Corsock and Kirkpatrick-Durham Church
Corsock Church, A short guide
Corsock Church was built as a free church 1851-52 to a design by William McCandlish.
It was extended in 1912 by a Gothic stone arch and chancel by J.A McGregor, to a design adapted from the work of James Kennedy Hunter .As you enter the church and look up there is a fine hammerbeam roof. To your right high-up in the southwest corner is a handsome plaster bust of Alexander Murray-Dunlop. It was with his generosity that this church was built. A gifted lawyer and member of parliament, he was prominent in shaping the movement that resulted in the “Act of Secession”. (The withdrawal of membership of the Free Church from the Church of Scotland in 1843).His family also gifted much of the communion plate and latterly the font. The adjacent stained glass window of the Good Shepherd is in memory of him and his wife.
Continuing along the south wall, there is the James Clerk Maxwell memorial plaque and window.
The window aptly depicts the three wise men following the star to Bethlehem. The Greek inscription translates as “All good things come from above”
As it states in the memorial plaque next to the window; James Clerk Maxwell was the first director of the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. He was undoubtedly the greatest genius Scotland has ever yet produced. The plaque and the window both came from the old parish church which was built in 1839 largely through the generosity, enthusiasm and support of John Clerk Maxwell, the scientist’s father. After 1947 when the churches were joined it was turned into a dwelling house (1951)
Such was the strength of feeling at that time between the Free Church and the Church of Scotland, that there was considerable resistance from some members of the Free Kirk session to the enlargement of the window space to incorporate the James Clerk Maxwell memorial window. Some of the session threatened to “throw a hammer through it”, however the Minister, Dr. G.B. Burnet (1946-1957) a strong character prevailed.
A plaque in memory of John Clerk Maxwell can be seen on the north wall to the right of the entrance. It also came from the Parish Church.
Further along the south wall is a modern bright and colourful stained glass. The theme of the window is a reflection of the garden at Walton Park on the surface of the water and embodies the spirit of the river Urr with its cascades and pools. The window commemorates Jan and Percy Brown of Walton Park. 1934-1981.
The main chancel stained glass window behind the communion table represents the three Maries at the Tomb and is in memory of Captain Henry Alexander Dunlop who died in 1919. The other windows in the chancel of a beautiful geometric but plain design are in memory of James and William Barbour of Barlay. They too came from the Parish Church.
The old pipe organ has recently been replaced for the present Wyvern digital organ.
Further down on the East wall is a window commemorating General MacEwen of the Cameron Highlanders 1867-1939 It is entitled “The lilies of the field”. At Corsock House he established the fine rhododendron garden where large off-white lilies were planted. The window also includes military symbols amongst the many flowers.
The final window on that side was gifted by Dr.Burnet.It clearly comes from another church (probably Episcopal) as there is a plain glass surround required to fit the window frame. It is full of symbolism, depicting the Paschal Lamb The lamb (Agnus Dei) is shown with the banner of victory,lying on the book of seven seals A descending Dove, supported by two angels represent the holy spirit descending on the figure of a female Saint. She has long fair hair, a multi-coloured halo, carries a Bible and a large cross. She wears a white tunic and robe with a gold border. There is a green scarf over her right arm,Her identity as a youthful St.Helena was unravelled after finding and perusing the Kirk session minutes.
It is recorded that on the 12th September 1976 a special service for the Dedication of the window was held with Dr and Mrs Burnet present.The Reverend Andrew L Mackay presided and preached on the life of St.Helena,mother of Constantine ,(the Roman Emperor who was converted to Christianity before the battle of Milvian Bridge when he saw a vision of a flaming Cross in the sky bearing the words"in this sign thou shalt conquer" He adopted the Cross as his emblem,winning the Battle and with it the Empire). St Helena was also remembered rather bizarrely for taking the Stone staircase from the house of Pontius Pilate to her own palace.
Corsock’s interesting and turbulent Church history deserves some explanation.
In the 17th century there was a strong Covenanting movement in response to the 1662 Act of Parliament. This deprived all Church ministers staunch to their Presbyterian beliefs, of their living that had not been “presented” by Royal Patronage. This was the end of Presbyterian dominance and Episcopal curates were forced on congregations.
Corsock was then in the parish of Parton but the minister of Kirkpatrick-Durham the Rev.Gabriel Semple who was “outed”from the Kirk, fled to Corsock castle the home of his friend John Neilson.He held the first Conventicle or field preaching at Corsock to ever increasing congregations.
Because of his beliefs and for “appearing for the Covenanters at Pentland”
John Neilson was soon after “driven from his home, spoiled of his goods tortured by the boot and hanged at the Cross in Edinburgh on the 14th December 1666”.He is commemorated on the gravestone of his wife Mary McLellan who died in 1697.
Semple fled first to Ireland and then to the north of England.
In 1839 the Parish church (often referred to as the Maxwell church) was built about
half a mile from the village on a beautiful site close to the Drumhumphry burn and the river Urr. Initially it was only a preaching station and Corsock folk had still to travel to Kirkpatrick-Durham, Parton or Balmaclellan for communion.
Corsock became a Parish Quoad Sacra, (Meaning as far as place of worship is concerned, other matters excluded) in 1863 when the first minister the Reverend George Sturrock was appointed. Communion was then held in the Parish church until the Free and established churches united.
Curling was at that time the most important amusement of the community but because of their Quoad Sacra status Corsock folk were bitterly aggrieved that they were not permitted to enter the Queenshill Cup.
Following the Act of Secession in 1843 feelings ran so high that only adherents to the
Free Church were allowed to curl on the ice at Corsock Loch. Latterly any differences
were reconciled and the Parish church minister and his parishioners were seen happily
playing with their Free Church counterparts. At the turn of the last century when the
Reverend Dr. Robert Smith was minister; the Free Church services were renowned for
their length. One account reads, “It was remarkable how the shepherds’ collies, who attended their masters to church remained quietly outside or in the porch during the service sometimes lasting two and a half hours. They would then recognise the strains of the paraphrases and start moving about sometimes even venturing up the aisle to their masters’ pew during the last verse in expectation of the benediction.”
The Parish church and the Free Church finally united in 1931; but for many years afterwards services were still held in alternate churches. Fierce loyalties persisted as one church member recalls, when a parishioner who rode to church on his bicycle some considerable distance, about turned and went home when he heard the “wrong” church bell ringing. Finally it was only with the determination and insistence of the minister Dr.G.B.Burnet that in 1947 the Parish Church closed. See The Twa Kirks , a poem reflecting the feelings of the people at that time.
Later Corsock was linked briefly with Balmaclellan but in 1963 it was linked with Kirkpatrick-Durham and union took place in1989.