ONE CANNOT think of the history of either a particular church or of the town of Maybole itself, without realising something of the tremendous changes, which have taken place within a relatively short period of time. At the turn of the century one historian said. 'The tide of life has rather receded and left the old town slightly outside the stirring affairs of men.' He could have hardly envisaged the dramatic changes which lay ahead - a building programme which would markedly change the size and shape of the town, modern communications and transport which don't really allow the 'Tide of Life' to recede far from any one of us. It is interesting to notice that the population of the town itself has changed very little - a census in 1885 gave a figure of 4,474 and a fairly recent one gives a similar figure.
Somewhere around 1840 - Sir Charles Fergusson of Kilkerran set aside £600 for the purchase of 'stone and wood' for the building of what is the West Parish Church. A similar amount was to go to the building of the Church in Crosshill. The original Minute of the Kirk Session dealing with the construction and opening of the Church is written in copperplate writing and is very precise in its description of the proceedings. The West Church - which within a few years of its being built, became popularly known as the Glen Kirk, formerly sprang out of the Old Parish as a form of Church extension, Kirkoswald were disjoined in 1862. The first minister was John Thomson who came to the town in 1857 and served until 1863. He was followed in the same year by Roderick Lawson, a man of many parts. Among other things, Mr. Lawson was one of the ablest chronicles of Maybole and even of Carrick and many subsequent authors have drawn on the wealth of literature he left behind.
In 1863, there were three church schools in the town and Industrial school which was at Greenhead. Within ten years, a new Education Act was passed whereby the Church of Scotland agreed to hand over education to the state with certain provisos regarding the teaching of Religious Education. The four schools in the town were closed, their place being taken by the Ladyland Public School which started with 850 scholars in 1875. The opening of the school was accompanied by processions and a day of public celebration. The West Church School, which Lawson says was sometimes called Carrick Academy became a Fever Hospital In an illustrated book on Carrick by John Latta there is a photograph of the West Church the photographer looking down the Glen this is accompanied by a rather romantic verse-
This print is lovely; that's a moral;
The Glen will pass; but where's the Coral;
Perhaps song-birds within the trees?
Perhaps a link with Southern seas?'
Alas - neither song-birds, nor Southern seas provides the answer. Lawson tells us that the Glen was originally Quarrie Glen - Quarrle being Scots for Quarry. He says that if you look down into the Glen from near the Manse - it is easy to see that it was in fact once a quarry. However, my mind boggles a bit at that - perhaps the romantic Southern seas bit appeals a bit more?
I began by mentioning the great changes which have taken place over the years - and nowhere are these changes so easily seen as in the Church. If you look at the records of the West Church for early in this century you find special offerings for 'the Ayr Hospital,' for 'work among the poor and destitute' - in early records, the Poor House is spoken of quite a bit. Then there were the Christmas dinners for the children - and Lawson brings these into focus for us. He mentions asking a boy if he had enjoyed himself and had enough to eat, the boy replied, 'Ah think if I wis tae stan up, ah might manage anither sandwich'.
These then were areas in which the Church was deeply involved - education, poor relief and fund raising for hospital work. Lawson also gives us an insight into how families lived - he himself used to set riddles for the children of households such as - What is it? - A wee, wee house, and fu o' meat, and neither door nor window in it. The answer being an egg. Or, a scriptural riddle - Who was he? -As dark's a dungeon, as deep's a cave, A leevin man in a leevin grave. - Jonah. When Lawson came to Maybole he was disturbed at the number of men and women just living together, never having been married. He married quite a number of these and marvelled at the faithfulness of those so-living, for he knew of few which had separated. Alongside this, he mentions the Saturday night when the family would get together and repeat the paraphrases and hear the Book read with prayers. We are reminded of Burns in his Cotter's Saturday Night - 'From scenes like these - Scotia's grandeur springs.'
In what I have said, I realise that I have perhaps leaned rather heavily on Lawson as though he is the only minister the West Church has had - but we all know different. We have had many faithful men and women in pulpit and pew, only Lawson lived in a time of change and not only lived in it but wrote about it. The West Church continues to thrive - in society, our role has changed, but the message is the same as its Giver who is the "same yesterday, today and forever" and what He has to say is relevant for all time. Many of the people who worship in the Church have their names going back practically to the beginnings of the Church in the records, which means it is certainly a family Church, but one which is welcoming (I trust) towards all who come among us. In May of 1978, the West Church was linked with Fisherton - what this boils down to is the fact that the one minister serves two parishes which inevitably means some loss to both communities, but for the time being this is the way forward.
What do we have in the West Church? Morning worship on Sundays at - 10.30am, Evening Service at 6.30pm. There is the Playgroup, which is open to pre-school children of all denominations or none, there is a Badminton Club which is -likewise for all - on Tuesday and Friday evenings from 7.30pm. On Wednesday evenings (alternate) our Woman's Guild meets - the Guild is ably run and very - well supported. The Boys' Brigade is a shared company meeting in the Old Parish on Tuesday evenings and in the West on Thursday evenings. Last year, we had a time of social get-together for those feeling a bit alone - on Wednesday mornings, also our Mother and Toddler Keep-Fit Class will soon be starting up again. If there's a need - we will try to meet it. In the past few years, the Church has had quite a significant rise in the number of weddings. All in all, we have a busy place with a lot of faithful folk and what can I say on behalf of them and myself in closing - but Welcome one and all - Welcome to the Glen Kirk.
By Rev James Brown