Laigh Kirk

(New Laigh Kirk, Laigh West High Kirk)

A fine A-listed church situated between Bank Street, John Dickie Street and College Wynd at the heart of Kilmarnock in East Ayrshire, the Laigh Kirk is a two-storey rectangular-plan classical church with projecting stair towers, all yellow-ochre harled with ashlar dressings. The name 'laigh' means 'low' referring to its geographical position, on low ground next to the Kilmarnock Water. Built in 1802, this is the third known church this site, although the four-stage tower belongs to an older building and dates from the 17th C. The first church here probably dates from 1410, although archaeological evidence suggested worship may have taken place at this location as far back as Roman times. The reason which brought about the construction of the most recent building was tragic. On Sunday 18th October 1801, the church was unusually full despite rumours that it was structurally unsafe. When plaster fell from the ceiling a panic ensued and as the congregation pushed down narrow corridors and stairs towards the entrance thirty people were killed in the crush. Despite being shown to be structurally sound, the old church was torn down and the new church was built with an excess of stairways and entrances to ensure such a tragedy could never happen again. The Laigh Kirk was enlarged in 1831 and renovated 1903-4, 1972 and again in 1995-96 by W. I. Munro Architects, winning a Civic Trust Award in 1997 as part of a town-centre regeneration.

The bright interior features painted plaster walls with partial wood panelling. It has a centrally-placed organ, with pews on the ground floor and more in a horseshoe gallery above, supported on cast-iron Doric columns. The first organ was installed in 1877, replaced in the 1920's and again in 1984. Fine stained glass includes work by William Meikle and Sons, Carrick Whalen and Norman M. McDougal. There is memorial window to Lord Howard De Walden and a memorial to Lord Boyd (dated 1589).

A single-storey session house stands to the rear. The kirkyard at the front of the church is only a section of the original, the remainder was lost with the construction of Bank Street in 1710. There are graves from the 17th to 19th centuries, including the last resting place of several Covenanters, including John Nisbet who was hanged in 1683, the last execution in Kilmarnock.

The current congregation is the result of series of mergers; the Laigh Kirk and West High Church came together in 2000, and then this union merged with Grange Church in 2009, to form the New Laigh Kirk.

The Laigh Kirk and two of its ministers - Rev. John Mutrie (d.1785) and Rev. Dr. James Mackinlay (1756 - 1841) - are mentioned in Robert Burns' poem The Ordination and these ministers are also buried in the kirkyard. While Mackinlay's ordination was welcomed with enthusiasm, another minister alluded to, but not named, in Burns' poem was Rev. William Lindsay, who was nominated as minister against the wishes of the congregation in 1764. A riot ensued when his ordination was attempted and "mud, rotten vegetables, dead cats and other filthy substances" were thrown at the dignitaries.

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