Kilmarnock ministers who feature prominently in the poems of Robert Burns are
buried in the town's Laigh West High Kirk churchyard. The Rev
John Robertson, the Rev John Murtrie, and the Rev Dr Mackinlay
mentioned in 'The Ordination' were all ministers of the then Laigh
Kirk. The Rev Dr Mackinlay and the Rev John Robertson also feature
in the poems 'Tam Samson's Elegy' and 'Tam Samson's Epitaph'.
In the same kirkyard is buried another minister,
the Rev Robert Jaffray, who was also a contemporary of Robert
Burns, but was never mentioned in any of his poems. Robert Burns
was noted for his anti-Calvinist stance and some of his poems,
including 'Address to the Unco Guid' and 'Holy Willie's Prayer'
satirise the gloomy Auld Licht doctrine. The Rev Robert Jaffray
came to Kilmarnock in 1775 to be minister of Gallows Knowe Church, the only Burgher church in Ayrshire at that time. Perhaps the Rev
Jaffray did meet Robert Burns but was held in too high esteem
in the town to be ridiculed by the poet.
Robert Jaffray was born in 1747 at Throsk, a
large farm near Stirling; he matriculated at Glasgow University in 1766 to study for the ministry
of the Associate Synod Church in Scotland. From 1767
the Associate Synod's Professor was the Rev John Brown of Haddington,
a distinguished minister and theological writer. The Rev Brown
taught the students for nine weeks each year of their university
course and would cram 150 hours of teaching encompassing the whole
disciplinary span into these weeks. Under John Brown's guidance
the Rev Jaffray became a distinguished preacher and pastor.
In Scotland in the eighteenth
century there were very few parishes in which the gospel was preached;
Legalism, Moderatism and Erastianism prevailed. In Kilmarnock from 1762 to 1772 the Rev Oliphant, also mentioned in the poems of
Robert Burns, who had received his training in the Secession Church but afterwards joined the Established
Church, was minister of the High Church. His views were evangelical and his
preaching sound and impressive. When the Rev Oliphant left Kilmarnock for Dumbarton in 1772 a small group of Kilmarnock worshippers decided to leave the
Established Church and join the few Burgher Seceders scattered
around the district.
The Burgher place of public worship, as granted
by the magistrates, was the Meal Market, in which a tent was erected.
This tent was an eyesore to the established party, who sent a
delegation to the magistrates - as they had granted the place
- 'to put the Seceders out'. The reply was sharp, but suitable.
'Preach them out', said the magistrates.
In a petition to the Associate Burgher Presbytery
of Glasgow to supply preachers the group argued that owing to
'distance and destitution' they lamented they had 'to spend in
comparative retirement Silent Sabbaths.' On the
16th of June 1772 the petition secured the appointment of the first preacher. Mr Hamilton,
a probationer, was to preach on the first two Sabbaths in July.
As a welcome gift Mr Hamilton was given a pair of gloves, manufactured
in Kilmarnock, which cost the group six shillings.
The first ordained minister to preach in Kilmarnock was the Rev Walker of Pollockshaws. He was given a present of a Red
Cap, also manufactured in Kilmarnock. The preacher's fee at that time
was ten shillings and sixpence per week with board costing five
shillings per week and a further one shilling and two pence per
day to stable the preacher's horse. The average collection was
fifteen shillings each Sunday. The group were greatly encouraged
by the attendance and the support given to their meetings. However
as there was a great shortage of preachers at that time the services
of a preacher could only be obtained for two Sundays per month.
Soon the group set about raising funds to build
a meeting house. Eventually ground was purchased at Gallowhill
in the north of the town at a cost of £8-5-6d with £2-6-0d being
paid as compensation to the farmer, Mr Gibson for the damage done
to his barley growing in the field at that time. The yearly feu-duty
was £2. Money was borrowed first from Mr Hall of Cathcart Mill,
an elder in Glasgow and father of the late Dr James Hall of Edinburgh.
Collections were made and subscriptions given: the Glasgow
Shuttle Street congregation gave £13-5s,
the Stirling congregation £10 and Bailie Buchanan, Greenock, £11. At length the group presented
to the Burgher Presbytery of Glasgow in 1773 a petition for erection
into a congregation and its prayer was granted at a meeting of
the Presbytery on the 9th of August 1773.
This date is when the Gallows Knowe Church, Ayrshire's only Burgher Church, was first established. A further petition to the Presbytery for
the election of elders was presented and granted on the
11th of January 1774. Three elders, James
Menzies, James Muir, and James Findlay were ordained on the third
Sabbath of March 1774.
Some described the new church building as 'plain
and homely'; others called it 'barn like'. The building consisted
of a thatched roof, earthen floors and stiff pews. By day it
was lit by daylight from the small windows and at night by the
candles each of the worshippers carried. The first appearance
of Mr Jaffray was as a probationer on 14th
March 1775. On the day after he preached, a petition to the Burgher Presbytery
of Glasgow for moderation in a call was presented and granted
to take place on the 19th of April 1775. Mr Robert Jaffray was called, and the call was sustained at a meeting
of the Presbytery held in Glasgow on the 25th
of April 1775. The stipend was £50 per
year, plus a manse in College Wynd, near Kilmarnock Cross, the
annual rent of which was first £15 then latterly £20. When the
minister married, which he did and raised a family in Kilmarnock, his stipend was to be increased to £60 per year. On the
23rd of August 1775 the Rev Jaffray's ordination took place in Barber's Park One Thomas
Walker was paid 1s 3d for keeping non-members of the congregation
out of the park. The tent, which had been pitched at the Meal
Market, was carried by a man who was paid one shilling for transporting
it to the site of the church. As a welcoming gift the congregation
gave the Rev Jaffray a suit of clothes costing £5-5s. Mr Jaffray's
wardrobe was at first a chest, which cost the congregation 2 shillings
to transport to Kilmarnock. At the ordination service Mr
Walker of Pollockshaws preached from 2 Cor. 2 .16, 'Who is sufficient
for these things?' Mr Richardson from Greenock preached the ordination sermon from
2 Tim. 2 .15, 'Study to shew thyself', and Mr Campbell of Stirling concluded the work by a sermon from Ezekiel 3. 17, 'Son of man I have
made thee a watchman.' At the close of the service Mr James Menzies,
a ruling elder, was elected by the session to represent the congregation
at the Presbytery and Synod along with the minister.
On his arrival at Gallows Knowe tradition says
that the Rev Jaffray thought his motives were not pure in accepting
the call to Kilmarnock. At first he believed he could only depend on six families, so after
securing the means he was determined to go to America. But God ordered otherwise, and the congregation increased under
his faithful ministry.
Before a year had elapsed after his settlement,
Rev Jaffray's health broke down and the church was in consequence
closed for a month. For twenty years after Rev Jaffray's ordination
considerable accessions of members came from the surrounding country.
Each Sunday groups of men, women, and children would walk many
miles from Fenwick, Stewarton, and Galston and elsewhere in Ayrshire
to attend the services. The roads at that time were little more
than mud paths trodden with the hooves of animals. Many of the
women and children walked barefoot in all types of weather. Summer
and winter they would wash their feet in a well before donning
shoes to enter the church. The well was owned by a member of
Gallows Knowe Church, and he allowed the pilgrims this
privilege. As it was a spring well its use was allowed; had it
been a pump well having to pump the water would have been a sin
on the Sabbath day.
As a preacher the Rev Jaffray gave no long introductions
to his sermons, but proceeded at once to his subject. His manner
of preaching was deliberate, distinct, and impressive, with uniform
voice, putting one hand into the palm of the other. A country
woman said she could depend on Mr Jaffray's preaching, for he
counted it down on his loof. The Rev Jaffray also gave
a monthly Sabbath Evening Exercise, as it was then called, embracing
expositions in order of the doctrines of grace as contained in
the Westminster Confession of Faith. An excellent pastor and
peacemaker in his own church, Mr Jaffray was often called to promote
peace in neighbouring congregations and sessions. In 1802 he
helped comfort the relatives of the dead when disaster struck
the then Laigh Kirk in Kilmarnock. A piece of plaster fell from the ceiling as the minister the Rev
Dr Mackinlay was making his way to the pulpit. Thinking the roof
was about to collapse, panic ensued and in the rush to leave the
church, 29 people were killed.
The Rev Jaffray was not without his problems
in Kilmarnock. When some of his leading parishioners became intoxicated by French
views influencing not only politics but also religion, brought
about by the French Revolution, the minister became so distressed
that he thought for a second time of resigning his position in
Kilmarnock and going to America; thankfully
he changed his mind. When a dispute arose in the church regarding
the division between the New Lichts and the Auld Lichts the minister
kept his congregation from having bitter arguments by preaching
on the text Amos 5. 13, 'The prudent shall keep silence in that
time, for it is an evil time.' He was annoyed sometimes with
anonymous letters. The author of one he detected one day in his
own Session. It concerned an improvement in the assistantship
at Communions. Mr Jaffray and some of the elders read stronger
ministers as recommended as an improvement. An elder called out
'It's not stronger ministers we want it's stranger
ministers that are wanted.' 'Oh John! I see you know something
about this letter. Why did you not put your name to it, or converse
with us on the subject?' The anonymous scribbler became dumb,
betraying his own secret.
The division between the Auld Lichts and the
New Lichts came about by a change of sentiment on the question
of government support of the Secession Churches, which led to
conflict. This shift at the end of the eighteenth century also
opened the way to a wider toleration of theological diversity
within the church. The enlightenment advocacy of reason and the
right of free enquiry disposed people to assert the liberty to
think, speak, write and publish as they pleased; as a corollary,
some objected to the civil government acting as patron to any
form of religion.
Eighteenth century Communion Services were held
twice a year, early and late in the year. The Communion season,
also known as 'The Holy Fair', usually lasted a few days with
a Fast Day on the Thursday, when two sermons were preached, a
service on the Friday night, when one sermon was preached, two
sermons at the Preparatory Service on the Saturday, and two sermons
at the Thanksgiving Service on the Monday following the Sunday
celebration. At Gallows Knowe the church and tent belonging the
church were both occupied with ten tables of communicants each
Communion Sunday, when several sittings of Communion would be
held, with the minister being assisted by a visiting clergyman.
A common feature at the Communion Services was the 'Fencing of
the table' by which all potentially unworthy takers were debarred.
Attendances were large, with much emphasis being placed on the
minister's catechetical examination and Communion Tokens, which
granted admission of true believers of good moral life to the
Lord's Table. Communion Tokens were metal discs, some square,
some round and some oblong depending on the local moulds which
were available, with the name of the church and the initials of
the minister and often the date of casting stamped on them. The
minister, elders or deacons either at catechizing visits or at
the preparatory service before the sacrament of the Lord's Supper
usually distributed them. Tokens were withheld for disciplinary
reasons and presentation of the token was obligatory for admission.
Traders would also set up their stalls around a church at Communion
time in order to obtain trade from the crowds who attended these
The Rev Jaffray's house, as tradition says,
always offered hospitality to the poor. No one was ever turned
away. Refreshments for ministers and elders were provided in
the Session House at Communion time, as Mr Jaffray's house was
in College Wynd, some distance from the church. A record of 1781
states 'The committee being met ... agreed to provide (for the
refreshment of the Ministers and elders over Communion week-end)
one bottle of red wine, one bottle of white wine, one leg of lamb,
four pounds of beef for broth, one bottle of brandy. Mrs Smith,
the wife of an elder was to provide tea, sugar, pepper, and vinegar
and to be paid for it. The committee to provide six bottles of
In 1805 important changes were made to the
structure of Gallows Knowe Church. Pillars were constructed to strengthen
the roof, part of the ground was removed to make a new road plus
the necessary new fences were constructed. The stairs which were
on the inside leading to the gallery were now built outside the
The Rev Robert Jaffray died on 4th
April 1814 aged 67 years. His gravestone in the Laigh West High Kirkyard bears
the following inscription:
Minister of the Gospel
Born at Throsk in Stirlingshire
Ordained at Kilmarnock
Now with his God.
For some years after the Rev Robert Jaffray's
death his tombstone was well cared for by members of his congregation.
The Jaffray family were most grateful for this as they thought
it was 'a good token of the congregation', for ensuring the tombstone
was in a wonderful state of preservation.
After the death of the Rev Jaffray there were
great changes at Gallows Knowe Church. The Auld Lichts and the New Lichts became divided and problems ensued.
The house with the spring in the garden had changed owners and
the gate was closed to the pilgrims. This was a great inconvenience
to the people who had walked barefooted the five miles from Stewarton.
The groups from Fenwick had started their own church in 1782,
as did the Galston group in 1800; they had been filling the north
gallery of the church for so long that it was called 'The Galston
Laft'. The Stewarton group continued to walk to Gallows Knowe
for a short time after the death of the minister, but difficulties
started to arise when disputes divided the congregation. In 1815
the Stewarton Pilgrims ceased their trudge to Kilmarnock except at Communion. Then they took the step to form an Auld Licht
Kirk in Stewarton.
At Gallows Knowe the congregation became divided,
with a small group calling themselves the New Lichts breaking
away and worshipping in a joiner's shop in East George Street, Kilmarnock. They eventually became the Portland Road Church. The larger group, the Auld Lichts,
paid £265 to recover Gallows Knowe church and in 1818 built a
new church in Wellington Street, Kilmarnock. Later in 1907 they built the present Henderson Church in London Road, Kilmarnock.
Like his teacher, the Rev John Brown of Haddington,
the Rev Robert Jaffray left some literature on the interpretation
of the gospels, but his greatest legacy is the many souls who
were inspired by his teachings and started their own churches.
Today, nearly two hundred years after his death, the Rev Robert
Jaffray's ministry is still evident in Kilmarnock and the surrounding
district by the many churches, although some have now amalgamated,
of which his ministry laid the Christian foundations all those
Henderson Church, Kilmarnock The first church in Wellington Street, Kilmarnock was completed in 1818 and was named after the Rev Alexander
Henderson (1583-1646). A well-known minister in his day
and leading covenanter, Henderson was the prime architect of the
National Covenant (1638) and the Solemn League and Covenant (1643).
He was Moderator of the Glasgow Meeting of the General Assembly
of the Church of Scotland in 1638. The present building in London Road was built in 1907.
Portland Road Church, Kilmarnock was demolished to make way for a new building in the early 1970's.
Now known as Howard St Andrew's Church, this building is
situated some 50 yards from John Finnie Street near the centre of Kilmarnock and also serves the congregations of the now closed King Street and St Andrew's North Churches.
the supremacy of state over church at one extreme and the independent
jurisdiction of the church at the other.
legal relationship between the church and state. Each institution
tends to view the matter differently from the other.
attitude of those who were so satisfied with the ecclesiastical
settlement secured by the Revolution of 1690 that they were prepared
to endure hardships such as the presentation of ministers to parishes
by patrons and the necessity of subscribing to the Westminster
Confession of Faith.
The First Committee of the Petitioners
This committee was appointed in 1772 to manage
the affairs of the petitioners. The first petition requesting
the supply of sermon was presented to the Burgher Presbytery of
Glasgow on the 16th of June
Preses: John Brown, Farmer, Nether Raith,
Treasurer: William Creelman, Bonnet maker,
Thomas Lockhart, tailor, Kilmarnock; John Burns, weaver, Fenwick; John Love junior, farmer, Monkland,
Kilmarnock Parish; George Borland, wright, Kilmarnock; William Muir, labourer, Kilmarnock; Andrew Smith, weaver, Kilmarnock; James Menzies, clerk to the old tan work, Kilmarnock.
To these afterwards were added:
William Brown, John Gibson, James Paterson, T. Templeton, William
Clerkson, James Findlay, Andrew Creelman, Robert Walker, David
Walker, George Miller and Matthew Faulds.
The author acknowledges the help given to him
by Mr George Jaffray Baxter of Pennsylvania, USA, the great, great,
great, great grandson of the Rev Robert Jaffray; also the Staff
of The Dick Library, Kilmarnock, for supplying information for this article. A special thanks is extended
to Mr I Macdonald MA and the Rev J Roy BA, who read the original