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History of Montrose
Chapter XII. - Churches, &c.


MONTROSE is in the Presbytery of Brechin, and Synod of Angus and Meams. The charge is collegiate Patron of the first charge, the Crown; of the second, the Town Council, stipend of the first minister is regulated by the fiars’ rates ; and the last few years has been under the mark, owing to the low prices; in consequence of which the parishioners of the Old Church made the minister a handsome present. The second minister is paid from an assessment upon house-rents, which now runs at about 2d on the pound. This assessment is raised by virtue of an Act of Parliament in 1690, authorising a maximum rate of Is. per pound. The stipend is now fixed at 340.

The Old Church was a gothic structure, rendered very gloomy and irregular by large additions to the galleries, and to the building itself. It was originally, however, venerable and well proportioned. Having fallen into decay, the heritors, town-council, kirk-session, trades, and proprietors of seats? agreed unanimously to build another in its stead: the dimensions of which are 98 by 65 feet over walls. Many of the sittings are private property. It was much improved some years ago by a new style of the windows; and although it has rather a clumsy appearance on the out-side—so much so as to cause Dr. Guthrie to compare it to Noah’s Ark—yet, when full of people, it has a very imposing and grand appearance inside; and it is to be earnestly wished, that the comparison may hold true in a figurative sense, and that all who enter its walls may be saved from the deluge of God’s anger. I daresay it was never seen so full as when Dr. Keith gave an account of his travels in the Holy Land, and Dr. Paterson himself was seen with a plate collecting in the passages for the Indian Mission. Sittings, 2500. A missionary labours throughout the whole parish; and is supported by a society, whose committee and contributors belong to all the religious denominations in the town. Mr Kerr is the missionary at present, and there is no doubt his labours have been blessed to many. In 1834, a portion of the town district of the parish was erected into the quoad sacra parish of St. John’s, ’now a Free Church, Rev. W. Nixon, minister. Deducting this territory, the population of the parish of Montrose, according to an ecclesiastical survey in 1836, consisted of 6,040 churchmen—1924 dissenters, and 984 nondescripts—in all 8,948 persons; and the population of the quoad sacra parish consisted of 2,509 churchmen—1083 dissenters, and 168 non-descripts—in all 3,751 persons. The church of St. John’s was built in 1829 and cost 3969. The Parish Church was built in 1791.

It was long in agitation, as appears by the columns of the Review, to build a Chapel of Ease for Montrose Parish ; but nothing was done until Mrs Carnegie of Charleton put her hand to the work, and the arguments she used are well set forth in the following letter by that benevolent lady :—

"Friends and Neighbours,—I no longer address you anonymously, as I have frequently done ; but as I am about to take leave of you, from my age, and some late warnings of disease and deeay, I cap not expect to be long here, I speak to you in my own person. I have suggested many things to you in small printed tracts, and in. the newspapers, for your good; and having met with potent and zealous co-operation in some of them, have the satisfaction to think have done some permanent service. I wish yet to say something of the hospital, of the benefit societies, and of the saving bank, but these I shall pass over for the present, being anxious to suggest for your consideration, a proposal, which I shall assuredly not live to see completely carried into execution, bat which appears to me to be of essential benefit to the future population of this district; and if it appears in the same light to yon, is not of snch magnitude but that even the present generation may profit by it. This is to Build another church in or near Montrose, to be served by another pastor of the communion of the Established Church of Scotland. I think I see many mouths open against what appears, at first hearing, as the scheme of a doting old woman! What? is not your church big enough? A great deal too big! to be spoken in, or heard in, with ease. But does it accommodate the parish ? So far from it, that, were it not for the liberality of the dissenting congregations, vast numbers would have no means of attending any public worship, whilst seat rents are so high in the one parish church that the poor have no chance of ‘ hearing the gospel preached unto them, ’ but by a few crowding the passages, and thronging the pulpit to the great inconvenience of the congregation and tho preacher. I was, indeed, a very old woman before this idea entered my head. I owe it to Dr Chalmers admirable 'Essay on the Causes and Cure of Pauperism,' published in the Edinburgh Review, No 50. Speaking of the demoralization of the lower ranks in great towns, compared with country parishes, he mentions the admission of poor's rates (which are now* weighing England down) as one cause, by taking off the honest shame of receiving parish support, and another, no less powerful, that the gradual increase of inhabitants in the towns has gone unnoticed, beyond the reach of religion, discipline and instruction, from the want of churches and of pastors. It burst on my awakened soul like a beam' of light. I saw the evil; and old and insignificant as I am, resolved to begin to remedy it, in my own neighbourhood, even at this (to me) late hour. It is now near half a century, said I to myself since I came to reside here, I learned some time after that the inhabitants of the town and parish of Montrose amounted to 6000 some odd hundreds. I have been informed of late, that they are now above 9000. This great increase, I presume, has mostly taken place in the last half of this period. We have rebuilt our church, increased its dimensions, even to inconvenience, yet far from accommodating the increased numbers, hundreds, perhaps I might say thousands are obliged to wander about to sectarian meetings, or spend the Sabbath in idleness. I need not, I hope, spend time in endeavouring to convince the people of Montrose of all ranks, and all religious persuasions, that this is an evil; and that children, playing on the streets in the time ef public worship, and seeing their parents pay no other respect to the Sabbath but putting on their best clothes, and going out to divert themselves,—brought up with little knowledge of God and his laws,—have but a poor chance to turn out honest, industrious, useful members of society. But it is not only the want of public worship^ which is suffered by a toe numerous population, but the want of the private ministry of pastors interested in their temporal and spiritual welfare, —who, making conscience of their office, visit, exhort, console, advise, and reprove, as circumstances occur; but what can one man do amongst eleven thousand people which compose Dr. Chalmers's share of the overflowing population of Glasgow. Tet he does not despair of this enormous evil being remedied by degrees, once it is seen and acknowledged as an evil. One new Church (says he) building in Glasgow, and one additional pastor, is always a step to reformation. ”

The first United Secession congregation, now belonging to the U.P. Church (Rev. A. Anderson, minister), was established about the year 1750, and repaired and lofted in 1788; and, including a church-yard which then surrounded it, was supposed, in 1836, to be worth from 500 to 600. Sittings, 550. The last minister was Rev. A. Wilson, who occasionally took a turn at the golf in the links. A minister, indeed, must have recreation, as well as others; and in anything he puts his hand to, we should wish him, perhaps— if it is of this sort—“To be behind the foremost, but before the last.,, A new and handsome church was built for Mr. Anderson about 15 or 16 years ago, with about 700 sittings, and it occupies the whole site of the old one, as well as of the enclosed yard.

The second United Secession congregation (now U.P.), was established in 1787, and their present place of worship was built in 1824, at a cost of 1,100. Sittings, 750. Rev. H. Hyslop, minister. They formerly met in the Burgher-Yard, when the Rev. John King was their minister—a man of very plain exterior, especially as regarded dress. He walked much in the links, studying his sermons, and sometimes carried his child in his arms.

The Wesleyan Methodist congregation was established in 1793. Their chapel was built in 1814, and cost upwards of 900. Sittings, 300.

The Scottish Episcopalians built a very nice chapel, fronting the links, in 1844, called St. Mary’s. Sittings, 400.

St. Peter’s Episcopalian congregation is in connection with the Church of England, and dates from the period when Episcopacy ceased to be the established religion of Scotland. Their place of worship was founded in 1722, and opened in 1724. Sittings, about 800. It was visited by Dr. Johnson, “who praised it as a neat and cleanly place of public worship.” It had a fine altar-piece of Moses and Aaron, with the table of the ten commandments between them, to which Moses pointed with his rod—most venerable in appearance they were; but -they shared the fate of the building, which was burned down in 1857, after having been repaired and enlarged. A new and elegant building now stands in its place. Sittings, 700. The Rev. John Dodgson was long their minister—a most gentlemanly man and very good to the poor. The writer called upon him once, to get his signature to a school examination report, written by Rev. W. Nixon, when he said, “I never took up a pen with greater pleasure in my life.” Mr Iago is now minister.

The Baptist congregation was established about the year 1812, and their Chapel was built about 1826, at the cost of 400. Mr James Watson, basket-maker, was long their pastor, a very shrewd man he was, and very popular. His lectures on the Sunday evenings were well attended; and though he was almost blind, he had a good knowledge of the scriptures, which were read to him by one or other of his family at home. His mind was, under all these disadvantages, well stored with Bible truth, and he could hold his own with any who tried him in controversy. He often took a leading part also at public meetings, and spoke up for the good of the town. He left the town many years ago, and went to the neighbourhood of Newcastle, where he still continued to preach. Since his time, the church has fallen off, but still continues to meet in Commerce Street.

St. George’s Free Church was built in 1843—the congregation having met before that in a wooden erection at the Bowling Green, when the Rev. W. Thomson, now of Grey Friars Church, Aberdeen, was their minister. He was succeeded by the Rev. John Laird of Inverkeillor, a most earnest preacher, and one who devoted much of his time to the visitation of his flock. After him came the Rev. Mr Grigor, who died, much lamented, and to whose memory a marble tablet was placed in the wall opposite to the pulpit. The present minister is the Rev. John Lister.

The Congregational Church, Baltic Street, like others of the same order in Scotland, arose out of the revival produced by the preaching of the Haldanes. It was formed in 1800, by the late Rev. George Cowie, whom some of the older inhabitants still remember. He was at one time parochial school-master in Montrose, and assistant minister in the parish of Dun, and tutor at Charleton—a man of great learning and piety. He had an excellent style of elocution, and was a very pathetic preacher. His manner in private was sometimes very austere. There was a certain tinge of melancholy about him, produced, perhaps, by delicate health. At times in private he was exceedingly sociable and agreeable. My father, when serving his apprenticeship to James Haddon, received much kindness from him. His father having been a shipmaster, he had always a great liking to seamen and preached a sermon to them every year. He removed to Edinburgh, and was for some years theological tutor there; but afterwards, to the great gladness of his people, returned to Montrose. He died in Edinburgh in 1829. I visited him in his last illness, and told him I had got my father to name one of my half-brothers after him, George Cowie Mitchell. After a number of ministers, who stayed only a short time, he was succeeded by Mr Campbell (now the Rev. Dr. Campbell), of Bradford, under whom the church prospered greatly.

Mr Campbell being a great voluntary, Mr Nision and be were strongly opposed to each other on the endowment question, and had a long wordy warfare; but after the Disruption, Mr Campbell offered Rev Nixon’s congregation the use of his church, when they were threatened to be dispossessed of their own, thus showing that they only stood out upon principle. The church’s present place of worship was built in his time. It is in the Grecian style, plain but neat, substantial and commodious, seating about 700. The present minister is the Rev. P. Whyte, under whom the church has been much increased, and is very prosperous. A very fine and powerful organ has been introduced. It harmonizes well with the voices in singing and chanting. This congregation is noted for its liberality. At a breakfast meeting on New Year’s morning, the treasurer stated, that last year they had raised more than 600. It is also noted for its Sabbath School and Missionary work. In addition to the ordinary congregational Sabbath School and Bible Classes, Mr James Johnston has in Bridge Street, one of the largest and most efficient Sabbath Schools in town; also a penny bank. Mr J. W. Japp has a large and useful school in Erskine Place, and Mr F. Japp in Queen Street.

The Evangelical Union Church, John Street, is next in the order of dates, having been built in 1849. It is a very neat place of worship. Sittings, 490. The congregation previously met in the Thistle Hall and had for their minister Rev. Mr Wood. Their present pastor is Rev. John Whitson.

Melville Church, erected in 1854, in connection with the Established Church, has 800 sittings, and has a parish annexed to it. Minister, Rev. William Anderson.,

St. John’s Church has a school in connection with it, taught by Mr. Menzies with great success. It had another storey added to it after General Straton’s death, the expense of which was defrayed from funds left by him for education.

This affords accommodation for a girls’ school, which is well attended. The first teacher was Miss Grant, the second Miss Christie, the third Miss Brownlee, who has been succeeded by Miss Menzies.

St. Mary’s Church has also good school accommodation beside it. The master has the assistance of pupil teachers, and there is a mistress for sewing, &c.

White’s Free School, founded in 1816, educates 100 poor children, and the master is assisted by pupil teachers.

Miss Jane Straton’s Charity School, established in 1822, educates 42 boys and 35 girls. Mr Davidson and Miss Norrie are the teachers.

Mr John Milne’s school-house at townhead was built at the expense of the town, and given to him rent free. He is reckoned a very strict and pains-taking teacher.

The Sessional School, near the shore, was erected in 1841, and is taught by Mr Stewart and Miss Brand, and is always well reported of at the annual examinations.

The Castle Street School, has been kept by Miss Mathers since her father’s death. It is pretty well attended, and is patronised by the Free Church, with which it is in connection. Knox’s Church has also a school in connection with the church.

There are several ladies’ schools in Montrose, which are well- patronised, besides other private schools; but with all the school accommodation so amply provided, there is still a great want of a school for sailors—one solely for them as in other large towns, in which they could attend to their studies, undisturbed by the din of youngsters; and if any generous individual would leave a legacy for the purpose of building and endowing such a school, he would confer a great boon upon the town of Montrose.

The late Alexander Gordon Esq., left a small legacy of 10 to be given to a teacher of navigation to young men in the evenings; and there is at present in Montrose a mate of a ship (the “Margaret”), whose name is Robert Walker, who got his schooling at an evening school (the master of which got the 10 from the Magistrates, and passed the board from that school, without being at any other. But still a day school is much required for the seafaring classes. Whether the gift to the town by the late W. Mitchell of Old Montrose may be so appropriated, it is left for others to judge.


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