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Kilsyth, A Parish History
Chapter XXII


The Methodists—Succession of Preachers—New Church—The Congregationalists — Clerical Succession — The Roman Catholic Church—Canon Murphy—Rev. Alex. Speirs— Loch win noch—Dr. Watson, Dundee—Dr. Graham,'Kilbarchan —The Gorbals—“A Congregation without a Church”—Inducted to Kilsyth — Personal Appearance — Rev. Robert Hope Brown—Author of “Life of Allan Cunningham ”—Ordained to St. Andrew’s Parish, Dundee—Inducted to Kilsyth—“Hedid it unto me”—Professor Jeffray—Appointed to Anatomy Chair—Rev. R. H. Stevenson, D.D.—Rob Roy—Pulpit Power —Overwork—Moderator—Dr. Archibald Scott.

The Relief Church, now the United Presbyterian Church, and the Free Church were direct offshoots from the parish church. These two denominations are representatives of two great crises in the history of the Church of Scotland. The other churches in the town of Kilsyth are the Methodist, the Congregational, and the Roman Catholic. These, again, have no connection with the National Church, but have histories that are peculiar to themselves.

A Methodist congregation was first formed in Kilsyth by a few brethren who gathered together for worship in the Old Market Street Hall. In 1847, they erected a chapel at the end of Church Street on the site now occupied by their present building. The church was small and dingy, and for a time it seemed as if the life of the little struggling congregation would come to an end; At first it was incorporated with Airdrie Circuit. In 1869, however, it was joined to the Wallacetown district. A minister from these places visited the congregation every two or three weeks. Kilsyth, however, having always had a large number of laymen who could conduct public Christian services with propriety, to these the ministry of the chapel was chiefly left. Methodism has never taken any real grip of the Scottish people; but when, in 1871, Kilsyth received a regular ministry and was united to a circuit of which Kirkintilloch and Cumbernauld were parts, better days seemed in store for the little community. The Rev. Samuel Millett was the first minister appointed to the charge. His successors were, Rev. George Hack, 1872-74; Rev. T. A. Seed, 1875-77; Rev. George Parker, 1878-79; Rev. Thomas Lawson, 1880-82; Rev. William S. Tomlinson, 1883-84; Rev. William Milligan, 1885-86; Rev. William Earl, 1887-89; Rev. William Talbot. Mr. Lawson had spent a large part of his life in the West Indies and had seen much of the world. During his kindly and genial ministry the Methodist Church reached the height of its prosperity. Since he left there has been a gradual decline. It was during the ministry of the Rev. William Tomlinson the old chapel was destroyed and the new chapel built. The foundation stone was laid by Sir James King, afterwards Lord Provost of Glasgow. The Rev. William Earl was elected a member of the Burgh School Board. The present minister is the Rev. William Johnston.

Our Scottish Presbyterianism is often ludicrously “splitty.” The Congregational Church was the result of a division in the Relief Church, on the occasion of the election of the Rev. Robert Anderson, assistant and successor to his father. The malcontent .having wished to start another Relief Church, they were discouraged by the presbytery of the denomination. In the circumstances they built their present chapel and connected themselves with Scottish. Congregationalism. The first pastor was the Rev. J. A. Anderson, ordained in 1858. He died after a brief but promising career. His successor was the Rev. J. C. Jago, ordained in March, 1865, who also died, after a short pastorate, in September, 1869. The third minister was the Rev. David Gardner, ordained January, 1870, who was translated to Parkhead Congregational Church, Glasgow, in the spring of 1873. The fourth minister was the Rev. George Rutherford. He was ordained to the charge, August, 1873. He was a man of extraordinary pastoral activity. All his attempts, however, to build up his congregation having failed, he resigned June, 1885. Mr. Rutherford went to Australia, where he died. Mr. Rutherford was succeeded by the Rev. J. C. Hodge. He was translated to Kilsyth from Kirkwall, and inducted November, 1885. Mr. Noble, the present minister, was inducted this year.

The working of the coal and ironstone mines having caused a great demand for labour about the middle of this century, there began to flock into the parish and neighbourhood large numbers of Irish. In 1862, the numbers were so considerable that Father Gillan of Campsie instituted a Roman Catholic Mission in Arnot’s Hall, Charles Street. The influx of Irish continuing to increase with the development of the staple trade of the parish, a chapel and parsonage were built at a cost of £2000. The chapel was opened for public worship on St. Patrick’s Day, 1867. Since that time there has been a succession of five priests. The first was the Rev. John Galvin, from Bathgate. The second, the Rev. Mr. Breck, from Jedburgh. The third, the Rev. Canon John Murphy, from Dundee. The fourth, the Rev. John Leie, from Lasswade. The fifth, and present incumbent, is the Rev. Francis James Turner. The ministry of Canon Murphy has been the longest and most faithful. The Catholic population of the parish and immediate district beyond its boundaries is about 1500, and amongst these for seventeen years he worked with great assiduity. His influence increased with the length of his incumbency* and when he was translated to West Calder he received from the people of the parish and district a valuable testimonial. With the exception of the Rev. F. J. Turner, all the other priests have been Irishmen.

Now and again—and it is pleasant to note that the intervals are continually growing longer and longer—there are unseemly exhibitions of ecclesiastical rancour. Upon the whole, however, in a limited field the churches work with as little attrition as will be found in any other -similarly constituted parish in Scotland. There are growing manifestations of a kindlier interest in each other’s prosperity, and of that love to the brethren which is the witness that the believer has passed from death unto life.

To return to the parochial ministerial succession. The Rev. Alexander Speirs, who succeeded the Rev. Alexander Hill, was a native of Lochwinnoch in Renfrewshire. He was one of a goodly number of students of mark who found their way from the parish school of that village to the university, and who took good positions in the ministry of the Church of Scotland, as well as in other walks of life. The late Dr. Archibald Watson, at one time minister of St Matthew’s parish, Glasgow, and finally of the East Church, Dundee who, the year before he died—1880—was raised to the Moderatorship of the General Assembly, was a native of this little country village. Dr. Robert Graham who had since 1847 been minister of the parish of Kilbarchan, in Renfrewshire, a distinguished student and preacher, is also a native. Others might be mentioned, but these are sufficient to illustrate the intimate connection which subsisted in these past days between the university and the old parish school.

Mr. Speirs was born in 1826, and was one of a numerous family. Two of his brothers rose to some eminence. One became a lawyer, and the other a medical practitioner. Alexander, after leaving school, entered the University of Glasgow in 1846. He secured both in Arts and Divinity, the character of a painstaking and fairly successful student. He received licence from the Presbytery of Glasgow in 1853. Shortly afterwards he was appointed assistant to the late Dn Barr, of St, Enoch’s, Glasgow, The parish of Gorbals having become vacant, and the right of appointment having fallen into the hands of the presbytery, that court, along with the concurrence of the people, issued a presentation to the parish in favour of Mr. Speirs, and he was ordained minister of Gorbals, August, 1854.

Mr. Speirs, if he had been an ordinary minister, would have thought twice before accepting the presentation. But he was a strong, resolute man, never daunted by difficulties, never cowed by men. The position of things was extraordinary. The church, in consequence of some legal technicalities, had, during the incumbency of his predecessor, been sold. The Gorbals consequently presented a unique spectacle—it was a parish without a church. The work was carried on in temporary premises. The circumstances roused all the ardour of Mr. Speirs’ nature. With the most manful resolution he cast himself into the breach. He was not wholly successful. He did not succeed in recovering the buildings, but h$ did what was better, he threw life into a dispirited people, he rallied the scattered members of the congregation, and gathered into the church a goodly number of parishioners. If the Gorbals is now one of the most flourishing of Glasgow churches it is not a little owing to the endeavours of Mr. Speirs.

Whilst Mr. Speirs was engaged in these arduous labours, in 1861, he was sent by the Presbytery of . Glasgow to supply the pulpit of Kilsyth, which had now become vacant, upon a Sunday for which the presbytery were responsible. Although Mr. Speirs merely appeared for the purpose of discharging the official duty that was laid upon him, the parishioners of Kilsyth were so satisfied with the services that they at once moved the Crown to issue a presentation in his favour. The settlement was of the most harmonious character. In Kilsyth he remained till his death, in 1870. He was thus cut down in the very midst of his years and in the manhood of his age.

Mr. Speirs was of medium height, broad shouldered, stoutly built, and of a sallow complexion. His disposition was open and frank. His temperament ardent and impulsive. His voice was powerful but unrefined. He was full of force. His preaching was trenchant, powerful, epigrammatic. His expositions of Scripture passages linger in the minds of the people. He ofteti used .great plainness of speech. His literary culture and knowledge of poetry were both considerable. His discourses were of varied excellence. When he prepared carefully, however, and discarded the manuscript* he always made a great impression. So masculine and masterful, he was coming rapidly to be a power in the parish when the parishioners were called to mourn his untimely end, for most truly could it be said of him, “his sun had gone down while it was yet day.”

After the death of Mr. Speirs, a leet of clergymen preached before the congregation. When the vote came to be taken it was found that the Rev. Robert Hope Brown had the majority, and he was consequently, in 1871, inducted minister of the parish. Mr. Hope Brown was born on the 19th January, 1842, at Kirkhill of Craigie, Ayrshire, that farm being at the time tenanted by his father. He was the youngest of a large family. He received his elementary education at the parish school of Craigie. He was afterwards removed to the parish school of Kirkmahoe, Dumfries, of which parish his brother-in-law, the Rev. David Hogg, author of the “Life of Allan Cunningham,” and the “Life and Times of the Rev. John Wightman, D.D.,” was the minister. After completing his secondary education by a two years’ attendance at Dumfries Academy, he entered Glasgow University, in the session 1856-7. After a four years’ course in Arts, and a course in Divinity of equal length, he was licensed, May, 1864, a preacher of the Gospel, by the Presbytery of Dumfries. Very soon after Mr. Hope Brown was appointed assistant to the Rev. Peter Chalmers, D.D., minister of the first charge of the Abbey parish, Dunfermline. Having served in this capacity for fully two years, he was elected assistant and successor to the Rev. Richard Logan of .St. Andrew’s Church, Dundee, In that sphere he proved himself a most acceptable minister, and laboured with much diligence and success. During his incumbency he married Miss Duncanson, of Dunfermline, by whom he is survived.

The people of Kilsyth having heard good accounts of his zeal, and being satisfied with his pulpit appearances, preferred him to others, who have since risen to the highest places in the Church, and gave him a very cordial welcome. Having received an accident while riding, he retired from the parish in the fall of 1880, and died at Dunfermline on the 10th October, 1884. The number of his years was 42. During his incumbency the mineral in the glebe and under the church and graveyard was disposed of to W. Baird & Co. The sum received for the first was funded for the advantage of the benefice, but the sums obtained for the church and graveyard minerals were appropriated by the heritors. Mr. Hope Brown took a lively interest in the volunteer movement, and whilst at college was a member of the University Corps. Never robust, his closing years were a struggle with ill-health. As it had been with Douglas and Speirs, so was it with him; this cause prevented him doing what would have been his best in the service of the parish. He will always be held in good remembrance for his kindness of heart, and his labours of love. Many of the poor still survive who can say of him, “Yea he did it, he did it unto me.” Amongst the natives of Kilsyth, who have done it credit and risen to distinction, Dr. James Jeffray, Professor of Anatomy in the University of Glasgow, is deserving of honourable mention. He left no works on medical science behind him. His fame rests on his varied medical attainments and his singular power of luminous exposition. He was a handsome man, and his attractive conversation and address made him for a long period of years one of the most popular of the Glasgow professors. He was bom in Kilsyth in 1763. His father was John Jeffray, a merchant in Kilsyth, and his mother was Agnes Buchanan. Her father, John Buchanan, was one of the original feuars from James, Viscount Kilsyth. The feu charter was dated 1669, and is still in the hands of the family.

James Jeffray was educated at Glasgow University. It would appear that whilst at college he had himself to provide the means necessary for prosecuting his studies, for he was first tutor in the family of a Mr. Brisbane, and then in the family of Sir John Maxwell of Pollok, with whom he travelled on the Continent. In his young years he was a dramatic enthusiast, and formed one of an amateur class for the study and representation of plays. They met in a room of the Old Bishop’s Castle near the cathedral, where they received instruction from a professional player. To the end of his life he retained a lively interest in high-class acting. It was said that it was his Continental travels and love of the histrionic art which gave that polish to his manners and lucidity to his expositions which made him to be so much sought after as a man and a professor. After he got his diploma he settled in Paisley. Being of a robust constitution he was able to ride into Glasgow nearly every day. Dr. Jeffray, in 1792, was appointed assistant to Dr. Hamilton, the father of the famous Sir William Hamilton, Professor of Logic in Edinburgh University. At Dr. Hamilton’s death he was appointed Professor of Anatomy and Botany. Some time afterwards he had to teach surgery in addition to the subjects he already taught. At the first the medical classes were small, but after a time the numbers greatly increased. This increase was owing to the great demand for medical men, occasioned by the Napoleonic wars. The work getting wholly beyond his ability to cope with it, Dr, Burns was appointed Professor of Surgery, and Sir William Hooker Professor of Botany. For many years Dr. Jeffray had crowded classes, and an enviable reputation as an anatomical professor. He possessed a considerable amount of literary culture, and was a pronounced Tory. He was strongly opposed to the Reform Bill of 1832. His first wife was Mary Brisbane. To that lady he was married in 1800, and by her he had one daughter, who became the wife of John Ayton of Inchdairny, Fifeshire. To his second wife he was married in September, 1809. He died in the spring of the year 1848, at the advanced age of 85 years.

The name of the Very Rev. Robert Horne Stevenson may very well follow in this chapter that of Professor Jeffray. Like Dr. Jeffray, Dr. Stevenson has left behind him no literary works, but like him also he was held in good esteem amongst the members of the profession to which he belonged, and attained to the enjoyment of the highest honours which it was in their power to bestow. He was a descendant of that John Stevenson of Gart* clash, near Kirkintilloch, who organised a body of farmers and accompanied the Kilsyth outpost to the battle of Sheriffmuir, “to watch Rob Roy,” who was expected to take advantage of the unprotected state of the district, and make a plundering raid on the valley of the Kelvin. Things often turn out curiously; the Highland reiver drew his men apart from the engagement, but Stevenson allowed himself to be sucked into the vortex of the battle, and was killed.

Robert Horne Stevenson was born 27th October, 1812, and was educated at the parish school of Campsie and the universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. In him there was the sound mind in the sound body. He was equally distinguished as a student and athlete. To the last he had a fine presence, and the progress of the years only added dignity to his carriage. People thought him gruff, and somewhat harsh in his manner, and censorious in his judgments, but those who came into intimate contact with him knew that these things were not so. His father, John Stevenson, was tenant of Netherinch from 1832 to 1853. His mother, Margaret Horne, was the daughter of the good man of Braes o’ Yetts. Robert was the second son of the family. In 1840, he was appointed assistant and successor at Crieff. Having cultivated, with good effect, the power of extempore preaching, his primary pulpit attempts were greatly appreciated, and he filled the church u to the top of the pulpit stairs.” In the Church courts his power of ready reply, and the clearness of his speaking brought him into considerable notice. He was a strong and consistent defender of the Constitutional Party during the non-intrusion controversy, and it is quite possible, in the enthusiasm of his youth, he may have said more than was prudent, for when he was licensed by the Presbytery of Auchterarder, one of the members urged against him his ardent politics. When ’43 came, as may well be supposed, the young minister was in great demand. Within the space of a fortnight he had the offer of eighteen vacant parishes. He accepted St. George’s, Edinburgh. Throwing himself heart and soul into the building up of the Church, he made too heavy a pull on his constitution, robust though it was. The breakdown of his health was of such a serious kind that it never was wholly repaired. He was compelled to take things more quietly. But the energy of his best days was not forgotten, and, in 1871, he was appointed by the Church moderator of the General Assembly. Next year, Edinburgh made him a D.D. When, in 1879, he resigned his charge, strange to say he was succeeded by Dr. Archibald Scott, whose uncle, Malcolm Scott, succeeded John Stevenson in the farm of Netherinch. Mr. Scott farmed Netherinch from 1854 to 1873. There can be no doubt whatsoever that this pleasant farm in Kelvin valley will yet be closely associated, not with the name of one, but of two moderators. When Dr. Stevenson retired from St. George’s, he gave several committees the advantage of his mature counsel. He took particular interest in the work of the Scottish Bible Board, technically called Her Majesty’s Printers for Scotland. He was also one of the Edinburgh Ecclesiastical Commissioners. He married a great-grand-daughter of the first William Cadell of Banton, one of the founders of the Carron Company, and daughter of Robert Cadell of Ratho, the friend of Sir Walter Scott, and publisher of his works. Dr, Stevenson died on the 15th November, 1886,


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