The Shifting of Stewarton Kirk

by Anna Blair

The window neuk in the Stewarton Inn was the usual gathering corner for the four worthies of the town, Tam, Davie and the Watt brothers, Malky and Jamuk. Most nights they finished their crack while it was still at the sensible stage and took their separate and steady ways home. And they would have claimed that the night when this incident took place was no different from any other.

It was a summer evening, long light with a gentle sun not yet westering low, and there was a fair amount of clash to be chewed over. Gossip about the village, the weaver work and their various families. Malky and Jamuk, for instance had just set up their machines to make a quantity of night-caps ordered by a local store, when an urgent demand had come from the army for soldiers’ outdoor and ‘undress’ bonnets. The Colonel, or whoever had ordered these, could have placed his list with a Kilmarnock firm but seemingly had the sense to prefer the superior article made in Stewarton and must not be disappointed, whatever the inconvenience.

Tam’s worry was more serious, for his daughter, a gentle-reared girl, who had been brought up to know right from wrong perfectly well, was wilfully set on marrying yon Donald Doaks, the apprentice to the smith, and so outwith the Bonnet Craft Guild altogether. It would have been bad enough if the lad had just been in a different Bonnet Guild. But the villain was to be a smith and, since his lass was stubborn, and the boy and his kin all set on the match, Tam feared it would come to a fist fight. And Davie nodded gravely that it very likely would.

Those and suchlike concerns were the gist of their chat over the first few rounds of the evening. But weaving-shop and family troubles gave them a thirst and as time wore on, long silences fell on the four cronies as they drank.

It was Malky Watt, tucked in closest to the winnock (window) who raised the first alarm about the state of the symmetry of the Stewarton Kirk as he saw it framed in the glass. “Tam…Davie, see here. Look Jamuk, the kirk’s no’ sittin’ right. It’s no’ square to the street”.

One after the other they looked through the window. Their focussing was not altogether sharp, but they agreed gravely, all four, that either in its first building or as a result of a storm, or maybe a current in the ground under it, their parish kirk was not now set due east to west. This was a much more serious matter to good Presbyterian citizens that a steering girl’s mismatching or overworked looms in the weaving shop.

“We’ll have to shift it”, declared Tam firmly. The others nodded. They sat and arranged their strategy to rectify the shame on Stewarton’s architecture. It was lucky there were four of them. They downed another dram to give them strength, wiped their mouths purposefully with the backs of their powerful hands and strode with deliberate straightness up the little street. – Each man went to his allotted corner of the kirk building and bent down to grasp it at the base.

“To the right a wee bit, Tammas”, shouted Jamuk. “No, no, too much…easy left, twa-three inches, Malky”. They sweated and heaved until they were red-faced and grunting, but Jamuk was not satisfied until he left his corner, walked round the building and cocked an eye at each side from ground to sky. “Just there, just there”, he said at last. And the others stepped back to admire their work. Except Davie. He was still bent down at his corner.

“Ech dear me, whatna thing! We’ve set it down on my coat tail”, he lamented loudly. “We’ll have to ease it up a bit again. Soberly they bent to the task and for half an hour they laboured. Davie took his foot off his own coat tail to tip up his corner of the kirk with his toe. He was free.

“That’s me now”, he called to the others, “I’m clear”. This time they all stood back well satisfied with their work and glowing with the joy of service done for the parish. And then Tam, Davie, Jamuk and Malky were agreed that they deserved another stoup for their efforts, and walked slowly down the road again to the Inn.

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