History: 1875-1883 Beginnings under Rev Robert Turnbull

History: 1875-1883 Beginnings under Rev Robert Turnbull

In August 2018 Hanneke received a letter from a Richard Elliott in Switzerland advising: I was doing some research into our family history and discovered that my Great Great Grandfather, Robert Turnbull was the first minister of your church back in 1878.

I wondered if you had any more information about him? I’m glad to see that the church appears to be thriving. I think when he left Bridge of Weir after six years he became minister at St Francis in the Fields in Bridgeton Cross, Glasgow. In the mid-eighties my father and I visited that church but I was unaware of Rev Turnbull’s connection with Bridge of Weir until I saw a photo of him with the name written on the back recently.

I’ve attached that photo with the information on the reverse for your records.

Emma Christie, wife of our Elder, Bill Christie, is a member of Glasgow & West of Scotland History Society and has for a number of years been researching her own and indeed some friend’s history. Emma “accepted the challenge.”

What follows are extract from Local and National papers. 

Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette: 12 November 1881

It may interest the Established Church congregation at Bridge of Weir to learn that the Rev George Mure Smith, who laboured for about 12 months at the commencement of the mission there, and was afterwards appointed to similar missionary work at Gamrie, in Banffshire, has now succeeded to the full charge of the West Kirk and Parish, Stirling. 

Mr Smith left Bridge of Weir in 1876, after filling a station for some time at Gamrie.  He was called to Stirling as colleague and successor to the Rev.Wm. Findlay, who was ordained in 1841, and died last week, after a ministry of about 40 years.  Mr Smith laboured earnestly in the mission field of Bridge of Weir and gathered a considerable number of adherents to his ministry, who formed the nucleus of what is now the Established Church congregation in the village, under the charge of Rev Robert Turnbull, who was ordained there in 1878.

Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser 23 October 1875

Bridge of Weir – Steps are being taken to procure subscriptions to build a new parish church at Bridge of Weir.


Paisley Herald Renfrew Advertiser 3 March 1877: New Parish Church

Arrangements are in progress to erect a new Parish Church in the village of Bridge of Weir. The arrangements are so far completed that it is contemplated the church will be commenced in about 6 weeks. For some time a mission station has been established in the district. The new edifice, which is to accommodate about 400 persons is to stand on a site near the railway station, on ground belonging to Mr McPhedran, farmer, Craigbet.  Promise has been made of a grant of £600 from the Baird Trustees, £360 from the Home Mission and £150 from the Ferguson Bequest. These sums are exclusive of £400 already subscribed towards the building of the Church. The buildings, which is to be in the Gothic style of architecture, will have space for the erection at any time of a gallery to hold 100 additional.


Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette 10 November 1877: Established Church

We observe that an Established Church is being erected at Bridge of Weir under the supervision of Mr Lewis Shanks, architect, Bridge of Weir and Glasgow. The design is in the early English Gothic style and bids fair to be a chaste and neat structure. The building is being erected by a committee of local gentlemen and  a donation has been granted by the Baird Trust, besides subscriptions by county gentlemen.  There will be accommodation provided for about 500 sitters in the area and provision has been made for a gallery at the west end.  The contractors are Messrs. P Woodrow, mason; R & W Houston, wrights; P McKay & Son, plasterers; Wallace, Connell & Co, plumbers; Wm Gillespie & Son, slaters.

Paisley & Renfrewshire Gazette: 8 December 1877: Bridge of Weir Parish Church

Rev Mr McLaren, Houston, submitted the report of the committee on this church. The Committee recommended that the church should be called a chapel of ease, or a quod sacra  church in connection with The Church of Scotland. The Moderator asked if there were any objections to the erection of the church.  None appearing. Mr McLaren proposed “That the Presbytery approve of the report on the draft deed and forward it to the General Assembly.”  Mr Miller, Neilston, seconded the motion which was unanimously agreed to.

Paisley & Renfrewshire Gazette: 9 November 1878

The Moderator vacated the chair while he reported on this church. It was opened, he said, on the 22nd September, when a collection of £104 was lifted without any special arrangements. That, he thought, was a very good collection for a country church (applause). He produced the various contractors’ accounts, in order that the Presbytery might pass them to enable the grant from the Home Mission Committee to be realised. The building had cost £2,200, including laying out of grounds.

To liquidate that sum three trusts were to contribute, viz – the Baird Trust, the Ferguson Bequest Trust and the Home Mission Trust. The balance of debt on the building was £500. Dr Turner of Hazelbank had contributed that sum out of his own pocket, in order that the contractors’ accounts might be met.

Rev C C Macdonald and Rev Mr Carruthers were appointed a committee to examine these accounts with their respective vouchers and at a subsequent stage of the proceedings reported that they had found all correct. 

Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette: 1879

Election of a Minister on Tuesday night. A meeting of members and adherents of the new established church, Bridge of Weir was held for the purpose of selecting a minister from a list of six candidates recommended by a committee. The Rev A McLaren of Houston presided.  The meeting was decided by vote to proceed with the election of a minister and on the votes being counted Mr Robert Turnbull assistant to the Rev G Carruthers, Johnston, was found to have a majority of 20 votes.  The chairman afterwards intimated that the debt of the church amounting to £500 was about to be cleared by Dr Turner, so that the young minister might feel himself unfettered by encumbrances.

 The Southern Reporter: August 7th 1879

Ordination of the Rev Robert Turnbull

On Friday the Rev. Robert Turnbull. a native of Selkirk, was ordained to the pastoral charge of the newly-erected church at Bridge of Weir.  The Church was opened, says the Greenock Telegraph, in September last, and while hearing candidates Mr Turnbull was appointed to preach. At that time he was not a licensed as a minister, but so pleased were the congregation with his sermons that in December last Mr Turnbull was appointed a missionary in connection with the church, and since then he has laboured with much acceptance. He received a call to the church some weeks ago, just as he had completed his curriculum.  The ordination took place in the presence of a large audience, and was followed by a soiree in the evening, at which Mr Turnbull presided.  In opening the proceedings he said, when the call was put into his hands he did not accept it without fear and trembling; he considered the nature of the work that would be given him to do, and he came to the conclusion that whoever accepted the charge of the congregation, they were not going into a bed of roses of sweet fragrance with nothing to do. The congregation had built a new church from a small begiinning ,which was highly creditable to them; the church would accommodate 480 sitters, and whoever undertook the duty of minister would require to enter on the work with enthusiasm, and the congregation would require to do the same if they expected to do good.  The church had cost £2,500, but they were not to be frightened because there was still £800 of that sum to make up. That could be successfully done by means of a bazaar, in which all would have their part to play. When the debt was cleared away they could not , however, rest there.  They would require to erect it into a parish, getting part of Houston and Kilbarchan into the bounds. That would cost money;but the church would then be in a more satisfactory  position than at present.  All these matters he had to consider, but the first thing that weighed with him in accepting the call was that it was unanimous.  It was signed by 185 – not a large number, but when the circumstances of the case were considered it was highly satisfactory; and when he considered the kindness of the ministers of the adjoining parishes, he resolved to accept the call. He felt quite sure these friends would not let their young brother go astray without giving him counsel and saying. “This far shalt thou go, but no further.”  He was glad he had made friends with the ministers of other denominations, and whose friendship he would be glad to retain. While he loved the Church of Scotland better than all others, still he looked on all Christians as forming the great army of Jesus Christ; and while he regarded the Established Church as the regiment he liked best, still he would always be glad to salute his comrades in arms against the common foe. He had wrought among them eight months as a missionary, and during that time he had many misgivings, but the members of the congregation never allowed his heart to fail, and he trusted that now they were bound together the future would prove as enjoyable as the past. He hoped, when the trees planted outside had grown larger, that the Bridge of Weir would be famous as a summer residence, as it deserved to be, and that the church, which he had accepted amidst fear and trembling, would be the sweetest little church in the kingdom. During the evening Mr Turnbull was presented with a handsome pulpit gown, the gift of the ladies of the congregation. 

Paisley & Renfrewshire Gazette: 13 December 1879

 The Established Church Debt

Efforts are to be made by a bazaar to clear off the debt upon the new Parish church erected at Bridge of Weir. It amounts to £860.

Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette: 24 April 1880

On Thursday a bazaar to liquidate the debt on Bridge of Weir Established Church was opened in the Abercorn Rooms, Paisley and has proved a great success. The amount aimed at by the promoters is £1,000, although the debt on the church buildings is only £800.  But it is proposed to form an endowment fund with the balance. The church in Bridge of Weir was erected about a year and a half ago at a cost of £2,500. Then the membership stood at thirty, now the communicants number nearly 120. Rev Mr Turnbull the first minister placed in charge of the congregation is universally respected and has been fortunate enough to secure the assistance of his neighbours. In the bazaar, there are stalls in connection with Kilbarchan, Houston and Kilmacolm parishes. As a whole, the collection of articles on Thursday, before serious inroads were made by purchasers, was exceedingly creditable to all concerned. Rare and costly goods were forwarded from India, China and Africa by friends interested in the welfare of the church. Besides the usual stalls generally found at bazaars, there was a dairy stall, where pats of butter and draughts of milk could be obtained. The usual refreshment buffet was also in connection with the display.  Amusement was provided for the youthful visitors by a “Punch and Judy” show, manipulated by Mr Jones, Glasgow, who set forth the well-known tragedy in those tones we are all accustomed to.  There was also an “Art Gallery” provided, to which only those who had contributed the entrance fee was allowed access.  A “Gladstone Light” was exhibited, and several pens of poultry.  Rather a peculiar present was made to the collection by Mr Harvey, Houston, who forwarded a fine donkey, bedecked with favours.  The animal was sold and duly removed; but immediately the place so lately occupied was filled by another donkey, presented by Baillie Sharp, Johnstone. On the opening day upwards of £500.

The Glasgow Herald also reported on the Bazaar on Friday 23 April 1880 and additionally reported:

Rev Thomas Gentles of The Abby, in opening the bazaar, explained the cause of Colonel Campbell’s absence (referred to elsewhere in the paper) and said that the gallant Colonel had sent a subscription of £10 (applause). He then proceeded to give a summary of the history of Bridge of Weir Established Church, stating that it was opened eighteen months ago by a sermon by Principal Caird; and the cost of the church buildings, hall etc was about £2,000. The wonder was that such an excellent ecclesiastical structure, so well-proportioned and acoustically arranged, could be built for so moderate a sum. The church had fulfilled all the expectations at one time formed regarding it, for the communicants now numbered 117.  The attendance last Lord’s Day was 200, and the Sabbath-school was attended by 80 scholars and 13 teachers. (Applause).  In every respect the church had fulfilled the expectations of its promoters.   

Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette: Kilbarchan 31 December 1881


The third of a course of lectures under the auspices of the Kilbarchan Young Men’s Christian Association was delivered in the U.P. Church last Friday night by the Rev. Robert Turnbull, Bridge of Weir on “Burns.”   Robert Wilson Esq. of Manswraes occupied the chair.  A choir under the leadership of Mr James Mitchell, rendering during the evening several of Burn’s most popular songs which enhanced the enjoyment greatly. The audience was a very large and enthusiastic one.

Rev Robert Turnbull reviewed his production, reading with good effect the gems from his works.  The humorous songs of “Rab Rorysons’s Bonnet” he read in a most amusing manner causing considerable laughter to the audience.   In the closing part he, with a gentle hand drew a veil over the tragic and sad end of illustrious song-writer. As a popular lecturer Mr Turnbull has the peculiar knack of treating his subjects so as to make them both humorous and highly interesting and his appearance always means a large audience.

Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette: 4 February 1882

Under the ministration of the Rev Robert Turnbull , this Church has prospered most gratifyingly and the membership has increased fourfold.  At a meeting held last week it was stated that the church was now entirely free of debt. In 1879 the church was burdened with a debt of over £1,000.

At present the church has a surplus of £70 in the building fund.  It is proposed at an early date to take steps to have the church endowed.

Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette: 8 September 1883

The Call to the Rev. Mr Robert Turnbull

On Wednesday at a meeting of the Presbytery of Glasgow in Barrowfield Church, Queen Mary Street, Glasgow, the Moderator, Rev John Murray stated that he had called the meeting in terms of the regulations of the General Assembly and the settlement of Ministers. Satisfactory evidence was produced that does due notice of the meeting.  And the purpose thereof had been given to the congregation.  The Clerk produced and read an appointment to the vacant Church and Parish of Barrowfield, Glasgow in favour of the Rev Robert Turnbull, Bridge of Weir (a native of Selkirk), Call was made to Mr Turnbull and a letter of acceptance came from Mr Turnbull on 17th instant.   For this purpose the Presbytery will meet at Barrowland on 17th ins, at 7 O’clock. Barrowfield Church is an important one in Glasgow; seated for 900; and the population of the Parish is 6000.

Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette: 29 September 1883

The translation of Rev Mr Turnbull to Glasgow on Sunday.   Rev Turnbull, late of Bridge of Weir Parish Church was introduced to his new congregation in Barrowfield Church in Glasgow.  The Church was crowded in every part, the pulpit stairs having to be utilised.



The following letter was received by Bill from Richard  Elliott:

A sincere thank you from myself and my family for the research carried out by your wife and yourself.

The articles paint a very vivid picture of Rev Turnbull and confirm my grandmother’s stories to my father that Robert was a gifted speaker and a sincere minister.

It’s my father’s 87th birthday in a week and I will present him with all these articles as part of his birthday celebrations. He’ll be very pleased!

Once again thank you all very much,




01505 612975

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