NEW CUMNOCK, NEW PARISH, NEW KIRK, NO MINISTER!
The ruins of the Auld Kirk at New Cumnock that sit on the castle hill adjacent to the site of Cumnock Castle, the ancient seat of the Barons of Cumnock, has many a story to tell. It is for example the only physical remains in either the parish of New Cumnock or Old Cumnock to remind us of the division of the parish of Cumnock into the these two new parishes on the 11th July 1650.
Some three years later Hew Craufurd of Auchinames, Renfrewshire was ordained as the first minister of New Cumnock and took up residence at Garrieve in the parish, these lands now known as Mansfield (nothing to do with the church, but renamed in honour of the maiden name of the new owner’s wife). Another six years would pass before the new kirk was completed in 1659, a date that can still be seen carved into the lintel stane of the ruins. These were turbulent times in Scotland’s history – the year before Oliver Cromwell died and the year after Charles II was restored to the crown.
Inevitably the Stuart monarch of the ‘three kingdomes’ was soon interfering with the workings of the Kirk. The National Covenant (1638) and Solemn League and Covenant (1643) were deemed illegal and Charles set about his firm resolution ‘to interpose his royal authority for restoring the Church of Scotland to its right government of bishops, as it was before the late troubles.’
Any ministers refusing to conform to Episcopalian authority were to be banished from their manses, parishes, and presbyteries, and their churches declared vacant. It is estimated over one-third of the ministers in Scotland were ‘outed’, almost half of them from the south-west of Scotland including Hew Craufurd of New Cumnock and John Cunynghame of Old Cumnock. The formal ‘outing’ took place on 30th November 1662 ( 350 years ago on St. Andrews Day) and the kirks at New Cumnock and Old Cumnock lay vacant. The hills and moors of the upland parish soon became the ‘new church’ and the Rev Hew Craufurd would attend and preach at secret open-air meetings known as ‘conventicles’.
Almost five years later on the 14th July 1667 the Earl of Dumfries the superior heritor in the two parishes, who had bitterly opposed the division of the original parish of Cumnock in 1650 (he was not eager to pay for the upkeep of two kirks and two ministers), had the division annulled. The Earl now had his way, having only one kirk to upkeep (‘Old Cumnock’) but with two non-conforming ministers. Two became one the following year when the Rev. John Cunnyghame died and Craufurd continued to attend conventicles, although in an instrument of that year he is referred to as ‘the minister of Cumnock’. In 1670, the Earl secured a curate (conforming minister) for the parish of Cumnock in the shape of Samuel Nimmo but he was far from popular and according to an oath he gave during the interrogations of parishioners in 1684 he had been even less active –
‘Master Samuel Nimmo, minister of Cumnock, of the age off 44 years, married being solemnly sworn and interrogate, depones that he hes bein minister at Cumnock thir fourteen years last, but durst never venture to give the communion till Aprile last’
Curate Nimmo’s motivation to put his head above the pulpit, sorry parapet, in April 1683 is possibly explained by the banishment from the kingdom of Hew Craufurd in May of that year for refusing not to ‘keeping conventicles’ and for ‘other disorders’.With Craufurd out of the way, Nimmo ventured to give communion.
‘Mr. Hugh Crawford, late minister of New Cumnock, being convened before the Council at the Lord Advocate’s instance to answer for keeping conventicles and for other disorders and he having compeared the Lords , upon consideration of the complaint, his answers thereto, and the report of the committee of their number regarding this case did conform to the act of Parliament, ordain him either to find caution to live orderly or to find caution to leave the kingdom before 1st May next and never return without license from his Majesty or the Council, under the penalty of 5000 merks “and farder that if he should goe to Holland he shall not vent, act or do anything contrar to his Majesties government, under the foresaid penalty”; and he having chosen to leave the kingdom, he has found caution to that effect’
While the kirk at New Cumnock lay empty Hew Craufurd headed, like many other outed ministers, to Ireland and remained there until 1688 and the so called Glorious Revolution. On his return from exile he discovered Samuel Nimmo had been replaced by Francis Fordyce, who was even less popular and ‘proved himself most obnoxious to the people’. The days of the curates were numbered as witnessed by the Ayr Presbytery minutes of 5th June 1688 ‘the parish of Old Cumnock desired supply’, suggesting not only had Fordyce left his charge , but that Craufurd was back in his charge at New Cumnock. They also suggest that the Presbytery at least recognized Old Cumnock and New Cumnock as distinct parishes at that time.
However, it was almost three years later on the 11th March 1691 before the parishes of New Cumnock and Old Cumnock were formally re-established. Hew Craufurd was still the first minister of the parish of New Cumnock, while the following year Hugh Kilpatrick from Ireland was presented as the minister of the parish of Old Cumnock.
In 1692, Hew Crawford died aged sixty-four, almost forty years after he had been ordained and thirty years since he had been outed from the kirk on the castlehill. So on this St. Andrew’s Day please take time to remember the first minister of New Cumnock.