Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Noddy Kirk

The last post mentions Mr. Turnbull of the Noddy Kirk and I though I would step out of transcribing mode to get the story in here.  When I first ran across this Rev. James Turnbull, I thought he had to be "our" Rev. James - he ran afoul of the elders, refused to submit, and went and started his own church.  However a little more work and the confirmation from the previous letter show that in fact the Relief Church has two difficult Rev. James Turnbulls.  Before I delve into the sad story of the Noddy Kirk, perhaps I had better explain the Relief Church.

Thomas Gillespie, a Presbyterian minister, was not happy with the control exerted over the churches by the civil courts (among other things).  Along with

Thomas Boston of Jedburgh and Collier of Colinsburgh, he formed a distinct communion under the name of "The Presbytery of Relief" -- relief, that is to say, from the yoke of patronage and the tyranny of the church courts. The Relief Church eventually became one of the communions combining to form the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

So in short, the Relief Church broke away from the Presbyterian Church in 1761 and then in 1847 merged with other congregations to become the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland which, in turn, became the United Free Church of Scotland in 1900.

Enter the Rev. James Turnbull 27th June 1820.  He was appointed the first minister of the Calton Relief Church in Glasgow.  All goes well until 1826 when he enters into a long and protracted dispute with the local Presbytery over his visit to a dram shop.   An account of the dispute is so cleverly written in Small's HISTORY OF THE CONGREGATIONS OF THE UNITED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH FROM 1733 TO 1900 that I will just provide the story in its entirety


THE place of worship in which this congregation began had a far-back history. It was built in 1756 for Mr Hugh Innes, one of two ministers who split the old Reformed Presbytery and set up another for themselves based on Eraser of Brae s scheme of Universal Redemption. It remained in the hands of this party till 1791, when the congregation collapsed, the last minister being Mr George Thomson, who had been at one time Burgher minister of Rathillet. The property was afterwards acquired by the main body of Reformed Presbyterians in Glasgow, under Mr John M Millan. On this congregation removing to their new church in Great Hamilton
Street the Relief Presbytery, on petition to that effect, appointed Mr M Farlane of Bridgeton to preach in the vacant chapel on the first Sabbath of February 1820. On 1st March commissioners appeared from a body of people " in and about Calton " to be taken under the Presbytery s inspection, and it was agreed to recognise them as Kirk Street Relief Church.

First Minister. JAMES TURNBULL, who had been nearly seven years in Colinsburgh. Inducted, 27th June 1820, the stipend to be ^120. Next year a new church, with 1394 sittings, was built at a cost of ^2200. Houses and shops, which brought a good return, were also erected on part of the ground, the outlay being ^2100. In the summer of 1826 disputes arose in the session over a proposal by Mr Turnbull to have the Lord s Supper administered quarterly and week-day services dispensed with, but on 5th September a graver matter was introduced into the Presbytery. Seven of the elders requested an investigation into reports affecting their minister's character. At three successive meetings witnesses were examined in long array, and Mr William Anderson, who along with other two members of Presbytery had conducted the precognition, pressed home the charge with much vehemence. Mr Turnbull admitted that on the night specified his head was so confused on Glasgow streets that he did not know east from west ; that in his bewilderment he asked two women to tell him his whereabouts ; and that he went with them into a shop and paid for a dram, but left without tasting it, and reached home after midnight. It makes us doubt whether the insobriety and improper demeanour imputed to him were altogether the invention of "a wicked, enthusiastic visionary." But members and adherents to the number of 750 petitioned the Presbytery in his favour. They were convinced, they said, of his entire innocence, and it was their settled determination to abide by their minister, come what might. The sentence was that for certain imprudences Mr Turnbull should be suspended from preaching on Sabbath first, and should be rebuked before the congregation. He bowed to the decision, expressed sorrow for his faults, and promised circumspection for the future.

At next meeting of Presbytery Mr Thomson of Hutchesontown reported that he preached in Calton Church as appointed, but " Mr Turnbull declined to make his appearance when called for." In one of the public papers it was reported that the church " was doubly crammed in all parts," and it was further stated by a friend of Mr Turnbull's that the streets and lanes leading towards the place of worship were crowded, and that the carrying out of the Presbytery s sentence would have been to hold up the minister to derision. He himself rebelled against the sentence altogether, and on 2nd January 1827 his brethren declared him no longer a Relief minister. This brought the case before the Synod by protest and appeal, the congregation unanimously resolving to adhere to Mr Turnbull till the matter was settled. At the Synod the committee which sat on the case reported that they found the appellant in a good frame of mind, that he lamented the sin he had committed, and that he cast himself upon the mercy of the Court. He was then called to the bar, rebuked by the Moderator, and suspended for four Sabbaths. Against the latter part of the sentence the commissioners from the congregation protested, and this brought matters back to where they were.

Mr Turnbull on returning to Glasgow did not lie aside for four Sabbaths, and on i3th July the Presbytery received his written resignation of connection with the Relief. By this time he had deserted the Calton pulpit, and was preaching in another place of worship. A week afterwards he put in in appearance, and declared himself to be still the minister of a Relief congregation, but when he was about to be admonished from the Chair he declined the Presbytery s authority. Accompanied by the great body of his people Mr Turnbull now occupied a chapel in Great Hamilton Street, called the Noddy Kirk. On 6th July 1830, along with his session and congregation, he petitioned the Presbytery for readmission, but at next meeting it was decided that he would have first to give satisfaction for his former declinature of their authority. All we know of Mr Turnbull further is that in July 1832 he ceased to be a member of the Widows Society through non-payment of the rates, but all attempts to discover when or where he died have been baffled. In the report of the Commissioners on Religious Instruction in Glasgow a few years after this there is no mention of either him or his congregation. Dr Aikman, however, was mistaken in stating that Mr Turnbull was deposed from the office of the ministry.

So in 1827, the Rev. James Turnbull and his followers set up their own church on Hamilton Street.  They issued their own communion tokens as listed in one of the definitive collecting guides which also supplies the story for the source of the church nickname
Mr Turnbull, after a dispute with the Church authorities, left Calton Church in 1827, and organised an independent congregation at the " Noddy Kirk " in Great Hamilton Street, Glasgow. The nickname was given to the Church because many of its members drove up in " noddies," the " noddy " being a variety of four-wheeled carriage fashionable at the time. This token, intended for use by the Great Hamilton Street congregation, should therefore strictly be regarded as having no connection with Calton Church.
Today a noddy carriage is usually thought of as a small, one-horse two-wheeled carriage, but in 1827 it became a symbol for an entire dissenting church!  I believe that my Robert Turnbull was a member of the Calton Relief Church although I am still not absolutely certain.

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