From the "History of the congregations of the United Presbyterian Church, from 1733 to 1900," Volume 1. By Rev. Robert Small.

United Presbyterian Church, Urr (Antiburgher)

JOHN HEPBURN, entered on his ministry at Urr in 1680, and continued as circumstances would allow during the eight troubled years which followed. He had been privately ordained over a Presbyterian congregation in London at an earlier time. After the Revolution Settlement Urr became his stated field of labour. In 1693 he gave in a paper of grievances to the Synod of Dumfries, and for his freedom in condemning the backslidings of the Church, and for preaching and baptising beyond his own parish, he was suspended from office in 1696, a sentence which he disregarded. He was afterwards banished for three years from Urr, but in 1699 he was allowed to return. In 1705 he was deposed from the ministry by the Commission for refusing to take the Oath of Allegiance to Queen Anne, but the sentence was removed in 1707. His people kept by him all through, and no minister was thrust into his place. He died on 23rd March 1723, being about seventy-four years of age. In the spirit of the first Seceders he set himself to stem the defections of the times, but Wodrow says that towards the end of his course he pleaded for unity and peace. His son, of the same name, became minister of Torryburn in 1717, and fraternised with the judicatories of the Church as his father never did. He was translated to New Greyfriars, Edinburgh, in 1723. But others of Mr Hepburn’s descendants were identified with the Secession. A grandson of his, the Rev. William McGeorge, was the first minister of the Antiburgher church, Midcalder, and a granddaughter, Emelia McGeorge, was Adam Gib’s second wife.

A large proportion of Urr people acceded early to the Associate Presbytery. Supply of sermon they shared with other societies in Nithsdale from 1738, and three years afterwards they were recognised as a regular congregation. In 1743 their first church was built, and in 1745 they called Mr John Swanston to be their minister. Presbytery and Synod did what they could for them, but Mr Swanston was resolute against accepting. He was under call to Stitchell, his native place, at the time, but his attitude towards Urr does not seem to have been prompted by a wish to settle down among home scenes. The case kept pending till after the breach of 1747, when congregation and preacher parted asunder, Urr adhering to the Antiburghers and Mr Swanston to the Burghers.

First Minister. JOHN MILLIGAN, from Sanquhar (South). Ordained, 16th September 1748. In his time the congregation must have drawn largely from other parishes, as the Old Statistical History towards the close of his ministry makes the number of Seceding families in Urr only about thirty. We have the compiler’s testimony to Mr Milligan, that he was "a gentleman, equally venerable as a minister, and respectable as a citizen." In November 1794 constant supply was needed, Mr Milligan being "frail and unfit to perform ministerial functions as formerly." He died, 26th January 1795, in the forty-seventh year of his ministry, and "aged about eighty." He left two sons-in-law members of the Antiburgher Synod the Rev. Robert Colville, Lauder, and the Rev. Robert Forsyth, Craigend.

During the vacancy which followed dissension arose about the new church which there was a proposal to build. The first had been superseded in 1760, and now a third was required. But difficulties were got over, and the work gone through in 1798 at a cost of £400. Before this the pulpit was filled anew.

Second Minister. JAMES BIGGAR, a native of Urr, who had been ordained at Newtonards in preference to Wigtown and Auchtermuchty (North), 13th April 1785, much against his will. He resigned, and was loosed from his charge, 15th June 1797. Having returned to Scotland he was forthwith invited to minister among his own people, and his induction to Urr took place on 17th August. The stipend at first is not given, but in 1806 the congregation was prepared "to allow £80, to pay the house and horse tax, with manse, office-houses, and garden." Mr Biggar’s ministry ended in painful circumstances. In 1813 a woman who had been his servant eleven years before set about blackmailing him by threats of ruining his character. The Presbytery, judging from the papers read, pronounced the charge "a groundless and malignant calumny," but, finding that his assailant, a woman of notoriously bad character, had received money from him at different times, they subjected him to admonition for imprudence, and hoped they were thus ending the case. But commotion arose among his people, and the session of Lockerbie struck in, declaring it would not be for edification to have Mr Biggar assisting at their approaching communion. He now expressed to the Presbytery his willingness to resign owing to the state of feeling in his own and neighbouring congregations. On 20th July 1814 two papers came up from Urr, the one from four elders, wishing Mr Biggar retained among them, and the other from two elders and twenty members, declaring themselves aggrieved by the way in which their pastor had acted. The majority of the Presbytery were of opinion that it would be better for him to resign, but he wished time for consideration.

At next meeting Mr Biggar read a paper, the purport of which was that he found himself obliged to hold by his pulpit, at least for the time. He further alleged that a combination against him, originating in prejudice and malice, "was backed and supported by some members of court." On 7th November two elders, friendly to Mr Biggar, admitted that, as near as they could judge from the seat-letting, 108 members were attending church, and 167 absenting themselves. The Presbytery were unanimously of opinion now that it was expedient to counsel resignation, and the clerk was to write Mr Biggar to that effect, but for other six months he preached on to those who were willing to hear him. In April 1815 the case came before the Synod, and the decision arrived at was altogether in favour of the accused. Nothing, they said, had appeared in the papers to affect his pastoral relation to Urr. The woman was utterly unworthy of credit, and her allegations were even self-contradictory, and it was the duty of the congregation to submit to his ministry. All well thus far, but it did not go very far. On 15th June it was suggested that Mr Biggar might demit, on condition of having all arrears of stipend paid up to him, and the interest of £400 of mortified money settled on him for life. With this proposal he expressed his satisfaction, and the matter being brought before the congregation they unanimously agreed to the terms laid down. The pastoral tie was accordingly dissolved on 2nd August 1815. Mr Biggar died on 4th November 1820, "at his house near Haugh of Urr," in the seventy-third year of his age and thirty-sixth of his ministry. The above particulars have been given on account of what followed, and the lesson it teaches. The accuser, I have been assured, confessed on her death-bed that the charge was a sheer fabrication, but the bitter fruits had been reaped, and the injured party was gone beyond recall.

Third Minister. JAMES BLYTH, from Abernethy. Ordained, 2nd September 1817. During his four years of preacher life Mr Blyth had noteworthy experiences. First he was called to Kinkell, but the call to settle down there came to nothing. Rothesay followed, but his mind was unbendingly fixed against accepting, and after months of converse with him the Presbytery allowed him to take his own way. In 1816 Moniaive came forward, and the same scene was enacted again, the congregation ending the matter by applying for another moderation. Stranger still, Mr Blyth was twice laid under suspension by different Presbyteries, though in neither case was there more than friction with his ecclesiastical superiors. Thus, when the call from Urr was brought before Dumfries Presbytery, he got notice to attend next meeting, that he might intimate his acceptance, but he neither obeyed nor sent an apology. Not till he had been three times written to did he appear. Asked if he had received the several summonses sent him by the clerk, he said he had received three letters, "and also made several quibbling remarks respecting the nature of a summons." Asked further why he did not answer the first letter, "his reply was that he considered such a question unworthy to be put, or to receive any answer." He had done nothing, he said, warranting the Presbytery to interrogate him as if he were a culprit and evil-doer. Finding they could get nothing from Mr Blyth but abusive, insolent language, they were unanimously of opinion that it was vain to deal with him further. The question was now put whether to refer the case to the Synod or suspend him on the spot, and the latter proposal carried. The case, however, came before the Synod in May 1817, when the offence was slurred over, and Mr Blyth was allowed to accept the call from Urr. It is remarkable that something similar happened with Mr Blyth in Stirling Presbytery two or three years before, when for self-willed behaviour he was precluded from the exercise of his licence.

The 6th of February 1823 was Mr Blyth s marriage-day, and this was for him the beginning of sorrows. In 1830 Urr congregation found themselves unable to pay the full stipend, which was 100 guineas, with manse, garden, the payment of taxes, and the annual rate for the Widows Fund. By-and-by an evil which lay deep down in family life came formally before the Presbytery. It was reported that Mr Blyth had expelled Mrs Blyth from his manse, the dark catalogue of her offences being "habitual drunkenness, habitual lying, violence to his person and property, and threatening to poison him." After investigation the Presbytery found that on the whole Mr Blyth was exonerated from blame in effecting a separation from his wife "even in the painful way he had recourse to." But this decision neither repaired the minister’s shattered health nor restored him to public usefulness. In August 1831 Urr congregation was suffering through Mr Blyth’s illness and his absence from his flock. A year later he was still ailing. He had removed to Perth before this, and on 4th February 1833 his resignation was accepted. What provision was made for him by his people is not stated, but they were to do what they could, alike for their own honour and Christian feeling, and for his comfort. In 1835 Mr Blyth was stationed for some time at Balfour station, within the bounds of Perth Presbytery, where, as the mission report bears, he was highly acceptable. We only know further that he heired his father, a joiner in Abernethy, in 1841, and Dr McKelvie states that he died at Perth in 1844, in the sixtieth year of his age.

Fourth Minister. WILLIAM PULLAR, from Barrhead, a brother of the Rev. James Pullar, Glenluce. Ordained, l0th July 1834. Had been previously called to Carliol Street, Newcastle (afterwards Barras Bridge). Discomfort having speedily arisen, Mr Pullar resigned, 2nd November 1835, and was loosed from his charge on the 18th of that month. He demitted, according to the Minutes of Presbytery, on the ground of general dissatisfaction with his ministry, and the dissolving of the connection was "anxiously and equally desired by both parties." In 1845 Mr Pullar applied to the Established Church Assembly for admission, but was refused. During five of the years which had intervened his name is found on the United Secession list of probationers. He died at Edinburgh, 3rd April 1871, in the seventy-seventh year of his age.

The congregation now called Mr James R. Dalrymple, who declined, and became minister of Thornliebank.

Fifth Minister. WILLIAM BURGESS, M.A., from Annan, a nephew of the Rev. Dr John Stewart of Liverpool and the Rev. David Stewart of Stirling. Called also to Dumfries (Loreburn Street). Ordained, 24th November 1836. Accepted a call to Eglinton Street, Glasgow, 13th April 1842. At the time of Mr Burgess ordination the communicants were about 230, and the stipend promised was £90, with manse and garden. The debt on the property was only £68.

Sixth Minister. DAVID WILSON BAYNE, from Balbeggie. Ordained, 4th April 1843. When the call was announced in the public prints Mr Bayne was described as Master of the Burgh Academy at Forfar. The stipend was to be £90, with house, garden, and sacramental expenses. After Mr Bayne had been nine years in Urr rumours affecting his character for sobriety, and otherwise, were brought before Dumfries Presbytery by himself with a request for investigation. The case was taken up, and inquiry went on amidst confusion and dust. A meeting was held in Urr church on 3rd August 1852, when five members of the congregation were dealt with for having circulated reports prejudicial to their minister’s good name. It was a futile attempt to cork up infected air. When the case was going on some of Mr Bayne s old fellow-students befriended him to the utmost of their power, Dr James Taylor, in particular, appearing on the scene, all eagerness, no doubt, to get at the facts and see justice done. With difficulty a sentence of suspension was arrived at, and after conflicting verdicts had been pronounced the case was referred to the Synod. On 5th May 1853 a Synodical Committee in conjunction with Dumfries Presbytery subjected Mr Bayne to rebuke for "sinful imprudence" on a particular night, removed the sentence of suspension, and accepted his demission of his charge. Without stating all this in the report given in to the Synod, they recommended that his name should be placed on the list of probationers whenever he should apply for it.

When Mr Bayne was in location at Kinkell, two and a half years after this, Perth Presbytery had to take up some scandalous reports of misconduct on his part very similar to those which went before. The accused had a resolute defender in the Rev. William Marshall of Coupar-Angus, but it was a desperate attempt to confuse moral issues in the face of the clearest light. The Presbytery s verdict being hostile to Mr Bayne, both he and his clerical advocate appealed to the Synod, who found the charge of intemperance and lewdness proved in the main, and the Presbytery of Perth on 3rd June 1856 declared him cut off from the office of the ministry and from the communion of the U.P. Church. "Mr William Marshall craved to have it marked that his views of Mr Bayne’s case being unchanged he has taken no part in the censure thereby inflicted." Mr Bayne was served heir to his father, a farmer in Collace parish, three months after this. He had now removed to Newcastle, where he died among stranger hands, 31st July 1875, in the seventy-first year of his age. A friend writes me: "Though not personally acquainted with him, I have a distinct recollection of seeing him going about, reminding me of Bewick s picture, Waiting for Death."

Urr congregation during this vacancy called Mr James Hill, who preferred Scone.

Seventh Minister. JAMES BLACK, from Duns (West). Ordained, l0th October 1854. The stipend was to be £105, with manse, garden, and other premises. Mr Black accepted a call to St Andrews, 6th May 1857.

Eighth Minister. JOHN CLARK, from Kincardine-on-Forth. Got licence in the Free Church, but applied in March 1858 to Edinburgh Presbytery to be received as a probationer into the U.P. Church. "The letter expressed the dissatisfaction of the applicant with the manner in which the claims and privileges of preachers are treated in the body with which he has been connected." On the same ground another Free Church probationer had made a like transition the year before. The complaint was that, apart from clerical recommendations, a preacher had very rarely a chance of being heard in a Free Church vacancy. Edinburgh Presbytery on receiving decided testimony to Mr Clark s natural abilities, Christian deportment, and acceptability as a preacher, recommended his application to the Synod, by whom it was granted, and within five months he received a unanimous call to Urr. Ordained, 23rd December 1858. The communion roll had recently sustained a reduction by the loss of the families from about Dalbeattie, who had gone to form a new congregation there, but the stipend was kept as before. In 1865 the manse was rebuilt, at a cost of £650, of which the people raised £405, and the Board granted £245. Mr Clark died, 26th August 1886, after a painful and lingering illness, in the fifty-eighth year of his age and twenty-eighth of his ministry. His son, the Rev. James G. Clark, is minister at Gatehouse.

Ninth Minister. WILLIAM STORRAR, from Bethelfield, Kirkcaldy. Ordained, 15th February 1887. The membership was 127, but the population was on the steady decline. Mr Storrar s last winter was spent at the Canary Islands, from which he returned home to die. The end came on 20th April 1896, in the thirty-fourth year of his age and tenth of his ministry. A discourse of his on "Christian Abstinence" was published by the Scottish Temperance League.

Tenth Minister. DAVID B. ALEXANDER, B.D., from Partick (Newton Place). Ordained, 22nd September 1896. At the close of 1899 the member ship was 108, and the stipend from the people was £80, with the manse.  

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