Torthorwald Church

Photo of Torthorwald ChurchThe church of Torthorwald stands on rising ground at the edge of the village, with an extensive view over Dumfries and the Nith Valley. The present building dates from 1752, and is built adjacent to the site of an earlier church. The missionary, Dr John G Paton, who grew up in the parish, is commemorated in the gates to the church. His family grave is in the churchyard


1567 – 1580 1586 – 1624 1624 – 1633 1638 – 1655 1656 -1662 1679 – 1682
David Wallace Reader James Ramsay John Nimmo M.A. Humphrey Hude M.A. John Campbell M.A. James Hume M.A.
1682 – 1687 1688 – 1689 1696 – 1701 1702 – 1715 1721 – 1723 1724 – 1726
James Wilson M.A. William Walker M.A. Robert Lawson M.A. John McMurdo Hugh Kennedy M.A. Robert Wight M.A.
1727 – 1762 1762 – 1808 1808 – 1841 1841 – 1843 1843 – 1884 1883 – 1912
William McMillan M.A. James McMillan John Yorstoun Robert Kinnear Joseph Rogers Duncan George Laurie Fogo
1894 – 1935 1935 – 1940 1940 – 1946 1946 – 1954 1954 – 1959 1960 – 1964
James Marjoribanks Campbell B.D.M.A. David Dick B.D. Alexander S. Borrowman M.A. Theodore Andrew M.A. Charles W. Miller M.A. James Keillor
1965 – 1970 1970 – 1979 1981 – 1983 1985 – 1999 2000 – Present
James Coulter B.A. Mouswald Harold Meredith Fraser Ian McDonald M.A.* James Smith Leishman. Lth. B.D., M.A.(Div.)* Louis Christiaan Bezuidenhout M.A., D.D.

* Linked with Tinwald & Kirkmichael

Torthorwald Church
The church stands on rising ground at the edge of the village, with an extensive view over Dumfries and the Nith Valley.
The present building dates from 1752, and is built adjacent to the site of an earlier church.
It is a simple cruciform shape, with the main entrance at the back through a vestibule which is a fairly recent addition. A flight of outside steps at the front of the church leads to the vestry. Because the church is built into a hill, there is space under the vestry for the boiler house (which contains a chemical toilet!). The oil-fired boiler provides central heating. In the grounds behind the church and to one side is the graveyard which is still in use.
Inside, the church has little ornamentation; the clean lines giving a sense of space. The pipe organ, installed in 1904, is central at the front, with the pulpit beside it. In front of the organ, the Communion Table and chairs are on a raised, carpeted dais. The building seats 300, but pews have been removed from half of the north transept to provide a meeting area, which has plenty of chairs for use as necessary. This area is useful as the church has no hall.
The following information is given in the book written by Bob and Isabel Cowan.
Before 1782 An earlier Church on adjacent site. 1782 Present Church built at cost of £400.
1876 Major repairs required, condition of Church affecting attendances, Heritors approached to provide money.
1898 Vestry added and water pipes installed for Church heating.
1904 Paraffin lamps installed for Choir Practice and Evening Service.
1949 Church floor altered to provide platform for Choir.
1951 Electricity installed in Church providing lighting and power for organ blower motor.
1957 Water supply provided to Church yard and extended to Church for heating system only.
1958 Extensive alterations to Church seating, removal of coal burning stove in vestry, Church renovated and re-decorated.
1963 Church central heating changed from coal to oil burning and 3 extra radiators added.
1967 Entrance porch added.
1972 Repairs and re-painting of “Channel” windows. Organ and pulpit re-positioned, major replacement of electric wiring.
1987/88 Extensive repairs to Church roof at cost of over f5,000.
1992 Major repairs and re-painting of “Channel” windows, chemical toilet installed in boiler house.
2002 Sound system installed.
2008 Kitchen and toilet added


In 1988 Bob and Isobel Cowan wrote a book on the History of Torthorwald Parish Church. This was published by the then Kirk Session and, to date, over £1500 has been raised for our church funds. The book gives an interesting and often fascinating history of the Church from the Reformation in 1560 to the present day. There are still a number of copies available at £5 each and can be obtained from Isobel at Tulach Ard, Torthorwald. An extract from this publication is published here (the book contains much more information).


According to history a church was founded at Torthorwald (old spelling Tirthorrald) in the mid 13th Century. The founders were the TRINITARIAN or RED FRIARS from the Monastery of FAIL, near the village of TARBOLTON, AYRSHIRE. For safety reasons, the ruins of this monastery were demolished as recently as the 1950’s but parts of the monastery wall are still visible. The monastery of Fail was attached to the Great Abbey of Paisley. Prior to the Reformation in 1560, the KIRK OF TORTHORWALD came under their supervision. The name TORTHORWALD is probably derived from the TOWER or CASTLE of THOR in the wood. The ruin of the Castle is still standing and the original is likely to have been erected some 900 years ago. There is no doubt that as in many cases, the Castle would have a connection with the early church.

In 1560, after years of struggle (often bitter and bloody) the SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT officially adopted PROTESTANTISM as the nation’s religion, outlawing the mass, and carried out a major reorganisation of the Church structure.

The country was divided into PARISHES. In each PARISH a KIRK SESSION was formed, consisting of a MINISTER and a number of ELDERS. The TORTHORWALD CHURCH was the only one within the newly formed parish and it was bounded by the PARISHES of TINWALD, LOCHMABEN, MOUSWALD AND CAERLAVEROCK. Groups of Parish Churches were supervised by Presbyteries who in turn were supervised by Synods (Synods were discontinued completely in 1992). The kirk at TORTHORWALD came under the SYNOD and PRESBYTERY of DUMFRIES.

In these early days of the Church of Scotland, the responsibility for financing and building of Churches fell upon the main landowners in the parish. These main landowners were called HERITORS. In TORTHORWALD PARISH the HERITORS were the MARQUIS OF QUEENSBERRY who lived at KINMONT in the parish of CUMMERTREES and SIR ROBERT GRIERSON OF LAG, BART who lived at ROCKHALL in the perish of MOUSWALD.

The earliest date of register of Births, Marriages and Deaths in TORTHORWALD PARTSH was 1696. The Kirk Session at that time also appeared to have started writing minutes of their meetings and the originals of these are now stored in the SCOTTISH RECORDS OFFICE in EDINBURGH.


There is not a lot of detail in these early Session Minutes, but one or two items were of interest.

On the 8th November 1696 John Little was appointed KIRK OFFICER. John Mundell the previous Kirk Officer was instructed to hand over to him the hand bell, collection plate and SAND-GLASS!!

On 6th January 1697 Simon Johnston, his son Robert and their wives were in dispute and there was fighting, objects flying and drinking. They appeared before the Kirk Session, were told to mend their ways, and at the same time make a donation to the poor.

There were regular collections and distribution of money and goods to the poor. A number of the Church members were brought in front of the Kirk Session and disciplined for fornication. After being “ABSOLVED FROM SCANDAL” those that could afford it were instructed to make a donation to the poor.


This was the era of the McMillans. Father William was followed by son James and combined they served the Church and Community for over 80 years. Many changes took place during their ministry. One of the most important was the building of our present day Kirk in 1782.

During the period of over 80 years, which William and James McMillan served as Ministers of Torthorwald Parish, the Church did many good things, and exercised considerable power over the community. The Minutes recorded that the attendance at Communion was over 300 and at least twice a year 10/20 young communicants were admitted to the Church. Prior to this, they had to satisfy the Minister and Elders they had a knowledge of the Bible, and could recite the Lords’ Prayer and Ten Commandments. Each person thought fit to attend Communion was given a metaltoken. Some of these are still preserved in the Church safe to this day. These were made of a combination of lead, copper or tin, and the wording was stamped on the surface. The earlier tokens (around 1600) were circular and had what looked like CK (maybe Communionl Kirk!) stamped on one side. The later tokens (around 1800) had stamped on one side TORTHORWALD CHURCH and on the other SACRAMENTAL TOKEN.

No one was admitted unless they first surrendered their token. The pattern of worship appeared to be what is sometimes referred to as the Five-day Communion. It would start off with a FAST DAY on the Thursday followed by Church services on Friday and Saturday, where the preaching was done by Ministers from other Churches. On Sunday, there were two Communion Services and the members sat round tables. Finally, a Thanksgiving Service was held on the Monday. This practice continued in Torthorwald Church into the 1800’s when it was discontinued. However, it apparently continued in some Churches in the Highlands of Scotland into the early 1900’s, and still does to present day in some areas.

The Church did much good work in collecting and distributing money and goods to the needy and poor. They made themselves responsible for running at least two schools in the Parish and endeavoured to pay the Schoolmaster from whatever funds were available. There was a good turnover of Schoolmasters indicating the job was probably onerous and also poorly paid. It is interesting that a number of the Kirk Officers were often brought before the Kirk Session for the abuse of alcohol although their paywas about £2 per annum. There was also a good turnover of Kirk Officers. During this period, the village of Roucan had a larger population than Torthorwald. Collin was just developing with the coming of the turnpike road from Gretna to Portpatrick (now A75) and Racks did not become a village until the coming of the railway in round about 1850.

The minutes for this period had many pages reporting on the people being brought before the Kirk Session for alleged fornication. This was referred to in various ways – private marriages, irregular marriages, clandestine marriages, adultery. In nearly all cases, the parties concerned were “Absolved from Scandal” and admitted or readmitted to the Church. In some cases, the parties concerned were asked to pay a fine as punishment.

DISRUPTION 1808-1884

This period was a testing time for the Parish Churches in Scotland, established after the Reformation in 1560. Many Ministers felt there was too much interference in Church affairs by the State. By 1843 this feeling had become so strong that a significant number of Ministers left their Churches and Manses and started up rival churches called the Free Church of Scotland. This resulted in even small villages being served by two Churches. However, over the years the influence of Free Church gradually diminished and in 1929 most congregations joined the established Church of Scotland again. This resulted in many of the Free Churches being sold or in some cases used as a Hall for the adjacent Parish Church.

At Torthorwald the Rev. Robert Kinnear was one of those who left his Church and Manse and departed to Moffat where he probably started up (or assisted in starting up) the Free Kirk. He died there in 1883. The Rev. Henry Duncan the Minister at Ruthwell was another who left his Church and vacated his Manse. He started up a Free Church at Mount Kedar (just beyond Mouswald Church). The ruins of this Church are still visible. Henry Duncan was also responsible for starting up a Community Bank in Ruthwell, the forerunner of the present day TRUSTEE SAVINGS BANK.

The long McMillan reign was terminated with the death of the Rev. James McMillan on 8 February 1808. The minutes indicated he was succeeded by Rev. John Yorstoun “Minister of Gospel” in the Parish of Morton where he had been ordained on 25 March 1790. He was ordained at Torthorwald on 18 August 1808.

Probably the most significant time during this period of 76 years was that referred to as the disruption in 1843 and commented on in some detail at the beginning of the Chapter. The Rev. John Yorstoun served 33 years. The Rev. Robert Kinnear 2 years, before leaving to join the Free Church at the Disruption in 1843 and the Rev. Joseph Rogers Duncan, 41 years.

The importance of the Precentor and Kirk Officer in the running of the Church can be seen from the minutes. Their salaries of a few pounds per annum may appear to us as “buttons” but were probably significant at that time. Considerable attention appeared to be given to the investment of Church funds and the advice of the Heritors was often sought. .The running of the schools by the Church was obviously very important to the Parish Community. The minutes indicate greater interest by government and local authorities as time went on.

For the first time in the minutes, there is some indication of the numbers attending Church. It is recorded as MALE HEADS OF FAMILIES attending Communion!! The figure of 121 MALE HEADS would seem to indicate a membership of 300 to 400 attended Church.

The present Church building was erected in 1782 and seemed to be in serious need of repair in 1876. The Kirk played a strong disciplinary roll in the Community. Drunkenness and fornication were looked upon with great severity. During this period, the minutes indicate up to 100 people being interviewed by the Session for fornication.

The minutes of the PAROCHIAL COUNCIL at the end of the Chapter indicate that efforts were made to care for the sick and improve the general health of the people in the Parish. Probably the first seeds being sown of our present day National Health System!


During this period, the dominant figure was undoubtedly the Rev. James Marjoribanks Campbell. He was appointed an Assistant and Junior Minister to Rev. George Laurie Fogo in 1894. The Rev. Fogo had serious health problems even from the start of his early days as minister at Torthorwald. The Rev. Campbell virtually ran the show from the day he was appointed. We are now at a stage in the history of Torthorwald Parish Church when we still have a few people alive (one or two, not many) who remember the characters involved and there is no doubt the Rev. Campbell was much loved and respected by all his flock. He served for 41 years, retiring in 1935. He came back for a short period to take over from his successor who left to become a War Chaplain in 1939. Like a number of his predecessors, the Rev. James Marjoribanks Campbell spent all his ministry in the one Parish. This has not happened since at Torthorwald (and not much elsewhere) and is unlikely ever to be repeated.

The minutes during this period give an impression of solid progress in advancing the Church and all its affairs, at the same time there was a genuine endeavour to keep in step with changes and make improvements.

The number on the Church Roll was over 300 and the attendances at communion were of the same order. The 5 day Communion previously carried out was now replaced by a Fast or Preparation Day prior to Communion Sunday. As time went on the Fast Day also seemed to disappear. In 1894 the metal Communion Tokens were replaced by printed cards and in 1928, after many years of discussion, Free Will Offering (EW.O.) envelopes were introduced.

Sunday Schools were mentioned for the first time in the minutes, being held at both Collin and Torthorwald. The numbers were impressive, the roll being 95 and the average attendance around 70. The ladies also started to be recognised in the minutes. Lady Collectors were introduced in 1895 and did much to improve the Church funds, providing money to carry out repairs and improvements to the Church and Manse. The minute of the 2 April 1911 indicated that a Womans Guild had started in 1894 and met regularly until 1898 when it lapsed until about 1908 when it started again and became the force it is today.

Until about 1891 the singing of hymns and psalms were led by the Precentor with no musical accompaniment. There was a strong request from the members for some form of musical instrument and although this was at first opposed by the Kirk Session, a harmonium was purchased. This was followed in 1904/1905 by a pipe organ (still in use today) and the harmonium was passed on to Collin Hall.

In 1894 an Organist was appointed at a salary of £15 per annum. Over the years, Organists seemed to resign and new appointments made with regular frequency. In 1885 a Scottish Hymnal was introduced and 200 copies were ordered.

A revised edition was introduced 45 years later in 1930.

Over this period many improvements and repairs were made to the Church and Manse buildings. In 1898 the vestry was built and a boiler and water pipes for Church heating was installed. The Heritors made a contribution of f30 towards the cost of the work. Oil lamps were installed in 1904 for evening services and Choir practice. In 1933 with the coming of a Public Electricity Supply, electricity was installed in the manse for lighting (Manse is now Manor House Hotel).

During this period, the responsibility for educating the young was gradually being taken over by the State reducing the need for Church Schools and other bodies doing this work.

The Church was still doing what it could to help the poor although this work again was being taken over by the State and Local Authorities. The minutes refer to considerable difficulty in raising funds to provide Coal for the poor. However, the Poor’s Coal Fund was still going at the end of the period.

Discipline interviews by the Kirk Session for misdeeds such as fornication had almost ceased in comparison to earlier years. Vague reference is made in the minutes to discipline with no names or details.

The relationship of the Heritors to the Church during this period was going through change. In the earlier days the Heritors (The main land owners in the Parish) accepted responsibility for providing money for building and repairing Churches, Church Schools and Manses. In this period, they still contributed, but it would appear on a much reduced scale.

If we try to summarise what happened to Torthorwald Parish Church during the 50 years 1884-1935 – A steady hand at the helm in the person of the Rev. James Majoribanks Campbell resulting in more understanding between the Church and its members, steady progress in things religious, and an honest endeavour to be helpful and caring, but at the same time to modernise and make the Churches’ work as efficient as possible.


After the long, successful and happy reign of the Rev. James Marjoribanks Campbell, the Kirk Session met in a sombre mood on 5 December 1934 to take the necessary steps to appoint his assistant and successor. The interim Moderator was the Rev. H.A. Cockburn, the Session Clerk William Coulson supported by elders J. Rae, D. Rae and J. Wells. The electoral register was updated and sent to Dumfries Presbytery for approval.

Change and resistance to change, might be the theme of this period. Many of the past ministers spent the whole of their ministry at Torthorwald. Now we have four Ministers in the relatively short period of 24 years! This did not seem to hinder progress or dent the will to improve things. The Communion Roll was consistently well above 300 (not including the numbers on the supplementary Roll). The Sunday School (held in 3 centres), Bible Class, Choir, Youth Fellowship and Womans’ Guild all appeared to be in good health. A Parish Magazine was started . and in spite of many difficulties, particularly during the war years, services were held at Collin and sometimes at Racks.

The ageing Manse (now the Manor House Hotel) was sold and replaced by a new modern bungalow near the Church. The success of this project owed much to the generosity of Robert Glover Robison, a Church member and one of the owners of Robison and Davidson, the builders. Extensive alterations were made to the Church seating and the Church completely redecorated. Electricity was installed in 1951 providing modern lighting and power for the organ blower motor.

The pipe organ, installed in 1904, was given a major overhaul and treated for woodworm. The harmonium given to Collin for services in the hall, also about 1904 was replaced. During this period the Session took the decision not to sing the National Anthem at the end of the service, but only on special occasions. One of the Ministers (Rev. A.S.Borrowman) and his wife composed the words and music for a hymn – Torthorwald, during his stay.

We are all, in some ways, resistant to change and this is shown in a number of ways. In 1938 individual communion cups were proposed, but it was 1955 before they were introduced, helped by a generous gift of the cups and stands by Robert clover Robison. Lady elders were proposed on a number of occasions, and in 1945 a vote taken of the Session and members turned the proposal down. In later years, this was agreed and one wonders how we would manage at the present day without the ladies!
There seemed to be major difficulties in allocating the church seats (although Torthorwald does not seem to have made a charge for these like some other Churches). It is not clear from the minutes if this was ever resolved.

The Rev. Marjoribanks Campbell came back to help out during the War Years. Unfortunately, illness overtook him and he died in 1949. His estate through the Kirk Session left a bequest for the upkeep of his grave in Torthorwald Cemetery. During this period, the cottage where Dr. John G. Paton had lived with his parents was demolished, but the memorial stone erected on the gable of the house some years previous was recovered and mounted in the garden.

Like many other rural Churches, Torthorwald was having financial problems and it is much to their credit that they accomplished so much during this period. In past years heritors, big land owners and farmers gave enough to the Church to at least keep it solvent. However, this was now changing and Churches were being kept going mainly by ordinary members giving. One of the major items of expenditure was the Ministers’ Stipend and many Churches were taking action to link with others and so share the Ministers’ salary. At the time of the leaving of Rev. Charles Miller, there was also a vacancy at Mouswald Church. The Session of both Churches agreed to investigate some form of linking arrangement.


With the leaving of the Rev. Charles Miller to Rutherglen, the Session met on 9 June 1959 under the Interim Moderator Rev. A.W. Bruce, supported by elders Messrs. Brown, Gilston, Rogerson, Campbell, Wilson, McNish, Couper, Paterson and Rae. They discussed the financial difficulties being experienced in their Church (and in many other churches at the time) and the present shortage of ministerial manpower. The Church in the adjacent parish of Mouswald also had no minister at the time, and they agreed to investigate a linking arrangement which might be to the benefit of both Churches. Before doing so, they agreed to consult the congregation on the following proposal: That this congregation appoint representatives to enter into negotiations with representatives from the congregation of Mouswald with a view to a possible linking arrangement.

This period of 37 years brings us up-to-date in the history of Torthorwald Parish Church. Many changes took place, some of which could be described as radical as far as the Church was concerned, presenting the Session and Congregation with continuing problems and difficult choices. The nature of these at times threatened to “Sink the Ship”, but it is to the credit of all concerned that they not only kept the Ship Afloat, but found new strengths in doing so.

Torthorwald got their first experience of linking with another Church when they joined with Mouswald in 1960. Both churches required a Minister and the proposal to link was sensible and lasted for a period of 20 years. However, reading between the lines in the Session Minutes, one gained the impression that all was not well as far as Torthorwald was concerned. The basis of linking, set down by the Presbytery allowed the new Minister to chose either the newly built manse at Torthorwald or an old manse at Mouswald. Unfortunately, from Torthorwald’s point of view, he chose Mouswald which at the time, required expensive repairs and alterations, and this continued over a period of years. Around 1980 the link between Mouswald and Torthorwald was broken.

On 13 September 1981 a triple link was formed with Torthorwald, Tinwald and Kirkmichael, with Rev. Fraser Ian McDonald as Minister. He died on 14 October 1983 and the charge was vacant for 15 months.

Another major change, was the forming of a Congregational Board to oversee the management of the Church. This was first mooted in 1965, agreed in 1972 and put into operation in January 1974. At first the Board and Session seemed uncertain of their roles, but this was sorted out with time, and is now working well.

One of the most pleasant aspects of change during the period was the emergence of the ladies to play an active and responsible role in running the Church. Back in 1945, the Session and the Congregation were asked to vote on a proposal to appoint lady elders. They both turned down the proposal by large majorities, but now they were welcomed with open arms (and no voting). It is no exaggeration to say that the Church would not function without the ladies, and it is significant that all three Session Clerks in the linked Churches are ladies.

Money (or the lack of it) was a continuing problem during this period. Following the linkage with Mouswald and the later linkage with Tinwald and Kirkmichael, many thousands of pounds had to be spent in the ageing Manses at Mouswald and Tinwald. The Torthonvald Church, built in 1782, also required large sums for roof repairs, window repairs, exterior and interior painting. In 1967 an entrance porch was built at the rear of the Church and the Church heating was changed from coal to oil and additional radiators installed. One admires the enthusiasm and ingenuity of the Session, Board and members in finding ways of raising money. Coffee mornings, Charity Shops, Gift Days, Sponsored Walks and Marathons, Slide Talks, Choir Concerts, Tours of members gardens, and sometimes a visit to each member, advising them of the serious financial position. The Womans’ Guild also helped by gifting money for carpets and helping with the oil heating bill.

Music and singing of hymns play an important part in Church Worship. During this period, the pipe organ, installed in 1904, was twice given major overhauls. The Organist is also vital, and the Church is fortunate in normally having members who do this task on a voluntary basis. The Church hymn books (CH3) were also renewed during this period and one of our Elders Don Potter gifted copies of “Songs of Praise” to the Church