock
by Robert Guthrie
The Auld Kirk
The Auld Kirk - The First Parish Church
In 1650 the parish of Cumnock was divided into the two new parishes of Old Cumnock
and New Cumnock. The parish of Old Cumnock was served by the existing Cumnock
Kirk whereas a new parish church was required for New Cumnock. The church was
built on the castle hill, close to the site of Cumnock Castle, the ancient seat of the Barons
of Cumnock. The church may well have been built on the site of a pre-reformation
private chapel that had served the barons of Cumnock from the late13th century.
The church was completed in 1659 and this date is still just visible on the lintel-stane over
the main doorway . Built in the closing years of Cromwell's Commonwealth and on the
eve of the Restoration of the Charles II, it's first minister would witness and survive the
Killing Times of the Covenanting period the late 17th century; another minister would be
on the receiving end of Robert Burns' wit; and its last ministerr would doubtless join with
his parishioners in celebrating the Reform Bill of 1832.
The church would become disfunctional in 1833 and now sits as an empty shell on the
castlehill, seemingly held together only by a mass of ivy and memories from New
Cumnock's past - transforming itself from the first parish church of New Cumnock into
the Auld Kirk of New Cumnock.
Helen J Steven, writing in 1899, in her invaluable 'Cumnocks Old and New'
describes the ruined parish church.
'The little church , erected in 1659 in the parish of New Cumnock, reflects
something of the brief prosperity of the time. It was only a small edifice, but
the ruins which stand to this day shew it to have been built with taste and
discernment and with a knowledge of art in which many of the small parishes
churches built both before and after that period are utterly lacking. It is
semi-cruciform in shape, with windows in the style of the Early English
decorated. The windows are exceedingly fine and quite entire, with delicate
pillars and open carving of mason-work. Unfortunately the architect has
given but a small doorway to the church - at one time there may have been
three doors according to the old custome - and that without the slightest
pretension to architectural beauty. Ivy has rooted itself about the ancient
edifice and is climbing up the walls. One of the beautiful windows is almost
spoiled in outline by the mass of green leaves. A little pruning could be done
to excellent purpose, for both the ivy and the windows are so fine that it
would be an act of vandalism to destroy either, or both'.
MINISTERS OF THE AULD KIRK
Presented to the parish by the Patrick, Earl of Dumfries, the Reverend William Reid was
ordained on the 12th May 1796. A difficult time for the church, with the number of
Seceders increasing with some joining the Reformed Presbyterians despite the lack of any
local minster, some became Burghers travelling to Cumnock, whilst others became Anti-
Burghers travelling the extra mile or so to Auchinleck. On the national stage, the Burghers
and Anti-Burghers were fragmenting further into the two groups Auld Lichts (favour state
connection) and New Lichts (opposed to state connection). In 1820 both branches of the
the New Lichts joined in union to form the United Secession Church.
The Reverend Reid served the parish for 33 years, dying in the manse, and is buried along
with his wife Mary Allan in the Auld Kirkyard, his tombstone embedded in the southern
wall of the auld kirkyard.
1659-1692 : Reverend Hugh Crawford
Son of Patrick Crawford of Auchinames, in Renfrewhsire, a family that were descended
from Margaret Crawford, mother of the William Wallace, Guardian of Scotland. Hugh
Crawford attained his degree at Universtiy of Glasgow in 1648, ten years after the signing
of the National Covenant of Scotland. Describes as 'one of the true band of Ayrshire
Covenanters', he was ejected from his church in 1662 by Acts of Parliament. The Killing
Times would visit the young parish in 1684-1685 recalled in the Covenanting tombstones
at Carsgailoch hill and near Overcairn farm .Crawford returned to his new parish in 1688
and no doubt would rejoice with his lost flock as Presbyterianism was restored in the
Glorious Revolution of 1690 . He died two years later at the age of 64.
1697 - 1701 : Reverend James Gilchrist
Licensed by the Presbytery of Biggar he was ordained on the 31st March 1697, and
stayed for four years before moving onto down the Nith valley to Dunscore in 1701.
1706 - 1757 : Reverend Thomas Hunter
Licensed by the Presbytery of Dunblane on 31st March 1702, he first went to Sanquhar
before moving to the church at New Cumnock being ordained on 19th September 1706.
The Reverend Hunter would receive no stipend for the first four years of his ministry which
at '750 merks Scots was in any case considered quite inadequate renumeration, the
parish being 12 miles by 7, and the number of examinable persons being above 1500'
[NC SFAM]. Despite this unfavourable baptism, the Reverend Hunter would stay and
serve this large upland parish for over 50 years.
In 1733 he would witness First Secession, the first major schism within the Established
Church of Scotland, when Ebenzer Erskine and his followers seceeded from the Church in
opposition to it's stance on the patronage. Erskine firmly believed 'it was the right of the
congregation of Christian people to choose their own minister' , rather than the leading
heritor or land-owner, "What difference does a piece of land make between man and man
in the affairs of Christ's Kingdom" was his battle-cry [J.H.S Burleigh]. By 1747, this schism
would fragment further into factions known as Burghers and Anti-Burghers, based on their
views on taking the Burgess Oath, which applied to burgesses of certain cities. No concern
of the Rev. Thomas Hunter.
Helen J Steven records that the Rev. Hunter 'demitted in 1757 and died on 5th January
1760, in his hundreth year, and fifty-fourth of his ministry'. His tombstone in the Auld
Kirkyard records he died aged 95 years and his first spouse Christian Ker dyed 9th
February 1745 aged 84 years. Did he marry again between 1745 and his death in
1760?. His only son Joseph was later the laird of Polqhuirter and following his father's
death, he acted against the Heritors in an attempt to recover the unpaid four years stipend,
owed to his father for over 50 years !
1758 - 1795 : Reverend James Young
Licensed by the Presbytery of Linlithgow on 10th July 1734, he lived in Falkirk before
being ordained at New Cumnock on 3rd May 1758. Three years later he would witness
the Second Secession from the Established Church, where patronage again was at the
core of the discontent with many leaving the Church, this time under Thomas Gillespie,
and forming their own disestablished Relief Church .
The Reverend Young will be remembered for writing the First Statistical Account of the
parish in 1793, at which time he estimated the population to be about 1200. Of that
number, twelve inhabitants were recorded as Seceeders, but this was a reference to
Covenating families or Cameronians, that stayed outwith the Established Church since the
restoration on Presbyterianism.
The Reverend Young however, will be best remembered as Jamie Goose in Robert Burns
notorious 'Kirk's Alarm' where Steven informs us that he 'did not escape the lash and
caustic wit of the ploughman poet'. The Rev. Young was one of the 'Auld Lichts'
within the Kirk, and Burns had little time for this faction and their Calvinistic attitudes,
revenge is a dish best served in rhyme!.
The Reverend Young had a large family of five sons and eight daughters . Steven relates
the episode when one of his sons, Dr. Young frae Da'hanna came to his father's assistance
when he had fainted in the kirk in a hot summer's day in June 1789. The Reverend Young
died on the 1st August 1795, aged 85 years. His tombstone, erected by Robert Young,
Surgeon, is found against the walls of the Kirk he ministered for nearly forty years.
1796 - 1829 : Reverend William Reid
1829- 1833 : Reverend Robert Craig
Assistant minister in Bonhill, Dunbarton the Reverend Robert Craig was presented to the
parish in 1829 by the Marquis of Bute, patron of the church. He was a very popular
minister and it was soon apparent that the small parish church with 380 seats was
'inadequate for the large numbers who flocked every Sunday to hear him preach.'
Plans to install galleries in the old church and increase the seating to 636 were soon
scuppered and the Marquis of Bute, gave land for the building of a new parish church, with
the foundation stone being laid in 1831. In the same year Steven provides a breakdown of
the preference of the parishioners ' 1752 individuals belonging to the the Established
Church, nominally or in active membership; seceeders of various denominations,
299; and of the Reformed Presbyterians, 117. The average number of communicants
in the parish church was 600, although the number on the communicants' roll was
considerably larger'. The new church was opened in 1833 and the Reverend Craig held
the distinction of being the last minister in the Auld Kirk and the first minister in the new
parish church. (See Martyrs' Kirk)