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Ramble Round Kilmarnock
Chapter VII

Low Fenwick--Old John Kirkland--"The Kirk-town"--The erection of the Parish and origin of the name--The Parish Church and Burying-Ground--The Rev. William Guthrie--The Burial Place of the Howies--Captain Paton.

Arriving at a bridge spanning the Fenwick water I crossed over, passed up the "waterslap," and entered the highway between Kilmarnock and Glasgow. On each side of it, forming a kind of street, stands Low Fenwick, which for the most part consists of a few primitive-like one-storeyed houses. Besides these there are a few modern erections of the plainest architecture, the most noteworthy of which is the mansion of Mr. John Graham, a gentleman connected with a banking firm in Glasgow. The place being isolated and possessed of neither "kirk nor market, mill or smithy," it is entirely unprogressive. The inhabitants are mostly engaged in weaving and agricultural pursuits; work at the former is very difficult to obtain, and wretchedly remunerated when it is procured.

Mr. John Kirkland, a minor poet, is a native and a resident of Low Fenwick. This venerable bard has wooed the muse for well nigh half a century, and, like some of Scotland’s great song writers, though bred to the loom, poesy has been to him an oasis from which he has drawn pleasure and solace in many a lone hour. He was a contributor to The Ayrshire Inspirer and other publications, but since age and its attendant infirmities have began to tell on him his harp has been somewhat neglected. Perhaps it may not be out of place to append a few verses from his pen, therefore I make the following brief extract from a long poem entitled


"Hail, lovely orb of tranquil light,
Whose soften’d radiance makes the night
Seem fairer than the day;
Before thy presence in the sky
The stars and planets fade and die,
Their gory melts away.

Vain of thy charms the sky we view--
Unfolds her ample field of blue
Thy beauty to display;
With youth immortal on thy brow,
And queenly mien and grandeur thou
Rejoicest on thy way.

No frailty with increasing years,
But fresh and vigorous thou appears,
As when the Almighty’s finger
First touch’d thee into being bright,
And filled thy lamp with quenchless light--
Nor dost thou pause or linger."

Passing through Low Fenwick, a walk of half-a-mile brought me to High Fenwick, or as it is more commonly called "the Kirk-town." It is situated on the Glasgow road, four miles north-east of Kilmarnock, and consists of a respectable street and a number of lowly cottages that cluster round its quaint but highly interesting parish church, which stands in a hollow a short distance from the highway. It has a population of 469. Its trade is very meager, and consists of handloom weaving and such crafts as are incidental to all rural villages where the scream of the locomotive whistle is unheard, and where the inhabitants retain much of the rustic artlessness of their forefathers. Besides an inn and several public-houses, the place though small contains no less than three churches. The first--a large building belonging to the U.P. body, and erected in 1830--I passed on my right as I entered the village, and the second--a small structure erected in 1844, and inscribed "The Guthrie Church"--I found situated next to the inn and nearly opposite a land leading down to the real Guthrie Church, for evidently the title conferred by the Free Church body upon their little tabernacle is a misnomer, the parish church being the Guthrie Church proper, the eminent diving of that name having laboured in it for twenty years.

Previous to 1642 the parish of Fenwick was included in that of Kilmarnock. Upon the disjunction it was termed New Kilmarnock, but Fenwick--which according to Chalmers is a word of Anglo-Saxon origin and signifies the village of the fen or marsh--being the name of the first-mentioned hamlet, the inhabitants persisted in calling the parish by the same cognomen, and in course of time the appellation, which is appropriately descriptive of the boggy nature of the greater portion of its soil, came to be universally recognized.

The year after the erection of the parish of Fenwick its celebrated church was built. Houses gradually sprang up around it, and the Kirk-town, although comparatively modern, has become the parochial centre of commerce and divinity, but there is nothing of interest connected with its history beyond what is purely ecclesiastical.

After straying through the quiet village I turned down a land and soon arrived at the gate of the little burying-ground that surrounds the parish church. Finding it unfastened, I opened a rusty leaf and entered, and as it closed with a clank behind me I felt as if the world was shut out, and I,

"Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,"

left in solitude to muse upon the sons of the Covenant--the bold, undisciplined peasantry who buckled on the sword for conscience sake and battled to the death against tyrannical diction.

The church is a low-roofed, old-fashioned-like building, with a small steeple or belfry. By its side the juggs still dangle at the end of a iron chain. They consist of a hinged circular iron collar about six inches in diameter, and were used in the olden times to punish individuals guilty of petty offences. The collar was padlocked around the neck of the culprit, and he or she was left to be stared and jeered at by every passer by for a given number of hours. The punishment was much dreaded. The interior of the church--into which I had the good fortune to obtain admittance--is neat and comfortably seated, and contains three small galleries, and fronts of which are carved oak. The pulpit, which is also of oak, is the same in which the eminent William Guthrie, first minister of the parish, preached, and on this account is greatly prized. By its side, on an iron stand, there is a half-hour sand glass. Preaching by the sand glass is a very ancient custom, and one that is still observed in this little church. When the minister begins his discourse the beadle turns it, and a glass to a glass and a half is considered to be sufficient for a sermon. The second turning gives the speaker a hint to draw his remarks to a close. The church was erected in 1643. Its site is said to have been chosen by the Rev. William Guthrie and a  number of the parishioners, and it is recorded that he preached in it before it was finished, so anxious was he to begin his labours. Near to the church and opposite the gate there is a handsome tombstone to the memory of this distinguished divine. It bears the following inscription:--"In memory of the Rev. William Guthrie, first minister of this parish, and author of The Christian’s Great Interest. Born 1620; ordained, 1644. Ejected by prelatic persecution, 1664; worn out by labours and sufferings, he died, 1665, and was interred in the church of Brechin. His active and self-denying ministry, through the Divine blessing, produced a deep and lasting impression. This stone is erected, 1854, as a token of gratitude by the Christian public.

‘With heavenly weapons I have fought
The battles of the Lord;
Finish’d my course, and kept the faith,
Depending on His word.’"

The Rev. William Guthrie was a native of Angus, and the eldest son of the laird of Pitforthy. He studied philosophy at St. Andrews University, and took the degree of Master of Arts. After this he studied divinity under the famous Samuel Rutherford, and was licensed to preach. In order that worldly cares would not interfere with the ministry to which he had dedicated himself, he handed over his right of succession to the family estate to a younger brother, and energetically applied himself to his profession. He was for some time tutor to Lord Mauchline, eldest son of the Earl of Loudoun, and while in that position he preached on a preparation day in Galston. Several people from Fenwick being present, they were so taken with his forcible style that they resolved to induce him to become their minister. He accepted the call, but the difficulties he had to contend with in the  new parish at first was most disheartening. Many of the parishioners had accustomed themselves to loiter about the fields, or pass the Sabbath shooting, fishing, or playing at games. Some would not be spoken to, and others refused  him admittance into their houses, but being a man of tact he tried stratagem, and was ultimately successful in gaining their confidence and making a change in their morals. He very often disguised himself as a traveller, and called at the houses of the most profane and careless in the dusk of evening, and begged a night’s lodging. If admitted he tried to make himself agreeable by telling racy stories and engaging in general amusing conversation, and gradually introduced subjects of a more weighty nature. By this means he procured the attendance of the most obstinate, and endeared himself to the people of the parish. As time went on, Mr. Guthrie’s fame spread, and he came to be a most popular and successful preacher. People came from Glasgow, Paisley, Hamilton, Lanark, Kilbride, Glassford, Strathaven, Newmilns, and many other places to hear his eloquence. It was the practice for such to come on Sunday and spend the greater part of the night in prayer and conversation, attend public worship on the Sabbath, dedicate the whole day to religious exercises, and go home on Monday-- "traveling" says his biographer, "ten, twelve, or twenty miles, without grudging in the least the long way, or the want of sleep and other refreshments. Neither did they find themselves the less prepared for any other business through the week." Such popularity did not go unnoticed, and although by the influence of Chancellor Glencairn and the Earl of Eglinton he had been allowed to occupy the church for four years after the restoration, the Archbishop of Glasgow determined to suspend him. The curate of Calder was nominated to serve the notice. He arrived in Fenwick with a dozen soldiers, and having delivered a short address and declared the church vacant, started on his homeward journey. Woodrow says:--"I am well assured he never preached any more after he left Fenwick; he reached Glasgow, but it is not certain if he reached Calder, though but four miles from Glasgow. However, in a few days he died in great torment of an iliac passion, and his wife and children died all in a year or thereby, and none belonging to him were left." Mr. Guthrie continued in Fenwick for a year after his suspension, but he never preached more. The death of a brother called him to Angus to look after the paternal estate that had again devolved upon him, but when there, he was seized with a violent disease, and after lingering a short time died in the 45th year of his age.

There is not another graveyard in Ayrshire that contains so many mementoes of the persecution as that of Fenwick. Several who "wandered in deserts, and hid in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth," have found a balm for their sorrow and suffering in the Lethe of death, and slumber forgetful of their wrongs in this little golgotha. To the north of the church is the burial place of the Howies of Lochgoin. There, ‘neath a flat stone, lie the remains of James Howie, who suffered much during the persecution. The rhythmical inscription the stone bore was obliterated some years ago, and a prosaic one substituted. Though lengthy it is far inferior in my opinion to the former one. In these matters, being somewhat of a Conservative, I beg to present the reader with an old epitaph. It is preserved in the appendix to the "Life of John Howie," and is somewhat of a curiosity.

"The dust here lies under this stone
Of James Howie, and his son John
These two both lived in Lochgoin
And by Death’s power were called to join
This place. The first, November twenty-one,
Years sixteen hundred ninety one
The second, aged ninety year
The first of July was brought here
Years seventeen hundred and fifty-five,
For owning truth made fugitive
Their house twelve times, and cattle all
Was robb’d, and family brought to thrall
All these, before the Revolution
Outlived Zion’s friends ‘gainst opposition."

"And he said unto me, these are they which came out of great tribulation."--Rev. vii., 14.

"The voice said cry, What shall I cry?
All flesh is grass, and so must ly
As flow’er in field, with’reth away
So the gooliness of man decay."

Along this stone there is another with a list of names and dates which covers the remains of other members of the Howie family. Amongst these moulder all that is mortal of the gifted author of "The Scots Worthies." The inscription briefly refers to him as follows:--"Also of his son John, who lived in Lougoin, author of the ‘Scots Worthies,’ and other publications, who died Jan. 5, A. D., 1793, aged 57 years."

To the east of the church, and close to the side walk, there is a handsome monumental tombstone. It bears the device of a drum and flag, cross swords, etc., and also the following inscription:--"Sacred to the memory of Captain John Paton, late of Meadowhead, of this parish, who suffered martyrdom in the Grassmarket, Edinburgh, May 9th, 1684. He was an honour to his country; on the Continent, at Pentland, Drumclog, and Bothwell, his heroic conduct truly evinced the gallant officer, brave soldier, and true patriot. In social and domestic life he was an ornament; a pious Christian, and a faithful witness for truth in opposition to the encroachments of tyrannical and despotic power in Church and State. The mortal remains of Captain Paton sleep amid the dust of kindred martyrs, in the Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh. Near this is the burying-place of his family and descendants.

"Who Antichrist do thus oppose,
And for truth’s cause their lives lay down,
Will get the vict’ry o’er their foes,
And gain life’s everlasting crown."

Captain Paton was one of the most heroic of the worthies who suffered during the persecution. His life was an eventful one, and the closing scene tragic. In early manhood he exchanged the sickle for the sword, went abroad and joined the army of Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden, and was for some valiant deed advanced to the post of Captain. His stay abroad is supposed to have been brief, for in 1645 he was called out to assist in opposing Montrose’s insurrection. He was present at the battle of Kilsyth, and behaved with great bravery, as did all the Convenanting leaders; but nevertheless Montrose’s daring purpose and superior general ship carried the day, and the little army was driven into a bog. Howie--from whom I condense--relates the following extraordinary achievement: --"In this extremity, the Captain, as soon as he got free of the bog, with sword in hand made the best of his way through the enemy, till he had got safe to the two Colonels Hacket and Strachan, who all three rode off together; but they had not gone far till they were encountered by about fifteen of the enemy, all of whom they killed except two who escaped. When they had gone a little farther, they were again attacked by about thirteen more, and of these they killed ten, so that only three of them could make their escape. But, upon the approach of about eleven more, one of the Colonels said, in a familiar dialect, ‘Johnny, if thou dost not somewhat now, we are all dead men.’ To whom the Captain answered, ‘Fear not’ for we will do what we can before we either yield or flee before them." Making good their retreat, the three friends separated, and the Captain returned to Fenwick.

The year following this event the Rev. William Guthrie, accompanied by Captain Paton and a number of friends from Fenwick, went to Mauchline to meet with a party of  Covenanters who had agreed to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. When engaged in their devotions, General Middleton and a company of soldiers surprised them. Middleton ordered his men to fire into the worshippers, but the Earl of Loudoun, who was one of the party, begged of him to allow the people to depart in peace. This he did, but coming upon them the next day he commenced hostilities, and a skirmish ensued. In it the Captain is said to have killed eighteen of the enemy.

After joining the expedition to oppose Cromwell’s entry into Scotland, he returned home, settled at Meadowhead, and married. His life was now peaceful. He sat under the ministry of the Rev. William Guthrie, and became a member of his session, but in November, 1666, being invited to join the Covenanters of Galloway, who had taken up arms against Sir James Turner, "he behoved to take the field again, and commanded a party of horse from Loudoun, Fenwick, and other places." Having joined others who had collected forces, they marched to Lanark, renewed the Covenant, and from thence to Rullion, a place near the Pentland hills. The little army, numbering some 900, was attacked at this spot by General Dalziel, who commanded 8000 men. The position the Covenanters occupied was favourable, and they kept their assailants successfully at bay for some time, but ultimately overwhelming numbers forced them to retreat. During the engagement Captain Paton behaved with great bravery, and fought hand to hand with Dalziel, who knowing him tried to take him prisoner. Each fired a pistol at each other. The Captain observing his ball to "hoop down," supposed the General to proof against lead, and with the intention of breaking the spell slipped a piece of silver in his remaining pistol. The General observing the movement retreated behind an attendant to avoid the shot. In this he was successful, for when the Captain fired the man fell dead. Paton was amongst the last to leave the field. Finding himself and two horsemen from Fenwick surrounded by the foe, be cut a way out, and long with them escaped. Dalziel being still intent upon his capture sent two troopers after him. As they neared his companions cried, "What will we do now?"--"What is the fray?" cried the Captain; "there are but two of them." Wheeling about he met the foremost rider, and with a stroke of his sword clave his head, then cried to the other to take his compliments to his master, for he would not be with him to-night. He afterwards returned to Meadowhead, but was now a marked man. Hunted from place to place, and compelled to lurk about the moors, he had often to make the cold heath his bed. Yet in all his wandering and hairbreadth escapes he drew consolation from his Bible, and from the thought that he would receive an imperishable reward for his suffering in a life beyond the grave. After the battles of Drunclog and Bothwell Bridge, in which he acted a gallant part, his position, if possible, became worse, and he turned weary of life and unresistingly allowed himself to be taken prisoner by five soldiers who visited the house of Robert Howie in Floack, in the parish of Mearns. His captors did now know him, and supposing him to be some old minister, they conveyed him towards Kilmarnock. At Muir Yett, a farm-steading on the Glasgow road, a farmer standing at his door gave vent to his astonishment at seeing the Captain in custody by exclaiming, "Alas! Captain Paton, are you there?" The soldiers thus learning his identity well knew the value of their prize. On being conveyed to Edinburgh he was met by Dalziel, who remarked that he was both glad and sorry to see him. "John," said he, "if I had met you on the way before you came hither I should have set you at liberty, but now it is too late. But be not afraid, I will write to his Majesty for your life."-- "You will not be heard," replied the Captain.--"Will I not?" and Dalziel vehemently. "If he does not grant me the life of one man I shall never draw sword for him again." Dalziel kept his word, petitioned the King, and obtained a reprieve; but the document having to pass through the hands of Paterson, Bishop of Edinburgh, it was designedly delayed until the sentence passed on the Captain had been put into execution.

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