Kirkmichael Church

Set in the midst of Ae Valley, an attractive forestry and farming area, the present church was built in 1815 during the ministry of the Revd. James Smail. It stands on a little rise by the roadside overshadowed by high trees. It is built on the classical T plan of the period. It is constructed of rough dressed grey whinstone with sandstone facings.Photo of Kirkmichael Church

The main roof is hipped, slated and low pitched. The roof of the north aisle is gabled. There is a square sandstone open bell-cote on the north gable,

All the windows are of the long semi-circular headed type. There are four of them in the long south wall, one each in the two short walls opposite and one on either side of the north aisle. Five of the eight windows are filled with cathedral glass, two of them being masked by the gallery. The other three contain stained glass. In the two windows flanking the pulpit and facing the congregation the scenes depicted are Christ Stilling the Storm and Christ the Good Shepherd. They are to the memory of George Francis Stewart Lyon of Kirkmichael, one gifted by his widow and the other by his family. The third stained glass window, also the gift of the same Lyon family to the memory of their parents, is of very fine quality. It is in one of the short walls facing the pulpit. It portrays The Virgin Mother with Her Child “in the beauty of the lilies”, embodiment of Divine Love sustained by the figures of Faith and Hope.

There are three doors, north, east and west, but one of these has been blocked by the erection of a boiler-house. The tiny main entrance porch with tiny vestry off it, is under the north gable. It leads through double doors into a wide aisle. The boiler house also houses a modern toilet.

Inside the church, the walls and ceiling are plastered and quite plain. The pews are varnished and high backed, but there is plenty of space under the gallery and a broad way between the pews to the sanctuary area.

The pulpit in the middle of the long south wall is the visual focal point of the church. It is a large, high, handsome hexagonal one in imitation oak with elegant staircase. The sanctuary platform below the pulpit is raised six inches above floor level, It is red-carpetted with large well designed chest type Communion Table and Font, Minister’s chair and reading desk, all gifted by members of the congregation and recorded as such.

The gallery, which occupies the whole of the north aisle, is approached by an inside staircase and supported by four cast iron columns. This ‘lairds’ loft, accommodated six lairds and their families, each of them in his own box. One of them has been converted into “pews for the people”, but the other five remain, mute witnesses to departed glory. The church is lit by the lamps hanging from the ceiling. Two of these are above the gallery. Seating capacity of the Church is 300.

There are three marble memorial plaques, those facing the congregation being in memory of Sam Farish, only son of the Farish family in Kirkland, killed in action 1917, aged 22. The other is in memory of the Revd. Robert Turnbull, mentioned in the historical notes.

On the east side of the church is the burial place of the Revd. James Smail and his family, behind high railings and with laird-like memorials.

Though it looks a bleak little Bethel from outside, inside it is warm and numinous for those who love it.


Here follows a short overview of the history of Kirkmichael.

Overview: Garrel Church

During the middle ages, Garrel was a mensal of the Bishop of Glasgow. That meant that its purpose was to provide His Lordship’s larder and table. It was farmed for him by the Red Friars of Fail, an order not notable for their piety.

In 1506, the good Archbishop Blackadder made over the whole endowment of Garrel to his college of Glasgow. These arrangements came to an end with the Reformation, but in the year 1617, under the revived Episcopate, a church was built, Its ruins still survive.

The first and only Presbyterian minister of the United Parishes of Garrel and Dungree served from 1647 to 1651, when he was transferred by the Presbytery of Dumfries to Colvend, and later become one of the Martyrs of the Covenant.

The Presbytery of Dumfries made another attempt to induct a Minister to Garrel and Dungree in 1659, but it was annulled by the Commissioners of Teinds, the following year. They declared that Garrel had never been a parish and the whole area was then partitioned between Kirkmichael, Johnstone and Kirkpatrick-Juxta. Later the parish was renamed Kirkmichael and Garvell.

Overview: Kirkmichael Church

A dedication to the Archangel Michael, Captain of the Host of Heaven, was one much favoured by Norse converts to Christianity. We know that Norse settlers were at nearby Tinwald in the 9th and 10th centuries. The first Kirkmichael Kirk may well date from that time, though there might well have been an earlier British church on the same rather remote site.

The extensive parish it serves was set up later, probably in the 12th century.

‘During the middle ages, Kirkmichael was a Free Parsonage within the diocese of Glasgow. This meant that the Rector enjoyed the whole of the endowments and was under no authority other than that of the Bishop.

After the Reformation the Rector turned Protestant and subsequent incumbents swung to the political winds of change.

After the Revolution of 1688, there was difficulty in filling the vacancy caused by the ejection of the last Episcopalian Curate. Of the first minister, thereafter, nothing is known but his surname, which was Gould, and a contemporary lampoon’ beginning:

“Now show thyself, great Caesar, man of Nihil, O Gool, thou fool, mock preacher in Kirkmichael”

Despite this inauspicious start to the new dispensation, the parish prospered and enjoyed some long and distinguished ministries-during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Among them were one who championed the cause of the Original Seceders; another a friend of the poet Burns and father of “Bessie at the Spinning-wheel”; another who, when Moderator of the General Assembly gifted to his successor the ring which has been worn by holders of that high office ever since; yet another this century who presented the congregation with a magnificent chased Silver Flagon – an exquisite work of art by any standard.

But the two ministers of Kirkmichael we must mention here by name are the Revd. James Smail (1796 – 1835) and the Revd. Robert. W. Turnbull (1925-1961).

The first built the present church in the years of Britain’s rise to prosperity; the second maintained it in the years of Britain’s decline into adversity. Of Mr. Smail it was written:- “He was a fair model of a parish minister; sustained by personal dignity, spiritual feeling, scriptural principles, with consistency and purity of conduct and kindness of disposition”. We are not so felicitous in our phrasing nowadays, for if these words had been written about Mr. Turnbull, all who knew him would answer with a loud – Amen.

June, 1974. W. A. Duncan

Kirkmichael Statistical Accounts

Over the years there have only been three statistical accounts – the first in 1790, then 1834 and the last in 1950. The 1790 Account is the most interesting, as it gives a more vivid comparison with the present-day, and it is written with many of the old words and spellings.

The Account for the parish of Kirkmichael was written by the Rev. John Burgess M.A. (1758 – 17…) and his annual stipend was given as £55-11-91/2 with £3-17-91/2 for defrayed expenses for the sacrament. At that time there was a glebe of 14 acres. Tinwald (and Trailflat) Parish was written by the Rev. James Laurie (sometimes Lawrie, 1784 – 1799) and his stipend was £77-4/-. The glebe was 14 acres.

Each parish had a population of nearly 1000, and the number of males and females was roughly equal. About 20% of the population were married, and each marriage produced an average of 5 or 6 children. All the small villages in the parishes had their own wheelwrights, blacksmiths, weavers, shoemakers, clogmakers, tailors carpenters, millers and small merchants.

Before finishing this article I must tell you about a custom which was prevalent amongst the working people in the parish of Kirkmichael. It appeals to my Christian spirit and simple sense of humour. If anyone of the flock had misfortune or trouble of any kind, a friend would gather as many of his neighbours as possible and invite them to what was called `a drinking`. This started off with beer and bread, followed by whisky and brandy and would finish with singing and dancing. At the end of this nobody had any problems or troubles! Before leaving for home a collection was taken for the person who started it all (Bob Cowan).


Contributed by the Reverend Dr. John Burgess

Boundaries of the Parish

The old parish of Kirkmichael included the old Parish of Garrel or Garvald which were united about 1674 in spite of the vigorous protestations of the parishioners of Garrel. However, Garrel had been without a minister for several years! Some adjustments to the boundaries were made between the 1791 account and that of 1834, the eastern part of the old Parish of Garrel being transferred to Lochmaben. With the recent conjoining with Tinwald and Torthorwald, the southern boundaries are taken care of by these two. Much of the north of the old parish is now afforested, and marches upon Kirkpatrick Juxta, the west on Closeburn, and the east with Johnstone and Lochmaben.

Soil and Produce

Sinclair was an enthusiastic agricultural improver so an important question was what does the Parish grow? Crops included wheat, oats, barley and pease. Black cattle numbered 1,000 to 1,200 and sheep between 8,000 and 10,000.

Clearly, the most northerly and hilly parts of the Parish were less fertile than the lowlands on the banks of the rivers Ae and Kinnell. The 18th Century had seen much enclosure and, interestingly, the number of inhabitants had increased substantially, perhaps because of the increased yield of the land, or perhaps because of the demand for ancillary trades? Thus, the Minister reports, in 1791:

Farmers 60

Blacksmiths 4

Carpenters 4

Millers 3

Shoemakers 4

Taylors 6

Weavers 16

Clogmakers 3

Little merchants 3

Surgeon 1

Old Man!! 1 He was recorded as being 103 years old. He was born in March 1688 and was baptised secretly the following year “by a Presbyterian Minister as the Curates were then in the kirks.”

Clearly the parishioners were not all that well disciplined as the Minister reports 50 Seceders, Cameronians. and members of the Relief Church. There were no Roman Catholics, nor Episcopalians.

The climate is spoken of as ‘moist’; “but, from the rapidity of the rivers the air is frequently changed, and seldom suffered to stagnate”. What can Michael Fish learn from that?

State of the Poor

The poor receiving alms were only five in number and were supported in a variety of ways of which one deserves special mention: “We have a custom which deserves to be taken notice of….when any of the lower people happen to be reduced by sickness, losses, or misfortunes of any kind, a friend is sent to as many neighbours as they think needful, to invite them to a drinking. This drinking consists in a little small beer, with a bit of bread and cheese, and sometimes a small glass of brandy or whisky………The guests convene at the time appointed and, after collecting a shilling, or sometimes more, there was music and dancing, and then they go home………These meetings sometimes produce 5, 6 or 7 pounds to the needy person or family.” Note: I suspect these are pounds Scots. Ed.

The Fauna

The wild quadrupeds are foxes, otters, badgers, hares, wild cats, polecats, ermines and weasels – no wonder there were no rabbits!

The replies to the questionnaire often give us a good picture of the Minister who replied. Dr. Burgess, who wrote the First Statistical Account was clearly interested in the beasts and the birds and there is a wonderful list of the resident and migrant birds; of the resident birds he counts black cocks, moor-fowl, partridges, plovers, wild ducks, teals, and snipes, land and water rails, quail, missel thrush, pine and common bullfinch, wryneck, golden-crested and willow wrens, redstart, creeper flycatcher, and the dun, grey, barn and horned owls.

Then of the migratory he writes of the cuckow, goatsucker, swift, house and window swallow, sand martin or river swallow, the curlew, called here the whaup, the lapwing or tewit, the king’s fisher, the sea lark, the sandpiper, the greater and lesser terns or sea swallows, and gulls, mews, shelldrakes, divers etc.

Wages and the cost of Food

A beef cow cost£5 to£6 and sometimes more! ducks were 3d or 4d, butter at 4d a pound, cheese at 2d a pound, and oats at 1s. to 1s 6d a Dumfries peck, which was the equal of a Winchester peck.

The price of labour was rocketing. Day labourers cost 8d a day with victuals and 1s. without. Artisans cost 50% more. Male servants now cost between £7 & £8 a year, and sometimes higher!

Meantime, the Minister’s stipend was £55:11:1 with £3:17:9 for defraying the expenses of the sacrament. “The glebe consists of about 14 acres of high lying land which, with the manse and garden, could not be rated at above £10 a year.”

Although the Minister and author of this Account, and Dr. Burgess had been “presented” at the height of the period of the “Moderates”, he commented but briefly that the Duke of Queensberry was the patron of the Parish of Kirkmichael, by a charter from the Crown, with Crown claiming vice-patronage by way of the patronage of the old parish of Garrel.

The Dominie received 200 merks Scots or £11:2:2 sterling “which is paid, according to the usual mode, one half by the heritors, and the other half by the tenants.”


Contributed by the Reverend Hugh Dobie

The Boundaries of the Parish

Mr.Dobie had very different interests from Dr. Burgess. He was interested in topography and, to some extent, with the geology of the Parish. The boundaries had changed little since 1791 as recounted above. Mr. Dobie drew attention to the hill of Holehouse to the north, rising to about 1,500 feet, to Woodhill on the south and to Knock-craig.


Mr. Dobie gives an excellent account of the story of Wallace’s Tower (called, on the O.S. Landranger map “Wallace’s House fort, grid reference NY033908.) The story is that, in 1297, Wallace occupied the fort with a small band whilst contemplating the capture of Lochmaben castle then held in the English interest by Graystock, an English officer and Sir Hugh Moreland. In a minor engagement Wallace met and slew Moreland with five of his followers; the spot is marked by a large stone called the “sax corses”. This reverse so infuriated Graystock that, after receiving reinforcements from England that officer attacked Wallace in his fortlet, but Wallace contrived to escape and in his turn received reinforcements from the companies of Sir John Graham and Sir Roger Kirkpatrick. The Scots turned on their pursuers at Knockwood and the English leader, Graystock, fell mortally wounded, whereupon the English turned and fled. Wallace did not follow far in pursuit but rode fast to Lochmaben castle, which was in no position to deny his entry. Hardly had Wallace taken the castle when “bands of broken men, footsore and wounded,” from the engagement at Knockwood asked for admission at the gates “only, however, to share the fate of their comrades who had been encountered in the field the day before.” (A fuller account can be found in McDowall’s History of Dumfries)


In 1831 the population had increased to 1226. There is no breakdown of actual employment, but 218 families are reported as being engaged directly in agriculture, and 44 in trade, manufactures or handicraft. Mr. Dobie does not give details which are, no doubt, readily available in the census records, but one can presume that we still have a largely self-contained agricultural community with the trades very much as was recounted by Dr. Burgess in 1791. The roads were improving, but it was still a long way to Dumfries or Lochmaben, and folk were worked too hard to have much time for “shopping expeditions”. However, such isolation also conferred advantages in that “When a severe epidemic disease prevailed last season to a fearful extent in Dumfries………there was not a single instance of infection in the whole of this parish.”

Wages and Prices

The lot of the agricultural worker was still very depressed. A man was paid 1s. 6d. a day in summer and 1s. 3d. in winter. Women 9d. a day without victuals! Men servants fit for every kind of husbandry work, and who are boarded, receive on average £5 a half year, and women half that.

Artisans were paid 2s. 6d. a day

But a cow cost £4 and a stirk £1:5s..


By 1834 the whole of the Parish had been surveyed and the following is reported:

Meadow and Arable land 6700 Acres

Sheep pasture 9190

Mossy pasture and peat 550

Roads, Lakes and Water-courses 280

Wood, natural or planted 350

Total 17070

The crop rotation is reported as varying between a four year and a six year rotation

This is the time when the discontent which led to the Disruption was building up, but Mr. Dobie is anxious to show gratitude to his patron. “Since 1822…..very great, judicious, and expensive improvements have been made by the Duke of Buccleuch, on his beautiful and valuable barony of Ross by building very excellent and even elegant farm-steadings…………….There is no part of the country, through which a traveller can pass, where he will be more delighted with a view of the rapid progress of very spirited and substantial improvements. Such are the invaluable advantages which a district derives from being blessed with a liberal and patriotic landlord.” He pays homage, also, to the other heritors, of whom John S. Lyon Esq.was the most substantial.

Mr. Dobie also remarks, with some satisfaction, that dissenters numbered only some 30 whilst the majority of the population attended the Parish Church.

THE NEW STATISTICAL ACCOUNT (1950 – revised 1958)

(Contributed by the Reverend R.W. Turnbull)

Parish Boundaries

After remarking that the boundaries of the Parish are the same as those described in the New (1834) Statistical Account, Mr. Turnbull clarifies by remarking that the Water of Ae marks most of the boundary on the West and south and by the Kinnel Water roughly marking the South-eastern boundary. Geologically the most interesting feature is the presence of fossils in the shales in the Glenkill Burn, which flows past the church, on the western side, on the way to the Water of Ae.

Important changes had taken place, some relatively recently:

In 1928, a year before the national union of the two churches, the Church of Scotland and United Free congregations decided to come together at the Parish Church; five years later, the old Free Church became the Kirkmichael Parish Hall, after extensive repairs and refurbishing;

The village of Ae and the district from Gubhill, some 3 miles Nor’nor’west were excised from Closeburn and added to the Parish of Kirkmichael;

On 12 April, 1944, the Church and Parish were transferred from the presbytery of Lockerbie, (successor to the Presbytery of Lochmaben) to the Presbytery of Dumfries.

Population and Land Ownership

The population had now dropped to about one half of the Population recorded in 1831. Farms were largely mechanised, (63 tractors counted as against 27 horses) improved public transport, and more leisure time for farmers, farm workers, and their wives, together with the immensely greater choice available in the urban centres, rendered local cobblers and related trades largely redundant. The big estates had been broken up. The two mills on the estates of Ross and Kirkmichael had long ceased to function.

Mr. Turnbull records twenty four farmers owning their own farms in land previously owned by the Duke of Buccleuch. The Forestry Commission had acquired lands in the hillier areas, including the land on which stood Ae Castle, once a stronghold of the Dalzells, and the Barony Estate, which had been requisitioned by the State during WW II and given to a number of uses, terminating in a P.O.W. camp. The Barony had now been transferred to the local authority for an agricultural school.

Dairying had become the principle farm work, with families working on the farms, wheat and barley accounting for a mere 20 acres. A fair number, of both sexes, are now working in Dumfries or at the North British Rubber Company’s factory at Heathhall, once the factory of the Atholl-Johnston Motor Car Company.

But Mr. Turnbull reports one blacksmith still working in much enlarged premises and serving both the farming and forestry communities. This blacksmith devised a plough for use by the Forestry Commission. “A joiner’s business happily also survives”.


There are now two schools in the Parish, one at Garrel and one at Nethermill, the latter with some 80 pupils. Pupils from both schools go on to Dumfries or Lockerbie for secondary education, with some few going to Wallace Hall Academy at Thornhill if agricultural training is looked for.

The Church

The present church was built in 1815 – the Manse in 1798. It contains “old, highly varnished, straight back pews, and has six box pews, a pulpit in imitation oak, a communion table, baptismal font and minister’s chair and three attractive stained-glass windows. The pulpit is at the middle of the long wall, with a gallery opposite, and the acoustics are excellent.”

The Minister remarks, sadly, that the number of members on January 1sy, 1958 was 277 but that the attendance is only one tenth of that number. But, “A great improvement in attendance is seen on those occasions, generally once a month, when a bus runs round the parish.”

The Church at Garrel was built in 1617, but is now a ruin.

Voluntary Social Services. Former companies of Girl Guides and Brownies are now defunct, but the parish has four Sunday schools, a Bible class and a Woman’s Guild with 34 members, and the W.R.I. with 50, are very popular. Singing classes , drama groups and other groups existed in the past, but their tenure of life has been very precarious.

“The scattered nature of the parish makes it difficult to attain a community sense.”

 Early Ministers in Kirkmichael

1579 John Watsoun Reader Presented by King James VI
1620 The Rev. Francis M’Gill
1647 Alexander Smith
16 ? Andrew Guild of whom was said: “Now shew thyself great Caesar man or nihil O Gool, thou fool, mock preacher at Kirkmichael”
1660 William Shaw Removed by the Commissioners of Teinds 22nd Jan.1662
1684 James Ferguson
1689 ? Gould.”
1694 Patrick Hume
1727 John Allan of whom it is said that he was one of the 15 ministers who dissented from the deposition of the eight Seceding ministers by the General Assembly of 15th May, 1740!
1759 John Burgess, who compiled the answers in the 1st Stat. Account
1796 James Smail Pres. by the Commissioner for William Duke of Queensberry and Dover
1835 Hugh Dobie, who compiled the answers to the “NEW” Stat. Account Presented by the Duke of Buccleuch
No further information is immediately available save
1868-1875 The Rev. Dr. J.R. Mitford Mitchell who was chosen as Moderator of the General Assembly in 1907 and who presented the Moderator’s ring which has been worn by every Moderator since then.

Kirkmichael Memorial Inscriptions

Kirkmichael Kirkyard

There are inscriptions for the following families:

Adamson Aiken Aitken Barton Beck Bell

Bennet Blacklock Blackstock Borthwick Broatch Broun

Brown Bryden Burgess Burnet Byers Campbell Carruthers Charteris Charters Copland Corrie Corsan

Coupland Cowan Cowpland Craig Craik Cron Crosbie Cunningham Dalgeish Dalziel Dickson Dobie

Earsman Edgar Elliot Esdel Eskdale Farries

Farish Fell Ferish Fisher Fraser French

Gill Gillespie Glover Gracie Graham Grierson

Goodsir ` Gordon Halliday Harkness Hastie Head

Heastie Henderson Henry Hoddam Howatson Hume

Hunter Immrie Irving Jarden Jardine Johnston

Johnstone Ker Kerr Killok Kirk Kirkmichael

Kirkup Kirkpatrick Laidlaw Lawson Liddel Lindsay

Linton Little Lockerbie McClellan McCourtie McCubbin

McGarroch McGill McKinnal McKitterick McQueen McVitie

McVity Menzies Miller Millikin Moffat Nicholson

Palmer Parker Paterson Paterstone Patie Patterson

Pattie Pomphret Potter Proudfoot Raffel Raphel

Reid Robertson Robb Robinson Robsons Rogerson

Russall Russell Sanders Scallon Seaton Shankland

Shennan Shillon Short Shortt Smail Smith

Steel Stewart Thomson Thorban Turner Walker

Wallas Wallace Watson Wightman Wilkin Wilson


And in

Garrel Kirkyard

Bell Blacklock Charteris Charters Copland Corrie

Corsan Coupland Cowan Cowpland Craik Dalziel

Earsman Edgar Esdel Eskdale Farries Farish

Gillespie Graham Grierson Harkness Henderson Henry

Hunter Irving Jardin Jardine Johnston Johnstone

Kerr Kirkpatrick Laidlaw Linton McClellan McCourtie

McVitie Moffat Parker Paterson Paterstone Patterson

Potter Proudfoot Raffel Raphel Reid Robertson

Rogerson Russall Scallon Seaton Shillon Short

Shortt Thomson Thorbran Turner Watson Wightman


We hope to publish charts on where to find the inscriptions and, perhaps, a brief description.

Memorials within the kirks may yet have to be added.

1567 Thomas Brown Reader
1576 – 1580 Simon Johnstoun
The church was rebuilt in 1617 but here was no Minister until
1647 Dungree appropriated by the Presbytery of Dumfries

It was erected into a Parish by the Presbytery in 1659 but the Commissioners of Teinds found that the Presbytery had proceeded “most unwarrantably and illegally, and annulled the same, and declared the lands to be part of Kirkmichael”.