Cairneyhill’s Faith History

Dear blog reader

One of the ‘tag lines’ of my studies of the people and history of Cairneyhill is that Cairneyhill is very significant theologically in Scotland.

The attached article gives a great deal of detail on Cairneyhill Church from it’s foundation in 1752 until 1861 but first some general history.

For a long time the people in the Cairneyhill were dissenters and Covenanters. In early 18th century many local dissenters from Torryburn, Cairneyhill, Carnock and Dunfermline joined forces to form a ‘praying society’ which worshiped in a barn at Drumfin Farm, which still exists to the north-west of Cairneyhill.

On 1 November 1737 the praying society, which by now was quite large, agreed to join the Associate Presbytery, also called the Secession Church, which was a group of ministers who had left the Church of Scotland in 1733. The members of the praying society still wanted some Independence but were put under the care of Reverend Ralph Erskine who had previously left the Church of Scotland. (I was so excited personally a few months ago when researching my own family history to find that a branch with many Church ministers had married into the Erskine family as the Erskine family are so well-known in the Dunfermline area).

In 1747 the Associate Presbytery/Secession Church had a breach because of a disagreement over a burgher’s/burgess’ oath which required holders of public offices to affirm approval of the country’s Established Church, that is the Church of Scotland.

A proportion of the Associate Presbytery/Secession Church disagreed with the burgher’s/burgess’ oath and that portion became the Anti Burghers.

The significant result of that breach was that the Church in Cairneyhill, built in 1752, was the first Anti Burgher Church built in Scotland.

Subsequent to 1752, there were many subsequent mergers which dictated which group of Churches Cairneyhill Church belonged to: in 1820 the Burgher and Anti Burgher Churches reunited to form the United Secession Church, in 1847 the United Secession Church merged with the Relief Church to form the United Presbyterian Church, in 1900 the United Presbyterian Church merged with most of the Free Church to form the United Free Church and in 1929, when most of the United Free Church reunited with the Church of Scotland, Cairneyhill Church rejoined the Church of Scotland.

So, dear blog reader, the above is the general history of the dissenting Churches that Cairneyhill Church belonged to from 1752 until 1929 and below are more specific details of Cairneyhill Church’s history from 1752 until 1861:



A soiree was held in Cairneyhill Church on Monday night, to celebrate the entire liquidation of the debt on the Church and other property belonging to the congregation – the Rev John More in the chair. After prayer by the Rev Dr Johnston, and the audience singing the 2nd Paraphrase.

The Chairman said he was happy to see so many friends present to sympathise with the happy congregation on this joyous occasion. Most of them were aware that debt was a very common thing, and it was also an evil thing to have, and a difficult thing to get rid of. Mr More then proceeded to detail the various improvements that had been made on the Church and other property, from its foundation 107 years ago to the present time.

Mr Bruce said that the object of the meeting was to celebrate the extinction of their congregation debt, and of course it was to celebrate a deliverance from a most annoying yoke of bondage – it had been found so all along. The committee had requested him to give a short account of how and when the debt was contracted, and how and when it was reduced, and ultimately swept away altogether. When the Church was built, 107 years ago, it was a very rude building, though perhaps not more so than other country Churches of that time; still there was some debt rested upon it when it was finished, somewhere about £40, and this was very little to have built a Church. That debt was allowed to remain, and the congregation seemed to have given themselves very little trouble about it. At that time debt seemed to be a bond of union among the members of a Christian society. It proved a mistake to them, however, for they had only existed 34 years with this bond of union, when the half of them left and went to Dunfermline, and erected a place of worship for themselves in Chalmers Street – now being rebuilt. After this the debt would seem neither to have been augmented not diminished, for nearly forty years.

About the year 1790, and onward to 1794, or some part of 1795, the debt was considerably augmented. At that time they took the roof off the Church, and put a new one on. In the year 1794 they agreed to build a manse, and before that they had purchased the house and garden to the rest of the manse, which was now used as a barn. All these things put together, they found, when they were finished, that £100 had been added to the debt, and no great sum either for building a manse, and the rest of the repairs. In the year 1795, the debt was £140.

Well, he supposed, the debt remained much the same till about the year 1814, when their present pastor was ordained. Then repairs had been made on the manse, and these repairs still further augmented the debt. The galleries were put up about the year 1829, and with the other repairs that had been made before the galleries were put up, added about £110 to the debt. At that time the debt was about £250, and other repairs that were effected in the course of time added over £40. Then the debt came to be at its highest point, for £290 or £291 was the highest point to which it reached.

Well, the scale began to turn, and the first reduction of the debt was by a respectable old member of the congregation, who lent them £10 for some object, and previous to his death he made them a present of the money, thus reducing the debt to £281. By-and-bye, there was a small sum of £6 paid, and this further reduced it to £275. In the year 1849 a motion was made in the congregation to try to throw off a portion of this debt. It would still be in the recollection of many that it was tried by taking out a number of shares, and they had a considerable time to pay them. The plan succeeded admirably, and in the year 1850 they had subscribed and collected £110, which reduced the debt to £165. The debt was now coming down as fast or still faster than it was contracted, but there still hung on them that £165 until the beginning of 1860. Some parties in the congregation took it into their heads to try the Debt Liquidating Board, as a considerable sum of money had been thrown into that board by the Ferguson bequest for this purpose, among others, and as they had been in the habit of contributing to this board, a correspondence was entered into by one of their elders and some of the members of the board, the result of which was that two of these gentlemen waited on the congregation in the month of February 1860, and entered into full conversation with those who chose to attend.

The result was, that after hearing parties, and looking at the matter, they agreed to give £50, provided the congregation would raise the rest. All the answer the managers and elders could give was, that they would try. The congregation entered into the thing with spirit, and before long the whole of the required sum was subscribed. (Applause.) They had more than a year to pay it; it was requested to be paid in April last. Well, it was all paid. Some of their friends, both near at hand and far away, had aided them in this matter, for they desired to feel truly thankful. In due time, the whole amount was in the treasurer’s hands, and a circular was sent to Edinburgh, to be filled up, and as soon as this was filled up, the £50 was forthcoming. This put it into the treasurer’s power to pay the whole debt and something over. (Applause.) He concluded by urging upon all, even the poorest, to work for the good of the congregation.

The meeting was afterwards addressed on different subjects by Dr Johnston, Limekilns; Rev P C Duncanson, West Calder; and Rev M McOwan, Perth.

The musical department was conducted by an efficient choir, under the leadership of Mr Tweedie, Dunfermline. All the anthems were well sung, but perhaps the best was ‘Rejoice in the Lord’ composed by the late John Campbell. Mr J L Miller also played several pieces on the harmonium.

The proceedings were concluded about ten o’clock with the usual votes of thanks.

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