The early history of Penicuik South Church and its congregation is discussed at length in a book called A Fifty Years’ Retrospect – A Short History of the Free Church Congregation in Penicuik. This book was written in 1893 by John Wilson and describes the first 50 years of the South Church following the ‘Disruption’ in 1843.
During 1989-1990, major restoration work was carried out on the South Church building. A pamphlet entitled Pilkington’s Architectural Masterpiece was produced to describe both the work and the building’s architecture.
Then in 1993 the South Church had its 150th anniversary. Various memorabilia were produced at this time which included tea towels, mugs and scaled pottery models of the South Church building. At this time Mary Darling (a South Church elder) produced an account describing the period 1843 to 1900.
A collection of old photos including those of past ministers can be found here.
A Fifty Years’ Retrospect – A Short History of the Free Church Congregation in Penicuik
THURSDAY, the 18th of May, 1843, will be a day ever memorable in Scottish ecclesiastical history. It was the day of the Disruption. For ten long years the struggle of the evangelical majority in the Church of Scotland with the Civil Courts, by which they sought to maintain a faithful testimony for Christ and the spiritual rights of His people, had been going on; but on this day that struggle was to cease.
In November of the preceding year 474 of its ministers met in solemn convocation in Edinburgh, and by a series of resolutions had made known the only terms on which they could continue their connection with the State. On the 4th of January, 1843, Sir James Graham, on behalf of the Government, formally rejected the appeal thus made.
At a special meeting of the Commission of the Church, held on 31st January, it was resolved, as a last resource, to petition the House of Commons in such terms as might lead that august assembly to make an impartial enquiry into the grievances complained of; but this final appeal was also disregarded. In this manner was brought about, therefore, that wondrous exodus whereby, for conscience’ sake, 474 heroic men, sacrificing an income of £100,000 per annum, left homes endeared to them by many tender ties and forsook a Church hallowed with memories of the past.
No true Free Churchman can read the record of the events of which I have given a brief epitome without a sense of gratitude to God that a way was opened out—though in many cases after trial and hardship of the severest kind—by which these men were enabled to testify that the pure evangel needed not the buttress of the State, nor the patronage of peer or politician, to enable its ministers to proclaim its soul-reviving power throughout our own and other lands.
It was of course impossible that a struggle fraught with consequences so far-reaching in the life of the Scottish Church could have left our village and parish undisturbed. Meetings in sympathy with the non¬-intrusion party were frequently held at various places throughout the district—at Fulford, Carlops, Ninemileburn, Bridgend, as well as in Penicuik—such clergymen as Dr. Hanna, then Mr. Hanna of Skirling, and Mr. Paterson of Kirkurd, assisted by highly respected laymen like David Chalmers, nephew of Dr. Chalmers, Charles and John Cowan, William and David Dickson, made known to audiences great and small the principles involved in the struggle which was going on. Mr. Charles Cowan of Valleyfield also prepared an able declaration and protest which appeared in the public prints, the closing words of which are worth repeating here:—
“Being convinced, as we now are, that by longer remaining in connection with the State, faithful ministers of this Church must either be instruments of oppressing the Christian people or be themselves oppressed in the conscientious discharge of their high and sacred functions, we hereby solemnly resolve, in the event of the Church and people of Scotland being deprived of that national support to which, by the Constitution, we must ever hold them to be entitled, to join with others in the adoption of such means as may be best fitted, by the blessing of God, to secure a continuance of the benefits of a Free Presbyterian Church in this land to ourselves and to our children.”
This document was signed by seventeen elders of the Dalkeith Presbytery, five of them being members of the Penicuik Kirk Session. When the eventful day of the Disruption arrived the Rev. Mr. Moncrieff, minister of the parish, a good man and faithful minister, who, up to a certain point, had identified himself with the non-intrusion party, elected to remain in the Church. He had sorrowfully to make known, however, to Mr. John Wilson of Eastfield, and Mr. Orrock of Eskmills—the only two members of Session present at the first meeting after the great event— that their fellow-elders, Charles Cowan, Henry R. Madden, Robert Keary, Robert Kilpatrick, and Robert Mason had gone from them and had joined the Free Protesting Church of Scotland. These five gentlemen, after subscribing the Act of Demission, were appointed on 7th June, 1843, by the Free Presbytery of Dalkeith, to constitute the first Kirk Session of the Free Church congregation in Penicuik.
The Friendly Society’s Hall, a building now forming part of the premises of the Co-operative Association, was immediately secured by them for Sabbath and week-night services, and it served as a place of worship until 13th October, 1844, at the modest rent of 3s. per week. Arrangements were also made by the Presbytery that the Rev. David Brown of Roslin should act as Moderator of Session until a pastor had been called and settled. The membership of the newly-formed congregation is not, so far as I know, recorded; but I believe that 155 communicants partook of the first Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in these temporary premises.
The Rev. Andrew McKenzie, previously connected with what were known as the ” Auld Lichts,” and who, besides being Minister of Henderson Church, Edinburgh, was also Chaplain to the Blind Asylum, was unani¬mously chosen by the congregation as their first minister, and he was inducted to the charge on 24th August, 1843.
At a great meeting held in the Valleyfield grounds he was presented by Mr. Charles Cowan with a pulpit gown and cassock. The occasion was made memorable by a stirring speech from Dr. Guthrie, which gave a great impetus to the cause in Penicuik. Dr. Binnie of Lady Yester’s was at the same hour preaching in the Established Church ; but the scantily filled pews in that edifice gave evidence of the greater popularity of the distinguished divine from St. John’s, and no little sympathy with the principles which he advocated.
The first difficulty which the newly-formed congregation had to face was the erection of a church. Sir George Clerk was owner of all the ground in the village and its immediate vicinity, and on being applied to for a site he saw it to be his duty to refuse it.
Strange to say, Sir George, while a member of the Government, had been a warm friend of the non-intrusion- party. Upon one occasion, when a petition against the superior authorities of the Church of Scotland was presented to Parliament, he called upon the members of the House “not to receive it,” on the ground that the Church of Scotland did not admit of the interference of any civil authority in matters relating to the internal discipline of that Church, that privilege being sanctioned by the claim of rights presented by Scotland to King William III. at the Revolution. The Church did not refuse to render unto Caesar the things that were Caesar’s, but it would not allow of an interference with its spiritual and ecclesiastical rights, ratified as they had been in the manner he had -stated, and which constituted the independence of the Church government in Scotland.
Both in letters to Dr. Chalmers and in conversations with him. Sir George had expressed his opinion that the Presbytery, subject to the review of the superior Church Courts alone, should have full and unfettered power to decide judicially on the fitness or unfitness of the presentee of any parish, as their conscience and sense of duty might direct Now, it was because of the Court of Session giving its decisions in favour of principles the very reverse of these that the Disruption in a large measure was brought about.
We know, of course, that there were many good men left in the Church of Scotland who did not approve of the Disruption, and who looked forward to wrongs being righted without the supreme action of severance from the State, and it is reasonable to believe that Sir George Clerk was one of these. This distinguished man afterwards adopted a much more generous course in the matter of site-granting to our congregation ; but the initial difficulty of obtaining ground upon which to erect the first church was only overcome by the Session obtaining possession, through the intervention of Messrs. Charles and John Cowan, of a triangular piece of ground in West Street, upon which stood a cottage held upon a 400 years’ lease. This building was pulled down, and upon 10th June, 1844, the foundation stone of the church was laid.
It was opened for worship on Friday, the 18th October, following, by the Rev. Dr. Hanna. This eminent divine also preached from its pulpit with great acceptance on Sabbath, the 20th October. The collec¬tion upon that occasion reached the handsome sum of £160. The cost of the church exceeded £800, and a similar sum, it may be mentioned, was expended on the building of the manse, the foundation stone of which was laid on 1st July, 1847.
I have already mentioned the names of the five elders appointed by the Presbytery lo the oversight of the new charge. After six months of hard service these good men, anxious that, according to the laws of the Church, the congregation should choose their own office-bearers, tendered their resignation to the Rev. Mr. McKenzie. An election immediately followed, and it is pleasant to be able to record the fact that they were all unanimously re-elected. Another office which had long been in desuetude in the Establishment, that of Deacon, had been revived by our Church after the Disruption, and accordingly an opportunity was at the same time given to select suitable individuals to serve in this capacity.
Signed lists were handed in to the Minister, and it was found that John Mitchell, John Watson, Alexander Reid, David Abernethy, and Francis Morrison were those approved of by the congregation. These five gentlemen accepted office, and were ordained in due form on 28th January, 1844.
Of our original Session and Deacons’ Court only one member, Mr. John Mitchell, now survives, and it is my duty here to mention that, up to the time of his demitting office on 25th September, 1878, no one—either of his colleagues or successors—ever did better service in looking after the temporalities of the Church than Mr. Mitchell.
The work of these early pioneers was by no means a light work. The fact may be unknown to not a few that, in addition to the oversight of their own people, they had also charge of the preaching station at Carlops. Not until 16th March, 1847, were any elders resident in that district ordained for service there, and it was only in the year 1860 that further responsibility was removed from them by its being raised to the status of a fixed charge, and a regular clergyman appointed.
Over and above all their anxieties in the matter of church and manse building, they had also important scholastic responsibilities thrown upon them.
The Free Church, at the very beginning of her history, was mindful of the educational needs of the community, often imperfectly supplied by the heritors of the time, as well as anxious to promote the sound religious teaching of a rising generation. The Church indeed aimed at the establishment of a school in connection with each of its congregations, and up to the passing of the Education Act of 1872 it succeeded in a truly remarkable manner in supplementing existing agencies.
Our first Free Church school in Penicuik was carried on for a time in a small house in West Street, belonging to Mr. Pattison, father of Mrs. McFarlane, a much respected member of our present congregation. The first teacher was Mr. John Noble. This gentleman also acted as Session Clerk from the autumn of 1843, until he left the district in February, 1847. In 1843 the number of pupils in daily attendance necessitated the provision of more accommodation, and the Deacons’ Court accordingly resolved to erect premises of their own. A site was secured on favourable terms at Kirkhill, and a school and school-house were built at a cost of £480. Fourteen years afterwards an enlargement of the teacher’s house was made at a further outlay of £155. These sums had to be paid by the Church, and added not a little to the financial anxieties of its office-bearers. Happily for them the cost of the next addition to the school buildings in 1861, amounting to about £200, was generously borne by Mr. Duncan Cowan of Beeslack, a deacon in the congregation. It may fittingly be mentioned here that the school, school-house, and other buildings were handed over, free. of charge, to the School Board at Whitsunday, 1873.
All through those early days of our local Church’s history those excellent men who held office in it did not permit passing events of importance to go unheeded, nor did they underrate their influence with the Supreme Court of the nation. Their petitions to Parliament were indeed not unfrequent, and they freely recorded therein their opinions upon a variety of subjects, ranging from Sabbath labour on railways and post offices to the Maynooth Grant.
A congregational library was also formed in January, 1845, but either the quality of the literature .supplied to it was at fault or the literary instincts of the people not sufficiently developed, for, after a somewhat chequered existence of eleven years, it was broken up, and the books given to the children attending the Sabbath School. It is satisfactory to be able to state that at the present day, thanks to the great interest taken in the matter by the Rev. S. R. Crockett, the benefits of a large and properly equipped library are enjoyed by the congregation.
District prayer meetings were organised soon after the Disruption, and a must rigorous attention paid to irregular church-goers. Indeed discipline for this offence was not unfrequent. showing surely the exceeding faithfulness of our predecessors at a time when they would naturally be most anxious to increase the membership of the congregation.
On 26th April, 1846. there was another election of office-bearers. Upon this occasion Mr. John Cowan and Mr. Francis Morrison were chosen elders, but the first-mentioned gentleman, to the regret of all the congregation, declined to take office. Messrs. Henry Kerr. James Murdoch, and Robert McGill accepted their nominations as deacons, and were duly ordained.
On 12th May, 1850. Mr. Cowan of Beeslack saw his way to respond to the renewed expression of the desire of the congregation that he should join the eldership, and he was accordingly ordained along with Mr. Pelham Knott to that office. Messrs. Thomas Chalmers, Charles Ferguson, and John Gamock were at the same time set apart as deacons.
A certain interest attaches to the personality of these early office¬-bearers of our congregation and to their period of service ; but I think it needless to record subsequent elections in these pages, as a complete list of names with the date of ordination or induction is provided at the end of the volume.
During the summer of 1853 the health of the Rev. Mr. McKenzie began to give way. and he was granted three months’ leave of absence from his ministerial duties. It was necessary to find some one who would act in his absence, and Mr. Cowan of Beeslack tells how, in company with his worthy colleagues. Mr. Robert Mason and Mr. Francis Morrison, he drove all the way to Carnwath one Sunday morning to hear a young preacher named Hugh A. Stewart, who was at that time temporarily assisting Dr. Walker there. They were disappointed in finding on their arrival that Mr. Stewart was from home, but they received such glowing accounts of his goodness and worth that it was resolved to ask him to come and take charge of the work in Penicuik. This invitation Mr. Stewart accepted, and during that short period endeared himself to all by the exceedingly satisfactory performance of his duties, both public and private. Mr. McKenzie’s health continued delicate, and it was ultimately felt necessary that he should be relieved of the active supervision of the increasing work of the congregation. Arrangements were accordingly made satisfactory to himself, for his retirement, and .at a meeting held in the Church on 12th December, 1853, it was unanimously agreed to petition the Presbytery to retain the Rev. Hugh Alexander Stewart as his colleague and successor.
This request was readily sanctioned, and Mr. Stewart was solemnly ordained on Thursday, 30th March, 1854. The Rev. Mr. McKenzie gave up the manse and went to reside in Edinburgh. This good man and excellent clergyman was highly esteemed, and his departure much regretted by the congregation. He continued for seventeen years a senior colleague after Mr. Stewart’s appointment, although not taking any responsibility in ministerial or pastoral work. Mr. McKenzie died on 13th March, 1871, aged 69 years.
This may be the most suitable place to give my readers some account of these early Fathers of our Church who constituted Mr. McKenzie’s first Session and who were so closely associated with him in the life and work of our congregation at perhaps the most interesting period of its history.
The June Sacrament of 1888 was made memorable by the presence of the venerable Charles Cowan of Loganhouse, the last survivor of them. No figure in our Church Courts was better known than his and I am not a little surprised that Dr. Blaikie in his recent excellent little book, entitled After Fifty Years, has not included Mr. Cowan’s name in his roll of fame.
Confidence in his judgment and in that of his brother, Mr. John Cowan and esteem for their personal character, undoubtedly influenced many in Penicuik to throw in their lot with the Free Church at the Disruption who might otherwise have remained in the Establishment, for it must be remem¬bered in connection with this event that the Rev. Mr. Scott Moncrieff was no cold moderate preaching Arminian doctrines distasteful to his congrega¬tion, but a thoroughly evangelical minister and a much loved pastor and friend.
Mr. Cowan’s connection with us up to the year 1869, when he went to reside in Edinburgh, was one of the closest kind. He acted for a time as superintendent of our first Sabbath School. He also for several years conducted a most successful Bible Class, and bore his full share in every department of Church work. He represented our congregation and the Presbytery of Dalkeith in the Supreme Courts of the Church until the year 1852, at which time, I believe, he elected to respond to the invitation of the Presbytery of Orkney to act as their Commissioner. This position he honourably filled for a very long period, his last commission being signed so recently as 29th April. 1885.
Mr. Cowan lived to see the Church he loved pass through it-s time of trial and difficulty and advance year by year not only in increasing revenue and membership, but in earnest zeal both at home and aboard for the cause of her Great Head.
Mr. Cowan during his long life enjoyed his full share of worldly honours. He was twice elected as Member of Parliament for the City of Edinburgh, and while a member of the House of Commons served on many important Committees. At all public and philanthropic meetings in the Metropolis his was a familiar figure, and few did better service in his day and generation than he did.
This good man was gathered to his fathers on 29th March, 1889, in the 88th year of his age, and was interred in the family burying-ground in Penicuik Churchyard.
Dr. Henry Ridewood Madden, another of our Disruption Fathers, is the only member of the medical profession who has ever held office in the Free Church in Penicuik. He was a good man and a trusted physician, and is spoken of in terms of the greatest respect by old residenters in our parish. These were days when identification with Free Church principles sometimes cost professional and business men not a little, by the withdrawal of the favours of those who thought otherwise. But Dr. Madden was not one who .would sell his conscience for his interest, and I believe he never regretted the stand he made in joining those who exiled themselves from the Establishment.
Robert Keary was known to not a few of our present congregation. He was a meek and holy man, but with much of that stern grit and moral strength in him so observable in many quiet men. He resigned office on 31st January, 1867, and ceased active connection with our Church very much, it is understood, because of some proposed changes in the ser¬vice of praise. He loved the old ways, and could not bear the modern developments so appreciated by a younger generation. Mr. Keary died on 30th January, 1879.
His brother-elder, Mr. Kilpatrick of the Coats, another good and true man also, held somewhat strict views on the subject of praise in the Sanctuary. Double-repeating tunes were a horror to him. He, indeed, one day rose and left the Church because of the precentor giving out one of that description called ” Piety.” Very much out of respect to him, and in consideration of his opinions, the Session agreed, on 16th February, 1848. that there should be no repetition of the offence. This gave occasion to the coining of a conundrum by Mr. Knott, a subsequent member of Session. Why, he asked, was the Free Church in Penicuik the most atheistic in the land? Answer: Because Piety is abolished from its midst. Mr. Kilpatrick was a man of sound religious convictions, active in his habits, and is spoken of as one of the most useful of these pioneers of our Church. Although a generation has come and gone since he left us, there are few men in his position in life of whom there are kindlier remembrances than Robert Kilpatrick of the Coats. He died at Torry, Fifeshire, on 15th September, 1876.
The only other member of our first Session still to be alluded to is Robert Mason. This godly man was first ordained an elder in the Parish Church by the Rev. William Scott Moncrieff in the year 1830 along with Charles Cowan, James Lovell, and John Wilson then farmer on Mosshouses.
At the Disruption Mr. Mason never wavered in what he considered the path of duty, and it was for conscience’ sake that he threw in his lot with those who left the Establishment.
Very faithfully did he ever seek to perform his duties in connection with the new congregation. After giving up work in Messrs. Cowan’s paper mill, he was for many years employed by that firm as missionary and district visitor, and he will long be remembered for his kindly ministrations in that capacity. His thorough knowledge of Scripture and gifts in prayer indeed enabled him by apt quotation and comprehensive utterance to be a valued comforter at many sick and dying beds. My own recollections of him are more associated with his labours in the Sabbath School.
Latterly he had a class of rather unruly boys, who were apt at times to take advantage of the simple and kindly old man. He had rather a quaint way of pronouncing some of the books in the Bible, and not unfrequently he had to go through a certain formula prescribed to him by his youthful students before they would begin their lessons. Often, too, his spectacles had to be tried on by each in succession before his gentle remonstrances were attended to.
Robert Mason, indeed, well deserved the description given him in the Free Church Record by Mr. Cowan of Beeslack, that “he was an Israelite indeed, in whom there was no guile.” This venerated man died on 19th September, 1872.
I might write chapters in paying tribute to the work and worth of our early office-bearers, but the space at my disposal forbids it. It is difficult, however, to resist making a passing allusion to the self-denying labours of such a one as Mr. Thomas Chalmers, afterwards of Linlithgow. This gentleman married a daughter of Mr. Charles Cowan, and lived for a number of years in Penicuik. Following the example of his great relative Dr. Chalmers, he became a devoted supporter of the Free Church. He was first a deacon and afterwards an elder in the congregation, and few names appear upon our Church’s records indicating a more constant service on her behalf. His labours amongst the poor and the suffering will not be readily forgotten. Many still speak grate¬fully and lovingly of his well-known habit of house-to-house visitation on Sabbath mornings, for the purpose of engaging in worship with those who were deprived of the services of the Sanctuary. He also conducted Sabbath instruction to children in remote parts of the parish. Mr. Chalmers died on 30th November, 1883.
I would like to place on record the ten years of faithful service as Session Clerk rendered by Mr. Pelham Knott, also the quiet and dutiful labours of Mr. John McFarlane, not only as a member of Session, but as teacher in Kirkhill School.
These brethren were not known to the younger generation in our congregation, but the mention of their saintly colleague, Francis Morrison, and their successors. Henry Petrie and David Smith, will recall to many the forms and faces of these God-fearing men, who had each, not only in his own heart the secret consciousness of duty well performed, but also the approbation of all who were witnesses of the lives they lived.
In further relating the history of our congregation from the time of Mr. Stewart’s settlement amongst us, no outstanding event worthy of chronicle occurs to me until the important steps taken by the Session and Deacons’ Court in the year 1861.
The population of our parish was slowly increasing, and it became apparent that the old church in West Street had become too small for the number, of worshippers who filled it Sabbath after Sabbath. Negotiations were entered into with a neighbouring feuar for the right of extension back¬wards, but these overtures did not meet with a favourable reception. It was accordingly decided at a congregational meeting held on 29th July, 1861, that a new church be erected elsewhere, and after some correspondence with the superior of the land, the site of the present place of worship was fixed upon on 6th December of the same year.
The congregation thereafter set themselves earnestly to work to raise subscriptions. It was fortunate, however, that there were a few amongst them who not only were possessed of ample means, but had also the heart to give of these means. Once and again in the minutes of the Deacons’ Court acknow¬ledgment is made of the financial aid rendered them by their colleague, Mr. Duncan Cowan of Beeslack, and this gentleman now crowned his former favours by giving a thousand pounds to the building fund of the new church.
This sum he supplemented by a hundred a year so long as any debt remained upon it, Mr. Cowan’s gifts were not confined to our local congregation. In the early days of the movement, he indeed refrained from repleting his own wardrobe until he was satisfied that every minister in the Church whose means were scanty was provided with new and comfortable garments. His vas a familiar figure as he went through our district collect-ing the Sustentation Fund, and it was a common observation regarding him, that though he was small in stature he was large in heart.
It was indeed fitting that Mr. Cowan should be the principal figure at the ceremonial of laying the foundation stone of the new church on 20th May, 1862, and a relic of the occasion exists in the shape of a silver trowel, with which he was presented by the Rev. Mr. Stewart, in name of the congregation.
Underneath the stone a vessel was deposited containing the following articles:-—A written account of the history of the Church, by Mr. Cowan of Beeslack: the deed of demission by ministers in 1843. the claim, declaration, and protest: The Witness and Daily Review of May 20th; several coins of the realm, also the subscribers’ and architects’ names. The great gathering upon that occasion was addressed by Mr. John Cowan, Sheriff Cleghorn, Mr. Craster of the Wellington, and Mr. David Dickson of Mauricewood. Prayer was offered up by Rev. Mr. Stewart, verses 3 to 6 of the 132nd Psalm were sung, and the benediction pronounced by the emeritus minister of the congregation, the Rev. Andrew McKenzie.
The plan of the new church which cost £2050, was prepared by Mr. Pilkington, architect. The original proportions were, however, subsequently altered, though not improved ; this was done, it must be explained, with the laudable object of saving expense. The Deacons’ Court were assisted in their duties as a Building Committee by the following members of the congregation : Messrs. James Birrell, John Craster, James Thomson, Wil¬liam Ritchie, and Robert McLeod.
The new church was a long time in building, and many remonstrances were addressed to the architect regarding the delay, yet, when the day came to leave the old building in West Street as a place of worship, many of the older members of the congregation did so with a sigh of regret: the thought of the experience of past years, associations, and reminiscences connected with those loved and gone made it indeed sacred to many of them. Until comparatively recent times the Congregational Sabbath School continued to be held in it, and to this day it serves the useful purpose of a Town Hall, the proceeds of income derived from this source being credited in the Church Accounts to what is called the Hall Fund.
The new church was formally opened by Mr. William Arnot of the Free High, Edinburgh, on Friday, 4th September, 1863, and he occupied the pulpit upon the following Sabbath. The collection upon that occasion amounted to £160—surely a very curious coincidence, when we remember that the same sum was contributed at the opening of our first church on 18th October, 1844.
The next event of importance in the history of the congregation was the receipt by the Deacons’ Court of a letter dated 31st December, 1864, from Mr. John Cowan of Beeslack, announcing that, along with his brothers Duncan and George, he had that day invested £1000 in behoof of the Free Church in Penicuik. Their object in doing so was, he said, “to promote the comfort of our much loved and valued minister, and also to aid in the settlement in future times of a pastor of higher attainments and education than might otherwise be expected to offer himself to the congregation.”
This generous gift was duly acknowledged by a letter of thanks on 2nd February, 1865. At the same time the Deacons’ Court testified their gratitude to another warm friend of the congregation, the late Mr. John Craster of the Wellington, for the handsome pulpit which he had placed in the church. I may here state that the record of subsequent substantial donations will be seen detailed in the annual financial statement which is provided for each member of the congregation.
One other gift, however, must be mentioned. On 20th June, 1877, the Rev. Mr. Stewart announced to the Session and Deacons’ Court that Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wm. Cowan of Valleyfield House desired to present a silver communion service and baptismal basin to the congregation. By this generous action, therefore, we acquired those beautiful cups and flagons. ,, which, with their appropriate mottoes, are so admired by every one present at our biennial sacramental celebrations.
The old, and far less valuable, vessels which had done duty from Dis¬ruption times were sent to the Free Church congregation at Edinkillie, in the Presbytery of Forres, who had their own service destroyed by a disastrous fire some time previously.
Both gifts, it is needless to say, were duly acknowledged by the grateful recipients.
On 31st January, 1867. negotiations were completed with the United Presbyterian congregation for the holding of alternative Sunday evening ser¬vices. This excellent arrangement, more recently joined in by our friends of the Established Church, still holds good. and has been an effectual means of promoting a healthy and friendly spirit amongst the members of each. In 1873 Mr. Cowan of Beeslack gave up the treasurership of the Congregational and Sustentation Funds. The onerous duties of these offices he had performed in the most painstaking manner from the time of the Disruption. The con¬gregation considered themselves fortunate in obtaining the services of his nephew, Mr. Charles William Cowan, as his successor, and for the long period of seventeen years this gentleman gave faithful and continuous attention to the work. It was thereafter taken up, and is now performed by, Mr. John Brown of Southend Villa, an honoured elder in the congregation, and a well-known expert in finance.
I may here mention that the Session and Deacons’ Court clerkships have been filled for unequal periods from the time of the Disruption until now by Messrs. John Noble, Duncan Graham, Pelham Knott, George Thorburn, William Sutherland, and Hugh Munro. The last-mentioned gentle¬man’s first minute as Session Clerk appears so long ago as 9th January, 1869. and I cannot here refrain from expressing my sense of the indebtedness of the congregation to him for these many years of faithful service.
An important part of public worship in the Sanctuary is the service of praise. During the fifty years of our existence as a congregation we have had, I believe, only four precentors. The first was Mr. Robert McGill, whose ser¬vices were gratuitous ; the second, Mr. Robert McLeod, was appointed on 7th February, 1845, and he continued in the post for the long period of 27 years. He was succeeded by Mr. Andrew Mitchell on 17th March, 1885. This gentleman resigned office on 15th March. 1891, his duties being thereafter taken up by our present excellent choir leader, Mr. Alexander Malcolm. Up to 1863 the precentor alone led the singing of the congregation, but on the 2nd November of that year a qualified sanction was given by the Session for the formation of a choir, on the condition that no fixed number of persons were statedly to sing. A few by turns might each day seat themselves near to the precentor and help him, but the rest were to be dispersed throughout the congregation. The rigid observance of this injunction gradually fell into abeyance, and ere long the services of a regular choir were enjoyed by their fellow-worshippers.
On 1st April, 1886, it was agreed, after much careful consideration by the Session, that the posture in singing, which had formerly been a sitting one, should be changed to standing.
On 29th December, 1889, the use of an American organ in church was granted for special evening services, and this was followed on 11th January. 1891, by permission being given to use this instrument at the ordinary diets of worship. Sacred cantatas have also been occasionally rendered to appreciative audiences by our excellent choir since the introduction of instrumental aids to the service of song.
This may be the most fitting place to give my readers an account of some other agencies which have been intimately associated with our life as a congregation, and first of all may be mentioned the Sabbath School.
I regret that authentic records are not available from which information may be gleaned regarding the work carried on in the years immediately following the Disruption. Mr. Charles Cowan acted as superintendent during that early period of its existence, and its organisation appears to have been very thorough and complete. In point of numbers, indeed, the school compared most favourably with present times, when the congregation itself is so much larger. I find that on 1st January, 1852, there were so many as 120 children upon the roll, with an excellent staff of fifteen teachers (in the year 1849 Mr. John Cowan took his brother’s place as superintendent of the school, which position he continued to hold with great acceptance until the beginning of 1861).
From March, 1861, until 2nd November, 1862, Mr. Sutherland, school teacher, acted as superintendent. He was at the latter date placed in charge of a joint-school which had been opened at Kirkhill as a result of certain negotiations between the Free and United Presbyterian Churches, but the venture did not prove sufficiently successful to be long continued. Upon Mr. Sutherland’s resignation as superintendent of the Congregational School an address, prepared by the secretary, Mr. Brown, and signed by all the teachers, was presented to Mr. John Cowan, praying him to resume the office.
Mr. Cowan responded favourably to the call, and for seventeen years gave earnest and constant attention to the work. In August, 1864, he originated the system of granting reward cards, Testaments, and Bibles, for continuous attendance at school. Many hundreds of these valuable gifts have been distributed during these past years, and Mr. Cowan continues to this day to provide these at his own cost to those who earn them. Many remember also the pleasant entertainments which he provided for scholars and teachers alike, in the summer and winter months, at Beeslack and Penicuik. These have been followed up since 1879, when an illness, happily a temporary one, caused Mr. Cowan to resign the superintendent-ship, by an annual excursion of the school in the month of July to such places as Brunstane Castle, Habbieshowe, Walston, and Lawhead. Farmer friends in the congregation and out of it kindly provide the means of conveyance, and the other expenses are supplied out of the proceeds of a special collection in the Church. During all the years of its existence the Sabbath School has contributed to missionary objects, the collection being now taken on the first Sabbath of each month. Last year, for instance, as the result of an appeal from Mr. Elmslie of Nyassa, the children con¬tributed five pounds towards the upkeep of one of his native teachers.
Prior to 1862 monthly prayer meetings of the teachers were com¬menced, and these continued without a break until the year 1883. Quarterly conferences with the teachers of the United Presbyterian Church were also carried on for a considerable period.
I would like well to give my readers a list of the many faithful teachers who have laboured long in this corner of the vineyard, but space forbids. After Mr. Cowan’s resignation as superintendent, the writer, in virtue of being the oldest teacher in the school, he having joined the staff in 1865, took up the work, and continues it until the present time. The following comparative statement of the numbers of teachers and children on the roll at intervals of ten years will show to members of the congrega¬tion the condition of the school at these various stages of its existence : On 1st January, 1852, 15 teachers, 130 scholars; on 1st January, 1862, 21 teachers, 187 scholars; on 1st January, 1872, 31 teachers, 217 scholars; 1st January, 1882, 31 teachers, 219 scholars; 1st January, 1892, 23 teachers, 143 scholars.
A most successful Sabbath School in connection with the Fieldsend Mission has also been carried on since the year 1877. It is at present in a most healthy condition and doing admirable work amongst the children in that district, many of whose parents are non-church-goers. It is now under the energetic superintendence of Mr. James Brown of Angle Park.
I may next mention the Christian Fellowship Association, which, along with the Sabbath School, has been a most important factor in our congrega¬tional life. It began its existence in the summer of 1864 with a member¬ship of seven, and continued for a time to be a most helpful and improving influence in the lives of the young men who attended it. No record of the names of its original members exists, the only other individual whom I can recollect as associated with myself in it being the late Mr. David Morrison, son of Mr. Francis Morrison, whose name as a member of Session has been already mentioned. Mr. David Morrison had a distinguished career as a political agent on the N.E. coast of Africa, having once and again received the thanks of the Indian and Home Governments for his services. He died last year, a martyr to duty, while attending others laid low by an epidemic when he himself should have been in hospital. This first Young Men’s Association, after a few years’ existence, came to an end, but was revived again in August, 1878, and continues until this present time. Ladies are now admitted as members, and they contribute a very fair share to the syllabus of each year’s work. The presidents of this Y.M.C.A. have been Robert Fyfe, John J. Wilson, John Stewart. George Thomson, W. J, Isles, and Daniel McMaster. Much of the success of the association has been due to the unwearied labours of Mr. Robert Fyfe, an elder in the congregation, who now controls its deliberations as president for the third time.
One of the most interesting associations and the oldest connected with our congregation is the Female Missionary Association. In January, 1842, the late Mrs. Charles Cowan of Valleyfield and a few other ladies, having attended a meeting in Dalkeith called together to form an association there for the advancement of Female Education in India, were so much interested with the information obtained that after consideration they resolved to form a similar society in Penicuik.
With praiseworthy zeal they accordingly set to work, and within a month a local association was formed and affiliated with the Scottish Ladies’ Association, under the superintendence of missionaries of the Church of Scotland. In the first report of their work which they issued, they expressed the greatest satisfaction with the encouragement they had met with, and made especial acknowledgments of the assistance they had received from Mrs. Baildon and Mrs. Somerville of Dalmore in the formation of the society. The subscriptions and donations during the first year were £15 12s. 6d., and the receipts for work done and sold £4 17s. 2d. At the Disruption the association resolved to throw in its lot with the Free Church, inasmuch as all the missionaries had severed their connection with the Establishment and joined it.
Of the income for that year, which amounted to £10 1s. 6d., five pounds were sent to the Rev. Mr. Moncrieff for Female Education in India in connection with the Church of Scotland, and five pounds one shilling and sixpence to Mr. A. Bonar, Treasurer of the Free Church Society. From that time until now the association has carried on its work in Penicuik with the most satisfactory results; and although it is a Free Church organisation it has ever presented an undenominational aspect, from the fact that many ladies not in any way connected with our congregation have all along been willing workers, and have taken a lively interest in its prosperity.
At the beginning the whole parish was mapped out into districts, and collectors appointed to wait statedly upon contributors. A considerable portion of the total sum raised year by year is, however, the proceeds of work made by the ladies themselves who form the association, and who, during the long period of its existence, have met month by month at Valleyfield House, and latterly at Beeslack, for the purpose of sewing and putting together the articles which are sold at the Annual Bazaar. This sale of work was instituted in 1873.
Prior to that time the various articles made were carried round from door to door in baskets by these good and faithful members of the association — Miss Isabella Wilson, so long in the service of Mr. Charles Cowan, and Mrs. McFarlane. Many will remember the work which they did in this connection, and their services are still spoken of with approval and appreciation. It is said that the first-mentioned, at her death, which occurred on 16th January, 1882, left a considerable sum of money to the parent society. In 1873 the first public sale of work in Valleyfield School was opened by the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, and since that time this service has been rendered by distinguished strangers, such as Dr. George Smith, S. Murray Mitchell, Col. A. G. Young, as well as by local clergymen and laymen. Much of the work of the association has all along rested upon the treasurer. This post has been filled by Mrs. Charles Cowan, Mrs. John Cowan, Miss Margaret M. Cowan, Miss Newbigging, Miss Joan Cowan, and Mrs. Sanford of Beeslack. All these ladies have ever given loving and much appreciated service. Latterly they have been much helped in the arrangements for the Annual Bazaar by the generous assistance of Miss Barbara Wilson of Fetteresk. The total amount collected by the society since its formation up to the present time reaches the very large sum of £ 1456 17s. 8d.
In giving a further account of congregational life and work from the period of the opening of the new church for public worship until the present time, there arc few outstanding events of such a nature as to cause me to unduly prolong this historical sketch except by the briefest epitome.
Under Mr. Stewart’s ministry the congregation continued slowly but surely to increase in membership. His godly and consistent life, his earnest preaching and most regular pastoral visitation, indeed, ensured that apprecia¬tion of his services by his people which made their mutual relationship of the most satisfactory kind.
It was therefore a cause of genuine sorrow to many to observe that during the summer and winter of 1885 Mr. Stewart’s health did not appear to be such as they would have desired it to be. The Session were indeed somewhat in a measure prepared for the announcement made to them on 1st February, 1886, by the reverend gentleman, that he meditated retirement from the active duties of the ministry. They were so satisfied with the testimony afforded them of the precarious state of his health that they unanimously agreed to send a deputation of their number to support his application at the meeting of Presbytery, which was to be held the following day.
General regret was expressed by the fathers and brethren of that reverend Court at the prospect of losing Mr. Stewart as a colleague, but arrangements were made to permit of him being relieved of his ministerial duties. Financial provisions were subsequently made by which he received fifty pounds per annum from the Sustentation Fund. He was also placed by the Church upon the Aged and Infirm Ministers’ Fund, and received a like amount from it. Mr. Stewart shortly afterwards went to spend the evening of his days in Elgin, and it was the hope of his friends that with rest from labour his days might be prolonged upon the earth.
Upon two occasions only were his people privileged again to hear his voice in his old pulpit—first, at the Communion on 30th June, 1889, and lastly, on Sabbath evening, 13th July, 1890.
After Mr. Stewart’s retirement the congregation had anxiously to consider the appointment of a colleague and successor.
A committee was formed, with Mr. Charles William Cowan and Mr. James Birrell as joint-conveners.
In course of time the testimonials and recommendations of over forty applicants, many of whom preached to the congregation, had to be considered, along with the claims of those sent by the Committee for the Distribution of Probationers to occupy the pulpit every alternate Sabbath day. Considerable diversity of opinion as to the merits of the various candidates existed for a time in the congregation, but that opinion at length became in a large measure most favourably focussed upon one who was not on the list of candidates, and whose name came before the committee at the last moment. At a congregational meeting held on 11th October, 1886, it at once became evident that the great preponderance of feeling was in favour of Mr. Samuel Kutherford Crockett, a young preacher only some three months licensed, who was acting at the time as temporary assistant to the Rev. Mr. Shiach of the Free Abbey Church, Dunfermline. Mr. Crockett had the most favourable recommendations, not only from prominent office-bearers in that congregation, but also from eminent leaders in the Church, such as Dr. Rainy, Dr. Whyte, and others. It may not be out of place to quote here the following words from the communication received from the last-mentioned eminent divine as an indication of his insight into the character and abilities of those with whom he comes in contact: ” Few men,” wrote Dr. Whyte, ” leave the New College and present themselves to our vacant congregations so well equipped as Mr. Crockett. I shall look forward with deep interest to his future career, and I expect much from it.” I need hardly remark in passing that the eminent gifts which have already enabled our minister to attain to such a prominent position in the literary world have amply corroborated the truth of this diagnosis.
The result of the vote of the congregation showed an overwhelming majority in Mr. Crockett’s favour. The minority generously agreed to accept this decision and acquiesce in a unanimous call to the reverend gentleman. That call was accepted by Mr. Crockett, and he was ordained colleague and successor to Mr. Stewart on 23rd November, 1886. The history of our congregational life during the seven years that have passed is known to the very youngest of our members. All the existing agencies have been continued, and in some cases extended.
In the greatly developed work of the Fieldsend Mission Mr. Crockett has been assisted not only by Mr. W. J. Wallace, an active member of Session, but also by a band of willing workers who visit regularly the homes of the people, and conduct Sabbath evening services both in and out of doors. The Tuesday evening prayer meetings conducted by Mr. Crockett have from small beginnings increased in a most remarkable manner. This week-night service is attended, not by members of our own congregation only, but by many others in the parish, who appreciate and are benefited by them.
In the spring months of the present year private advices reached the congregation that the health of their senior pastor, the Rev. Mr. Stewart, had completely broken down. For many weeks pulpit references were made to his condition, and prayers offered for his restoration to health. For a time it appeared as if he was to be spared a little longer, but a Divine Providence willed it otherwise, for he quietly passed away on the morning of the fourth day of May, 1893. The night before he died he conducted worship himself, first asking that the hymn “The sands of time arc sinking” should be sung. In his prayer he repeated more than once the words, “My times are in Thy hands.”
In letters written at his dictation during his illness to his old friend and brother in affection, Mr. Cowan of Beeslack, he made repeated allusions to this attitude of trustful waiting. Quaint and beautiful were many of his expressions. “The plough,” he wrote, ” was drawing near to the end of the furrow.” ” His boat,” he said, “lay near the bank —sometimes pulled into the shallows, and again, as strength returned, pushed back into deeper water.” Many loving messages he sent to his people and to individual members of his congregation, and the grief that many experienced at the news of his death was very real.
A meeting of office-bearers was summoned by the Rev. Mr. Crockett, and as a last token of respect Messrs. Munro and Mitchell were deputed to represent the Session and Deacons’ Court at the funeral. The pulpit references by Mr. Crockett were graceful and full of feeling, and a beautiful and sympathetic letter from his friend and brother-minister, the Rev. John McKerrow of the United Presbyterian Church, was read to the congregation.
Mr. Stewart, it is curious to notice, died at the age of 60, the same as his predecessor, the Rev. Mr. McKenzie. He was an interesting and earnest though by no means a distinguished preacher, exceedingly faithful in the discharge of his pastoral duties, and above all a valued visitor at sick and dying beds. An aristocrat by birth and feeling, and a bachelor, Mr. Stewart ever kept himself in a measure apart from much social intercourse. In holiday times he was a keen angler, but seldom was he ever met in Penicuik carrying rod and fishing basket, only once indeed do I ever recollect of seeing him so accoutred. In manner Mr. Stewart was quiet and undemonstrative, and though rather under middle height he possessed a certain dignity of demeanour which prevented the most forward from intruding upon him. He was a soldier’s son, and inherited much of that determination of character which enabled his father, Major Ludovic Stewart of Pettyvaich, to take the prominent part he did in the Disruption controversy, even at the risk of legal punishment.
(Major Stewart made a memorable speech at the Assembly on 21st May, 1842. He alluded to an interdict served upon him prohibiting him from taking his seat in the Assembly as the elder from the Presbytery of Strathbogie, and held that on such an occasion it would he criminal in him to obey the interdict of any earthly court. So long as he was permitted he would serve his God as faithfully as he had served his country.)
Born in the island of Java in the year 1824, Mr. Stewart, when about six years of age, came to Scotland with the other members of his family. He studied in Aberdeen, and in the Divinity Hall enjoyed the privilege of attending the lectures of Dr. Chalmers. He was licensed as a preacher in 1852, and for a short time acted as temporary supply in the Free South Church, Elgin. Before settling in Penicuik he was for short periods assistant to the Rev. Mr. Grant of Ayr and Dr. Walker of Carnwath.
In drawing to a close this crude sketch of our congregational life, I may call to the remembrance of my fellow members the need of thankfulness to the Great Head of the Churches for His goodness to us during the past fifty years of our existence as a congregation. “To whom much is given, much will be required.” Have we all done our duty, not only in giving as the Lord has prospered us into His treasury, but also in the performance of our duties as adherents, members, and office-bearers? Few of us could, I fear, give an affirmative answer to this question. We have now come to a very important landmark in our journey—our year of jubilee. May our prayer be, as we round the corner to enter upon another period of service, that the Lord will help us to be more faithful in all things in the future than we have been in the past.
Pilkington’s Architectural Masterpiece
Following the Disruption, the Free Church congregation was formed in Penicuik in 1843. The Free Church Presbytery of Dalkeith appointed five elders to form the session of the Free Church in Penicuik. The five were former elders of Penicuik Parish Church.
The first Free Church building was built on the site of the garden attached to a cottage which had belonged to Helen Wilson. The cottage and its garden was purchased by Charles Cowan MP who gave the garden to the Free Church. The ground was part of Sir George Clerk’s estate and was leased with 400 years to run. The site was triangular and this accounts for the odd shape of the church which was built there and is now, in an enlarged form, known as West Street Hall.
At a later date, Sir George Clerk gave ground adjacent to the new church for a manse. This building at 32 West Street served as a manse for a number of years until a new manse was built in Bog Road in 1896. Subsequently the building was used as a police station complete with cell block at the rear and then as a small copper craft works. When the premises went up for sale in 1978 the South Church re-purchased them and the grounds.
By 1862 the Free Church Congregation had outgrown the West Street premises and a larger building was clearly needed. Sir George Clerk who had in earlier years been approached to provide land for the Free Church, granted a site on the west side of Peebles Road, beyond the Telford Bridge. The present South Church building was built there to the design of F.T. Pilkington for the sum of £2,050. The foundation stone was laid on 20th May 1862 by Mr. Duncan Cowan of Beeslack. Under the stone a number of items were placed, including Mr. Cowan’s history of the church, documents relating to the Disruption, some coins of the realm and a list of the subscribers and architects. The church was opened by Mr. William Arnot of Free High Church Edinburgh, on Friday, 4th September 1863.
It is interesting to note that the offering on that opening Sunday was £160 which for this period was an impressive sum. In 1864 Messrs. John, George and Duncan Cowan invested £1,000 for the Free Church to provide additional funds for the incumbent minister and to ensure that future ministers of high calibre and education would be attracted to the charge. In the period of 50 years between 1843 and 1893 the congregation raised £40,295, including £5,878 for foreign missions, etc., other Assembly schemes and for the poor of the congregation. The amount for the wider work of the church thus averaged around 15% of income. Currently the South Church contributes 27% of income to the Mission and Aid Fund – an encouraging increase.
South Church Ministers
The first minister to conduct services in the new building was the Rev. Hugh A. Stewart who had been ordained to the charge in 1854. In 1886 he was succeeded by the Rev. Samuel Rutherford Crockett who later took up writing of novels with an historical flavour, such as The Raiders and The Grey Man.
The complete list of ministers of the South Church over the period from its opening in 1863 to date is appended.
The architecture of the South Church
The church was built with money raised by the congregation aided by the generous donation of £1,000 by Mr. Duncan Cowan of Beeslack. Mr. Cowan gave an additional pledge of £100 per annum until all debts relating to building costs were paid.
The following description by Colin McWilliam of the remarkable design of the building by F.T. Pilkington is reproduced from The Buildings of Scotland – Lothians Except Edinburgh by permission of Penguin Books Ltd.
“SOUTH (former United Free) CHURCH, Bridge Street. A master work by Frederick T. Pilkington, 1862, sadly frustrated by the absence of the spire. It is not a large building, but the effect is of such prodigious complication – even for Pilkington – that the underlying simplicity is not at first easy to grasp. In fact it is basically symmetrical on the E-W axis, though this is masked by the snuffer-roofed session house lying low against the S side, the tower against the N. And it is basically square in plan, despite the apparently mad combination of hipped and jerkin-headed gables and glissading, snow-boarded roofs. The purpose of them all, starting with the little gabled apses to NW and SW, is to build up to the huge E gable facing the street. This, with the tower beside it, is the final triumph of the stonework that has elsewhere had a hard struggle to push the roofs up from the ground.
The E gable displays Pilkington’s whole repertoire of virtuoso modelling and texture (though not of the polychromy seen at Irvine at the same date). Its lower part is a porch; its upper windows light the back of the gallery. The porch is of four rock-faced arches each bearing on four shafts with leafy capitals of suitable vigour (this is shared by all the stone carving, and it is a pity the name of the sculptor is not known). Above them, three oeils-de-boeuf as a pretext for narrowing the interest to the centre part of the gable. This corresponds with the break in the main roof and is framed by big pilasters supporting a cusped arch with rock-faced, radial voussoirs under the skew. Within it, a glazed colonnade, its narrow stilted arches lower in the middle to allow for the plate-traceried rose window. The outer sections, a parody of transept ends, have clasping buttresses that send up their own cusping, rock-faced against ashlar, from diminutive shafts. Meantime the tower, starting massively square in plan, has turned into an octagon, with tabernacles (unfinished) against the diagonal faces. Corbelled shafts at each angle, their capitals merging into a sculptured belt which includes a lovely angel over the N clock face, prepare to support the tall spire that was never built. It would apparently have been slated, its tallness emphasized by triangular lucarnes.
The explanation and the fulfilment of all this enthusiasm is inside, though it must be admitted that the detail is of a lesser order. Not so the carpentry, however. The square shape is fully expressed by an open pyramidal roof of brown stained timber,* set on spirally foliated shafts at the corners, the principals nicely distinguished from the common rafters. At the centre a chief kingpost; three more over the three apses to N, W and S. To the E the floor and pews are raked. Gallery on barley-sugar columns. Over it the roof is held together with wrought-iron ties. — FURNISHINGS. Not notable in themselves, but the ensemble of the whole religious auditorium, its family intimacy, and the pride of place and comfort given to pulpit and communion table, its jewelled glass in mesmerizing patterns, are disarming beyond all praise. — ORGAN. 1901 by Hamilton of Edinburgh.”
The organ was rebuilt in 1976 at a cost of £3,000.
*The original glossy brown varnish was stripped off the pews and everything else in reach in 1977.
Recent changes in the South Church
Transfer to Church of Scotland
The United Free Church Congregation merged with the Church of Scotland in 1929. The South Church and its associated buildings, West Street Hall and 32 West Street, remain within the responsibility of the local trustees (the Minister, Session Clerk and Clerk to the Deacons’ Court).
Linkage with Howgate Church
Following the retirement of the late Rev. Arnot Fleming the congregations of Penicuik South and Howgate churches were linked in January 1979. Services in the South Church and Howgate Church are conducted each Sunday morning by the Minister, who is Moderator of both Kirk Sessions.
Re-purchase of the original manse
The former manse at 32 West Street was purchased in 1978 and after major re-structuring it was opened in January 1984 by Mr. Alex Simpson, a former Provost of Penicuik and Treasurer of the South Church, for use as additional premises. The building has proved invaluable as a meeting place for prayer, bible studies, youth group, a creche and a drop-in centre.
Restoration of the South Church
When Mr. Alistair Walker, a former Elder and Fabric Convenor of the Church visited Penicuik from his home in Aberdeen in 1989, he didn’t expect that the Church would close some time after his visit! From his pew he had spotted dry rot in a beam above the organ pipes and it soon became clear that the church would have to undergo major renovation. The work of restoration took a year, during which:
• the main roof beams were repaired, the roofing timbers renewed in places and the slates re-set and in some areas renewed with matching slate;
• the stained glass windows were repaired and frames renewed, the organ dismantled for access to the dry rot and rebuilt; the organ console was re-sited;
• the outside stonework was re-pointed, pillars in the arcade replaced and the clock dials re-painted, and gilded;
• the plasterwork on the North wall and timber cladding was renewed; and, finally
• the interior walls were repainted and the floor re-stained.
The South Kirk is now probably in a better state than it has been in any member’s lifetime. The work of restoration cost around £250,000, some 80 per cent of which came from Historic Buildings and Monuments. South Kirk members contributed £45,000. The congregation was also helped by The Baird Trust, The Scottish Architectural Heritage Trust, Midlothian District Council and The Dalrymple Archaeological Fund. Contributions have also come from The Church of Scotland and Howgate Church.
The restoration was supervised by the architect, Mr. J. Landels, a former elder and fabric convener of South Kirk: Matthew, Hamilton, Maclean (Edinburgh). Quantity surveyors: Maclntyre, McNish and Partners (Edinburgh). Dry rot treatment and timber replacement: MacFadyen Preservation (Edinburgh). Structural engineers: David R. Murray Associates (Edinburgh). Stonework and roofing: Lloyds and Johnston (Leith). Glazing: James Thow & Co. (Leith). Organ builder: Ronald Smith (Kinross). Interior paintwork: W. Souter (Grangemouth). Electrical work: Mr Jim Slater, a South Church elder.
The activities of the South Church congregation
As the South Church nears its 150th anniversary, its purpose remains as it was at the beginning – to Worship God and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The congregation meet for Worship in the Church on Sunday at 11.15 am and in the evening at 7.00 pm, usually in the West Street Hall (except for evening Communion services which are held in the Church).
• The Annals of Penicuik. John J. Wilson. Facsimile reprint published 1985 by SPA Books Ltd, from the original private publication by the author in 1891.
• A Fifty Years’ Retrospect – being a short history of the Free Church congregation in Penicuik. John J. Wilson; also A Statement of Finance from 1843-1893, by John Brown, Treasurer of the Congregation. Published by W, Pollock Wylie, Office of the Christian Leader, Glasgow, 1893.
• The Buildings of Scotland – Lothian except Edinburgh. Published by Penguin Books, 1978. (Editor-in-Chief, Nikolous Pevsner; Joint Editors, Colin Me William and Judy Nairn).
List of Ministers
Rev. Andrew McKenzie 1843-1853
Rev. Hugh A. Stewart 1854-1886
Rev. S.R. Crockett 1886-1895
Rev. Robert Jack 1895-1940
Rev. Ian Taylor 1940-1946
Rev. Millar Graham (while Mr Taylor was in the RAF)
Rev. Andrew Stewart 1946-1953
Rev. John Laing 1954-1961
Rev. Evans (USA) one year temp.
Rev. John Spencer 1962-1966
Rev. Gladstone Millar temp.
Rev. Hugh Sawers June 1968-May 1973
Rev. Ronald Sewell Oct 1973-June 1985
Rev. Frank Ribbons Aug 1985-
Penicuik South Kirk was originally the Free Church of Pennycuick formed in 1843 by those Church of Scotland members, who left the church over the issue of a congregation’s right to choose its own minister. So many people left the church all over Scotland to form the Free Church, that the issue became known as the Disruption. These members from the Parish church, including five elders, held their first meetings in the Gardiner’s Hall (one of the Friendly Societies of the time) since they had no church building of their own. Their first minister Reverend Andrew McKenzie was ordained on the 24th of August 1843. The Free Presbytery of Dalkeith appointed the five ex parish church elders to form the Kirk Session of the Free Church in Penicuik.
Having established their breakaway congregation, the Free Church needed a suitable site to build a new church. Sir George Clerk, the landowner of the time, was himself a member of the Parish church and was not supportive of the Free Church. He would not sell them a site for a church building, and opposed all their other efforts to buy land for a church or a manse. However, Charles Cowan M.P. (also one of the Kirk Session) eventually came to the rescue, when a cottage and garden, leased from Penicuik estate, came up for auction. The lease was for 400 years, so it was purchased by Mr. Cowan, and presented to the Free Church, as a site for their church in what is now West Street. The triangular shape of the piece of ground dictated the shape of the church, which had the pulpit at the apex of the triangle and the seating in a fan shape. Sir George Clerk later relented and gave the ground beside it, for the building of a manse.
Once a new church and congregation were established, how were they organised and financed? While the Kirk Session was formed in 1843, the first Deacons Court meeting is not recorded until January 6th 1845. It was held in the church, and thereafter often twice a month. The church officer bearers of 150 years ago had a lot on their minds!
The early church had the usual door collections at morning and evening services, and in the first year up to March 1844 had a balance in credit on the congregational account of £4:5:6 l/2d. The evening collections were set aside for educational purposes i.e. the building and running of a school at Kirkhill. Another source of income was a voluntary half yearly seat offering. Those who wanted a family seat in the church were to apply to the secretary in August 1845. We are not told if those, who did not volunteer an offering, lost their seats.
Special collections were made for the Poor Fund at the evening services. Funds were distributed as necessary by the Deacon’s Court and scarcely a month went by without the funds being dipped into. This was felt to be part of the Churches home mission work, in the days before a National Health Service and Social Security. The exception was l849 when no money was given out of the Poor Fund. One wonders if there were more pressing needs at that time. In later days e.g. November 1869 one finds money being left in a will i.e. the Thorburn fund, to be used for the poor fund.
These kinds of collections have all been used to finance the work of the church in more recent times, but the early South Church also had a sustentation fund. This was a separate fund raised to pay the Minister’s salary. Members of the church agreed to pay a certain sum, by weekly or monthly instalments. The Deacon’s Court in March 1845 felt “the success of the Free Church depends on keeping it properly administered” and agreed to look at the collecting books every month, and to visit the non payers in the hope that they would pay up. We can see that visiting the congregation to ask for more money has been going on since the South Church began.
A church building account was started in 1843 and by 1845 stood at £733:13:lld. This was made up from special collections and congregational contributions, seat offerings and £26:7:l0d for labour given free. While this sum almost paid for the building of the church in West Street, by January 1849 the Free Church was greatly in debt, because of the new school built at Kirk hill (where the Y.M.C.A. now is) in 1845, and the new manse built next to the church in 1847. It should be noted that the Disruption resulted in a great surge of activity by the churches on behalf of the community.
The Deacons court issued leaflets to the “hearers and others connected with the district of the Free church school and manse at Penicuik “so that “our people will be unencumbered and better fitted for devoting their energies to the extension of the gospel”. Members were asked to note their subscriptions or payments by instalment over three years, and return to Mr. J. Cowan. It was also mentioned that “a family much interested in the congregation have promised to raise 2/3 of this sum (£750)” on condition that the remaining £250 be collected by the congregation within three years. A healthy £109:14:8d was raised for this purpose in 1849-50, with the names of all the donors and amounts given, from £10 to 5/ printed in the accounts for that year.
Such “encouragements” to subscribe were continued for the next two years. A donation by A Friend of 10/- was noted in 1851. By March 1852 however the debt had actually increased to £505:3:6d. The Deacon’s court put forward a new plan for visiting each member of the congregation to ask for a sum approximately six times his annual contribution to pay off the debt once and for all. Again a printed list of subscribers was shown in the yearly accounts, and it was noted that “some are yet backward in this matter.”Donations ranged from £20 to 6d. Some of the smaller sums would doubtless be given by the poor and elderly, who would have to rely on the Poor Fund to keep starvation at bay.
The Free Church had only a few years of financial stability before it found itself with another substantial debt. By July 1861 the congregation had grown too large for the church building in West Street. The Deacon’s Court decided against extending the existing church, although ground was available, and plans were to be drawn up for a new building suitable “ for the wants of the congregation and most likely to be ornamental to the village.” Various sites were proposed, before the present site on the Peebles road was bought from Sir George Clerk and Pilkington submitted plans for the design. The foundation stone was laid in March 1862 by Duncan Cowan, who was presented with a silver trowel to mark the occasion,
As with previous funds for church buildings, subscriptions were asked for, from the congregation and friends. The names of donors and the amounts were printed in he l862 Treasurer’s report with sums ranging from £900 down to 1/—. Smaller donations under 1/ amounted to 1/11 1/2d and swelled the total to £1330:9: 5 1/2d for that year. In l863 the ladies of the congregation collected £29:14:6d to provide the stained glass windows. By March 1866 the debt on the new church building stood at £483: ll: lld Mr. Charles Cowan proposed to match the congregational contributions for 1866, and 1867, to pay off the debt since the expenses were far more than estimated. By these means the debt on the new South church building was cleared by January 1868.
While the first twenty five years of the Free Church in Penicuik seem to be dominated by fundraising for various church building works, the elders and Deacon’s court did not loose sight of the wider work of the church. A Mission Fund was instituted from the beginning, raising £24:19:1d in its first year up to 1844. Special collections were taken as necessary for the Jews, India, the Colonies, Sabbath Observance, education etc. In June 1847 a collection was raised for the Royal Infirmary, because its funds were exhausted due to an increase of fever patients. The Free Church was helping those in need, whether at home or abroad.
The boys of the Wellington Reformatory were associated with the Free Church, no doubt as part of its Home Mission work. We first hear of them in October 1860, when they were given seats in the church. An account for £19:l8:9d was submitted by the Reformatory in 1865 for materials for the pulpit. A letter from the Deacon’s Court was sent to thank Mr. Craster, the superintendant, for the excellent work the boys had done fitting out the pulpit in the new church. There is a plaque on the pulpit to this effect. In November 1869 the Reformatory boys were asked to clean the church. This was shortly after the church had been lined with wood, to make the church warmer. A cleaner had been appointed in 1859 to sweep and dust the church once a week, and wash it once a month. For this the pay was £2 per annum, payable half yearly. Presumably the cleaner drew the line at cleaning up after the installation of the wood panelling.
In the early 1870 s the Reformatory boys were given seats in the gallery instead of the body of the church, for Sunday services, on condition that those already there did not object. By 1877 extra pews were made to accommodate new members of the congregation, and the Directors of the Reformatory were told that sittings for the boys would only be available if they were not needed for new members. It was also suggested that a contribution be made to church funds, other members paying seat rents. By 1888 it was suggested that although the boys had been worshipping with the congregation for twenty eight years, half of their number (sixty) should continue in the South Kirk, but the other half should go elsewhere, because of the lack of seating accommodation. A reply from the Reformatory that a moderate offering would be cheerfully given “resulted in the Deacon’s court agreeing to give them the use of the four back seats in the gal1ery. Worldly matters seemed to have clouded the spirit of welcome and affirmation. At least we no longer have to pay to be allowed to attend church.
Education for the children of the congregation was an important area of the Free Church’s responsibility. The first Free Church school was held in the house of Mr. Pattison in West Street in 1844, the first teacher being Mr. John Noble, Session Clerk. The decision in 1845 to build a schoolroom, with adjacent schoolhouse, at Kirkhill, to prevent the former “being injured by malevolent persons” is a sad reminder that vandalism is not confined to modern times. This led to the substantial debt already mentioned, which took ten years to clear. In June 1846 an extra monthly collection was taken to augment the teacher’s salary.
By 1858 Mr. Thorburn, the schoolmaster, had over 100 pupils, some of whom were poached from the Parish school at St. Mungo’s, due to the unhealthyness of the schoolroom there. With an average attendance of 84, he requested a second pupil teacher. A letter from the Education department said pupil numbers did not warrant a second pupil teacher, but this would be allowed if the church would pay wages for the first year. The increase in numbers prompted a request, later in that year, for an extension to the schoolhouse and the school. The Education department came up with a grant for half of the building costs. Despite a plea from the Deacon’s Court for a larger grant no more money was forthcoming, and efforts were made to raise £10 per family from the parents of children attending the school.
The level of education seems to have been of a high standard. In April 1862 the Inspector’s report found “the school itself is in a highly efficient state “and were very satisfied with Mr. Sutherland as the teacher. In March 1869 there was a 100% pass rate for reading, writing and arithmetic. “The school is in a highly satisfactory condition.” However the continual maintenance of the buildings was a drain on church funds and in June 1873 the property of the school and schoolhouse at Kirkhill was transferred to the local school board, with the proviso that the existing teacher be retained.
The early Free Church in Penicuik was also very concerned with the moral and spiritual welfare of its congregation. The first Deacon’s Courts were strongly behind any Sabbath Day Observance movements. In April 1845 they resolved to petition Parliament for clauses in all the Railway Acts to prohibit the desecration of the Sabbath by Sunday traffic. By the end of 1846 they were making their protests nearer home. A letter was sent to the Directors of the Edinburgh and Glasgow railway, reminding them that the “Lords Day is of divine appointment” and “his curse is on those who break it”. They were pleased to note that this company did not operate passenger services on Sundays, and hoped the late Saturday and early Monday trains would continue, allowing staff and travellers to keep the Sabbath. In 1850 we hear of a petition to Parliament for the abolition of labour in the Post Office on the Sabbath. The attention of the Kirk Session was given in June 1896 to two members of the congregation, who opened their shop for business all day on the Sabbath. This being “offensive to the Christian people residing in the neighbourhood” it was decided to “bring the matter of Sabbath desecration before them”, but also to allow them one month to consider the matter.
The matter of drunkenness was also to the fore in the minds of the Deacon’s Court. In November 1850 they called on the Minister to preach against drunkenness, with the collection that day to go to the Scottish Association for the Suppression of Drunkenness. In April 1894 we find the Kirk Session petitioning against a grocer’s licence to sell alcohol in a shop in Fieldsend and Shottstown “where our mission is carried on”. This was the mission which helped to give “temporary relief and tender help” organised by the Rev. S R Crockett, at the time of the Mauricewood pit disaster in September 1889.
The sin of fornication seems to have greatly affected the South church congregation of these times. Despite the punishment of being struck off the communion role and suspended from all church privileges, there are frequent names of individuals (usually female or couples brought to the attention of the Kirk Session, being guilty of adultery or “ante nuptial fornication.” Happily most of the above repented and prayed for reinstatement. If the moderator was “satisfied with their repentance, and after an admonition and a rebuke, they were restored to church privileges.” These matters were not usually dealt with by the minister alone, except in the case of a lady, “guilty of fornication but now penitent “ who was “ afflicted with deafness “ so the moderator was requested to administer his rebuke in private.
The above changes to the status of certain members of the congregation meant a continual need to review the communion roll. Committees were appointed “to revise and purge “the communion roll before the next communion, this being done more than once a year. Since the communion cards or tokens were given out to the parishioners to allow them to partake of the Lord’s supper, it was important to have your name on the communion roll.
Having established their new breakaway church the Deacon’s Court, no doubt wanting to keep their congregation in the “ correct “ faith, were very concerned with the spread of Roman Catholicism. They agreed to petition against the proposed government grant to Maynooth (Catholic) college in April 1845. The minister was called on to preach on “popery” in December 1850, and in 1854 they petitioned Parliament against the appointment of a Roman Catholic chaplain to prisons. As a further encouragement to keep the faith of their breakaway church, in 1876 a copy of “ that interesting book, the Annals of the Disruption “ was to be put in every household connected with the congregation. The Court was to pay the costs of 15/6d.
The musical life of the church was not neglected either. In November 1853 Mr. McLeod started a class for psalmody practise every Friday evening, to improve “this most important branch of public worship.” By 1878 the established choir was going on outings, no doubt to entertain other congregations. It was reprimanded, on more than one occasion, for overspending, although the Court did hand over an extra £1 to cover expenses.
In December 1884 we are told of the trials for a new precentor or choirmaster. There were three candidates, each given two trials, to sing on a different Sunday. A £12 a year salary was given for the duties of leading singing in the Sabbath school, training the choir and taking a congregational class if necessary. Over three hundred members of the congregation voted, with the first candidate receiving 139 votes.
In August 1895 a new organist was required. One of the six applicants was a Miss Wood. She was informed that a man was required, despite the fact that the ladies of the congregation had been playing the organ in the meantime. Thankfully male chauvinism no longer applies in today‘s job specification. The new pipe organ was donated by the daughters of Sir John Cowan in January 1901. A new post of organ blower, to provide air for the pipes, was filled by a junior member of the congregation at the salary of £4 per year.
Despite having a new church building, the minister and church officials found themselves with many problems regarding its maintenance, which have reoccurred to modern times. The first one was the disposal of the old church in West Street. It was sold to Mr. Charles Cowan in October 1864 for the sum of £170. He immediately let it to the South church for a rent of £1 per annum, to use for any church or congregational meetings. It became a further source of income, as it was the only hall with seats, which could be let for public meetings. It was often referred to as the “town hall.” However, the matter of letting to outside bodies had it s drawbacks. In 1870 the hall committee were to instruct all parties using the hall, that if the audience stands on the seats, a charge of 2/— extra would be made to cover cleaning costs.
The grounds of the church were in need of attention by l870.Gravel for the paths was brought from the mill, the property of Charles Cowan’s father. Unlike today, when volunteers would help to spread the gravel, the Court members themselves also transported the gravel in eighteen loads — a doubly strenuous task. Individual members carted anything from six loads, down to one load.
The heating system in the new church was unsatisfactory from the start. By December 1866 it was decided to light the stove on a Saturday night, and not on Sunday morning. In more recent times this was also tried in spells of severe weather. By l869 things were so bad that Mr. Duncan Cowan of Beeslack “desirous to have the church made more comfortable was willing to defray the whole expense “of extra heating. After looking into the felting of the Barclay Bruntsfield church in Edinburgh, it was eventually decided to have the whole of the internal building covered with felt and then lined with wood. By October 1874 it was agreed to dispense with the original heating stove, and the hot water system was installed at a cost of £94. Visits to the congregation were made to ask for subscriptions to pay for it. It was eventually paid off by 1876. History repeated itself when a later Deacon’s Court decided on the electric heating, now installed in the church.
Dry rot made an appearance “again” under the floors in 1878, and another vent was made near the south door. This problem was to rear its ugly head in a major conservation project more than a hundred years later. Hopefully, given the latest work undertaken on the church building, this will not occur again for many years.
The condition of the manse also gave much concern to the church officers. By 1886 the wash house was in a tumble down condition, and the general plumbing needed attention. By October plans were proposed to have a high pressure boiler and bath installed in the manse, before the arrival of the new minister, Reverend S.R. Crockett. In 1893 a greater problem arose, when it was decided that the manse was no longer large enough to accommodate Reverend Crockett and his growing family. In the 1890s the minister moved out to Bank house, and the manse was let to a Penicuik merchant for £30 per annum. The ensuing problems with the drains, “due to cracked pipes which gave free outlet for the sewage gases “ probably helped the Court to decide a new manse building was necessary. By January 1896 plans for a new manse, costing £1,200, next to Dr. Badger‘s house ( near the present bowling green ) were drawn up. The final cost of the “grand “building was £l, 575:l9:8d, as noted in the 1898-99 accounts. This manse served the church well for eighty years, until it became too costly to maintain.
This short account of life in the early days of the Free/South church ends about 1900. On reflection, the Free Church in its early days, seems to have had a stronger hold on the lives of its congregation, especially with regard to moral values, than does our church today. The sanction of being struck off the communion roll, with its attendant refusal of baptism, marriage and burial rights, was still a powerful deterrent to the majority of God fearing people. The same problems, which beset the early church e.g. the state of their church buildings, a new manse, the continual need for extra funds, have been visited on subsequent congregations, down to the present day. Perhaps this short account helps us to see that some of the problems, which we have to tackle nowadays, are not so new – and might not really be so formidable after all.
• The Annals of Penicuik by John J. Wilson
• Penicuick Free Church Deacon’s Court Minute Books – volumes 1 and 2
• Penicuick Free Church Session Records – volume 2
• Pennycuick Free Church Association Treasurer’s Reports
• Penicuik Historical Society – History of Penicuik booklets – volume 1