St Ninian's Church

The History of St Ninian's Church 1886 - 1986
(As I know it)
by Jean H. Hunter

Before I speak about St Ninian's I think it necessary to first mention St Colmac's. In 1834 the second Marquess of Bute intimated to the Presbytery that it was his intention to build a new Church in the north end of the Island, for the convenience of the people who lived there. This work was commenced, and on completion the church was opened on 14th February 1836.

My mother, as a little girl, attended this Church, walking there and back each Sunday with her parents. My sister and I were told all about it many times, also about the building of the Church, and how the money was raised to pay for it.

It was not until the village of Port Bannatyne was built (according to Dr King Hewisons' books) by Lord Bannatyne that it became apparent in 1881 that the population of the village and part of Ardbeg had grown so much it was necessary to have another Church. After a meeting of 'Heads of Families' a committee was appointed and much discussion followed as to where it should be built, and its present site was decided upon. The ground was the property of Mrs and Miss Hamilton of Kames Cottage - or 'Clarandon' as it now is. The cost of the site was £350. I was interested to discover that my grandfather, Archibald Thomson, and his brother Charles, were on the Building Committee.

The work commenced in 1884 and as we all know it was completed and the Church opened for worship on 25th July 1886, the total cost being £4,923.3.7d. This sum included the £350 for the site and many other smaller items; I took particular note that the Bible and the Minister's Gown together amounted to £6.9s. I often look up at the wonderful workmanship of the ceilings of the Church and the Hall, and admire how perfectly the woodwork has been done. I wonder how much that would cost today?

When the Church was completed it was £2,500 in debt, but a donation of £900 plus the money raised at the Bazaar held in the Rothesay Public Hall, in two days, amounting to £2,500, cleared the debt. It was Mr Dewar's wish when he started his Ministry at St Colmac's that he would one day see a church built near the village, and on Sunday 25th July 1886 his wish was fulfilled. The first service was conducted by the Moderator of the General Assembly, the afternoon service by Rev. Peter Dewar, and a third service in the evening by the Rev. J. King Howison, Minister of the Parish of Rothesay. Rev. Peter Dewar must have been a happy man that day, and his Ministry continued for 46 years from 1881 to 1987.

As the years rolled on he became very frail and a number of assistants were appointed to help him. Two of them stand out in my mind - Rev. John Clark who with his wife was here in 1923-24. (I shall mention him later when I speak of the Sunday Schools) and the other being Rev. John Charlton Steen, who was a divinity student at that time. While he was here Rev. Charlton Steen called a meeting to discuss forming a Literary Society, as at that time the North Bute Literary was in abeyance. I was at that meeting and a committee was formed. The Literary Society started as a Church Organisation - that was in the years 1924-25, but shortly after it reverted to the 'North Bute Literary Society' and has continued as such ever since.

The Rev. Peter Dewar died on 20th November 1927, and was greatly mourned by all. North Bute was his only charge.

The Ministers who succeeded Mr. Dewar were as follows:-
Rev. A McKenzie 1927-30
Rev. J Pringle Crosgrove 1931-51
Rev. A Borrowman 1951-63
Rev. W Mitchell 1963-65
(The whole community was shocked and deeply grieved by the deaths by drowning of Rev. W Mitchell and his young wife, as a result of a yachting accident)
Rev. John Taylor 1966-78
Rev. T C Kelly 1973-81
Rev. R Clark February 1982 -
died 4 months later
Rev. Quintin Finlay 1983-
The only structural alterations to the Church have been:-

Partitioning off the rear of the Church, which is now the Session Room. There is a small plaque on the wall which states: 'The Session House, completed in 1974, was made possible by the generous gift in memory of the Dickie family of Cranslagvourity Farm'. It is, I think, a great asset to the Church.

In 1924 the next alteration was the addition of a kitchen to the Church Hall. This was paid for by the Women's Guild at a cost of £261.11s. Before the kitchen was constructed the preparations and making the tea for all functions (including the Sale of Work) took place in the little cupboard in the passageway. How they managed to do it I do not know - they deserve a gold medal!).

There have been a number of additions to the Church:-

1. Rev. Peter Dewar : 1881 - 1927

The Tablet in the main entrance and the Baptismal Font were presented by the Sunday Schools.
The Tablet reads: To the Glory of God, Kindly and understanding towards men: Beloved Pastor in this Parish for 46 fruitful years, by whose untiring labours and quenchless spirit this Church came into being. 'The work of his hands, establish thou it'.
These were dedicated on Sunday 21st June 1931.

2. The Bowers Memorial - 1912

This was the first Memorial Tablet to be erected in the Church, and I remember that day well. Henry Robertson Bowers lost his life in the Scott Antarctic Expedition in 1912; one of his sisters married Sir Wm. Maxwell, an elder in this Church. The Tablet was erected by his brother officers as a mark of their admiration of his zeal and integrity at all times.
Captain Scott said of him:-
'As the troubles have thickened about us, his dauntless spirit ever shone brighter and he has remained cheerful, hopeful and indomitable to the end'.

3. The War Memorial 1914 - 18

This was the next to be erected, and as you know the Tablet from St Colmac's Church is now situated beside it.

4. Henry Fenton Newall 1916/

Lived in Filyer House (now Mount Clare) but apart from knowing that he was related to the Hoyles of Kames, I know nothing else about him.

5. The Gray Buchanan Family 1914 - 1926

The two brass plates in the gallery are:-
1) Captain Claude Buchanan, killed in action in France in November 1914.
2) The other is to his brother Ronald who died in East Africa in 1926.
Colonel Gray Buchanan was an elder in this Church for many years. The Buchanan Family sat in the front seat in the gallery and were very good Church attenders. They owned Ettrickdale House, and had a family of four daughters and (I think) three sons. Mrs Buchanan was a member of the Women's Guild and was treasurer from 1913 to 1922.

6. The Cross

The Cross above the Chancel was given to the Church by the late Mrs Batchelor in memory of her husband. She told me she had difficulty in obtaining a 'Hanging Cross', which it was when installed originally. I always thought as I looked at it that it made me think deeply about the Crucifixion of Christ, and during the years when the Church was open on weekdays, and I was arranging the flowers, many visitors would stand looking up at it. Please do not misunderstand me - I do know that the Cross has the same meaning wherever it is situated, but I have always been sorry that its position was altered.

7. In 1933 the Hammond Organ was installed to replace the Harmonium which had been in the Church for many years. Concerts were held to help raise funds for this, and I see from the Guild Records that they gave many donations for this. Now, of course, in 1985 we have our new organ.

8. The Two Elders' and Minister's Chairs

These chairs were originally in the Rothesay U.F. Church, of which my husband's family were members. After my husband died and this Church was demolished, I had a visit from the Moderator to ask if I knew of any Church that could use those three Memorial Chairs. After discussion I asked if I could offer them to my own Church, and he was delighted that I should do so. I wrote to the Kirk Session and received a reply that they would be glad to have them. Before I handed them over to the Church I asked the French Polisher, Mr Bush, who was in Rothesay at that time, to have them made to match the pulpit and Communion Table. This he did, and on completion of his work they were handed over to the Church and dedicated by the Rev. A Borrowman in the Church.

9. Communion Table from St Colmac's

When St Colmac's Church was closed the Communion Table was brought down to St Ninians. It had been given as a memorial to Mrs Fenton Newall (a niece of Duncan Hoyle of Kames Castle) and in 1925 was unveiled by her grand-daughter. It is in the Session Room, but is used at Communion.

10. Also from St Colmac's are some very pleasing chairs - they are in the Session Room along with a Minister's Chair, which was given by the Women's Guild. We also have a piano very generously given at a much earlier date by one of our Guild Members - Mrs McLean.

There have been many other small gifts, too numerous to mention.

In 1975 the Church was redecorated, the Chancel being completely fitted with a lovely blue carpet. Before that the Choir had to stand on a tiled floor and some rather worn-out matting runners. These, I can assure you, were very cold to stand on! This cost a considerable sum of money, but as usual the Church members came up trumps. The carpet, if I remember rightly, cost £500 - the first two donations received for it were £100 each. While it entailed a lot of hard work, I think everyone agreed it was well worth while.

Fire at St Bruoc

Very sadly, in 1956 St Bruoc's Church was burned down. The beautiful pipe organ, which was the War Memorial, was destroyed, as were the Church Records. The result of this was that the union took place, the united congregations being known at St Colmac, St Bruoc and St Ninian's, on 2nd September 1956. Mr Borrowman became the first Minister of the united congregation, and the first minister of a United Parish since 1843.

One thing we are never allowed to forget is that the Church Bell, which was the bell from St Bruoc's (St Ninian's never had one until then) calls us to Church every Sunday morning and reminds us of the reason we have it. It is now thirty years since this happened, but I know the memory of St Bruoc's Church is very dear to those who were members.

I remember two ministers of St Bruoc's - The Rev. John Dunlop from 1888 - 1913, when I was eight years old. Then the Rev. James Wylie Girvan, whom I knew throughout his ministry from 1914 to 1928.

I should now like to tell you about my life in this Church, at the same time mentioning the Organisations.

I was born on 5th May 1905 and was baptised by the Reverend Peter Dewar.

I was taken to Sunday School when five years old, my first teacher being Miss Peggy Malcolm. I did not think then that her brother would in later years become my brother-in-law!

As I grew older I then went into higher classes in the Sunday School and we had many happy times having Kinderspiels, as they were then called - both boys and girls just loved to be all dressed up, singing lustily (perhaps not quite in tune) impressing our parents, who had come along to hear us.

The two Misses Weir of Rullecheddan House were in command, and we had to be on our best behaviour. I cannot understand why most of the young folk of today are not interested - it may be because so many of their entertainments are made for them. I hope that in the near future we may see more of them supporting their Sunday School.

Talking about Sunday Schools, I should mention here that it was Mrs Clark, the wife of one of Mr Dewar's assistant ministers, who introduced us to the Primary Sunday School. Miss Mattie Weir took charge, appointing Miss Cathie Kerr as her assistant, in 1923-24. Congratulations Cathie - surely it is time this should be mentioned in the Life & Work Magazine!

St Colmac's Sunday School

I must also mention this Sunday School. The late Jenny McPhail (later to become Mrs Keith) and I tramped there and back each Sunday, often coming home drenched from the rain. Some of our small pupils had a long way to come down from the farms but they were very faithful. Our work was made easier by the help of the late Mr Henry McConnochie of Largivrechtan Farm, who was generous to the children in many ways, and gave each of them a beautiful Bible.

The next Organisation to be formed was the Girls' Association. This was well attended each week, and continued for quite a number of years.

The Choir

I have already told you of my efforts to get into the Choir - I was too young then, but at least was allowed to attend the practices. However, eventually I got there, and I can hear you saying 'Surely it is time she was out of it'!!! The Organise then was Miss Annie Welsh - her father at that time being Precenter. In these days we had a harmonium.

The other organists I remember best were Mr Dryden, Mr Dan Lamont and later Mr Fairgrieve, in all of whose time we had cantatas, concerts, etc. It was grand! I do wish more people more people would come into the Choir - I have asked two ladies in the congregation to come, and they both told me they 'were too old'. They are both very much younger than I am, so how do you think I felt? We are very short of soprano singers, and we will be losing one of them who is leaving the island in the not too distant future.

I can remember well the Misses Blue who were Paid Singers in this Church Choir from 1888 for a considerable number of years. They were the grand-aunts of Peter and Ronald Morrison. I understand their fee amounted to £2 per annum!

The Women's Guild

I should like to mention one lady whose name appears on the Committee of the Guild in 1912. Mrs Alexander, whose daughter Mrs Stewart, Glen Sannox, you all know well. Mrs Alexander gave great service to the Guild and to the Dorcas Society which made and distributed articles of clothing to elderly deserving people. She did all the cutting out of materials etc., sometimes spending a whole day doing this work. When she became ill, great appreciation of her work was expressed by the Reverend Peter Dewar in the Minutes of the Guild Meeting of 18th October 1926. I can well remember my own mother speaking of how hard Mrs Alexander worked for the Church and for the Dorcas Society, and all of us know how well her daughter followed in her footsteps.

Mrs Alexander's husband - Captain John Alexander - was an Elder in this Church from 1887 for many years.

I opened an old Guild Minute Book and found my sister's handwriting there. She was Secretary to the Women's Guild for quite a number of years. I was surprised to see my name in it, having been co-opted on to a Committee for a Jumble Sale, later to help with the teas, and - here was promotion - to be 'The Lady with the 100 Pockets'. In other words - 'Lucky Dips'. Perhaps we could revive that!!

Another interesting item in the same book was the Guild Outing to Glecknabae Farm. The Secretary had written to Mrs McDonald, the farmer's wife, asking for a price for the 'High Tea' for the Guild Members' Outing. She got it - are you all listening? - 1s. 9d. per head, and do you know they had FRESH SALMON!!! Next the price for the bus to and from the Church to Glecknabae - £2. 8s. That was in 1932.

The Women's Guild in this Church has always been very active, the Sales of Work being greatly patronised, and I have with me a List of Results of Sales of Work from 1904 - 1913 (war years nil) and from 1923 - 1985, which I will now read quickly to you.

All through the years the Women's Guild has given wonderful donations to the Church. In a cash book dated from October 1913 - 1929, they had invested money in War Stock - in 1924 they built on the kitchen, which cost £261. 11s., also gave £500 to the Endowment Fund, and many more donations to various causes.

We can see from this that the enthusiasm of the Guild has never waned, and may it long continue to support the Church, always remembering its motto:- 'WHOSE I AM AND WHOM I SERVE'.

I should have mentioned before that the Rev Peter Dewar was Secretary of the Women's Guild for some years - in the Minute Book I have in my possession his service dates from 1923 - 1926, but on the first page he had written 'No. 111' so I assume he held this office for a much longer time. Mrs Dewar acted as President for a number of years.

The Ladies' Social Club

In 1980 the Ladies' Social Club was formed and this has been a great asset to the Church. The Members are tireless in their efforts to support the Church and many other worthy causes. They give a great deal of their time to preparing for the many entertainments they give us, and these are greatly appreciated and thoroughly enjoyed by the many people who support them. It takes a lot of hard work to do this, and they deserve all the encouragement and appreciation we can give them.

It is good to know that together these two Women's Organisations do everything they possibly can to further the work of this Church.

Our Church has been standing here now for one hundred years - like everything else it has had its ups and downs - but it is my prayer that it will stand here for many more years, steadfast and sure, and that the Blessing of God may rest upon its Congregation at all times.

Jean H. Hunter
We are immensely grateful to Mr R McKinlay for allowing us to include Mrs Hunter's article in our website.

Sad to say, the Church held its last service in 2006 and was sold on the open market. At the time of transcribing this (July 2008) there are plans to convert the building into 9 dwelling houses.

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