Our Church History

When Pulteneytown Parish Church re-opened for public worship on Sunday 25th May 2003, it was a significant mile-stone in the long history of the congregation. The church building dates back to 1842, but the congregation that now worships there is the product of many different strands of of the Presbyterian church in Scotland. From the beginnings of the new town of Pulteneytown, the church has been fully involved in all the events which affected the national church. Each twist and turn, each split and union of denominations is reflected in the local congregations that worshipped in the town.

Beginnings

The early history of Pulteneytown Parish is, of course, that of the Wick Old Parish church. Prior to 1878, the area now know as Pulteneytown was within the Old Parish Church bounds. But as the population of Pulteneytown grew in the early 19th century, it was clear that there was a need for a church within that settlement. There are four other church groups (at least) that were important in the development of the congregation, and we hope to create new pages outlining their history in the coming months. These were the United Reformed Church ( established in 1747 and which went through many changes of name before becoming the West Church), the Reformed Presbyterian Church (established in 1838 which became Martyr's United Free Church), the Pulteneytown Free Church (established in 1843 which became the Central Congregation) and the Thrumster Church (the building being built around 1900).


The Established Church

Preparations

In 1838 Caithness Presbytery received a petition from Rev Robert Phinn, Wick, setting out the need for a church for the expanding settlement of Pulteneytown. In 1839 a Missionary was appointed for the area and a draft petition was presented to the General Assembly of 1841. As the new church was being built the congregation met in Pulteneytown Academy Assembly Hall. It took three years to build the church at a cost of £1,700. Money for the building came from the British Fisheries Society, Magistrates, Heritors the Church Extension Committee in Edinburgh and local people. The full cost was not met until 1878.

The Opening

Pulteneytown Church was opened for worship on Sunday 6th.November 1842 – a new church for the new township.

The local newspaper of the day recorded the event in its own particular journalistic style ....

According to the papers ....

”This neat building was opened for public worship on Sunday last, when the Rev.Charles Thomson, Minister of Wick, preached a most eloquent sermon on Exodus 20 verse 24

The Church was full but not crowded. This is to be attributed to there not having been sufficient public notice given by advertisement relative to the opening. Upwards of £22 was collected; a pretty good sum, certainly, but we are convinced it could have amounted to at least £10 more had the opening of the church been announced in the newspapers in the usual way. Several persons from neighbouring villages regretted that they were not present but said that they knew nothing about it, having examined the pages of your journal every week for the purpose.

The Church is a very comfortable one being well ventilated and protected from the inclemency of the weather. Gas will be introduced when sufficient funds have been raised for the fittings. Altogether after being used to the ‘big kirk’ with its patched windows and ear-piercing draughts, the new church is very comfortable.

We must not, however, omit to state that the manner in which the contractors executed their work reflects credit on them as designers and workmen.

It will not be amiss to remind the heritors of the Parish of Wick, that it is high time the windows of the ‘big kirk’ were mended. A large sum of money has lately been expended on the Manse,, which, by the way, certainly required it; we do not think they ought to grudge paying for panes of glass in the Church. The sum required for the purpose would not exceed one-fourth that paid for building the dyke in the neighbourhood of the Church.”


The First Missionary 1839-43

The first Minister, the Rev.David Mitchell was paid £50 per year and complained “I did not receive a farthing without a grudge.” He was an ordained minister, but the charge was a mission chapel under the control of the Wick Old Parish Church.

Hopes were high. A brand new Church for the expanding new town. Reports speak of large attendances and as many as 500 children at special meetings. However, the entire Scottish Church was to be rocked from top to bottom the following year. In 1843 the General Assembly passed the Veto Act which, in connection with the appointment of ministers, gave ‘ a majority of the male heads of families’ in a parish the right to reject the patron’s nominee. This led to the ‘Disruption’ when most members of the Established Church in the Highlands left to form the Free Church. So great was the strength of feeling in the three northern counties of Ross, Sutherland and Caithness that throughout the area less than 2,000 worshippers remained in the Church of Scotland. Almost the entire congregation of the new Church in Pulteneytown was, as an old record puts it ‘swept away’ by the Disruption. (They formed Pulteneytown Free Church which was later to become Wick Central Church.)

It was in many ways a disastrous start for the church which started with such high expectations. Rev.David Mitchell left and took up a charge in the St Luke's Free Church in Glasgow. The congregation struggled on.

Later Missionaries

From 1843 – 1852 there is no record of a Minister – visiting missionaries took the services. Ministers (or missionaries) were appointed by a central body and were resident for a couple of years or so before moving on. We know the names of some of these minsters, but there will probably have been others whose names are now forgotten.

1852 Rev Archibald Milligan, who took up a charge in Montreal in 1853.

1855 Rev James Gemmel . He was appointed, presumably as a student, in 1854 and ordained in 1855. After 5 years he was called to Watten.

1861 Wiliam Smith who is stated as being 'afterwards minister of Unst' and so may have been a student during his time in Pulteneytown.

1863 Alexander Machardy

1865 Alexander Chalmers Souttar

1867 Rev David Rait Jack who left in 1872 to go to Holm

1872 Rev Robert Walker who left in 1874 to go to St Margaret's, South Ronadsay

1874 Rev William Laing Reid - another minister who transferred to Watten in 1875

1877 Rev Duff Macdonald


Mid Nineteenth Century

During this time there were reports of remarkable happenings among many people in the area. In the 1860s, people from different congregations and denominations held joint prayer meetings. Quite spontaneously several children’s prayer meetings arose – at one time there were around a dozen children’s prayer meetings in Pulteney. Some of them with 40 –50 children present. The impulse to pray took their parents and teachers by surprise.

There was generally more interest in spiritual matters in the community but the long difficult years had not been without a legacy for the congregation. The scanty church records of the period are dull and factual apart from a few insights to the local ‘psyche’. The Managers refused to pay the fue duty and informed the British Fishery Society that ‘ they did not hold themselves responsible for it not being proprietors of the Church’. A manager was dismissed for being ‘ over-officious’ and ‘counting the offering during the prayers.’ In 1871 we find the managers of the Church contacted Presbytery about ‘the state of the buildings’. The church had an accumulated debt of £614 16s 10d. The people were poor and ‘a great many were unable to give anything till after the fishing’. The seats at the front of the gallery were let at two shillings and sixpence per annum. The grass round the church was to be let ‘to the best possible advantage’ - three shillings per annum seems to have been the going rate. However the general increase in religious interest brought a new determination within the congregation.


Late Nineteenth Century

In 1874 the population in Pulteney was around 5000. The Church seated 950 , the number usually present was given as 350.The number of communicants was 30.There were 10 teachers and 120 scholars in the Sabbath School. In 1876 there were requests for an evening service to be started. Eventually it was agreed that this should happen once a month – once the cost of heat and light had been met the rest of the offering went to the Minister!

By 1878 the debt on the building had finally been paid and sufficient money(£1,000) raised for endowments.

Moves were put in place to establish a separate parish area and on 18th.March 1878 ‘Pulteneytown was disjoined from Wick’. The new Parish boundaries of Pulteneytown were “From the bridge of Wick, southwards along the Parliamentary Rd. to the South West corner of the New Cemetery wall thence eastwards and westwards by the German Ocean and the harbour and river of Wick to the Bridge of Wick aforementioned.”

The Minister in 1878 , Rev.Duff McDonald, was appointed by the Church to Blantyre, Central Africa, to head up the work started by David Livingstone.

Rev. Harley Anderson

The congregation were now free to appoint their own Minister – though the ‘Baird Trust must agree to the first appointment’. The first Minister appointed was Rev.W Harley Anderson in May 1878. Three elders were appointed in July and the Assessor Elders thanked. All three Resigned in November 1878. Another traumatic start for the congregation.

There is little record of activity in the congregation during these next years. Sometimes four years would pass between Kirk Session meetings. It would be 12 years before any other elders were appointed. In 1893 Mr Anderson intimated his resignation from the charge. The Kirk Session recorded their regret that Mr.Anderson had been under the necessity of resigning his charge and their ‘sincere hope that he would find a more suitable charge in the south.’

'Ross's Kirk'

The congregation now entered a new phase for on 14th.May 1894 Rev. Alexander Ross from Aberdeen was inducted to the charge. He was to be Minister for 42 years and the church was to be known as ‘Ross’s Kirk’ – so much so that a Serviceman is reported to have gone to the Catholic Church Service because he thought RC stood for Ross’s Church!

The years of neglect were tackled with vigour. The Committee of Management reported…”The year 1895 will long be memorable in the annals of Pulteneytown Parish as the year in which an extensive scheme of improvement was carried out on the church. The idea of the renovation dates from the Ordination of Rev. Alexander Ross. On 7th. November 1894 a meeting of the Committee of Management, then consisting of three Trustees – Donald R Campbell, Surgeon Dentist; Alexander Wares, Vintner; and William Reid, Commission Agent…was held in the rooms of Mr.Ross, Myrtle Cottage…. gentlemen were appointed to collect subscriptions in Pulteneytown and Wick and Mr.Ross’ undertook to bring the case under the notice of gentlemen connected with the county and friends of the Church at a distance.” The work included, constructing a vestry with lavatory, a new pulpit and choir seat, painting and distempering the inside walls, replacing the windows (except those on the East gable), erection of railing and gate etc. The cost was £375 – of that only £85 was raised locally.

Mr Ross was appointed Session Clerk until ‘a permanent appointment is made’. He was to remain Clerk for over 40 years! In 1900 there were 60 members on the roll. In the same year there were 190 on the roll of Wick Parish.


New Manse

Times were hard and it was a struggle to make ends meet. There was no Manse. However by 1905 the Manse had been erected in Coronation St. There is no record in the Church minute books. Mr. Alex Campbell, a former Session Clerk, indicated that Mr Ross had taken it upon himself to write to various parties outwith the county pleading the cause of the poor people of Pulteney who had a Church but no Manse. He seems to have raised the required finance almost entirely on his own. The Manse was ample for a life-long bachelor and an interesting commentary on social attitudes of the time in that only two rooms face north and never have any sunlight – the Maid’s bedroom and the Maid’s kitchen!

Manse1902

He was a ‘well kent’ figure around the parish and it is reported he was a regular visitor on Monday morning on the door-step of those who had failed to appear at Sunday worship. Apart from the Sunday Service and a ‘women’s working party’ there was little other congregational activity. In 1904 an organ was introduced to assist the worship “in the absence of any objection on the part of the congregation.”

Since its inception the Church was known as Pulteneytown Church (or Chapel 1842-1878). However in 1929 Presbytery enquired concerning the future name of the church in the light of prospective Church union. The Kirk Session were unanimously of the view that the congregation should be continue to be called Pulteneytown Church. However, later that year the Church had a new name: "Pulteneytown St.Andrew’s". No explanation is given in the records.

Latterly Mr. Ross often wondered “What will happen to my Kirkie when I go?” The same thought was very much in evidence at his Memorial Service on 8th.May 1936 when it was said “If the Church was carried on it would be the most fitting memorial that could be bestowed on such a zealous worker in the vineyard of Jesus Christ our Saviour.”

….And it did continue…..but it was a hard struggle.


Rev. Sandy Sutherland

The next Minister was Rev. Sandy Sutherland. Within two months he reported that he had visited all families connected with the congregation. Within four years he left for another charge as he had been advised on medical grounds to seek a lighter charge. At this time an increase in the Sunday School had brought problems of discipline. The congregation planned to build a new hall able to seat 160 people and at an estimated cost of £588. An advertisement was placed in the Groat and no fewer than 17 contractors expressed an interest in undertaking the work. The war meant it was not built at that stage.

Rev. Stephen Green

The next Minister was Rev. Stephen Green who had been working in Nyasaland training men for the ministry. He returned there after the war was over in 1946. There were then a prolonged discussions about the future of the congregation. The secession of 1733 and the disruption of 1843 were followed by the unions of 1876, 1900 and 1929. The result was that, after 1929, there were 3 congregations of the church of Scotland in Pulteneytown (St Andrews, Central and West) and 2 on the Wick side (Bridge Street and the Old Parish Church). Five churches were considered too many for a town the size of Wick. It was to take another 75 years before the Church of Scotland was to be represented by two congregations - one for each side of the Wick river.

Rev. George Ramage

Eventually, St Andrews church was allowed to call a Minister ‘around 55 years of age’ . Rev. George Ramage was inducted in 1947 and died in June 1953. His quiet steady leadership had consolidated the work of the congregation.

Rev. John Robertson

He was followed by Rev. John Robertson whose enthusiasm soon made its mark on the congregation. The hall planned 20 years before was at last built. During the last year of his ministry in Wick the congregation became financially self-supporting for the first time in its history……..116 years after it was opened for worship! His ministry in Wick was short but significant.

Rev. Robert McGee

He was succeeded by Rev. Robert McGhee who had been in the town with a student mission and had ‘caught the eye’ of the congregation. They waited till he had completed his studies and he was ordained in 1959. His strong personality and vigorous evangelistic heart soon made its mark on the growing congregation. There was further change in name for the congregation when the union with the rural congregation at Thrumster took place in 1961. The congregation was now called Wick St. Andrew’s and Thrumster. The Wick Church was usually called ‘St. Andrew’s’.

Rev. Sandy Gunn

Having been blessed under the ministry of one young Minister the congregation called another, Rev. Sandy Gunn, in 1967. His enormous work rate and enthusiasm consolidated the work of the previous years and Sunday Schools and youth work grew apace. The Sunday night inter-church ‘Eight O’Clock Club’ was a major feature of his time in Wick. There was need for more hall accommodation was acute but Presbytery were concerned about the number of Churches in Wick and was hesitant about giving approval. Eventually as Sandy was leaving Wick the work was ready to begin.

Rev. William Wallace

The Rev. Bill Wallace, was inducted in 1974. He had been a Missionary Dentist in Ethiopia and Minister of the Inter-denominational Church in Addis Ababa. The halls were now completed- fifteen years later they would be extended and the church lounge added. The annual Holiday Club is one of the largest in Scotland and the variety of children’s and youth activities is a feature of the congregation. In 1990 Wick Central Church and Wick St.Andrew’s united to become Pulteneytown Parish Church. The original name restored. The pipe organ from the Central Church was renovated and transferred to Pulteneytown.

In May 2003 major renovations were completed. The pews down-stairs were removed and comfortable individual seats replaced them, a completely new heating system was installed, the chancel area was revamped, a glass-fronted entrance court-yard/ reception area was constructed, new facilities for disabled people were provided, the lighting was greatly improved as was visibility from the gallery. The new colour scheme and sanded floor create a fresh, vibrant feel within the building.

The current renovations and developments will provide the congregation with attractive, adaptable, facilities in which to extend the cause of Christ in Pulteneytown in the 21st.Century.

After 34 years of long and faithful service to this church, parish and community, Rev William Wallace retired. He had overseen some major changes in the congregation over that period. He will be greatly missed, but he had left a solid foundation for the next minister that God would choose to fill the pulpit of Pulteneytown and Thrumster Parish Church.

Rev. Stuart Farmes

There was a period of vacancy lasting three and a half years before the congregation called the next minister. The Rev Stuart Farmes was Inducted and Ordained on the 3rd November 2011. The people of Pulteneytown and Thrumster look forward with eager anticipation to this new era in the life and witness of Christ's church in this parish.

After 2 and a half years in the parish, Stuart was called to Kirkmabreck and Monigaff in Wigtownshire. We hope and pray that he will have a fruitful ministry there.

Soon

Sunday 28th May

Wednesday 31st May

7:30 pm - 8:30 pm

Sunday 4th June

Wednesday 7th June

7:30 pm - 8:30 pm