Kirk records give Chris fascinating glimpses of past
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