The Founding of Kilsyth

A reference to Kelvesyth dates from 1210 and in 1217 Maldovan, Earl of Lennox, granted his sister Eva the lands of Kelnasydhe and Monyabroch as a dowry upon her marriage to the heir of the de Callander family. Being supporters of the Balliols, the de Callanders lost their lands which were granted instead to a supporter of Bruce named Livingston. In this way, the long association of the Livingstons with Kilsyth was begun.

In 1620, Sir William Livingston founded Kilsyth as a Burgh of Barony and in 1649 the western Kilsyth lands were detached from the Campsie Parish and joined to the Eastern or Monieburgh which were also held by the Livingstons. In this way the town, burgh and parish of Kilsyth were formed.

The Livingstons remained as Lairds, Baronets and Viscounts of Kilsyth until 1715, when as a result of their continued support for the Jacobite cause, their lands were confiscated by the Hanoverians. After a period when they were under control of the Crown, the York Buildings Company and the Campbells of Shawfield, the Kilsyth Estates were purchased in 1782 by Sir Archibald Edmonstone of Duntreath. Establishing themselves at Colzium House, the Edmonstone family maintained links with Kilsyth until 1930.

Contributed by John Gordon, B.A. History & English, DIP.Ed. History & English, University of Stirling.

Documents held by Kilsyth Community Council

The Community Council is custodian of a number of important documents relating to the town. A few examples are listed below.

  • Feu Contract between James 2nd Viscount of Kilsyth and John Buchanan, involving “26 falls of Land in Kilsyth”. Dated 1679.
  • Feu Charter by William Livingstone in favour of John Buchanan, dated 1681.
  • Letter signed by William Livingstone 3rd Viscount of Kilsyth, sent from Rome where he was in exile with the Old Pretender. This lengthy letter is addressed to Sir G Edmonstone at Kilsyth and asks him to send funds urgently to “us” in Rome. Reference is made to peril “so great” and “unknown enemies”. The date is 14th June, 1721
  • “Extract Sasine, Professor James Jaffray” relates again to the disposition of 26 falls of land in Kilsyth. James Jaffray is described as Professor of Botany and Anatomy in the Colledge (sic) of the University of Glasgow. The document is dated 1792.
  • Letters Patent (2002) signed by the Lord Lyon King of Arms, granting Ensigns Armorial to Kilsyth Community Council. This may be viewed at Kilsyth Library along with the letter received from Her Majesty the Queen conveying good wishes for the associated ceremony.

North Lanarkshire Council holds, in safe keeping, an extensive collection of artefacts, paintings and documents of local provenance and it is hoped and expected that there will be an opportunity in the future for these to be put on public display in Kilsyth.

James Jeffray 1759-1848 was born in Kilsyth and was a direct descendent of John Buchanan, he who had been granted land in 1679 by James,2nd Viscount of Kilsyth. Jeffray is described in a document of 1792, held by Kilsyth Community Council, as “Professor of Botany and Anatomy” at Glasgow University but, as we shall see, his career involved physiology and physics too – in no uncertain terms!

Anton, in his History of Kilsyth(1883) depicts him as a handsome man, a man who travelled widely on the Continent, an amateur actor, a good conversationalist and a man who would travel on horseback almost daily from Paisley, where he had settled, to Glasgow. His lectures were highly acclaimed and his lecture theatres crowded, this being the time of the Napoleonic Wars with the consequent increased need for trained medical personel. Anton tells us that Jeffray was twice married and had one daughter, but surprisingly says nothing of his scientific life.

Other sources reveal more. Jeffray invented a surgical chain-saw, the design having been inspired by that of a watch chain. Its function was to enable excision of damaged joints, with as little injury as possible being inflicted on nerves and blood vessels in the process. The instrument was threaded round the bone, handles were attached and a back- and- forth sawing movement was carried out. He had this device manufactured by a jeweller in Brick Lane in London and it is interesting to note that his saw and a similar one, invented by another Scottish doctor, Aitken, for use in obstetrics, were the prototypes of the modern chain-saw as used in the timber industry.

A curious incident involving Professor Jeffray occurred in 1813. In order to satisfy the requirement for corpses for dissection for student teaching purposes, “body snatching “ i.e theft of bodies from graves, had become common and was of course a crime. The body of a woman, Janet McAlister, had been stolen from Ramshorn Kirkyard and it was thought (though mistakenly) that Jeffray had been involved in the theft but nevertheless it resulted in a mob smashing the windows of his house.

The stolen corpse was subsequently discovered , along with five others, in the dissection room of the University at the College Street Medical School. Who stole the bodies? This is not recorded. On the other hand, for purposes of dissection, it was completely legal to obtain the corpses of hanged criminals. In 1818, a weaver from Airdrie, Mathew Clydesdale, was convicted of murder and hanged in front of the High Court after which his body was wheeled in a cart to the University ( then still situated in High Street) for dissection in public by Professor Jeffray and Dr Andrew Ure.

At the time there was great scientific interest in “galvanization” – the animation of dead bodies by the passing of a galvanic ( direct) current through the body. This the good doctors decided to do, in front of a large numbers of onlookers. By placing the electrodes on various anatomically determined sites and passing current between these, they were able to stimulate the muscles to reproduce, for example, the action of respiration, the facial expressions of grimacing, smiling and so on – to the shock and fear of the excited spectators.

Ure’s later account of such procedures includes a passing mention that placing two moistened brass knobs on the skin, one over the phrenic nerve and the other over the diaphragm and having these attached to a battery might be effective in restoring life to a dead individual.This observation has led one commentator to remark on how very close was Ure, back in the early 19th century, to describing the life-saving electric defibrillator of today!

Reading of Professor Jeffray’s medical activities may be a little gruesome, but for all that, we remember him as one of Kilsyth’s famous sons. He held the Glasgow Chair of Anatomy for 55 years, supervised the establishment of the Hunterian Museum, was active in the founding of the Botanic Gardens and was honoured after death by being interred in the Glasgow Necropolis.

Research by Margot Macmillan

The Kilsyth Religious Revivals

Early Christianity

The earliest established place of worship in the Kilsyth area dates from the 4th and 5th centuries AD when Celtic missionaries such as St. Ninian and St. Mirren spread the gospel message from their base at Whithorn in south-west Scotland. Their achievements are commemorated in numerous place names and illustrates the power of a living Christ maintained against the background of a pagan age.

The Ministry of John Livingston

In December 1560 the national convention of the Scottish reformation met in Monyabroch (Kilsyth) parish when Alexander Livingstone was one of the first ministers appointed by the first general assembly of the reformed Church of Scotland. His grandson John Livingstone was to become one of the earliest preachers of his generation. On the 21st June 1627, he preached at the famous Kirk o Shotts revival with such effect that over 500 people turned to God for salvation. During the covenanting period he was chaplain to the Presbyterian armies and was highly commended by Oliver Cromwell. An observer commented that, “When the troops came to their quarters, there was nothing to be heard throughout the whole army but the singing of Psalms and prayer and the reading of scripture!” His youngest son, Robert, initially funded the notorious privateer Captain Kidd. Later Robert established a vast estate on the Hudson River and founded one of the leading families in New York. His grandson Robert Livingstone of New York appears alongside John Adams and Benjamin Franklin when the declaration of American Independence was signed on 4th July 1776 at Philadelphia.

The Rev. James Robe and the Great Revival of 1742-43

During the 1730’s, the Parish was stricken by a number of natural disasters. In 1733, 60 people died of pneumatic fever in a period of just 3 weeks and later that year violent rainstorms swept away houses, drowned livestock and destroyed most of the cornfields in the parish. Many people were on the brink of starvation. Such times of adversity brought people closer to God. During a series of dramatic services in 1742 and 1743 at which James Robe preached, many people acknowledged Christ as their Lord and the entire character of daily life of the people of Kilsyth altered radically. These revival meetings were characterised by hundreds of men and women weeping, moaning and crying out to God for forgiveness.

The lasting impact of this revival was in evidence in 1751 when James Robe was able to present to the Kirk Session a list of over 100 people converted at the time who “had maintained a walk and conversation befitting the gospel!”

William Chalmers Burns – The Kilsyth Revival of 1839

When Rev. William Burns was appointed in 1821 the Parish was in spiritual decline. In the words of the chief heritor “the Apostle Paul himself could not bring the people of Kilsyth out in full meeting three Sabbaths running.” The seeds of revival were carefully sown over a period of 20 years with a programme of house visits, prayer groups, adult Bible classes and Sunday school. Strong links were also forged with the Glasgow evangelicals led by some of the finest preachers of the day. During the summer of 1839, the minister’s son William Chalmers Burns, then assistant minister at Dundee to the great evangelist Robert Murray McCheyne, preached on a number of occasions with startling results; at one open air service held near the church an estimated 10,000 people attended. It was common for several hundred people to meet in the market square before going to work – many of them catching the 7.30 canal boat for Glasgow at Auchinstarry. William Chalmers Burns was to conduct revival meetings throughout Scotland and in Canada before devoting himself to pioneering missionary work in China.

“As in the Day of Pentecost” – The Revival of 1908

In 1896 the Kilsyth United Evangelical Society was established to liaise between the largely unchurched mining community and local ministers. Services were held in the Wingate hall in Wesport Street, a former theatre and workingmen’ club. The church grew rapidly and in 1908 a series of remarkable revival meetings took place where many manifestations of divine power were witnessed such as faith healing and speaking in tongues. No fewer than 28 young people offered themselves for missionary service. Kilsyth became a centre for those seeking knowledge of the Pentecostal experience and played a major role in the development of the Pentecostal movement at home and abroad.

Spe Expectamus

As a ‘native’ of the town and a Christian I have found it to be an enjoyable, enriching and sometimes thought provoking experience to turn back the years and pages in the history of the community and gain an entrance to the thoughts and lives of the past generations. Presbyterians, Methodists, Roman Catholics, Pentecostals and the Community Church all play their part in weaving the diverse tapestry of local religious life and the constant thread of faith that has pervaded the community for centuries. The motto “Spe Expectamus” which accompanies the Coat of Arms translates “We look forward with hope” and relates to the confidence and certainty of those who have put their faith in the risen Christ. Surely an inspiring and ever relevant message as we face the challenges of the 21st century.

Contributed by James Hutchison B.A.(Hons.) Hist.,University of Strathclyde; Dip.Ed.,University of Glasgow.

Unveiling of War Memorial

The War Memorial was unveiled by Sir Archibald Edmonstone on 25th August 1923.

The memorial was erected to the memory of the 227 Kilsyth men who laid down their lives in the Great War 1914-18.

A full copy of the original report of the ceremony, which appeared in the Kilsyth Chronicle on Friday, 31st August, 1923 can be seen here.