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The History of Stirlingshire
Chapter XXI. St. Ninians and Denny


The original name of St. Ninians parish was Egglis, Egglais, or Eccles, signifying "the church," and, on till 1724, the village itself was called Kirktown. The Romanized Britons of Valentia, who, by Bede, and the contemporary writers of the middle ages are called the southern Picts, were converted, about the beginning of the fifth century, by Ninian or Ringan. He was born about 360, of noble parentage, in the county of the Novantes, near the Leuchophibia of Ptolemy, and the Whithern of modern times. He was ordained at Rome; instructed in monastic discipline by Martin of Tours; and, returning before the year 397, founded a monastery at Whithern, and built a church, which, as being the first church of stone in Scotland, and shining from afar, was called Candida Casa. It afterwards became the seat of the bishops of Galloway. Ninian had probably the province of Valentia for his diocese; but the country north of it does not seem to have been converted till a considerable time afterwards. Ninian died on the 10th September, 432, and the day was long celebrated as the festival of a saint to whom Scotland owed her earliest knowledge of the gospel. St. Ringanís fame has been embalmed in the many churches dedicated to him: Kilninian in Mull; Kil St. Ninian in the parish of Colmonel; St. Ringanís church near Stirling, in the vicinity of which there is a copious spring of water bearing his name; St. Ninianís in the parish of Alyth; St. Ninianís chapel, now a cemetery, in Banffshire; St. Ninianís in Inverness-shire; Nonekill, or St. Ninianís chapel in the parish of Kultearn; the chaplainry of St. Ninian attached to the cathedral church of Ross; the chaplainry of St. Ninian attached to the cathedral church of Moray; St. Ninianís chapel in Castle Hill of Aberdeen; St. Ninianís chapel at the west port of Linlithgow; St. Ninianís chapel and burying ground in the parish of St. Vigianís, where we find St. Ninianís well, once reputed as a cure for many diseases; St. Ninianís chapel standing on Runa-Ringan, "Ninianís Point," in Bute; St. Ninianís chapel in Ringanís or Ronyanís isle, one of the Shetlands. Tradition says, that St. Ninian occasionally inhabited a cave on the sea-shore, near the house of Phisgil, in Wigtownshire. Ringan is the Irish name for Ninian, and is applied in that form to the St. Ninians church, parish, and village of Stirlingshire. A bone of the saint was one of the many relics carried off from Glasgow to France at the Reformation, by Archbishop Beaton, nephew of the celebrated cardinal of that name, when, after fortifying his palace, he found it necessary to fly. The chartulary of Glasgow, which he also took with him, has been recovered, but St. Ninianís bone, and the rest of the relics are, it is believed, irrecoverably lost.

The first volume of the session records now in existence commences November, 1653; but there is part of a minute dated 1608, and two extracts from a former volume, 1631 and 1639, are entered anew under 1699, in which John Drummond of Carnock and Skeoch grants right to certain seats to John Rollo of Bannockburn. James Edmonstone was minister. The record 1653 commences with "This day the session being frequentlie, i.e. fully convened," but often immediately after the date, it is "compeared," such and such persons. No sederunt is marked till 1660, nor any mention made of prayers, either at the opening or close, till after the revolution. But though modern forms were not observed, much business was transacted. From 1653 to 1750, with few exception, there were from twenty-four to thirty meetings of session in a year. The minister and elders exercised most extensive powers, both in passing acts, and in punishing delinquents. Besides licentious persons, drunkards, Sabbath-breakers, and slanderers, they took cognizance of those guilty of theft, prevarication or perjury, of scolding and railing. Severe enactments are made against those that "haunt public-houses," that do not keep the kirk, and examinations;" but idle persons, such as vagrants, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars, and also "those that resett them," are objects of their highest displeasure. Nor was it merely by admonition and censure that they sought to repress these evils. In 1665, we find the following entry, "because this kirk is troubled with sturdy beggars every Sabbath, appoint James Wilson, constable, to wait at the style next Sabbath to put them away, and, if refractories, to put them in the stocks or steeple." Delinquents in general were subjected to fines; and, to keep good order at marriages, it was enacted, that, should anything of a contrary nature take place, the money previously lodged with the session clerk should immediately be forfeited to the poor. At times they threaten to give them over to the civil magistrate, but not unfrequently they appear to have set them in the "jugs," or banished them the parish by their own authority.

If the session were zealous in repressing evil, they were at the same time active in promoting good. Much wisdom and tenderness was displayed in reconciling families and neighbours. The education of the young was also an object of special care, and they seem to have exercised an unlimited authority both over the teacher and his scholars. They appoint the parochial school-master and allot his salary; they instruct him what he is to teach, and fix his hours of teaching; and when dissatisfied call him before them, admonish, reprove, or dismiss him at their pleasure. They enact that no private teacher shall open a school without their permission, and that none shall be opened within two miles of the parochial school.

The topics enumerated, together with the management of the poor, in a populous and extensive parish, might be supposed to afford sufficient employment for any kirk session. But in addition to all these, the kirk session of St. Ninians took the chief management of the fabric of the church and the arrangement of its seats. They build an aisle from their own funds, which is kept entirely under their own control, and part of their fines are laid out in repairing the churchyard dikes. Heritors make application to them for seats, which they erect, exchange, or alter very much at their pleasure. By their order sums of money were collected for propagating the gospel; for building churches, particularly in Ireland; for people who had lost their property, or who were to undergo dangerous operations; and once for a man who had been taken captive by the Turks. Nay, once and again, we find them actively employed in building or repairing bridges. They assist in repairing the bridges over the Carron, and at Chartreshall; and, in 1670, they not only urge the heritors, but the elders collect largely themselves to erect a stone bridge, instead of the wooden one, over the Bannock in the upper carses.

Mr. George Bennet, who was also proprietor of East Livilands, was minister from 1655 to 1674. In his time the parochial machinery was in full operation; nor does the accession of Charles II., or the introduction of episcopacy, appear greatly to have paralysed it. In the early part of his ministry grievous complaints were made against Cromwellís English soldiers, and numbers are summoned before the session, for harbouring or keeping company with them. At a later period, some parishioners are "convened for beating Argyllís men on the Sabbath day." In 1687 "Mr. Wright of Alloa preached and institute Mr. Forsyth, formerly minister of Clackmannan, to the exercise of the ministry in the parish of St. Ninians in the face of the congregation." Complaints are made of persons not coming to the communion, nor keeping their own kirk; both men and women are summoned before the session for attending conventicles, and having their children irregularly baptized. A sequestered spot is pointed out where it is said the covenanters assembled, and the station where the watchmen stood to give notice when the soldiers left the castle of Stirling coming to attack them.

Nail-making, the tanning of leather, and the manufacture of screw bolts, are the staple trades of the place. The population of the parish in 1645, was 4,760; in 1745, 5,916; in 1755, 6, 491; in 1801, 6,849; in 1811, 7, 636; in 1831, 9,552; and in 1871, 10,146. St Ninians has thus done little more than doubled its inhabitants during the last 230 years. Still the coal mines here are very valuable, and have been extensively wrought. They lie on the south-east side of the parish, in ground considerably lower than that in which the trap-rocks abound, so that the collieries of Greenyards, Bannockburn, Plean, and Auchenbowie, may be regarded as forming one large coal-field. On the lands of Bannockburn, the upper and less valuable seam has been wrought for a considerable period. Its quality is greatly inferior to that of the main coal, and its average thickness runs about 19 inches. The strata of rock of most frequent occurrence in the district of these mines are sandstone and shale, while bars of ironstone are also found in some of the latter beds. Bannockburn is a village composed principally of plain and unpretending houses. Here, the manufacture of tweeds, carpets, and tartans, has for many years been carried on extensively, and there is likewise a tannery of some note and importance. The population in 1871, was 2,564.

The "Toad-and-the-Lamb" is a hamlet tiny and commonplace. In its neighbourhood, however, stands the Plean Asylum which was founded by the late Colonel Francis Simpson of East Plean. This gentleman, who died in March, 1831, left in lands and money about 3000 pounds of annual income, for the benefit of indigent old men, soldiers and sailors to have the preference. At present there are thirty pensioners in the institution, who are comfortably lodged, fed, and clothed, and supplied individually with a small sum of pocket money. The building, now hid in foliage, is by no means attractive architecturally, but, within the quiet camp and haven, there is nothing awanting for the winter-life enjoyment of the veteran inmates.

We have had occasion to speak of the many ancient associations of Torwood in other chapters. Here, at the foot of the old Toll Brae, Donald Cargill, the ejected minister of the Barony Church, Glasgow, and one of the last champions of Scotlandís spiritual independence, excommunicated in October, 1680, the reigning monarch, Charles II., a manly renunciation of crowned tyranny, and war to the knife declared against the Stuart race. The congregation was immense, and after lecturing on Ezekiel xxi. 25, &c., and preaching from 1 Cor. v. 13, the heroic Cargill, in the afternoon, took for his text Lam. iii. 31. Next Sabbath he declared that if the men he had previously excommunicated died the common death of mortals, or if they did not go bound to eternity as he had bound them, then his deed should not have the sanction of Heaven. After many a hair-breadth escape, he ultimately perished on the scaffold. Again and again he attempted to address the multitude that had assembled to witness his dying testimony. But as often the drums were beat to drown his voice. Placing his foot upon the ladder, he uttered these memorable words: - "The Lord knows I go on this ladder with less fear and perturbation of mind than ever I entered the pulpit to preach."

Midway between this and Larbert lies the Glenbervie estate, and down the tree-shaded valley shines the mansion from out its sylvan surroundings. Striking traces also appear of the old ancestral avenue, whose magnificent array of conical limes will keep it long in marked remembrance. On either side of the public highway, and almost adjoining the southern extremity of that beautiful arcade, stood two trees of peculiar interest to the Scotch and English people. As the local legend goes, the two countries, on these trees meeting branch with branch, would, as enemies, again take to the battle-field, though for what reasonable object it would be hard to determine. Fortunately, however, for the peace and prosperity of Britain, the tree on the south side of the road had one of its largest arms struck off by lightning some years ago, and now simply shows the smallest fragment of a shelly trunk. But we have seen the two, in this same leafy season, playfully nod and whisper to each other at the safe and respectable distance of three yards or so, quite unconscious, apparently, of their momentous mission.

Denny, as a town, stands comparatively unimportant, both in the past and present. It is conjectured that the name is a corruption of the Gaelic word, Dun, signifying a hill. The old village consisted of a broad street, with a row of humble houses on each side, running directly east from the church. This building was erected in 1813, and has a turreted steeple, about 75 feet in height, which was raised by voluntary subscription. The parish was originally a part of that of Falkirk, from which it was separated in 1618. The rector of the latter town had a vicar here; who, besides the small tithes, held a valuable glebe of 28 acres, but which was, in some way, secured, by the last vicar, Oswald, to his family connections. The property continued in the same name until the death, about sixty years ago, of James Oswalk of Dryborough Ė a place adjacent to Denny.

Few manufacturing towns enjoy such advantages of situation as this. Its command of water power is great; and the railway, which was opened in 1859, is a branch of the "Caledonian," joining the main line at Larbert. On the margin of the Carron, there are a considerable number of public works, such as paper and dyewood mills; chemical works, for the manufacture of pyrolignous acid, and its compounds; a distillery, and several coal and iron mines. Some twenty-five years ago, a printfield of national note existed in the neighbourhood, and gave employment to several hundreds of girls; but the establishment, with all its mass of masonry and splendid machinery, is now a total wreck. Such an unhappy collapse threatened at one time to prove the ruin of the district, having thrown the great bulk of the people out of work. But the little town is again in a thoroughly thriving state. Branches of several leading banks have been opened under promising auspices; and, to judge from outward appearances, have something of the certainty of doing a large and permanent stroke of business.

There are no accounts of the parochial population previous to 1755. In that year, it amounted to 1,392; in 1790, to 1,400; in 1800, to 1,967; in 1821, to 3,364; in 1831, to 3,843; in 1838, to 4,300; and in 1871, to 4,993 Ė the town itself containing 3,623 inhabitants.

The surface of the country is diversified by heights and hollows. The Darrach Hill (Hill of Oaks), which is the principal feature of the parish, forms its western boundary. Myothill lies in the upper division, called Temple Denny Ė a tract of land which formerly belonged, it is said, to the Knights-Templars, so famous for their crusades against Saracens. This hill is of conical shape, comparatively small, but very beautiful.

Banknock, which has been possessed and occupied by Mr. William Wilson for the last forty years, is a really sweet estate of the smaller sort, and has the highest point from sea to sea in the valley. Here, Rosa Bonheur, the great animal painter, was entertained when she visited the Tryst at Stenhousemuir in 1856. The famous artists, MíLeish and Goodall, were also of the distinguished party. Mr. Wilson, who is well known as a liberal patron and intelligent connoiseur of art, and also as a leading antiquary, owns a very valuable collection of pictures by painters of note; and, on the same walls, it is pleasing to see that the talent, with pencil and brush, is cleverly represented by his accomplished daughter.

Bonnybridge is another district which, within the last few years, has taken a position of considerable importance. Its population in 1871 was 730. Here we have, first of all, the Columbian Stove Works of Messrs. Smith & Wellstood. This firm Ė originally Messrs. Ure & Co. Ė who started the manufactory, with Mr. George Ure as managing partner, in April, 1860, are widely known for the superior quality of their apparatus. At the Society of Arts competition in London, which extended over the year 1874, and to which all the eminent makers of stoves and ranges came forward, Messrs. Smith and Wellstood took the first place for efficiency of workmanship, and construction for economy in fuel. The firm also do their own copper and brass work here, giving employment in all to about 250 hands. Immediately adjoining this establishment, and as a former part of it, we have the foundry of Messrs. George Ure & Co., where upwards of 400 men and boys are engaged in the making of light castings for sewing machines and other iron goods, both of an ornamental and purely useful character. Messrs. Campbell, Ferguson & Co. have also works, about a mile south towards Bonnymuir, which were started in July, 1877, for the manufacture of all kinds of malleable iron castings; and they, too, promise to have a rapid extension of business.

At the west-end of the village there is a parish church, seated for over 600 persons; and specially to Mr. George Ure of Wheatlands is the erection of this recent building due. The hamlet, in addition to an excellent public school, also possesses a commodious literary hall, containing a library with upwards of 400 volumes, apart from the monthly periodicals and daily newspapers. The other industries of the place are a corn-mill, saw-mill, paper-mill, distillery, and smithy.


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