The Oldest Methodist Chapel in Scotland.

Methodism in Dunbar, with some notes on Haddington

Wesley Historical Society Article

The Oldest Methodist Chapel in Scotland

Methodism in Dunbar with some notes on Haddington

Above the doorway of the Wesleyan Chapel in Dunbar there is a tablet with the inscription “Erected 1764.” I have never found anything either to prove or to contradict this claim, but I have often wondered if it could be substantiated. Three things make one regretfully suspicious. The first is that whilst Wesley preached several times in Dunbar after 1757, it was not until 1770 that he recorded having “preached in the new house at Dunbar, the cheerfullest in the kingdom.” Added to this is the fact that the first trust deed of the Dunbar Chapel is dated 1771, and refers to a Chapel lately erected. Moreover, it is significant that Myles (whose guidance in these matters, however, is not always reliable), in his Chronological Account of the People called Methodists, gives the date of the Dunbar Chapel as 1770.

One thing is certain, and this is beyond dispute, the Dunbar Chapel is the oldest existing Chapel in Scotland. In actual chronological order it was the third to be erected. Aberdeen was the first, in 1764, and Edinburgh second, in 1765. Both these Chapels have long since disappeared, however, and Dunbar is left with the rightful claim to the prior position. Two years ago there appeared in the Arbroath Guide a series of articles on Methodism in Arbroath, headed by an etching of the ” Old Totum Kirkie” in that town, and the inscription: “Opened by John Wesley, May 5th, 1772. The Oldest Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Scotland.” The fact, already mentioned, that Wesley preached in the new Chapel at Dunbar two years before the Arbroath Chapel was built is sufficient to demonstrate the falsity of Arbroath’s claim to priority. If it be argued that the Dunbar Chapel has since been enlarged, it may be replied that the same may be said, up to a point, of Arbroath.

The story of the introduction of Methodism into Dunbar through the instrumentality of ” John Haime’s dragoons ” is too well known to need repetition.1 This was about the year 1755. Wesley’s first visit to Dunbar took place in 1757, when he “found a little society, most of them rejoicing in God their Saviour.” There seems little doubt that the Society at Dunbar was the first to be established north of the Tweed ; in fact, we have this on the authority of Thomas Rankin, who was a native of Dunbar.

For some years the Dunbar Methodists only occasionally enjoyed the ministrations of a Methodist preacher, for Dunbar was included in a large ” round,” which extended from Newcastle to Musselburgh, near Edinburgh. The names of three of the men who shepherded the infant Society have been preserved for us. Thomas Rankin, one of the pioneers of Methodism in America, has already been mentioned. Andrew Affleck, the tenant of the farm of Chesterhall, was converted in one of the earliest meetings, and remained a member of the Society for over fifty years.2 It was with Affleck that Wesley stayed on his frequent visits to Dunbar, and there is reason to suppose that in the early years the itinerant preachers also lodged at Affleck’s house.

Dr. James Hamilton, who was a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, was a distinguished figure in early Methodist circles. He was more than once consulted professionally by Wesley.3 His connection with Dunbar Methodism was in his younger days, and would doubtless add to the social prestige of the little Society.4

The first Methodist preacher to be appointed to Dunbar was William Ellis, in 1766. The membership at this time was forty, an indication of the progress which had been made during eleven years. The Chapel (built in 1764 or 1770), was a small building, the outside walls being whitewashed and the interior plainly furnished. The pulpit was at the south side, and there were galleries at each of the narrow ends of the building. All was not well, however. In many of the frequent letters which Wesley wrote to his preachers there is to be traced a deep concern and anxiety for the welfare of the Dunbar Society. One letter, dated 1774, addressed to Joseph Benson, then stationed at Edinburgh, indicates one cause of this anxiety. It reads 😕 “We must not go on at Dunbar in this manner. Rather we must quit the place. For who will pay that debt ? ” Apparently financial difficulties had thus early made their appearance. This is reflected in the fact that in 1770 the membership had dropped to thirty, and in that year the resident preacher had been removed, and for some years to come Dunbar had to rely upon the ministrations of the Edinburgh preachers. Wesley’s orders in 1774 were : ” Let the preacher go to Ormiston on Wednesday, Dunbar on Thursday, and return to Edinburgh, by Linton, on Friday, every week.”8

We are not surprised to find, therefore, that for the next thirty years the Dunbar Society was a struggling cause, hampered by debt, few in numbers, and doing little more than barely to justify its existence. In 1806 the membership was only twenty-three, which was seventeen fewer than forty years before. About this time, in 1806, to be exact, Methodism was introduced into the county town of Haddington. The person who brought this about was a soldier named James McCullagh, a native of Armagh, in Ireland. He was quartered with his regiment, the Fourth Dragoons, or the Royal Irish, in Haddington Barracks. He began to preach to his fellow-soldiers, and the result is found in an entry in the Edinburgh Society Book for 1808 : “Soldiers’ Class at Haddington,9.” In five years the number had increased to twenty eight, both soldiers and towns-people. A resident preacher was appointed in 18n, and two years later the “Dunbar and Haddington Circuit” was formed. In 1816 a Chapel, seating 300 people, was built in Sidegate at a cost of £600. As in Dunbar, so also in Haddington, the work was hindered from its very inception by the load of Chapel debt. Writing in 1818, William Clegg, in his Methodism in Scotland, or a Candid Enquiry into its present state and prospects, states : “At the Edinburgh district meeting of 1815, so little was thought of the prospect of usefulness at Haddington, that we thought a preacher should not be continued there any longer; he was accordingly removed. But how a Chapel was got up there, after this, and when the society consisted of but 20 members, who were very poor, is somewhat surprising. Last Conference permission was given to make collections for the chapel through all Scotland, except Dumfries.” The task of making this collection fell to the lot of Daniel McAllum, M.D., then stationed at Haddington. It is said that Dr. McAllum, whilst on his way to Peterhead for this purpose, nearly lost his life in attempting to cross the River Ythan at Newburgh, on the horse which he had borrowed from the preachers at Aberdeen. During Dr. McAllum’s ministry, Methodism in Haddington reached its zenith, and it is said that crowds frequently filled the Chapel. With his removal, however, a decline set in. Eventually, in 1841, the resident preacher was finally removed, and within a few years the Chapel was sold and Methodism became extinct, although Haddington remained on the Minutes until as late as 1865. Throughout his lifetime Mr. McCullagh remained a loyal supporter of the cause. He frequently preached at Haddington and Dunbar, and also went to Garvald, Stenton, and other villages to preach. He died in his eightieth year and was buried in Haddington Churchyard. But we must return to Dunbar. The palmiest days that Dunbar had yet known were probably from about 1817-1827. For the first three years of that period Duncan McAllum was the preacher at Dunbar, and his son Daniel was at Haddington. The name of Duncan McAllum is prominent on every page of this period of the history of Methodism in Scotland, and the extent of his influence is not surprising. At this period the preacher’s stipend stood at £40 per annum, and he resided in two rooms in what is now a very undesirable locality known as ” Cat Row.” In the cash book for 1811 there appear the following items: a loaf of bread for the Sacrament cost is 2d; the preacher’s expenses for travelling into Edinburgh by the mail coach were 12s. 6d, and the cost of travelling to Haddington was 3s ; the cost of sending a letter to Bristol was is. 2d; and half-a-stone of candles for the Chapel cost 8s. 4d. The later history of Dunbar Methodism hardly falls within the scope of ” early ” Methodism. It may be of interest, however to give in full the text of the first deed of the Dunbar Chapel. This has already been done with an early English deed, Allendale (Proceedings, xv. 94-100), and no excuse is therefore needed for giving prominence to the deed of Scotland’s Oldest Methodist Chapel. A comparison between the English and Scottish deeds may be of interest to those interested in legal matters.

The Dunbar deed is as follows :

AT DUNBAR the twenty sixth Day of April One Thousand seven Hundred & seventy one years IN PRESENCE of Charles Fall Esqr, Provost, Robert Fall James Fall John Lorimer Bailies COMPEARD Archibald Higgins Writer in Dunbar as pror for Andrew Affleck after designed and gave in the Disposition underwritten desiring the same might be insert & registered in the Burrow Court Books of the said Burgh therein to remain for Preservation in terms of the Clause of Registration therein contained WHICH DESIRE the said Judges found reasonable & ordain’d the same to be done whereof the Tenor follows Viz. KNOW ALL MEN BY THESE PRESENTS Me Andrew Affleck Tenant in Chesterhall Heritable Proprietor of the Tenement of Land yeard and Pertinents after mentioned with the speciall Advice & Consent of Magdalene Purves relict of Joseph Bard Ropemaker in Dunbar & I the said Magdalene Purves for myself for all Right of Liferent or otherways I have or can pretend to the piece of ground after dispon’d IN CONSIDERATION of a certain sum of Money paid and delivered to us by the Reverend Mr. John Wesley late of Lincoln College Oxford Clerk Whereof we hereby grant the Receipt and exoner and discharge him and all others whom it may concern of the same – THEREFORE witt ye us to have sold alienates & disponed LIKEAS we by these presents for our several Rights & Interests sell alienate and dispone from us our heirs and all others our assignies TO AND in FAVOURS of the said Mr. John Wesley, The Reverend Mr. Charles Wesley late of Christs Church College Oxford, James Hamilton Surgeon in Dunbar Andrew Affleck Tennent at Chesterhall James Steill Portioner of Belhaven Andrew Oliver Saddler in Dunbar Thomas Rankin late of Dunbar now a Preacher among the People called Methodists Thomas Davidson Farmer at Charleton Myers in the County of Northumberland and Thomas Gibson Baxter at Alnwick Or such other persons as they or the Majority of them shall from time to time appoint in trust for the purposes & on ye express conditions after mention’d, Or to their assignies All & whole that piece of Ground consisting of Fprty seven feet long and Twenty Five feet broad on which there has lately been erected a Meeting House or Chapel being the South east part of the Garden of that Tenement of Land Situate & lying on the east side of the Burgh of Dunbar Bounded with the Tenement belonging to John Ferguson on the South the high Streets of the said Burgh on the west and north & the Castlegate on the east parts With free ish & entry thereto from the Castlegate only, Together with all right Title Interest Claim of Right Property & possession which we for our several rights & Interests either have had or any ways may claim or pretend thereto On this express Condition that the said Trustees shall permitt the said Mr. John Wesley and such other persons as he shall from time to time appoint and at all times during his natural life. And no other persons, to have & enjoy the free use & benefit of the said premises that the said Mr. John Wesley and such other persons as he shall appoint may therein preach & expound God’s holy word. And after his decease that the said Trustees and the Survivers of them and the Trustees for the time being do and shall premitt the said Mr. Charles Wesley and such other persons as he shall from time to time appoint during his life & and no others to have and enjoy the said premises for the purposes aforesaid. And after the decease of the said John & Charles Wesleys that the said Trustees or the major part of them or the Survivers of them and the major part of the Trustees of the said premises for the time being shall from time to time & at all times for thereafter permitt such persons as shall be appointed at the* yearly Conference of the people called Methodists in London Bristol or Leads & no others to have & enjoy the said premises for the purposes aforesaids Provided always that the said persons preach no other doctrine than is contained in Mr. Wesleys Notes upon the New Testament and four Volumes of Sermons, and also that they preach in the said Chapel now erected evenings in every week and oclock at each morning following AND FURTHER that as often as any of these Trustees or of the Trustees for the time being shall die or cease to be a Member of the Society commonly called Methodists the rest of all the said Trustees ^ or of the Trustees for the time being as soon as convenient11 may be, shall and may chuse another Trustee or Trustees for ever, On which express condition & for which purposes these presents are granted & no other And we bind & oblige us our Heirs and Successors on no Account or Pretext to build any wall or raise any Structure whatever in the Garden of the Tenement above mentioned within Twenty feet of the west wall of the said Chapel or Meeting house whereby the lights thereof may be darken’d or obstructed and we for our several rights & Interests bind & oblige us our heirs & successors duely validly & sufficiently to infeft & sease the said Mr. John Wesley, Mr. Charles Wesley, James Hamilton, Andrew Affleck, James Steill, Andrew Oliver, Thomas Rankin, Thomas Davidson, Thomas Gibson or the survivor of them or the Trustees for the time being in the aforesaid piece of ground on which the said Chapel is built and that upon their own proper charges & expences to be holden of the Provost & Bailies of the Burgh of Dunbar in free Burgage for service of Burgh & payment of the Burrow mails & feu duties used and wont and for that effective constitute. And each one of you our prors To whom we hereby give & grant full power warrand and commission for us and in our name to compear before the Provost or any one of the Baillies of the said Burgh of Dunbar immediate lawful Superiors of the subject above dispon’d at any time and place lawful & convenient and there make due & lawful Resignation of the Ground on which the said Chapel is build and pertinents thereof lying situate and bounded in manner above described IN THE HANDS of the Provost or any one of the Bailies of the said Burgh of Dunbar superiors thereof IN. FAVOURS & for new Infeftment of the same to be made given and granted to the said Mr. John Wesley Mr. Charles Wesley James Hamilton Andrew Affleck James Steill Andrew Oliver Thomas Rankin Thomas Davidson & Thomas Gibson Or the survivers of them or the Trustees for the time being for the express use & purpose aforesaid And with power to our said prors before nam’d to do every other thing usual & necessary for making the said Resignation effectual which we promise to hold firm & stable and to ratify. Which piece of Ground and pertinents above dispon’d this present Disposition thereof & Infeftment to follow hereon we bind & oblige us & our aforesaids to warrand to be free safe & sure to the said Mr. John Wesley & other Trustees above mention’d the survivers of them or the Trustees for the time being at all hands & against all deadly as Law will AS ALSO to extricate & disburden the same of all Taxations Cesses Stents & publick and private burdens with which the same stood affected at and proceeding the term of Whitsunday one thousand seven hundred & sixty eight years being the time at which the said Trustees their possession commenced,18 and we hereby make & constitute the said Mr. John Wesley and the other Trustees above named or the Survivors of them or the Trustees for the time being our Cessioners and assignies in and to the rents mails and duties of the said piece of Ground from and after their entry thereto as above mentioned and in all time coming with all action and pursuit any ways competent to us for the time SURROGATING and SUBSTITUTING the said Mr. John Wesley and the other Trustees above mentioned or the survivors of them or ye Trustees for the time being in our full right & place of the premises for ever and in regard the writts and securitys which concern the aforesaid piece of Ground must lie on our hands for our right and Security to the Tenement above mentioned of which the said piece of Ground is a part and so cannot be delivered up. THEREFORE we bind & oblige us and our aforesaids to make the same or sufficient extracts thereof furthcoming to the said Mr. John Wesley and the other Trustees above mentioned or the survivors of them or the Trustees for ye time being whenever they shall have necessary use for the same on their obligation to deliver them back to us or our aforesaids And we CONSENT to the Registration hereof in the Books of Council & Session or others competent therein to remain for preservation & for that effect we constitute Archibald Higgins Writer in Dunbar OUR PRORS & IN WITNESS whereof we have subscrib’d these presents consisting of this & the four preceding pages of Stampt paper written by James Gray Son to Tames Gray Town Clerk of Dunbar. AT DUNBAR the twenty fifth of April one Thousand seven hundred & seventy one years BEFORE THESE WITNESSES Mr. Thomas Simpson Preacher of the Gospel preesntly residing at Dunbar and the said James Gray Town Clerk Witnesses also to this Additional Note that the said Mr. John Wesley and the other Trustees above named and the Survivors of them or the Trustees for the time being, shall be obliged to pay yearly to me my Heirs and Successors at the term of Whitsunday the sum of Six pence Sterling and which Sum is hereby declar’d to be a Real Burden on the said Chapel in Regard I have up the Consideration said to be paid me for the same by the said Trustees. The Trust was not renewed until November 24, 1809. At that time Andrew Affleck, James Hamilton and Thomas Rankin were the only survivors of the original number. The new Trustees appointed, in addition to the three survivors, were the Rev. William Atherton, senr., Minister of the Methodist Church in Edinburgh, Alexander Cannon, Shipmaster, Alexander Cannon, Cabinet Maker, John Stay, Slater, and William Renton, Farmer, all of Dunbar; Daniel Sinclair, of the post office, John Thomson, Brass Founder, and Robert Scott, Tailor, all of Edinburgh; and Robert and James Johnstone, Weavers in Duns, Berwickshire. This 1809 document was defective in that it made no provision for filling up the vacancies caused by death, etc., in the number of Trustees. Consequently, on April 22, 1850, the Rev. William Atherton, the only surviving Trustee, petitioned the Royal Burgh of Dunbar to grant a Charter of Novodamus in respect of the Methodist property so that the number of Trustees might be replenished. This Charter was issued on November 4, 1850, and the following Trustees were appointed: the Rev. William Atherton, then residing in Wakefield, Adam Robertson, Fishcurer, George Brown, Tailor, George Wilkie, Seaman, and Richard McLellan, Shoemaker, all residing in Dunbar. In 1857 a Chapel enlargement scheme was projected, and additional ground was purchased from the Earl of Lauderdale, for the sum of £14 sterling. The Chapel is now in the shape of a ” T,” the horizontal part of the ” T ” representing the old original building.

WESLEY F. SWIFT. NOTE ON THE ILLUSTRATION OF THE INTERIOR OF DUNBAR WESLEYAN CHURCH. For many years St. Giles’ Cathedral was divided into four sections, each with a distinctive name and each housing a separate congregation. This unhappy state of affairs was brought to an end in 1872, when a period of reconstruction began, which continued until 1883. During this time the partitions were removed, and the Church restored to something of its present condition. Amongst other things, some stained glass windows and a pulpit were taken to an auction room, where they were bought by an Edinburgh Methodist, who was interested in such things When the Dunbar Chapel was being renovated in 1890, he presented the windows and pulpit, and they were thereupon installed. W. F.S.

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  • Please can you add the references numerically cited in the article

    By Peter Williams (05/06/2019)

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