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The Free Church of Scotland

The Rev Andrew Kirk, who was inducted on 29th April 1830, followed the Rev James Scott in the Torphichen charge.  At this time Torphichen Kirk, like many other charges, was still having trouble with the Patronage system.  Since 1740, ministers like the Rev Ebenezer Erskine of Stirling, his brother Ralph of Dunfermline and Wilson of Perth were still fighting for freedom from the Westminster Confession and the rule of Patronage.  A great move was afoot to remove the principle of establishment.

Throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, tension continued between Church and State, (Burghers and Anti-Burghers; New Licht and Auld Licht; all Seceders and between the Enlightenment ministers (moderates) and the traditional ‘evangelists’).  Tension increased with the new confidence in the middle class, getting the political vote with the Reform Act of 1832.  This increased their confidence that they should be able to choose their own minister. However, the government in London refused categorically to abolish Patronage and landowners like Lord Torphichen continued to nominate ministers of their choice to vacant charges.

It was around this time, possibly during the ministry of Mr Kirk, that William Armstrong the Coppersmith was paid two pounds six shillings for the Gilded Weather Cock, which, until recent times, perched above the Bell Cote. This Weather Cock was gifted by Lord Beaverbrooke. (Where is it now?)

The Rev Andrew Kirk translated to St Stephens, Glasgow on 19th February 1836 and was replaced by the Rev William Maxwell Hetherington who was inducted on the 28th April 1836.

We do not know much of Mr Hetherington’s ministry in Torphichen other than that he was one of the evangelicals under Thomas Chalmers, who was becoming more and more frustrated regarding by the lack of progress in ending Patronage and other unpopular rules of the established Church.

On the 18th May 1843, the General Assembly met, but instead of there being a formal opening, a petition was laid on the table containing signatures from the Evangelical party and over 200 members of that party left the chamber following that.  Eventually 474 ministers out of 1203 set up churches supported by like-minded members. This was the beginning of the Free Church of Scotland.

In Torphichen, the Rev William Maxwell Hetherington formed a Free Kirk and within the year the first ever stone built Free Kirk was built, this being the present St John’s Hall.  In the same year, the Rev William Branks was inducted as the Church of Scotland minister in Torphichen, he died in 1879.

Mr Hetherington became the first Free Kirk Minister in St Andrews on the 21st February 1844 and was succeeded by the Rev John Duns in 1844.  On the sixth anniversary of the opening of the Free Kirk, Mr Duns invited the Rev Andrew Bonar, minister of Collarce, to preach in the Free Kirk. This was on the 2nd . August 1849 and within 5 days of the one hundred and second anniversary of the death of his great, great grandfather, the Rev John Bonar in the old Manse in the Kirkgate.  The Rev John Duns was the main force behind the plans to build the well which stands in the square and which was constructed in 1851.


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   Updated on Monday 14th October 2002