Roderick Lawson of Maybole - A remarkable Victorian minister
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Ayrshire Collections  Volume Twelve  Number Two

Roderick Lawson of Maybole

 A remarkable Victorian minister.

Hugh Douglas 


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Biography     Extracts from writings   (below)  |   List of Published Writings


At the end of Biography (see above) is a drawing by J. Whitelaw Hamilton of the West Parish Church which appeared in the Monthly Letter in March, 1892. The two drawings below, also from the Monthly Letter, are by the Ayr artist Robert Bryden.

The portrait of Roderick Lawson above is a reproduction of that published in the Monthly Letter and later used as the frontispiece of A Minister's Life.

The extracts which follow give something of the flavour of Roderick Lawson's writing, and an idea of his range. The list which follows them gives all those publications known to Mr Douglas or the Editors at present. It almost certainly has gaps, particularly in the 1860s and '70s.



St. Cuthbert's Shoe Factory

        Modern Maybole has risen into fame chiefly through the Shoemaking industry. For the introduction of this trade among us, we are indebted to the enterprise of two men -Mr Charles Crawford, and Mr John Gray; while for its remarkable expansion we are indebted to Mr James Ramsay, Mr T. A. Gray, Mr Robert Crawford, Mr Lees, and several others. It says not a little for these men that they have hitherto managed to secure a comparative monopoly of this branch of manufacture in Scotland. Other towns, more favourably situated, might have equalled or surpassed us, but these contrived to be first in the field, and have so led the way that Maybole shoes are now found all over the world.

        At the present date, there are ten shoe factories in the town:

Messrs John Gray and Co., Ladywell.
Mr T. A. Gray, Lorne.
Mr James Ramsay, St. Cuthbert's.
Messrs John Lees and Co., Townend.
Mr William Boyd, St. Helen's.
Maybole Shoe Factory, Drumellan St.
Mr J. M. Runcie, Greenside.
Mr G. Dick, Ladyland.
Messrs M'Garvie and Co., Society St.

These ten factories employ over 1500 people, and produce annually about a million pairs of boots and shoes, valued at 250,000.

        To aid in disposing of this immense stock of shoes, a large number of shops have been established throughout the country, each bearing Maybole Shoe Shop on its front. This well-known sign may be seen not only in Scotland but also in England and Ireland. A friend even noticed it in far off Manitoba. It is chiefly the heavier class of shoes that are manufactured here, although large quantities are also made for ordinary wear. The employers have ever been foremost in the introduction of new machinery, so as to keep in the forefront of the trade; and a walk through one of our factories is a treat to the visitor. Most of these factories have tanning and currying works connected with them also, so that while the raw hide is brought in at one door, it is taken out as manufactured goods at the other.

        St. Cuthbert's is the shoe factory best known to visitors as standing in the main line of traffic. It is adjacent to St. Cuthbert's Well, whose name it has taken, and fronts the castle, whose well-known figure it has adopted as a Trade Mark.

Places of interest about Maybole, 1891.


Ladyland School

        Twenty-five years ago, there were five schools in the town. The Parish School, at the Greenside, was the first in dignity. The West Church School, now turned into a Fever Hospital, had, however, greatly the largest attendance. The Free Church School, now occupied by the "Brethren." was also well attended. The Industrial School at the Greenhead, now turned into dwelling houses, was filled to overflowing. While the Episcopal School, now become once more a Methodist Chapel, was also attended by a number.

        In August, 1876, all the above schools were closed, and the Ladyland Public School was opened by a grand procession of the scholars through the town, and an equally grand conversazione of the parents in the school in the evening. This school was, by-and-by, felt to be too small for the growing wants of the town, and so, after various alterations on it, an additional school was opened, called the Cairn School, situated in the Kirklands. Ladyland School has now accommodation for 850 pupils, and Cairn School for 450; end the total average attendance amounts to over 1000 pupils.

        Ladyland School was designed by Mr John Murdoch, Architect, Ayr. Cairn School was designed by Messrs James A. Morris and Hunter, London and Ayr, who also designed the alterations and additions made on the Ladyland School. Certainly, our school accommodation has been wonderfully improved since the days of the old regime.

Places of interest about Maybole, 1891.


        The first glimpse we get of the Parish School of Maybole is when it stood in the old churchyard adjoining the Parish Church. This was about the year 1644, when the Rev. James Boner was minister of the parish, and, doubtless, it was a very humble temple of learning then. But the first teacher whom I can trace is Mr David Dunn, whose mouldoring tombstone still stands in the churchyard, bearing the following inscription:-

"Erected in memory of David Dunn, late Schoolmaster, Maybole, who died on 5th July, 1810. aged -years Rota currus velut vita nostra currit votuta, exiguusque jacemus cinis, ossibus solutis. (The wheel of a chariot, like our life, runs roiled along and we lie down, our bones dissolved, a wee pickle cinders) This stone having been removed was repaired and re-erected by a number of surviving acquaintances and scholars of the deceased. Nov.. 1849." Mr Dunn was a leading magistrate of the town in his day, and is mentioned in an extant letter of Burns's as having been one of those congenial souls" whom the poet met on his visit to Maybole, 1786, in the company of Mr William Niven, who had been an old school-fellow of his at Kirkoswald.

        After Mr Dunn came apparently the Rev. Hugh Davidson, who, in 1817, was transferred to the Parish Church of Eaglesham, near Glasgow. After Mr Davidson, the school was taught by Mr William Pyper, from Laurencekirk, who, after four years stay, was appointed first to the Grammar School of Glasgow, then to the High School of Edinburgh. and finally to the Chair of Humanity in St. Andrews University, where I remember seeing his quaint energetic little figure bustling about in the streets.

        After Mr Pyper came another minister, the Rev. Samuel Richardson, who, in 1825, was transferred to the Parish Church of Penninghame, Newton-Stewart, in which church there is a marble tablet erected to his memory by the congregation. After Mr Richardson came still another minister, the Rev. John Inglis, who, after a stay of twenty years, was transferred to the Parish Church of Sanquhar, where I had the pleasure once of visiting him. He was a capable scholar, a respectable teacher, and a very genial man. He died at Helensburgh in 1881, aged 82, and now lies buried in our old churchyard.

        The heritors, naturally getting tired of so many changes in their Parish teacher, resolved in future to have nothing to do with clerical schoolmasters. They accordingly next chose Mr John WyIlie from Minto, who came in 1845. He was a pleasant-spoken, spectacle-wearing man, who took his duties easily. The number of his scholars in my day was never above a hundred, and as these gradually grew less, the heritors gave him a retiring allowance of 50 a-year and engaged in 1869 Mr J S Porteous, who still remains in charge of the Public School Mr Wyllie died at Wigtown in 1890 When Mr Wyllie appeared before the heritors previous to his retirement, Mr James Baird was struck with his juvenile appearance, and said in a half-joking way, Man, ye may leave for twenty years yet!" (which he did, and one more). Mr Wyllie's reply was admirable for its pawkiness: "Mr Baird, I'll live as long as I can."

        My own reminiscences of the old Parish School are connected chiefly with the Annual Examinations by the Presbytery which I confess, were rather perfunctory affairs but were better than nothing in days when School Inspectors were not. After the examination was over each minister, I remember was expected to deliver his opinion regarding the school's efficiency in a short speech. Then a holiday was begged for the scholars (a request always received with rapturous applause), and the whole proceedings wound up with a dinner at the manse. When the old school was sold, it was bought by Mr Aikman of Glasgow, with the view of its being turned into a shoe factory, but this intention was never carried out, and now it is occupied by a branch of the Salvation Army.

Monthly Letter, July, 1895.


        There is a stone inserted in the front of this school bearing the words "Carrick Academy 1843 "; and this not only gives the date of its erection, but shews somewhat amusingly the ambition of its founders. Dr Johnson was once twitted by the elder Boswell as "ane that keeped a schule and ca'd it an Academy," but our Whitehall School founders not only "ca'd it an Academy" but carved that name on its front.

        Its first teacher, I believe, was a Mr Henderson, whose son, the Rev. Elias Henderson, is still minister at Belford, Northumberland. Following Mr Henderson came Mr West, who died recently, minister of Southbridge, New Zealand. He emigrated in 1863. After him came Mr Claud Wilson, who however only stayed a few months. By this time, Sir James Fergusson had taken a lease of the school, and provided a salary for the teacher, with the object of offering a good education at a cheap rate to the children of the town. Struck, however, with the incongruity of the high-sounding title, he claimed the right in his lease to delete the words Carrick Academy" and insert " West Church School" in its place, although this was never done.

        Shortly after I came to Maybole, Mr Robert Milligan was appointed teacher, and remained for some years. He was then promoted to the Parish School of Kirkgunzeon in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright where he still remains. Following him came Mr William Smith who was after some years removed to Brodick School, Arran. Thence he went to the University of Glasgow was ordained minister at Forth near Lanark, and finally was appointed to the Principalship of the General Assembly's Institution Calcutta, in which position he remained till he died It was at his invitation that I visited India in the winter of 1888-89. Mr Smith was succeeded by Mr Robert Fulton, now in Callander Public School, and he in turn was succeeded by Mr John Chapel now in Townhead School Kirkoswald. It was in Mr Chapel a time the new Public School in Ladyland was opened and the schools belonging to the old regime were finally closed.

All along, the Whitehall School was a popular one. The Parish School never had the large numbers attending it that "the Academy" had. I can remember when over 200 were in average attendance, and the teacher could hardly find room to move about. The furniture too was rude enough, and the floor latterly became so shaky that it was a common occurrence to hear a shriek from the far end of the school, followed by a breathless urchin rushing up and saying:- "Maister, there's anither lassie's leg through the flure."

        It was in the Whitehall School I long carried on the Penny Savings Bank. It was here also I taught for a number of winters a Free Writing Class of about 100 for enabling grown people to improve their handwriting, or to begin it when they had not learned it. And it was in this school too I commenced a series of Saturday Evening Penny Readings, although latterly I had to remove these to the larger Hall of Mr Jack's work. Many pleasant memories are thus entwined round the old Whitehall School. Minister, teachers and children were all alike young then, and youth makes joy for itself.

Monthly Letter, September, 1895.


        When I came to Maybole, there were three other schools in the town beside the Parish one and the Carrick Academy. The first was that in Society Row, and was supported by the Free Church. The next was at the Greenhead, was taught by the Misses Connel, and was camed on in connection with the Parish Church. The third was in the building now occupied by the Methodists and was carried on in connection with the Episcopal Church.

        Of these, the largest was the Society Row School. Originally, it was a weaving shop like the houses adjoining but when the Free Church began, the house was purchased by the late Mr William Brown, and became a school in connection with that denomination. For greater convenience, a porch was erected at the back, and an entrance formed there instead of at the front.

        When I came here, this school was taught by Miss Brown, whom I afterwards met at Castle Douglas, where she had married and settled down. After her came Miss Huntly, a lively energetic person, who also got married in due course. At her resignation, the school was closed along with the others, when the new Public School was opened in 1873.

        When the building was sold, it was bought by Captain Armstrong of Girvan, with the view of being used as a Mission Station, and was transferred to a committee for that end. It was here the Revival movement in our town was largely carried on at the beginning. Latterly, it fell into the hands of the "Brethren," and is at present occupied by the "open "section of that body.

Monthly Letter, October, 1895


        When I was a boy in Girvan, it was the custom for people invited to a marriage to assemble at the bridegroom's house and march two-and-two in procession to the bride's dwelling, where the ceremony was performed. In that procession the bridegroom and bridegroom's man marched first, while the fiddler with his green bag brought up the rear. Guns also used to be fired in honour of the event, and a friend tells me that a cake was broken over the bride's head at her home-coming in token of good luck. Of course, the marriage procession was cheered lustily by admiring crowds of boys and girls, and doubtless I have often tossed up my cap and joined in the joyous "Hurrah for the weddingers " that accompanied the party on its way.

        At baptisms, again, which were always celebrated in church, it was the Custom for the person who carried the child to hand "a piece" to the first boy or girl met on the way, with the notion, I suppose, of initiating the child into the Christian grace of giving. I remember, at any rate, the good woman who carried me on that occasion, used to tell me that she had faithfully observed the custom.

        At funerals, refreshments were the order of the day, and the orthodox number of rounds was three - the first two of whisky and the last of rum or wine. Each round was accompanied by a service of bread and cheese. And I can remember, when at a funeral in the Highlands, whisky and oatmeal cake were produced at the grave, and partaken of by the company seated on the churchyard dike.

        At school, there is much improvement in the matter of school books and teaching apparatus. Punishments, too, are a great deal milder now. The Saturday holiday movement was just beginning, and I can recall a statement of my mother's that she would gladly pay the teacher extra fees to keep us in on Saturdays too. The Bible was read regularly as a text-book, and the Shorter Catechism was faithfully committed to memory in those days.

        The railway now takes us from Girvan to Ayr in less than an hour, but in my boyish days the Robert Burns coach took three hours and often longer. Indeed, there is a story told of a certain long-legged shoemaker who used frequently to walk past the coach when heavily laden, and who, when the coach-man hailed him, would reply, "I haena time to wait the day!"

        Previous to the year 1820, the mails between Ayr and Portpatrick were carried in saddlebags strapped in front of the horseman, the roads then not being fitted for coach traffic. But in my own recollection, there was a mail-coach on the road, with a guard in a flaming red coat, whose performances on the horn or the bugle formed quite an event in the day's history. In those days, the postage on a letter from Girvan to Ayr was 4d, and from Girvan to Glasgow 8d; and I can distinctly remember the ceremonious way postage stamps were purchased and affixed when first they came out.

        I believe I attended the first course of Lectures ever given in Girvan, and I am certain I attended the first Public Soiree, little thinking at the time how frequently I should have to take part in these things in days to come.

        There was no gas in Girvan in those days, so tallow candles or small oil lamps were used instead. In farm houses you saw the ancient crusie hanging up, redolent of train oil, a specimen of which I secured when in Shetland; while the lamplighter with his ladder and blazing torch, was a nightly source of interest to juveniles who shouted after him:-

"Leerie, leerie, licht the lamps,
Lang legs and crooked shanks."

        I can recall to mind the first introduction of lucifer matches to our town. There was a folded piece of sand paper in each box, through which the match was drawn briskly. Before the matches came, spunks were used, dipped in sulphur merely, and before the spunks, flint and steel were used.

        I can remember, also, the "Tent" at Communion seasons being duly erected in the churchyard, and the large crowds that used to gather to "the preachings," although the palmy days of those "Holy Fairs," when there were sixteen tables and half-a-dozen assistant ministers, had begun to be talked about as things of the past. I can remember, too, the Sunday morning parliaments held at the head of the kirk brae, where the farmers and others discussed the news before going in to church, just as Ian Maclaren has portrayed it at Drumtochty.

        Nearly every hard working wife then had a big wheel for spinning wool, and a wee wheel for spinning flax, in which occupations the winter evenings were spent cheerfully enough. Servants then stayed for years in their situations, and were looked on almost as part of the family, and the first "big greet" I can remember was over the death of a domestic who died in our house.

        I scarcely ever see a person now going for "a gang of water," although the practice was then a daily one, and a place for the stoups behind the kitchen door was then a recognised necessity in every house. The very word "gang' is now obsolete, although a Paisley poet has thus used it pithily in describing a fire in that town:-

"Noo Rab Macpherson he was there,
And he was unco thrang,
He ran wi' water in his mouth,
For it would haud a gang."

        Everybody in those days had an individuality of which he was not ashamed. It was the custom then to call people after their trades, as Miller Austin, Baker Howie, Cooper Gardner, Watchie Davidson (as distinguished from Postie Davidson), and Tinkle Murdoch; while nearly every outstanding character had a nickname by which he was better known than by his Christian name. Thus an old naval hero who had served under Nelson was called Copenhagen, a well known fisherman was dubbed Geshur, a grimy shoemaker rejoiced in the name of the Black Laird, and a slow speaking worthy, whose wife sold candy stalks, was universally known as Smart Smallack. What a host of characters, indeed, rise on my memory as I recall those days! Daft Jock Bryce, Blin' Jock Grant, Jacky M'Cafferty the Dominie, Jock Duff who rang the bell (when sober), and Dowie the Dounepark Buffer, whose deeds at Kirkdandie Fair were reckoned by us as next to those of Achilles at Troy.

        As to amusements, we boys had shinty and pinning matches on the green, our elders had penny reels at fairs, and a good tough fight on the street was counted a public diversion not to be despised, while Ord with his open-air circus, and indispensable merryman, used to enliven the town for weeks together.

        There were no policemen in those days, old Donald M'Andrew, the town officer, being the only official guardian of the peace. But to make up for that, most of the respectable inhabitants of the town were enrolled as constables, and used to patrol the streets on Saturday nights when disturbances were feared. The municipal laws may now be counted severe, but they are mild in comparison with those of our grandfathers. And although Girvan had no jouggs like Maybole, I can remember an unfortunate wight once tied to the tail of a cart, and made to parade the town with a large placard on his back, on which the words were written:- Potato Thief.

        But all these things have now vanished. The old order has changed and given place to the new. And certainly the new is smoother, but whether better or not is another question. Still people in those days loved and laughed, wept and rejoiced, wrought hard and stood up to their buffets much as they do now. For outward circumstances don't determine a man's happiness or character, and though the old customs may seem rude to us, yet:-

"Buirdly men and clever hizzies
Were bred in such a way as this is."

Monthly Letter, January. 1897.


Biography     Extracts from writings   (above)  |   List of Published Writings