Archibald Allan.

History of Channelkirk online

. (page 19 of 50)
Online LibraryArchibald AllanHistory of Channelkirk → online text (page 19 of 50)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

* Heritors' Records.

t Kirk Records (Presb. Records say, 39th October i


the poor in the year 1795, and obtained it, and he gives as
his reason for asking an increase to them, that it was a
"time of scarcity" when provisions were very high. The
state of the poor had again specially to be considered in
1 800, " when the prices of meal of all kinds were so high."
It may be noted that in 1800, the farmers of the parish
were : —

Robert Hogarth, Carfrae.

Archibald Somerville, Hillhouse.

Wm. Bertram, Hartside.

Alexander Iddington, Over Howden.

Richard Dickson, Over Bowerhouse.

George Lyall, Mountmill.

John Moffat, Threeburnford.

William Murray, Ugston Shotts.

Edmund Bertram, Hazeldean.

James Mitchell, Old (? New) Channelkirk.

Thomas M'Dougal, Grassmyres.

Peter Anderson, Ugston.

George Thomson, Old Channelkirk,

Walter Chisholm, Waislawmill.

Andrew Lees, Incoming Tenant, Mountmill.

Messer, Nether Howden.

The farms of Airhouse, Kirktonhill, Justicehall, and Collielaw
were farmed by their owners, or a steward. Glengelt was no
longer styled a farm.

Mr Murray also wrote the Old Statistical Account of the
parish in 1794. Among his papers, some of which are still
preserved in the Teind Office, Edinburgh, and which were
used in the stipend cases, there is a letter from Sir John
Sinclair regarding the Statistical Account of Scotland of
which he was the originator, which may be interesting to
some : —

" Sir John Sinclair presents compliments to Mr Murray.
— Is obliged to return to London immediately in order to


set the proposed Board of Agriculture agoing, but cannot
leave Edinburgh without acknowledging the receipt of his
obliging Statistical Account of the Parish of Eccles, which
shall be immediately printed." There is no date, and the
letter is on a torn leaf which had been sealed. Probably
this note was sent to Mr Murray's father, Adam, who wrote
the Eccles parish part of the Old Statistical Account. No
doubt it was highly esteemed and had been entrusted to the
keeping of the minister of Channelkirk by his father.



Rev. John Brown— Characteristics — Stipend Troubles — Odious to
Heritors — Litigation — Deficiencies in the Manse — Parsimony and
Law-cases — Glebe Worries — Church Ruinous — Refuses to Preach —
Church Courts — New Church — Muscular Christianity — Behaviour in
Church — His Death— Rev. James Rutherford — Character— In-
genious and Injudicial — Records — Assistants — Portrait — Rev.
James Walker — Parish and Presbytery Complications — Testimony
of the Records— Resignation and Emigration — Rev. Joseph Lowe
— Student, Assistant, and Minister — Church Declension — Re-

John Brown — 1809- 1828

If there was any characteristic of the warrior about Mr
Murray, the predominant feature in his successor, the Rev.
John Brown, seems to have been pugiHstic. He is principally
remembered in the parish as a muscular Christian. A broad,
dry grin always precedes any reference to him by the
" originals." And all his taliant heroics are neither dimmed
nor diminished in their narrations, for his "specialities" were
j'ust of such a kind as could attain to immortality in " kirns,"
and Saturday night confabs at small " pubs " and rural social
gatherings. The minister voluntarily divesting himself of
his reverend habits, and clad in the garb of politician, prize-
fighter, or purveyor of small smut, is a spectacle peculiarly
detectable to the countryman, and his reverence never fails
to achieve distinction of a certain kind when he chooses to


so play gladiator to the mob. But we should give a False
impression of the local estimate of Mr Brown were we to
regard him solely from this point of view. The people
remember many of his kind deeds and never forget them
in their " sequels," and he redeems himself amply in their
respect in that he fought a victorious battle with the heritors.
He is a "character," in short, with the parishioners, and
although not regarded as by any means the chief corner-
stone in the Channelkirk temple, yet neither would they
judge him the meanest, and perhaps he may best be con-
sidered as an ecclesiastical conglomerate, a sort of pudding-
stone-character made up of dirt and diamonds.

It is recorded that John Brown was ordained by the
Presbytery of Edinburgh on the 9th of November, following
upon the death of Mr Murray, as minister of the Low Meet-
ing, Berwick-on-Tweed. He was afterwards presented to
Channelkirk Church by John Wauchope, Esq., trustee on
the Marchmont estate, in April of 1809. The Kirk Records
have these items : " 1809, 13 June, Tues. — The call moderate
for the Revd. Jn. Brown " ; and, " 26 July, Wednesday — The
Revd. J n. Brown settled minister."

He was scarcely two years minister in Channelkirk when
he found himself up to the ears in litigation. Mr Murray, as
we have seen, had many disputes with the heritors, and died
while one was in course of process. Mr Brown, on the 3rd
April 181 1, brought a wakening of this process of reduction,
accompanied with a transference against the heirs of some of
the defenders, as also a new process of, augmentation and
locality ; and life for him, while life lasted (and it lasted till
1828), was henceforth clouded over by the stern atmosphere
of the law courts. What a curious record is the life of some
ministers ! Stress and battle to get to college ; struggle and


semi-starvation while there ; anxiety and desperation to get
into a parish ; misery and misunderstanding while in it ; a
scrimp living, and forced to employ all the power of law to
make that living decent ; and then death, and, of course, deifi-
cation ! For it is only after death that he gets all his
honours and all the praise. Such are the lurid horizons of
many an incumbent's career. Mr Brown was undoubtedly
blessed with a skin fittingly thick enough for his fate. For if
God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb. He also gives
leviathan his neck of strength and heart of stone.

From the beginning, he was naturally regarded as an
odious person by the heritors. Why he should not continue
to starve respectably, as did the other ministers before him, the
heritors could not understand ; even though it was an era of
high prices for all the necessaries of life, and the provision
he claimed was only his own which had been unjustly
ravished from the church patrimony by their ancestors.
They accused him, in the course of the law processes, of low
sneaking, and ungentlemanly and unchristian conduct. The
most noble and the right honourables, as well as the notables
and respectables among them, as much as said in open court
that he had cheated them, and asked my Lords to undo his
doings and give them justice ! * My Lords did not see it,
however, and gravely " adhered to their former interlocutor,"
etc., not having their judgment warped by £, s. d., which warps
the very noblest of minds now and then. But, in truth, we
cannot think that such despicable work comes initially from
the heritors themselves. If ministers could always find it
possible to deal with them personally, we are convinced that
there would be fewer law cases, and more pleasantness
between the manor and the manse.

* Decreet of Locality.


It would seem that Mr Brown had some cause to be
displeased. The sources of his sorrows were many. He
had irritations with his manse. Smoke and damp reigned
there supreme, notwithstanding that in 1803 the "kitchen
vent was warranted . big enough to allow any sweep to go
up and clean it." The Water supply at the manse was also
wretched, and the usual unsatisfactory " well " annoyed
him, and when a supply was attempted from the hill above
it, the operations were carried on in the cheeseparing way
that means penny, wise and pound foolish. Worry came
to him also from his glebe, his church, as well as from his
stipend law cases. He wished the manse repaired and
enlarged. It was "built thirty years ago," he said, and
thirty years at Channelkirk test the best stone -and -lime
structures. By that time, 18 14, Brown declares the manse
" totally uninhabitable."

Meantime larger questions loomed up in connection
with the church, and the manse and offices remained on a
shaky basis, with the exception of some temporary patches
to tide over heavier outlay. There is a reported case about
the manse, i8th June 1818 : 13 S., 1018, Shields v. Heritors
of Channelkirk, in which the Court decided against authoris-
ing additions merely on account of deficiency in size. The
ground was that the manse had been recently erected and
in good repair, or only required repairs to a trifling extent.*

When 1820 comes. Brown's continued clashings with his
heritors have rendered him stubborn and intractable. They
actually wish now to repair the manse. They send trades-
men to the manse for this purpose, but he refuses to let
them into his house. Doubtless he expected the usual
handful of lime, and a door handle here and there, and
* Reports in Signet Library, Edinburgh.


nothing adequate to the clear needs of the case. Then the
heHtors become injured innocents! It is said Mr Brown
means to let manse and offices go ruinous to further
injure them. Brown in his ire cannot resist sending an
inconsiderate "letter" to the heritors. They shall know
his mind ! In it he expresses the' belief that they have no
intention of consulting his good at all, but as he puts it,
" have in view only their own interest and malicious pleasure,
and are resolved to carry on their defamatory and murderous
attempts against me and my family . . . until they make
an end of us." Defiantly he bids them go on ! Evidently
matters had reached a very bitter pass. Worry from manse,
glebe, church, c^nd stipend cases had truly maddened him.
The heritors, with lifted eyebrows, profess astonishment.
Language so very, very ! They do wish his good : want
to concur with him : want to repair manse and offices, truly.
Won't he, then ? He won't. The lion growls in his den,
defiantly showing his teeth, all of which was extremely
fooHsh in the gladiatorial John. For an appeal was made
to the Sheriff, who decided against him ; but he, despising
small limbs of law, threatens to carry it to the Court of
Session, the foolish gladiator. The heritors, still with
uplifted eyebrows, " express surprise that he should persist
in such an absurd line of conduct," but with crowning
absurdity on their own part recommend him to get more
elders for the church, there being only one ! H'm ! Better
confine themselves to repairs of manses, et hoc genus omne.
Brown in the end lost £•] on the business. But his in-
tentions seem all to have been dictated by a desire to have
things improved and made more respectable. His methods
in reaching this were, perhaps, not justifiable. For instance,
he had set his heart on having the ground levelled decently


around the church. He had asked the heritors to do it.
They refused ; whereupon the militant minister himself
orders it to be done, and takes £2, 8s. 4d. out of the
collections to pay for it. The heritors declare him to have
" appropriated " this money, and treat with him coldly, afar
off, as utterly unworthy of their association.

He derived no more comfort from his glebe than from
his manse. It lay in two parts, one on the height beside
the church, the other in the hollow or haugh through which
Mountmill Burn ("Arras Water") flows. This latter part
was exposed (as yet it is) to the floods which in winter swept
over the Hauch. Extensive sand-siltings, accumulations of
rubbish on the good pasture ground, and broken, drifting
fences were common occurrences. In 1810, "ring" fences
were put round the glebe by the heritors, they agreeing on
14th December of that year to defray the " inconsiderable
expenses," while the minister and conterminous proprietors
agreed to uphold the fences. The fence round the low glebe
was to be made up of a ditch, thorns, and two railings.
This was not satisfactory, evidently, and four years after-
wards the heritors '■'order'" the Rev. John Brown to fence the
Hauch glebe himself Brown thinks rightly that heritors
cannot " order " him to do anything under the sun, and
declares them ultra vires, using his shillelah style in de-
signating them " unhandsome and presumptuous " for
"ordering" him. But, of course, neither could he order
them to fence his glebe, there being no decision of law
on the matter, and his plan was to have asked it as a
courtesy, or failing any agreeable settlement, to have asked
the Sheriff to decide who should do it. But the wrangling
and malfeasance went on, and the glebe question never
got settled in Brown's time.



The church, however, the gracious symbol of salvation
and peace, proved to be the richest reservoir of acrid waters
to both representatives of Jerusalem and Babylon. If the
heritors would not drain his manse and improve the amenities
of the place ; in the name of piety, they should build a new
church ! This is the Gladiator's resolution. It was on the
14th November 18 14 that he publicly intimated from the
pulpit the necessity for rebuilding the church. But a church
is not a gourd, and cannot grow, just as it cannot die, in a
night. The heritors for two years took up the attitude of
waiting, and so the impatient and fire-fetching Elijah inti-
mated to them on ist November 18 16, that he did not
" intend to preach any more at Channelkirk, after Sabbath
first, until the heritors have provided the parish with a new
church." The disgusted prophet then retires to his desert,
and sits down under his juniper tree. After preaching on 3rd
November, he did not resume again until 25th April follow-
ing. That is, for seven months he " struck work," or rather
would not strike it.

But this was imperious conduct, and utterly indefensible.
The Presbytery " felt much concerned " at his behaviour and
the discontinuance of preaching. They recommend him to
" preach from a tent or any other place convenient." Were the
sheep to starve ? But the heritors found him too good game
to let slip, and " libelled " him before the Synod for not preach-
ing, and they had a right to do so. Brown then appeals to the
Synod, and the Synod refused to sustain the heritors' appeal,
but thought Brown should have given intimation to his
Presbytery before taking action. The heritors next take the
case to the General Assembly, They will hunt him down !
But " corbies dinna pick oot corbies een ; " besides, his cause
had clearly strong recommendations within itself. And the


Assembly sustained both Synod and Presbytery. Brown cer-
tainly acted rashly, but the church was decidedly a " ruin,"
and he believed himself in danger of his life in preaching
in it. The heritors knew this perfectly, yet took no action.
Nay, they sneered at the matter unbecomingly, for after
examination they declare " the church in as good a state
of repair and comfort as it has been for several years past,
and can see no reason why Mr Brown shouldn't preach
as usual." The more disgraceful it was of them to say so,
when, according to the testimony of two authorities called in
from Edinburgh, the "state of repair and comfort" was as
follows : — " The south wall is considerably rent and twisted,
and the under part of the walls all round is very much decayed
owing to the damp occasioned by the floor of the church
being so much sunk below the general surface of the church-
yard — an evil which we consider cannot be remedied, and
renders the house totally unfit for a place of worship. The
timbers of the roof appear pretty fresh, but the slating,
particularly on the north side, is very much decayed. The
seating of the church, with the exception of the east loft and
one seat at the west-end, is in a ruinous and uninhabitable

The opinion of the parish was no less emphatic. When
the agitation grew strong for a new church the entire parish
petitioned to have it built, not on the present site, but nearer
Oxton. In the petition to the Presbytery they say, *' That
the Parish Church of Channelkirk has been these many
years a very cold, damp, and unpleasant house for a place
of worship," and, moreover, " for several months during winter
it may justly be said to be altogether inaccessible even to
men in the vigour of life."

Mr Brown's demand, therefore, for a new church, was


clearly reasonable, and he was only doing his duty in seeking
the welfare of his parishioners. But while his motive was
good, his method was incommendable and extreme. The
heritors, all the same, have our deepest gratitude in this
place for not removing the church from its present historical
site. For they did build a new church (the present one), and
certainly they did not deal shabbily with it. In size, style,
and comfort it will stand comparison, all things considered,
with most country churches on the Borders. In the Kirk
Records it is said: — " 1818, February 15th, Sabbath. — This
day the new church was opened ; collected 1 3 shill. 7 pennies,
and 6 farthings." Surely peace and amity would then reign
between manse and manor? Nay, verily. The old virus,
unhappily, lived on in their veins, and one notes with regret
that " the heritors have omitted to line the wall forming the
back of the pulpit with wood like the rest of the Churchy nor
lathed it under the plaster to defend the seat from wet and
damp, and so it is rendered uncomfortable and even unsafe for
the minister to occupy." The Presbytery so delivers itself on
inspection. The exception made of the pulpit is suspicious.
But it was remedied, and there it ended. The heritors never
let a chance pass afterwards of sending a shot the parson's
way. Next year they recommend to Mr Brown " not to put
horses, cows, or asses into the churchyard."

There is reason to believe that the minister was rather
an ugly customer to tackle on any ground. His forte was
fighting, and as there is a kind of man in all parishes who
is incapable of understanding any reason except the one
impressed by the closed fist, he was not loath to grant this
advantage to any one who required it when occasion suited.
It was a reversion to Jewish or Davidic methods, doubtless,
and Mr Brown may have blessed God with the Psalmist that


" He teacheth my hands to war and my fingers to fight."
Whether he advanced the high spiritual principles of his
Master in his parish by such practices is another matter.
But the fact itself is too well authenticated to be " ex-
plained away." The consequence followed, however, that an
aggressive attitude on his part provoked resistance on the
part of others, and it soon became a talk in the district,
" Whay wis yible for the menister, an' whay wisna ! " There
is a fearful story told of a meeting of heritors and elders
which took place in a bibulous locality where the minister,
or rather John Brown, was one of the company. Like those
heavenly bodies which travel at such high speed that they
fire up to explosion point on entering the air, and scatter
their fragments over space, so this heterogeneous com-
pany soon found the atmosphere too intensely frictional
and explosive, and found itself blasted out of the inn on to
the high-road, each constituent member, " by some cantrip
slicht," flourishing a table or chair leg, to the utter ruin
all round of ribs, hats, and heads. When the air cleared,
the landlady was discovered weeping over her broken
furniture and shattered crockery. So runs the tradition.
It is pathetically added that the elder, Thomas Waddel,
and the minister, stood " shouther to shouther " in the battle.

These characteristics sometimes reflected themselves in
the minister's pulpit manner, we are told, if we care to
entertain such things. One day, while preaching, the gallery
was unusually obstreperous, and he had frequently to pause
and cast warning glances in that direction. This having no
effect, he singled out the most offensive gentleman and told
him bluntly that if he came up to him he " wad pu' the flipe
ower his nose ! " We do not know how to extenuate such
pulpit eloquence, except by supposing that Mr Brown, having


long studied the matter, had concluded that he had as good
a right to " flipe " noses as Saint Peter had to not only
"flipe" but slice off ears in vindicating the Master's cause.
Ecclesiastical views are apt to vary widely.

The new church was opened barely three months when
the windows were blown in ! The superstitious saw in this
the cloven hoof of him who, on the strong wind flying, " tirls
the kirks." The sagacious merely remarked that " the
putty wasna hard yet."

We are told that the foundations of the old church are
still to be seen underneath the floor of the present church,
which is the same that was built in Mr Brown's time. The
plan was cruciform. The sundial in the south wall, and
the cross on the top of the east gable, are remnants of the
old edifice. The cross is chipped in one of its arms as the
result of a fall which occurred in recent times, owing to
having been fastened by wooden instead of, as now, by iron
bolts. The old gallery was so low that once at a baptism in
church, a father, when about to "tak' the vows," stepped
over the front and slid down instead of going round by the
stair. So true is it, that when the shepherd ventures outside
the bounds of respect and decorum, the sheep soon learn to

It might be an easy task to multiply instances of this state
of matters in the parish in the "teens" and "twenties" of
this century. Our object is gained when a correct conception
of the minister and the man John Brown is obtained,
together with a view of the manners of his time and people.
It must not be supposed that he was lacking in kindness and
amiability. Men who can give the hardest knocks have often
the tenderest of hearts. One noble action yet stands out
distinctly in the parish memory. The seasons had been


hard ones for farmers, and they fell with double severity
upon the weaker men of that time. He learned that they
had no seed to sow their crops, having been forced to sell
out everything to pay their debts. The minister came to
the rescue with the grain from his glebe, and for three years
assisted them gratis in this way till better seasons rewarded
them. It gives us great pleasure to record this.

He was not always in good health, although he had a
character for robustness. In 1822, he writes from " Mrs
Cowans, 12 Queen Street, Edinburgh," on the 15th April,
to the chief trustee for Kirktonhill, who was resident in
Edinburgh, enclosing his stipend account for crop 1821.
He says he " is in bad health and needing money greatly."
We think it no wonder. His lawsuits must have been a
terrible drain on his small exchequer. Yet he seems to
have preserved fairly good health till the year 1827, when
on thirty Sundays there was no service in church. He died
on Sunday, 15th June 1828, aged 59, and was buried in
Channelkirk Churchyard on the 20th of that month. A
small plain headstone memorialises the place where he lies.
He was born in 1769, and was thus 40 years of age when
he was presented to Channelkirk. He was a minister for
twenty-five years, and nearly twenty of these he spent in
this parish. He was married to Philis Moscrop, and on
5th May 1 81 5, mention is made of his having "a wife and
child." After his death 'Mrs Brown communicated with the
Earlston Presbytery to get from the fund of the Association
of Dissenting Ministers in the North of England, of which
Association her husband was for many years a member,
some help of a pecuniary kind by paying up his arrears.
She got, through the Moderator, a " decidedly unfavourable "
answer. This "Association" seems to have been purely a


voluntary one, and was not in connection with the national
churches of either England or Scotland.

In consequence, we suppose, of the lack of respect for the
ordinances of religion in the parish, Mr Brown had great
difficulty in obtaining elders. For many years one only stood
with him,and in the four years immediately preceding his death
all had forsaken him. This is made evident by the minute

Online LibraryArchibald AllanHistory of Channelkirk → online text (page 19 of 50)