James Renwick’s Preaching During the Great Frost of 1683 to 1684

On the night of Sunday 6 January, 1684, James Renwick held an unusual preaching at John Kyle’s House, also known as ‘Cleyholes’, in Balmaclellan parish, Kirkcudbrightshire.

Near the Clay Hills Burn © Bob Peace and licensed for reuse.

It is not clear where ‘Cleyholes’, now known as Clay Hills, lay, but it likely lay somewhere close to the hill known as Clay Hills or by the line of the Clay Hill Burn before it meets the Barlay Burn. On the 1843 OS map a ruin lies at the south end of Clay Hills by the burn. The area is now partially swathed in forestry.

Map of Clay Hills Area          Street View of Clay Hills Burn

Street View towards Clay Hills and the Burn

The ‘Ruin’ at Clay Hills

An account of Renwick’s preaching is contained in a deposition of a well-known moderate presbyterian preacher, Mr William M’Millan of Caldow.

Map of Caldow

M’Millan was Kyle’s neighbour and he gave evidence about Renwick’s preaching before a circuit court held in Kirkcudbright presided over by William Douglas, duke of Queensberry, his eldest son. Lieutenant-Colonel James Douglas, aka. Lord Drumlanrig, and Colonel John Graham of Claverhouse on 10 October, 1684. The latter two were officers in the King’s Regiment of Horse.


M’Millan mainly drew his evidence from a conversation with John Kyle, but ‘one Janet Mein’ also told him ‘of the conventicle keept by Rinnick at Kylles hous;’ (RPCS, X, 230.)

After M’Millan confessed to his own recent house preaching, he further deponed that:

‘the first that gave him ane accompt of the conventicle keept by [James] Rinnick wes John Kyll, who told him many armed men came to his house in the night when the snow wes lyeing upon the grownd and bad him put owt his beasts owt of the hous which he said he wold not doe and that then they said they would bind him lyke a beast;’ (RPCS, X, 230.)

At first sight, it appears that Kyle was harshly treated by Renwick and the Society people, but when the information is placed in context it appears that Kyle placed the well-being of his animals, his life line, before that of the people attending the preaching. It was unusual for Renwick to preach indoors, but the winter of 1683 to 1684 was one of the most severe prolonged cold spells on record across Europe. The ‘great frost’ from December, 1683, until February, 1684, froze the river Clyde and in London one of the famous ‘frost fairs’ was held on the Thames. See Mercuris Politicus for some superb images of the frozen Thames.

Kyle was probably justified in fearing for his beasts, his life may have literally depended on them in such harsh conditions. A compromise may have been reached as Renwick is said to have preached in ‘Cleyholes yeard’, which sounds like the preaching took place in the yard, rather than in the house.

It is almost certain that Renwick did not suddenly appear at Kyle’s house and demand to preach. Far more likely, is that Kyle was sympathetic to the Society people, but had not expected that the preaching would take place in his house. It is possible that M’Millan’s account of Kyle’s resistance was an attempt to shield his neighbour from the court.

‘[M’Millan] had no accompt of the text or doctrine bot that he [i.e., Renwick] preached againste governement and tooke ingadgements of the parents of the children whom he baptized that they would not own the Kings authoritie and pay no supplie; depones that, as he heard , there were abowt tuentie children baptized’. (RPCS, X, 230.)

It is very intriguing that Renwick allegedly took engagements from the parents that they would not recognise the King’s authority or pay the cess tax that paid for repression in return for the baptism of their children, however, we do not if M’Millan was giving reliable testimony as to what actually took place.

According to M’Millan, ‘when he [i.e. Renwick] went from Kylles hous he went to the Laidy Holmes hous and that, as he was informed, the conventicle [at Kyle’s House] wes keept on a Sabbaths night, the sevint January, last, [i.e., 1684].’ (RPCS, X, 230.)

Since the seventh of January was a Monday, Renwick probably preached on the night of Sunday, 6 January.

After the preaching, Renwick went west to Lady Holme’s house, to the north-west of Balmaclellan in the same parish.

Map of The Holme            Street View of the Entrance Drive to Holme

The reset of Renwick was a particularly serious charge in October, 1684, as Renwick was a declared fugitive. Lady Holme also appeared before the same circuit at Kirkcudbright a day after M’Millan: ‘[11 October, 1684,] compeared —— Shaw, Lady Holme, … The Lords order her to be sent to the [American] plantationes. (Signed) Queensberry. (RPCS, X, 615.)


Marie M’Clwre in Barlay, Balmacellan parish, also appeared a day after M’Millan:

‘[On 11 October, 1684,] compeared Marie M’Clwre in Barlay, declares that she was at ane conventicle at the house of John Kyles in Cleyholes yeard quhair James Rennick preached, but refuses to depone upon any of the interrogators, and lykewayes declares she does not keep the church; quhairupon the Lords ordaines them (sic) to be sent to the plantationes. (Signed) Queensberry.’ (RPCS, X, 615.)

Map of Barlay             Street View of Later Building at Barlay

M’Millan was sent to Edinburgh and imprisoned for breaking the conditions of his release from Dumfries Tolbooth. (RPCS, X, 231.)

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

~ by drmarkjardine on February 5, 2012.

6 Responses to “James Renwick’s Preaching During the Great Frost of 1683 to 1684”

  1. […] M’Clwre in Barlay, Balmaclellan parish, had attended Renwick’s earlier preaching at Clay Hills in the same parish. A month after the September preaching, both she and her sister were banished to […]

  2. […] The exact site of the preaching is not known, but Garcrogo lay close to Clay Hills, where Renwick had preached in January, 1684. […]

  3. […] historical evidence of his preachings at Clayhills (January), the Garpel Burn (September) and Garcrogo (October) suggests that Renwick was present in […]

  4. […] Glenkens Renwick is known to have preached in Balmaclellan parish on three occasions in 1684: At Clay Hills in January, the Garple Burn in September and Garcrogo in October. He also preached in the area in the summer […]

  5. […] The Knocknan in question is probably the one near Blackcraig, as Renwick preach nearby at Clayhills in early 1684. […]

  6. […] historical evidence records that James Renwick preached in Kirkcudbrightshire at Clay Hills in January, 1684, and at the Garpel Burn in September and Garcrogo in […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.