High Kirk History
The lands of Stevenston were granted in about 1170 to Stephen Lockhart, from whom the town derives its name, by Sir Richard Morville, High Constable of Scotland and Lord of Cunninghame, an Englishman who took part in the murder of Archbishop Thomas A’ Becket and who also founded Kilwinning Abbey. The ancient parish was a vicarage under the monks of Kilwinning Abbey.
Though few facts are known of it in pre-Reformation times, the obit book of the church of St. John the Baptist, Ayr, tells us that the early ministers of the parish included Richard Pethede, Canon of Ross and Vicar of Stevenston in 1449, and Stephen Wilkinson, Curate in 1547. James Walker conformed to the Protestant faith during the Reformation of 1562.
The Church of 1670
A new church was erected on the site of the previous church in about 1670 and in 1744 Saltcoats parishioners added the Saltcoats Aisle.
This church was often used by mariners trading in and out of Saltcoats, and the centre of the three lofts was called the Sailors’ loft, the others being the Ardeer and Kerelaw lofts. This loft had a strict order of naval precedence, the front row reserved for captains, the second for mates and the remainder for sailors, while the Harbourmaster was the custodian of the door.
Other seats belonged to certain notable families living in the houses of Kerelaw, Ardeer, Seabank, Mayville, Hullerhurst and Hayocks. This church was taken down in 1832.
Many relics of the past can be seen inside the Church. On the walls are plaques to the notable local families, Cunninghams, Warners and Fullartons. More prominent is the plaque to James Wodrow and another to William Lockhart, a naval doctor. The font and lectern are war memorials to the men of the church killed in the two World Wars.
On a strip of wood by the minister’s pew (No.1) can be seen the initials M.I.B.I.B, the initials of John Bell the 17th century minister and his wife. Pictures and photographs of the ministers since Thomas McKindley can be seen on the stairs, and by the belfry window is a sundial to David Landsborough.
Beneath the church are the three family vaults of the Cunninghams, Warners and Fullartons, formerly the most notable families in the area. These vaults were originally the prayer stalls of the earlier churches.
The Present Church
The present church was opened in 1833 during the ministry of the famous Reverend Dr. David Landsborough, whose son William was one of Australia’s greatest explorers (born in the manse in 1825). Dr. Landsborough, a noted biologist as well as minister, led the Ayrshire ministers at the Disruption of 1843 and founded the Free Church of Scotland in Saltcoats.
St Monachs Aisle
The extension containing a small chapel and vestry was built on at the back of the church in 1957, during the ministry of the Reverend John Miller Scott, and named after St. Monach, a contemporary of St. Columba's.
The graveyard is situated on the hill around the church and many of the graves are older than the present church.
Some of the ministers are buried here - David Landsborough’s gravestone is set up against the wall on the left of the gate between church and manse. Near this, by the left of the gate, is a memorial plaque to the Reverend John Bell.
In the churchyard are the graves of the people of Stevenston and Saltcoats, the stones bearing the name of the family head, his occupation and his wife and children. Among the most common names are those of Boyd, Kilpatrick, Conn and Young.
Ministers of the High Kirk