Wednesday, 17 November 2010


The octagonal-shaped kirks we saw in nearby Lochwinnoch may have been influenced by this one recently (c.1790) built 6-7 miles away in the mushrooming new mill town of Johnstone. The kirk was first built as a 'chapel-of-ease' (stock term) within an area until 1865 still classed as within the old boundaries of Paisley Abbey Parish - although Johnstone was classified as a burgh from 1857.

To the rear of the church, sheltering behind trees, this obelisk memorial testifies to extended McDowall family influence (see previous entry: Lochwinnoch) - stretching to Glasgow and far beyond. John McDowall - 'Engineer' as detailed by the close-up of the inscription - began an engineering business in Dimity Street in 1823. In economic terms, Johnstone was by this point moving from a textile to an engineering base.

Below: on the boundary wall, an early 19th century wall plaque indicating a plot purchased for family 'use' - here by one John Stevenson,"Boardsmith" and his wife Agness Riddell, touchingly (though quite commonly)for their children who died in infancy.

Yards away, another (note the lair number) memorialising James Colville's wife, Margaret Erskine.

On the opposite wall (pictured below), an impressive memorial blending mostly Gothic with some Classical features. Beneath a carving of Christ is the motto 'God is our Refuge and our Strength.' It commemorates Robert Walker (d.1845), 'Joiner, Elderslie (an adjoining village), his wife Elizabeth Rowan, and their family.

Below: of these two stones set against a plinth-like ashlar frame, the inscription of that on the left-hand picture side is now obliterated. From records we know it memorialised the Rev. Alexander Telford, minister of the parish from 1807 to his death in 1840, aged 58. His wife's name, Helen Gray (d.1854) survives on the block beneath. The stone on the right with the still legible epitaph commemorates the Rev. William Gaff, minister for 20 years, and his wife Margaret Leggat. Dying suddenly aged 46, he left a "devoted and lamenting congregation"; and likewise it seems distraught wife, who died only 3 days later.

Above, this unusual memorial has a marble plaque but is otherwise made of iron, quite ornate and topped by the ubiquitous funerary urn. Not inappropriately, it commemorates the engineer Hugh Donald (d.1867) - the family had begun operations in Johnstone back in 1815 - having been erected by his wife, Catherine Shearer.

Below: now laid flat, another Classical design records Mary Clement 'Wife of John MacNiel, Manager, Johnstone', who died in 183(?) aged 38.

Above, this Classically styled wall memorial, framed by Ionic pilasters below a quaintly decorated frieze, commemorates departed sons - each in turn (thirteen years apart) named Thomas and dying aged 3 (1844)  and 13 (1867) respectively - and, in time, their by-then elderly parents (David Jaffrey and Mary Mills).

None of the town's old Seceder kirks have survived. Typically here a Burgher church appeared in the new town before a parish one - several of its ministers are buried here in the parish graveyard. An Episcopal Church of 1874 stands nearby, built to serve mostly incoming workers from England and Ireland it is still in-use by local Anglicans.

Below: view of the Church across Ludovic Square.

For further reading on Johnstone - a place barely mentioned in the 19th century Statistical Accounts due to its late parish status - see:  Discover Johnstone, Moira Burgess (Renfrew District Council, 1992); Johnstone High Parish Church 1792-1992, Patricia M. Thomson (Johnstone, 1991); and for the graveyard the standard work Monumental Inscriptions (pre-1855) in Renfrewshire, Mitchell & Mitchell (Scottish Genealogy Society, 1969) 167-178. A local museum charting Johnstone's growth is housed within a nearby supermarket complex (at time of writing Morrisons); manned by volunteers it currently opens 3-4 days per week.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Its southern edge bordering Ayrshire, with pre-medieval precedents suggested in a link with 'St Winoc' (d.715?) the recognisable present parish first appears on record during the 12th century. This part of the country having been granted by the King of Scots to Walter fitzAlan 'the Steward' (himself the descendant of later 'Stewart'/Stuart monarchs) Walter in turn granted the church at Lochwinnoch to his Cluniac monks newly settled at Paisley Abbey.

In a standard scenario, the present auld kirk stump on 'Johnshill' - the name representing the dedication of the 12th century church to St John - probably replaced an earlier one (or succession of several) on-site. With the arrival of the Industrial era and increased local population, it found itself surplus to requirements as a new church was built in a more convenient location downtown. Yet a portion of 'Auld Simon' was retained in the graveyard - both for aesthetics and the convenience of its gable-end containing the most visible village clock!

Taken last winter, this image shows 'Auld Simon' with fronting obelisk and other memorials - that nearest church commemorates Alex Orr, a local surgeon. Behind Auld Simon, another medical man - Andrew Crawfurd - is recorded upon a large pedestal tomb here topped by a fluted column.

Below: earlier flatstones - usually no later than the mid-18th century (by which era upright stones had become the norm) with their usual covering of moss.

A welly-wipe of the surface reveals the crudely cut date on another - 1747 (late indeed for a 'recumbent memorial).

Below: yards away, a once ornate, but now 'snapped' table stone (presumably its broken-off legs preumably sunk beneath the surface).

Below: at the graveyard rear, in the far corner a railed enclosure contains another mid-Victorian obelisk memorial - here to James and Margaret Fyfe Jamieson of Moniabrock (a nearby gentleman-farmer size house of early 19th century and later build).

The replacement parish church begun soon after 1800 was built in octagonal form, its elegant and staged steeple rising above a large (and for a village, quite imposing) Doric-columned porch.

Renfrewshire was a hotbed of religious and economic-political discontent, things often 2 sides of the same coin. As was equally often the case, religious dissenters had been ahead of the Established Church with new-build. This Burgher congregation downstreet from the parish church preceded it by over a decade. With others nationwide it joined subsequent United Secession, United Presbyterian, and eventually United Free denominations. Unlike the vast of majority of 'U.F.' congregations it did not (re)enter the Church of Scotland in 1929. An octagonal style again chosen by its original builders, here the tower was added a few decades later in a stylish update attempt.

Returning to the old parish graveyard, this large memorial is to MacDowells of Garthland. Originally from lands in Galloway, having made money in the sugar-trade these MacDowells (spellings various) purchased the nearby Castle Semple estate from its traditional Semple owners in the early 18th century. A century on finding themselves in heavy debt, a new generation moved to a more modest house - which they renamed 'Garthland' after a MacDowe(a)ll seat in Galloway - at the opposite end of Lochwinnoch village.

Castle Semple house has been demolished almost to its base. Garthland (above), built c.1790 then extended by 'William MacDowall of Garthland' (1770-1840) was a further century later sold by the Henry MacDowall 26th Earl 'of Garthland' to the London-based Mill Hill Foreign Mission Society, who converted the premises to a Catholic missionary college (St Joseph's - in 1955 the name transferring to a nursing home). Like the old house (its floors now collapsed), their church of c.1940 and a wing at the far end of the complex have lain abandoned since 2004.

For resources on the parish history - start with handy and concise booklets by:

(1) Elizabeth G.R. Anderson The Parish of Lochwinnoch (1987)
(2) Moira Burgess, Discover Lochwinnoch and Howwood (Renfrew District Council, 1994)

Then, as for subsequent entries, head for the local library to access detailed reference material on memorial inscriptions plus other antiquarian through modern collections.