Cumnock Parish Church was erected between 1864 and 1866 in the Gothic style to the plans of James Maitland Wardrop of Edinburgh and opened on 17th November 1866. Yellow sandstone from Coalburn, near New Cumnock, was used. The cost of construction was £6,227 14s 8d though the proposed spire was not built, its intended location over the clock was capped off instead.
On the north side of the church is a Bute vault, with a gallery for the Marquis’s use inside the nave. There are some good examples of stained glasswork, some by Ballantyne from 1867, one window signed A L Moore, London.
A Brief Historical Sketch
It is believed that a place of worship has existed in the Square of Cumnock, which until recently was the commercial heart of the town, for over 100 years. However, the earliest historical record dates to 1275 when a tax of £16 Scots, was laid upon the Rectory of Cumnock. This sum was one tenth of the whole ecclesiastical revenue of the parish, for one year, and was to aid Henry III’s troops going on Crusade with Pope Innocent IV in 1254, but Cumnock didn’t pay until 1275.
The earliest recorded patrons of the church in Cumnock were the Earls of March. Existing with a rector, the rectory of Cumnock was converted into a prebend of the Cathedral of Glasgow in the 15th century, with the consent of the patron. The prebendary or canon of Glasgow Cathedral did not live in Cumnock and placed a vicar in situ to represent him.
As had other parishes in Scotland, Cumnock claimed a patron Saint; theirs being St. Conval, the son of an Irish Prince and disciple of St. Kentigern, popularly known as St. Mungo, after whom Glasgow Cathedral is named. It was to St. Conval that the church in Cumnock was dedicated. It may have been that as Cumnock was a prebend of Glasgow Cathedral its church was dedicated to a disciple of the Cathedral’s Saint. The connection remained until the reformation
At the Reformation John Dunbar, the priest in Cumnock, attached himself to the Reformed faith and became the first protestant minister of the parish, only to be succeeded by a formidable list of experienced and notable clergy.
The Rev. Ninian Bannatyne was presented to the parish of Cumnock by the Marquess of Bute on 10th February 1830 and ordained to the pastorate in September of that year. The Church of Scotland’s conflict with the State for freedom of the Church, resulted in the Disruption of 1843 when the minister of the parish, in conscience, resigned his position and emoluments as minister of the Church Established, and became minister of the Free Church in Old Cumnock. He also resigned the office of chaplain to the Marquess of Bute, the Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly.
The vacancy was filled by Rev. James Murray, an assistant from Kirkconnel, in whose ministry the present building was erected as designed by James Maitland Wardrop of Edinburgh, and completed through the patronage of the Marquess of Bute in 1866. The Bute Gallery, or church loft, to seat the Butes, was never used as the family converted to the Roman Catholic faith.
The German designer Schultz executed small jobs for Lord Bute in and around Cumnock, including work in Dumfries House. In 1896 he prepared designs and working drawings for new chairs for the loft of the parish church and, in the same year, he designed shrines, which were made at Cardiff in consultation with Burges, for St. John’s Roman Catholic Church in Cumnock. The two chairs now sit in the Memorial Chapel of Old Cumnock Church.
The present church bell is not the original, but the bell in the vestibule of the church has an interesting history. It was cast by Quirinius de Vesscher of Rotterdam in 1697 and served in the two churches preceding the present Parish Church. During the 1860s, as a result of the demolition of the church built in 1754, the bell was hung on a tree at the foot of the Strand. Here it continued as Church and Town bell until the present bell was installed in the church. When the school was built in the 1870s, the bell transferred to it and was in position until fairly recently. De Vesscher bells are rare even in Holland and, as far as can be ascertained, only three definitely exist in Scotland: in Kirkcudbright, Kells and Cumnock. There is probably also an example in Kirkoswald. Expert opinion suggests that the casting is of the highest order and the hunting scene portrayed on the lower border is a masterpiece.
The first minister to be “called” to the parish church of Old Cumnock, by the congregation, was the Rev. J. Spence Robertson in 1875.
For the centenary celebrations of the “New” Church in 1966 the stonework was cleaned in and out; the pipe organ replaced by an electric one; the organ screen removed from the centre of the church, and re-sited to the side of the chancel. The screen was replaced by a mosaic commissioned by the Marquess of Bute, and designed by James Harrigan. It is based on Celtic manuscript figures, to retain a Scottish flavour to the work, and is a typical mosaic of the early Christian church.
On 20th November 1966 the early links of Cumnock parish with Glasgow Cathedral were renewed when Dr. Davidson of Glasgow Cathedral was invited by Dr. McClymont, the minister of the parish church of Cumnock, to dedicate the centenary memorial gifts “as a thanks offering by the congregation to Almighty God for a century of blessing and peace within these walls”.
Further links have been renewed since. One minister of the Old Church, Rev. George Muir, a Covenanter, was imprisoned due to his association with the covenanting movement, only to escape some time later. In acknowledgement of his steadfastness and his loyalty to the Kirk, Princeton University awarded him an honorary Doctorate Degree. In 1996 the Old Church re-established its link with Princeton Theological Seminary, in agreeing to accept seminarians in training for the Presbyterian ministry, over the summer months of each year, as part of their training in ministry.
In 1998 a Memorial Chapel was established in the Old Church in memory of those who, from within the parish and beyond, have had links and connections with the Old Church through the generations. A memorial book of names lies on the communion table of the Chapel. The Bute Hall in the church was one the burial crypt of the Bute family. The plaques around the wall identify the particular family members.
Old Cumnock Old Church was linked with Lugar Parish Church on 2nd April 1989. The first minister to be “called” to the linked charge is the present incumbent, Rev. John W. Paterson, inducted to the charge on 15th June 1994.
On 17th November 1995 Words of Wisdom, a shop and cafe, purchased by the Old Church, and converted by the hard work and dedication of men and women of the congregation, was opened. Situated in the Square, directly opposite the main entrance of the church, the shop serves tea/coffee and home baking, as well as being a source of Christian literature.
For information on the Clergy who served the church please go HERE