Kirk records give Chris fas­ci­nat­ing glimpses of past

Rutherglen Reformer - - News - Jonathan Ged­des

De­mands for ser­vants to be struck down by the devil, at­tempts to re­claim clothes worn by de­ceased chil­dren and dis­putes over pa­ter­nity.

These are just some of the snap­shots of Cam­bus­lang life in the 17th cen­tury.

The in­for­ma­tion is con­tained in de­tailed records of the kirk ses­sion in Cam­bus­lang, and it is help­ing a Birm­ing­ham Univer­sity pro­fes­sor with a forth­com­ing book.

Dr Chris Lan­g­ley is a se­nior lec­turer in Early Mod­ern Bri­tish his­tory at New­man Univer­sity, and he be­lieves the Cam­bus­lang records of the kirk ses­sion, which com­prised the min­ster and church el­ders, are a trea­sure trove of in­for­ma­tion.

He ex­plained: “I have been con­sult­ing the pa­pers for my project, Cul­tures of Care.

“The rea­son I was look­ing at Cam­bus­lang is be­cause of how good the kirk ses­sion records were for there from the mid-17th cen­tury on­wards.

“I’d been look­ing at how churches and com­mu­ni­ties re­sponded to con­flict back then, and a lot of the time they were very re­silient.

“Cam­bus­lang has a re­ally beau­ti­fully writ­ten set of doc­u­ments from about 1668 that goes all the way to 1788 – that’s phe­nom­e­nal stuff.

“There’s a litany of de­tails there that you don’t re­ally get in other parishes.”

Some of those de­tails pro­vide a fas­ci­nat­ing look at a pe­riod of great change in Scot­land.

How­ever they also give ex­am­ples of some of the more un­usual sit­u­a­tions the kirk ses­sion would have to deal with.

Chris said: “There was one called John Jack­son, who was called be­fore the ses­sion for curs­ing at his ser­vants, and swear­ing on a oath to the devil that the devil would dis­able his ser­vants and shear off their necks!

“He wanted one of them to be crip­pled from the waist down and have to beg for bread – it was a sym­bolic ges­ture of say­ing that with­out him em­ploy­ing them they would be out on the streets.

“There’s an­other case where the trea­surer of the ses­sion is chas­ing up a lo­cal woman for clothes that the ses­sion had given to her for her child. That might sound benev­o­lent, but the rea­son he’s chas­ing her up is that the child has died and they want the clothes back – it shows the scrimp­ing and sav­ing of the pe­riod, and would sup­port the view that many his­to­ri­ans in the 1970s have since de­vel­oped of that time pe­riod, which is that it was per­haps a time where peo­ple weren’t very emo­tional.”

The doc­u­ments also pro­vide a look at how Cam­bus­lang as a whole was chang­ing, some­thing that Chris finds fas­ci­nat­ing.

He added: “There were a lot of peo­ple mov­ing from Glas­gow to Ed­in­burgh, and they were leav­ing a lot of il­le­git­i­mate chil­dren in their wake.

“In 1669 there’s a man called James Gra­ham, who re­peat­edly re­fuses to ac­cept he’s the fa­ther of a child by a woman called Mar­ion Park.

“When she goes into labour itt be­comes clear she’s got twins – Mar­ion dies but the twins live, and at that point he does ac­cept pa­ter­nity.

“How­ever he e could only ac­cept pay­ment tf for one of them, so the ses­sion fos­tered out the other child to some­one else and agreed to sup­port it un­til ‘some other way can be found out’.”

Chris be­lieves the rise in pop­u­la­tion led the kirk to de­mand more from parish­ioners in re­turn from their aid, cre­at­ing a new dy­namic for the area.

He added: “Even­tu­ally there’s a ser­mon where the min­is­ter goes into the pul­pit and de­mands the con­gre­ga­tion give more gen­er­ously then nor­mal be­cause the bur­den is get­ting so great – they can see the signs of poverty and the con­gre­ga­tion re­sponds by giv­ing about five times the usual amount, which is huge for some­where like Cam­bus­lang.

“What hap­pens over the 17th cen­tury, and you see this in both Ruther­glen and Cam­bus­lang, is that the com­mu­ni­ties are de­mand­ing more and more from the kirk ses­sion, and then it be­comes a case of the kirk de­mand­ing more from them in re­turn – you need to turn up to church more of­ten, youneed­tounder­standthisyou need to un­der­stand this the­ol­ogy more etc.”

Chris’s book isn’t due out un­til 2019, but he be­lieves study­ing the kirk records can have other ben­e­fits too.

He added: “These records are so good for fam­ily his­tory and they’re to­tally un­tapped.

“Most peo­ple will look at the reg­is­ters or the births, deaths and mar­riages, but if you can get your eye in with the hand­writ­ing then you can find loads more de­tail on po­ten­tially your an­ces­tors.

“It can be a gold­mine.”

The old kirk was re­placed by Cam­bus­lang Old Par­ish church in the 19th cen­tury

Book Chris Lan­g­ley has been study­ing Cam­bus­lang’s kirk records Orig­i­nal

His­tory One of the Kirk Ses­sion records

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