James Clerk Maxwell and Corsock


James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) was born in Edinburgh but lived as a child and adult at Glenlair. He was undoubtedly the greatest genius Scotland has ever yet produced.

 He was the founding director of the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge and held chairs in Aberdeen, Kings College London and Cambridge. Einstein regarded him as a genius and the founder of modern physics.

 Now 150 years after the publication of his equations relating to electromagnetism and the speed of light, there has been a renewed interest in Maxwell’s work and private life.

 Much has been written about his connection with Parton Kirk where both he and his father were buried. The equally strong association with Corsock is less well known and consequently often overlooked.

 Father and son were an integral part of that community

His Father, John Clerk Maxwell, through his generosity enthusiasm and continuing support was largely responsible for the building of the Parish Church at Corsock (pictured below) in 1839 .

The church was built after the design of a chapel at Wharton in Cheshire recommended by Captain Fletcher of Corsock who also generously donated the feu.

 Long before the hour of opening John C.M. stood at the gate bareheaded to welcome every one that entered.  His son James destined to become so famous stood beside him with a party-coloured cap in his hand.

 James Clerk Maxwell was ordained as an elder in Corsock on 6th September 1863.  He was one of the first Elders when Corsock was erected into a Parish in 1863 and he was one of the first trustees.

 A new house for the newly ordained minister, Rev.George Sturrock, was now needed.  The matter was discussed at an ordination dinner given by Mrs Clerk Maxwell at Glenlair. Someone stated that £300 would build a cottage.

  Professor Clerk Maxwell said “if you will go on with it at once I will give a fourth of that sum, or £75." 

. The original site of the James Clerk Maxwell memorial window is clearly seen on the facing gable in this illustration of the Maxwell church and manse


 When the Church was closed in 1947 both the Window and the memorial plaque were transferred to the Free Kirk. The Parish Church was converted into a private dwelling in 1951 by James Martin.

.Such was the strength of feeling at the time between the Free Church and the established Church of Scotland there was considerable resistance from some members of the Free Kirk Session to the enlargement of the window space

 in order to incorporate the 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.

The Plaque to John Clerk Maxwell, the scientist’s father was also relocated and can be seen on the north wall close to the entrance in the present Corsock Kirk.










Temperance Inn                                                                           Extract from minutes


He was instrumental in setting up the Board of School Governors in Corsock in1873, presiding as Chairman at their meetings in the Temperance Hotel. He was deeply concerned to prevent closure of rural schools in the surrounding parish.

Merkland School was a case in point where he opposed the majority of the board who were in favour of closure.

He was a subscriber to the maintenance of the local hearse run by the undertaker. As Corsock had no burial ground until 1856, the hearse was used to take the dead to burial grounds at Parton, Kirkpatrick-Durham and Balmaclellan.

  Hence father and consequently son James Clerk Maxwell were buried at Parton.

 After his death, a Memorial Window, funded by public subscription was made and installed in 1921 by Arthur J Dix Berners Street London








Text Box: Memorial Window


















The window is an equilateral arch on the south wall. It shows the three wise men standing, gazing at the star with rays from it bearing down onto a village in the distance behind palm trees.

 Each wears a golden crown and has his hands aloft in astonishment. The central figure in a red cloak carries a gold container. The two other kings are decorated in rich cloaks in varying shades of gold white and blue.

 Around the image is a wide border of saltires, sacred monograms, with myrrh, frankincense or thistles as spacers.

During the last few days before his death, when he was having great difficulty speaking, he looked up and said to Mr Colin McKenzie “Every good and perfect gift is from above” and then added “Do you know that is a hexameter in Greek?”


                                                                                                                                                                          “I wonder who composed it.”

The line is quoted along the base of the window. However experts will appreciate there was not enough space to complete the whole inscription. It is from the epistle of St. James chapter1 Verse 17.