The New Cumnock Mural , at the Mary Morrison Memorial Garden
History of the Parish
of New Cumnock
by Robert Guthrie
The Free Church
1843-1846 : Reverend Matthew Kirkland

The Reverend Matthew Kirkland, minister
of the parish of New Cumnock, travelled to
Edinburgh that day to sign the Disruption
document. 'He was declared no longer a
minister of the Church of Scotland on
24th of May, 1843. Mr Kirkland first
preached from the Castle Inn, though
soon he had a little church, from the
pulpit of which he spoke week by week
to a devoted people'.
United Free Church , New Cumnock
Rev. Matthew Kirkland, memorial stone Arthur Memorial Church, New Cumnock
The Free Church of Scotland
Free Church and Manse on Castlehill,  New Cumnock
First Secession 1733 and Second Secession 1761
The Church of Scotland, or the Established Church had witnessed a number of divisions
within its ranks since the Restoration of Presbyterianism in 1690. At the core of these schisms
were the different views held within the Church on the omnipresent hot-potato of patronage,
the right of the congregation to reject candidates presented to it by the patron of their church.
This right could be traced back to the days of the Reformation and the First Book of
Discipline of 1560-1561. ' It appertaineth to the people, and to every several
congregation to elect their Minister. For altogether this it to be avoided, that any man
be violently intruded or thrust in upon any congregation'
.[Donaldson]. The 18th century
saw those opposed to civil interference in this fundamental right of the church to leave the
main-stream of the Established Church in the First Secession of 1733, under Ebenzer Erskine
and then in the Second Secession of 1761 under Thomas Gillespie.

The Disruption 1843
As the new century dawned so too did the age of Evangelicalism, seen as a new threat to the
Moderates within the Established Church, leading to10 years of conflict between these two
factions. The Evangelical party emerged victorious and in 1834 the General Assembly, the
governing body of the Church, passed the 'Veto Act', reasserting the fundamental right of a
congregation to reject the presentation of the patron. However, victory was short-lived and
before the end of the decade private patrons had successfully challenged the veto through the
civil courts. Further challenges followed, ultimately resulting in 1842 to the Assembly clearly
stating their position on civil encroachment to the Government in the form of the Claim,
Declaration and Protest anent the Encroachments of the Court of Session,
known simply
as the Claim of Right. However, the Government was resolute and dismissed this claim,
perhaps resigned to accepting the aftermath of any minor secession that may follow. The
secession was anything but minor with over 400 ministers eventually leaving the Established
Church whilst many of the 750 ministers that remained continued to sympathise with the views
of their departed brethern. The greatest schism the Established Church had witnessed became
known as The Disruption and the seceeders formed their own church, the Church of
Scotland Free, a church free from civil interference. The Reverend Thomas Chalmers was
moderator of the first General Assembly of the Free Church at Canonmills, Edinburgh in 1843
and here 451 ministers signed the Deed of Demission, or the Disruption Document, whereby
'the signatories relinquished all the emoluents and privileges they had enjoyed within
the Establishment'
Castle Inn, New Cumnock
The strategy of the Free Church was to
recreate a mirror image of the Established
Church. 'In every parish in the country a
Free Church should stand over against
the old parish church, manse over against
manse, Free Church school over against
the parochial school over which the
Established Church retained control.'
[J.H.S.Burleigh]. New Cumnock more than
met these aspirations. The Free Church , the
manse and the school were all erected on the
castlehill, the historical heart of the parish, on
the site of Cumnock Castle and a stone's
throw from the ruins of the Auld Kirk, the
first parish church of New Cumnock.
Top Right : The Free Church, Manse and School buildings on
the Castlehill, New Cumnock, looking from the Nith Bridge .
Free Church, Manse and School
Ordnance Survey
DIED 1846
With the surname of Kirkland (church-land) and a birth-placeof Carmunnock (caer mynaich
'fort of the monk') it seems that Matthew Kirkland was destined for a life in the church. Whether
he ever imagined of being ordained as the parish minister in the rural setting of New Cumnock
and being a signatory of the Disruption Document is another matter. 'For the sake of his
convictions he left a comfortable manse and the security of the Established Church, and
was ready to face the world , not counting the cost. But the cost was less than doubtless
he feared, for the people, almost in abody, went with him, and were ready to uphold his
hands and the hands of the leaders in this great movement in the religious life of the
[H.J.Steven]. All of his parishioners may not have fully understood, or even agreed
with, the schism but they were clear in their desire to have the Rev. Kirkland as their minister,
and they vacated the parish church in large numbers to join him in his Free Church on castle-hill.
Sadly, minister and flock would share only a few brief years, for the Reverend Kirkland passed
away in 1846. A fine memorial stone stands in the grounds of the Arthur Memorial Church in
memory not only to the Rev. Matthew Kirkland but also to another chapter in New Cumnock's
ecclesiastical history and to the Disruption of 1843 (and not 1845 as inscribed!)
1846-1849 : Reverend Gilbert Johnstone
Helen J Steven writing in 1899 records 'Mr. Johnson was called from Mauchline and
left New Cumnock to go to Govan and latterly became a minister of the Established
.George Sanderson names him as Reverend Gilbert Johnstone.
1849-1886 : Reverend George Anderson
1887-1936 : Reverend William Scott
The Reverend George Anderson would stay considerably longer and would witness some
significant changes in the local community as well as changes in the Free Church of Scotland.

He would see the parish population increase as new blood came into the community in search
of work in the developing New Cumnock coalfields. The bulging miners' rows of Connel
Park, Craigbank and Burnfoot were all a fair distance from the Castlehill and the Rev.
Anderson was instrumental in having a small iron Free Church erected at Craigbank in 1873.
( See Bank Free Church).

Some three years later the Reformed Presbyterian Church, or Cameronian Church had come
to recognize and accept that they had much in common with the Free Church of Scotland,
and all but a few die-hards joined this church. The New Cumnock Cameronians followed the
national trend and joined the Free Church but continued to worship in their church at Afton
Bridgend. (See Reformed Presbyterian Church)

The Reverend Anderson does not appear in the 1881 Census Records but his daughters
Katie and Jessie (both New Cumnock born) and his brother Reverend William Anderson are
found in the Free Church Manse. He retired in 1886 and died three years later some fifty
years after his ordination as the minister of the Free Church of New Cumnock.
The Reverend William Scott arrived as a young man from Cupar, Fife and was ordained
as the minister of the Free Church in 1887. 'Scott was all for reconciliation with the
established parish church and pressed for joint services and a combined approach
to the people's welfare'
[George Sanderson]. His advances were treated with some
suspicion from the parish kirk, which was enjoying some reverse in fortune and an
increase in numbers. On the national stage the Free Church experienced a schism with the
formation of the Free Presbyterians Church in 1892. However, with the coming of the
new century came reunion and the creation of the United Free Church.
The United Free Church of Scotland
In 1847, the United Presbyterian Church was formed through the union of the United
Secession Church and the Relief Church both of which had their origins in the First and
Second Secessions of the 18th century, although a considerable number elected to stay
outside this union and continue as the Original Secession Church. Almost 30 years later the
Reformed Presbyterians joined with the Free Church, an early signal of common ground
between disestablished churches. The Free Church celebrated the Jubilee of Disruption in
1893 and the United Presbyterian followed shortly with their Jubilee in 1897. The younger
generation in both these churches were influential in demanding change, no more so than in
the act of public worship, with the sound of music and hymns being heard under the same
roof as the metrical psalms.

The time was ripe for union and in October 1900, 'the United Free Church then formed
the gathered into one great river the streams of dissatisfaction that had since the
Revolution Settlement at various times and for various reasons flowed out the Church
by law established
' [J.H.S. Burleigh]

Postcard showing the church as the United Free Church.
The impact of the union of 1900 on the Free Church at New Cumnock appears to have
been minimal with only a change of name required. The church on the castlehill was now
the United Free Church, and the Reverend Scott's manse would become the United Free
Church Manse. However, the church building would last only for a few more years and
was dismantled in 1911 to make for the elegant Arthur Memorial United Free Church .

Sarah McKnight : Regular Attendance

The first session of the United Free Church in 1901and Sarah McKnight's
regular attendance is acknowledged . But can you name the Superintendent?
Good attendance was clearly a family trait, with Isa McKnight being awarded
at Cumnock Public School in 1908-09.