Urray West Church

The church of Urray was dedicated to St Constantine, and belonged to the collegiate of the Cathedral of Fortrose. The old church of Tarradale was dedicated to the Lord and was named Cill Chriosd (the Church of Christ). The churches of Urray and Tarradale were united about 1600. There were several ministers of Urray and Tarradale that predate the unification, however with the complicated history of the church at this time, I have decided to best start from 1749.


Urray West

Attribution: not recorded or unknown

Rev. Dr Patrick Grant 1749 – 1788


Patrick Grant was born in 1706 and gained his licence by the Presbytery of Haddington in 1734. He moved to Cawdor in 1735 where he married Anne Spence in 1738. He was called to Urray in 1748. He was given an honorary doctorate of divinity (D.D.) from King’s College, Aberdeen in 1774 and elected as the Moderator of the General Assembly in 1778. He had a book published in 1779 – The Spirit of Moderation in Religion Recommended (Edinburgh 1779). It was Rev. Dr Patrick Grant that oversaw the building of the church in 1781.

A conversation in 1861, with a parishioner who remembered Dr Grant, described him as a courtly and scholarly minister.

Rev John Downie 1788 - 1811

John Downie was born in Aberdeen in 1727 and educated at King’s College, Aberdeen gaining a Master of the Arts in 1752. He was ordained to Gairloch in 1758 and transferred to Stornoway in 1773 before being called to Urray in 1788.

He was married in 1762, to Charlotte Mackenzie, daughter of Alexander Mackenzie of Tollie, provost of Dingwall and Annabella Bayne of Tulloch. He was also a published minister of two books and the Old Statistical Account. His books were – The Substance of a Speech address to the Very Rev. the Synod of Ross (Inverness, 1810); Lash to the Old Seceder (Inverness, 1812). He died at the Urray Manse in 1811.

John and Charlotte had 15 children; Margaret b.1762; Annabel b. 1764; Donald b. 1766; d. 1766; Katharine b. 1767; Murdoch b. 1768; Donald b. 1769 d, 1770; Jean b.1772; Hector b. 1778 twin, died before 1783; Charlotte b. 1779; Mary b. 1781 and the following who are documented in history:

Alexander born in 1765 in Stornoway he was educated at King’s College, Aberdeen and licensed with the Presbytery of Lewis. He served as chaplain to the 1st Battalion of the 78th Highlanders 1783. He was minster at Lochalsh for over 30 years and a strong advocate for the Gaelic School Society. Of his children, son Charles served as minister to the Church of Scotland at Contin and another son, Alexander became a doctor to the Royal family and was knighted for his attention as Physician to HRH princess Elizabeth Landgravine of Hess Homburgh and RH the Duke of Cambridge. He died in 1852 in Frankfurt, aged 41.

Murdo was born in 1768 and was an established lawyer at Dingwall. He married Mary Grant in 1795 and the couple had one son, however Mary had died by 1798. The following year, mary’s sister had given birth to boy which was also Murdo’s. The baby was abandoned on a doorstep and later died. Murdo was tried and acquitted of murder but convicted of exposing the child to the elements. He served 9 months at the Inverness Tolbooth. He later married Mary’s sister in London, which at that time was an illegal act (illegal to marry deceased wife’s sister). The couple left for Guyana where Murdo took a position as a surveyor. He died in 1818.

Charles was born in 1770 and was captain of the ship Elbe, belonging to Sandbach and Parker a company known for the slave trade. Charles died onboard the ship in 1805.

Ann was born in 1774 and married Neil Kennedy the minister of Logie Easter. He was one of the best known ministers of the North, a man of great pulpit power and apostolic zeal. One son, Donald became a minister at Logie Easter following his father’s tenure.  Daughter Elizabeth Forbes married John Noble, minister at Fodderty and another son John Downie Kennedy became a missionary and then minister at Rosehall. John’s son, Neil John Downie Kennedy, became a lawyer and one time chairman of the Scottish Land Court.

George was born in 1778 and was the twin brother of Hector who died in infancy. George joined the British Navy in 1790 as midshipman and saw battle at Camperdown in 1797. He attained the title of Captain, taking charge of HMS Comfiance in August 1814. He was killed a month later at the Battle of Champlain. He is buried at Riverside Cemetery, Pittsburgh.

Hector Downie was the youngest son, born in 1783. He served with the British Army at Guayana and was married to Elizabeth Jane Barry, widow of a doctor from the colony and a slave owner. He later moved to Rothesay where he died in 1844.

Rev Donald MacDonald 1812-1821

Donald MacDonald was born in 1756 and licensed by the Presbytery of Lochcarron in 1784. He was ordained at Torridon and Kishorn, Applecross a year later and called to Barvas by 1790 and called to Urray by 1812. He married Anne MacDonald in 1794. Donald was the first minister to live in the new manse that was built just after 1814. Of their children, son James followed him into the ministry at Urray.

Rev James MacDonald 1830-1843

James MacDonald was born in 1804 and educated at King’s College, Aberdeen from 1821 to 1825. He was married in 1840 to Mary Kennedy, daughter of Rev. John Kennedy of Killearnan. James took a leading part in the ‘Skye Revival’ of 1841-42 which saw the start of a religious awakening in education especially amongst the Gaelic schools. He moved to the Free Church in 1843 and became the minister at the Free Church, Urray from 1843 until just before his death in 1882. (see Urray Free Church entry).
It was during James’s tenure that repairs were made to the church with a vestry being added to the building. A porch was also added to the manse and the burial ground was surrounded by a stone dyke.

Rev Donald Mackintosh 1844-1854

Donald Mackintosh transferred to Urray from Pictou, Nova Scotia and was called to Edderton in 1854.

Rev William MacDonald 1856-1860

William MacDonald was born in Urray in 1823. He was educated at King’s College, Aberdeen and gained his licence from the Presbytery of Abertarff, serving as a missionary at For Augustus before being called to Urray in 1856. His tenure was short-lived, when he died 4 years later

Rev. John Adam MacFarlane 1861 – 1916

John Adam MacFarlane was born in Glasgow in 1832 and educated at the Universities of Glasgow and St Andrews. He gained his licence from the Presbytery of Skye in 1856 and was ordained at Kinlochbervie in the same year. He was called to Urray in 1861 where he remained until his death in 1915.
He was married in 1873 to Agnes Goodsir Macfarlane, daughter of James Macfarlane a Doctor of Divinity and minister at Duddingston. Of their children, their eldest son Andrew became a chaplain to the 42nd Highlanders and senior chaplain at Bombay. He was also a Doctor of Divinity and awarded a Distinguished Service Order medal. Another son, James became an engineer and two daughters married men employed by H.M. Customs.

Rev Samuel Knox Johnstone 1916 – 1935

Samuel Knox Johnston was born in 1875 at Magherafelt, county Derry and educated at Queen’s College, Belfast and Royal University of Ireland where he gained a B.A. in 1896. He continued his education at Edinburgh university before gaining his licence from the Presbytery of Edinburgh in 1899. He was assistant at Rosemount, Aberdeen, Ayr and Dean Parish, Edinburgh and was finally ordained at Stromness in 1906. He was married in 1907 to Margaret Mary Geddie, daughter of John Geddie, sub editor of the Scotsman. He was called to serve at Urray in 1916.
It was during this tenure that the church was closed for restoration, at a cost of £1200. The church reopened in 1925 with a celebration attended by local ministers and local dignitaries. To mark the occasion, the congregation presented Rev. Johnston with a new pulpit robe. The presentation was made by Mrs Mackenzie-Gillanders, Highfield with Mr Thomas Pullar, elder and stationmaster stating that the gift was as a mark of appreciation of Mr Johnstone’s services and of all he had done in the restoration of the church.
After a few years of ill health, Rev. Johnston died in 1935.

The church at Urray was then served by interim ministers in Rev, J. Davidson, 1936 and Rev. Robertson, 1937 while discussion took place between the congregations of Urray West and East churches as the minister’s posts were now both lying vacant. The suggestion of a union between the two churches had been proposed with the East Church being in agreement, however a small minority of the West church congregation were in opposition. Those in agreement with the union were happy for a union provided that services would continue at the West Church whilst those in opposition were of the opinion that one minister could not effectively carry out the duties of the parish of so large and scattered a parish. Over twenty meetings were held between the West Church Committee and the Presbytery committee with four members of the church committee resigning at one meeting alone. Eventually an agreement was made with both morning and evening services remaining at both churches with alternative evening services between the East Church and Marybank Mission Church.
Throughout the al the discussions a new organ was installed in 1936 replacing the old organ that had been presented by major Stirling of Fairburn about 50 years previously. Rev. Dr Donald MacLeod of Inverness High Church dedicated the new organ and made special reference to the Rev, Johnston whom the congregation owed so much in carrying out the scheme of renovation which had made the interior of the building so attractive. The installation of the organ was the conclusion of the scheme that the Rev. Johnston had set his heart on.
Finally in 1938, the Rev. Roderick Smith was inducted to the congregation of Urray and Gilchrist church with the first service being held at Urray West followed by and evening service at East Urray where both churches were filled to over flowing.

The churches at both West and east continued to be served by one minister with Urray finally closing its doors at the end of 2023.


Page created on 24 June 2024

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