WHO WAS ST MEDDAN?
●St Meddan’s Church in Troon is the second oldest in the area, behind Dundonald Parish Church. And this week, continuing our ‘Times Past’ series, Stuart Beaton delves into the Troon church history.
But as always, the story is littered with interesting digressions. Did you know, for instance, that there was a Troon customs officer called Ebenezer Scrooge in the middle of the 19th century? And who is St Meddan? … Read on.
DR McKERROW made the beginnings of religion at the Pier Point in the company of various lay preachers who may well have been the first representatives of the Seaman's Mission, the learned gentleman then continuing to preach to his tiny congregation in the Ropeworks, despite the intermittent rising damp.
St Meddans Church as it was in 1906
The need for greater accommodation then led the United Presbyterian Church to Barassie Street where their first permanent church was built, but it survived only from 1823 until 1825, the future Church of St Meddan then toiling in the wilderness until 1843.
They surfaced, however to lay very sound foundations in the Seagate (West Portland Street), where their new abode took shape and a very prosperous period followed.
But their sights were high, the target being once more, the creation of a considerably larger building.
The congregation assembled, for the last time, in the old church, on the Sabbath of July 7, 1889, when Communion was dispensed. The Rev William Stillie of Girvan assisted, thus virtually closing the church in which worship had been conducted since September 8, 1843.
It was a joint meeting of the Church Session and managers, held on September 12, 1887 that agreed to bring the question of the new church before the congregation and there was a large audience. It was decided by an overwhelming majority, to proceed with the matter in hand.
A very extensive committee, composed of all the male members of the congregation, with the session's 'ex officio', took in hand the arrangements in connection with the very positive proposals.
Numerous meetings were held during that winter, when the site of the future building was determined, its probable size, structure, the kind of stone to be used and other relevant matters, such as fundraising.
The congregation rallied round to a woman, and there were no problems whatsoever.
Advertisements were issued for competitive plans from architects, and a considerable number were subsequently submitted and exhibited in the Seagate church.
The plan of Mr J. B. Wilson, Architect, Bath Street, Glasgow, was ultimately accepted and the Foundation stone was laid on Wednesday, June 20, 1888 by Mr John Muir of Deanston, later Sir John Muir, Bart., and Lord Provost of Glasgow.
A number of ministers of the Presbytery, all the ministers of Troon, and a large congregation from this and other churches also attended.
Time passed, and the new church was opened and dedicated on Thursday, July 11, 1869, when Mr Kirkwood conducted the devotions. The sermon was given by the Rev Dr Taylor of New York specially invited, his journey across the North Atlantic having taken three weeks in the barque, "Solestra".
The year coincided with the inauguration of the old 1840 Bowling Club, 1899 when it received the Patronage of the Fourth Duke of Portland, on August 15, that very year.
The first church the congregation used must not be forgotten, however, as it was their first step on the religious ladder. It was sold to the Portland Free, Church in 1838, the 'Wee Free', whose own progress is a matter for later discussion.
The St Meddan’s Church records as its first minister the Rev David Forrest, who was ordained in 1840. He was followed with much distinction by John Kirkwood, inducted to the peninsula in 1853.
A second manse was built in 1864 ‑ the entire cost of the church including organ, amounted to almost £5,000. Mr Kirkwood died in 1904, his passing being much regretted. He had been assisted by his colleagues, Frederick W. Graham, ordained and inducted in the year 1900, but his tenure of office was short, as he resigned in 1902.
In 1903, the Rev William Johnston took over the charge, his ministry being a most successful one until the time of his demise in 1926. Thereupon the Rev Harold Ross took over, until 1934. The following year the Rev Thomas Fitch was ordained and inducted, remaining with his congregation until 1947, his doctorate having been achieved.
The Rev Harold Reid, T.D., B.D., then answered the call, and pursued a most successful ministry until 1970, the Rev David G. Hamilton continuing till 1978. The charge was them placed in the care of the Rev David L. Harper from 1979 to the present day.
It was during the ministry of the Rev John Kirkwood that the present church building and former manse - which was in St Meddan's Street - were erected. And the session records of September, 1888, signed by this minister, by this historian of note, provide us with an ample and most accurate perception of the past.
It is recorded in the minutes, on the occasion of John Kirkwood having been pastor of the congregation for 25 years, that arrangements should be made to commemorate this event.
And at a social meeting in the church, the sum of £145 16s 8d was collected. On Tuesday, August 27, when Royal Troon was in its infancy 400 people filled the church and the presentation to the minister, was made by Mr James Gillies. He was a shipping agent concerned with the export of coal and his name lives on in the Gillies Street of today.
Mr Kirkwood was presented with £150 and a silver ornament, his daughter, Louise receiving a gold chain and locket. There were many speeches, fully reported by the "Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald", who covered the Troon area at that time.
Much water has flowed under the bridge since then, particularly in Portland Street and the St Meddan's Church has a suite of halls on a par with any in the town, likewise the church organ.
The new hall was of officially opened and dedicated on Saturday, October 10, 1964, by the Rev James Yorke, at that time minister of the Prestwick South Church and also immediate Past Moderator of the Presbytery of Ayr.
There is also a war memorial in the vestibule to commemorate those who died in the Second World War, it having been unveiled and dedicated in 1957.
Much of this information has been extracted from the excellent St Meddan's Church magazines, and from various notes furnished by Mr W. M. Wilson, retired head teacher and book convener.
But yet another Item old Interest emerges from the distant past, during the time of David Forrest's ministry.
A certain Captain John Marr joined the congregation on in 1841. He was skipper of the three‑masted barque, the "Reciprocity", which, sailed between Troon and Quebec, carry log coal on the outward journey and returning with a cargo of timber.
He was quite a personality.
But what is also noteworthy about this talented sea‑dog is that his third son, Charles Kerr Marr, left a fortune for the benefit of his native town, to be used for educational purposes. Thus Marr College, ultimately opened in 1935, in the charge of the late and respected Dr Muirison.
John Marr's house still stands in Welbeck Crescent, number 118, and a brass plate, suitably inscribed in‑honour of his third son, is there for all to see.
It should be said that the number of that dwelling, during the mid‑19th century, was 51.
This master mariner commanded, in all, four vessels, ‑ the "Pitt”, the "Minerva" the "Hannah Kerr" and the ship then barque ‑ already mentioned.
Ship or barque, winter or summer, the old boat was a special institution as she lay in the Troon basin. And when she was seen, about April, with black tarred hull and white‑painted ports, it could be taken for granted that summer was at hand.
At length she would disappear from her watery berth to be docked and readied, fitted out and loaded for her first season's trip to St Lawrence to be taken out into the Firth by the 'Prince Albert ' tug.
An Interesting story was told to me, not so very long ago, by the late Mr David Young of Wood Road then one of the oldest inhabitants of the town 94 years to be precise, and more than somewhat of a personality in himself. He knew of Captain Marr and this is the tale, told with verve and humour by Mr Young.
Captain Marr often made trips to France, and rarely returned without several yards of the finest silk for his wife and daughter. But there was always the problem of the customs officer. Mr Ebenezer Scrooge, a Londoner.
Not doubting, for a moment the veracity of David Young's, coherent utterings, I wrote to London and checked upon the register of customs officers and I now owe the late Mr D.H. an abject apology.
The name was correct, the gentleman in question presiding in Troon until 1843.
But to the story ‑ Captain Marr had a very large dog which accompanied him upon the Seven –Seas. Shortly prior to docking at Troon, the skipper would wrap the precious silk around the midrift of the intelligent animal, thereafter enclosing it within a type of jacket specially made placed carefully around the four‑legged friend, completely concealing the contraband.
Once the vessel had been secured at the Limestone Quay, the dog was set loose. It had no trouble passing customs, and ran home briskly to Welbeck Crescent no doubt wagging its tail. It generally got its blessings on arrival.
And now, from what may have been to the sublime. Who was St Meddan? According to "Kalendars of Scottish Saints", Modwenna, or Monynne, founded seven churches in Scotland, one being on the summit of the hill at Dundevenel (Dundonald). Apparently Monynne was the first woman know to form a community of Christian women in Britain
Legend tells us that there were three lives of St. Modwenna, her churches in Scotland being in honour of St Michael, as a tribute to Arthur's victories in the district over the pagan oppressors of his country.
So far as has been discovered, however, there is no trace of a foundation of any kind within the Parish of Dundonald, belonging to the Celtic Church.
It may be that 'hill-forts' were the sites of Modena's religious establishments. Furthermore it is stated by Edwin S. Towill, formerly chaplain and principal lecturer at Dundee College of Education, in his excellent little book on the Saints of Scotland that St Medina, or Modwena, is remembered in the ruins of the landing place at Portankill, where there is a St Medan's Cave. There is also a St Medan’s Well across Luce Bay at Monreith. She is linked with Dundonald where she has a chapel.
In Ohio, USA there is a church by the name of St Meddan. In Medina, Arabia, there is a church of St Meddan and in Andalusia, Spain, the name Medina is very prominent likewise in many other parts of Spain.
Since time immemorial question has been raised, "Who was St Meddan?" It may be that an answer, satisfactory to everyone, has still to be found.
And now, from past to the comparative present, the last week in April, 1979, to be precise, when the Rev David L. Harper, B.Sc., B.D., was inducted to the St Meddan's Church of Scotland, Troon. He was educated at Dumfries Academy and Edinburgh University from where he graduated in social sciences, and with a very good honours degree in New Testament.
He was probationer assistant in St Mungo's Church, Cumbernauld, before going to his next charge in Erskine Parish Church in 1972.
He was the first minister of that church extension where the congregation worshipped in a local school until the new multi-purpose church was opened in May, 1977.
He is vice chairman of Paisley Presbytery's Overseas Committee of Education for the Ministry. He also acts as an assessor in the selection of candidates for the ministry.
Six years have passed the year being now 1985. Progress continues in his very capable hands.