Covenanter sites and monuments.

April 2002 seems to have been a fruitful month for the discovery of Covenanter sites and monuments.  In Gourock a spring called the Covenanter`s or White`s Well has been  discovered; and in Dumfries some original  monumental stones, almost certainly the work of Robert Paterson - `Old Mortality`, have been retrieved from the shrubbery. 

The Covenanter`s  or White`s Well, Gourock.
My thanks to the Greenock Telegraph for permission to use their article.

whiteswelll.jpg (54810 bytes)A report in the Greenock Telegraph of 20 April tells of how local men, Hector Crawford, Sam Morrell, Stewart McArthur and Alistair Morrell,  followed up on a cryptic entry on a map that indicated a `Covenanter`s or Whites Well` located on the edge of town.  The well is off Earnhill Road, near the Larkfield Industrial Estate and about quarter of a mile south -west of Gourock Cemetery. The map reference  NS 2342 7623. 

The site and stories associated with it had been known to the men for many years but they followed up by excavating  around the edges of a spring that was seeping from the ground. To their astonishment  and delight they uncovered  a substantial rock that was engraved with the words "Whites Well " and the year 1698. There are several other designs and inscriptions,  and the letters  B O M. 

Complementing the site is a large rock outcrop a few yards up the hill from the spring known locally as the `Pulpit Rock`. The general lie of the land is well suited for holding clandestine meetings or conventicles. Local lore, supported by archaeologists and other bodies, is that the site was used by the Covenanters for prayer meetings and it is thought likely that the well may have been used for christenings.

The Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland are explicit in saying that coventicles were held here and that, sadly, it has suffered the modern blight of vandalism. There was a natural `book board` or lectern on the Pulpit Rock and two steps behind  it giving easier access which have disappeared since 1947, along with many incised markings. The site is currently being further investigated by Historic Scotland and the Inverclyde museums department.

The date 1698 is rather confusing unless it was placed there as a commemorative date of events then past. The Church of Scotland was `by law established` in 1690 and Presbyterianism became the approved Church. Thus after 1690 there was no absolute need to hold open air conventicles.  However, there were the Society People, or `Cameronians` (followers of Richard Cameron killed in 1680 and James Renwick executed in 1688)  who remained outside the newly established church. It is likely that these dissenters - `the faithful remnant` , continued with outdoor gatherings for a while through necessity, not  having fixed churches of their own. There is also the custom and practice of the people in the locality who probably enjoyed the large prayer gatherings and continued to do so for some years after the Glorious Revolution. It would not be the first occasion - nearly three hundred and fifty years after the battle in 1666,  there is still a conventicle held at Rullion Green, in the Pentland Hills.

Evidence of earlier conventicling in the top end of  Renfrewshire is limited but it certainly took place. When the  ministers were outed in 1663 there were but  two who conformed in Renfrewshire and many curates were appointed to the vacancies. Some were good men but others were despised for their mean and sometimes scurrilous behaviour. From this there developed a reluctance to attend church  and eventually a concern expressed to the Synod and Archbishop of Glasgow  by the curates because their income was negligible. In his  History of Renfrew   William Metcalfe quotes Wodrow that " In many places they had twenty miles to run before they heard a sermon or got the spiritual manna, ..." so great were the numbers that some [ of the outed ministers ] were constrained to preach without  doors and at length to go to open fields ."   Thus conventicles were born. Metcalfe specifically cites the Presbytery records and the case  of the Sheriff who was reported to the Archbishop of Glasgow in December 1674  for not doing more about the conventicles  

 " as also anent Mr Cunningham`s conventicling in Greenock and Inverkip ".

As for the name, White might have been the name of a Covenanter preacher orwhitewell2.jpg (24509 bytes) perhaps simply the owner of the land. Research in the Session and Paisley Presbytery records might clarify this, or the Fasti of Church of Scotland ministers might reveal a possible candidate. The Cameronians had three ministers - Lining, Boyd and Shields who were ordained but in the 1690 settlement all three returned to the Church of Scotland. Thus the Society people were without a minister until the arrival of the Rev John MacMillan in 1706. In these circumstances their meetings would have been for prayer and fellowship. The sacrament of baptism could only properly have been conducted by an ordained minister, which implies that baptisms at the well would have taken place in the pre Revolution period, as after 1690 the established church was available. But a local minister may have gone to the well after 1690 by special request. The important thing is that the site and the reasons why it was used for conventicles are preserved.

 Next: Old Mortality stones.

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