CHURCH OF ST JOHN, LOCHWINNOCH
The following article is based on the handout notes I produced for the Renfrewshire Council
Open Day in 2015.
For generations of Lochenyochians the gable end of the Auld Kirk at the foot of Johnshill has
been emblematic of the village. It is an important component in the pedigree of Lochwinnoch
and a place held in much affection by villagers old and new...
HISTORY OF AULD SIMON
The earliest Christian building within the Parish of Lochwinnoch was a chapel almost certainly
located at Chapelton on the back road between Lochwinnoch and Howwood. The first
reference to this chapel, “Capellam de Lochinauche”, was in a Charter dated 1158. Another
small chapel dedicated to St Bridget was within the old farm hamlet of Kenmuir sited below the
the hill on which the “Temple” sits. Later, in 1504, the Semples built the Collegiate Church
alongside the Castle Semple.
The first post-Reformation church was founded on the site at lower Johnshill and in 1576 Ninian Sempill was elected “ reider “ prior to the appointment of the first minister. It was around this church that the Kirktoun of Lochwinnoch developed. The kirk was dedicated to St John and was cruciate in form. The aisles were named after two principal local families, the
Sempills and the Glens of Barr.
The building eventually fell into disrepair and was re-structured in the late 1600’s (1692 being the probable year). In 1729 a crow-stepped stone gable
was added to the south-west side to prevent further weather damage.
A clock was installed two years later in1731 and this was inaugurated
on Hogmanay that year.
By the early 1800’s an increased population, the development of McDowall’s “New Town of Lochwinnoch”, and significant disrepair to the kirk building, resulted in a decision to build a new Parish Church. This was established in 1808 on the present site in Church Street and the dedication to St John was carried over to the new kirk.
The plan to demolish the whole of the old kirk was objected to by the weavers who lived and
worked in the cottages around the Eastend and Factory Close. An agreement was reached
with the Heritors that the south-west gable and clock would remain standing. This bell tower
with its clock has come to be known affectionately as “Auld Simon”. Local folklore suggests it
was named after one of the weavers who wound the clock up.
The bell is original (1729) and weighs less than a hundredweight; no inscription is visible.The first clock face was probably
wooden, being replaced later by the present slate one. The winding mechanism was
originally set up for a 7 day operation.
In the1920’s part of the tower was
converted to accomodate a village
morgue resulting in a maximum
3-4 day operation before rewinding.
The design of the weather vane is
worthy of note. A plough with a sheaf
of wheat and a bird turns with the
wind, moving the direction arms of a
thistle (W), a rose (S), a shamrock (E)
and a diamond (N).
The original was replaced in the
1960’s with a replica crafted by the
village blacksmith Mr Jim Brown at
his Newton-of-Barr forge.
Graves of note within the kirkyard are those of the Hamilton family (Barr Castle c 1620-1680),
the McDowall family (Castle Semple 1727-1835) and Dr Andro Crawfurd who wrote the “Cairn
of Lochwinnoch“. The kirkyard has not been used as a burial ground since the new cemetery
was opened in 1895 at Calder Glen.
The 1st edition OS Map 1858 refers to the kirk as “ St Winnoc’s Church”. The OS researcher’s
handwritten notes for this map state that both local ministers advised that this was incorrect
but the description still appeared on the printed map. The dedication to St John was confirmed
in later years by the Church of Scotland.
Names of local men who have been successors to the weavers in maintaining the tradition of
winding up Auld Simon include Alec Calderwood, Jock Hines, Bertie Armstrong and his son
Bobby, Tom Rutherford, Dan Morrison, Adrian Tharme, and the present day winders Alex
Ward and Steven Hood.
Major maintenance work was carried out a few years ago by Mark Crangle of the Cumbria
Clock Company and the mechanism and clock face restored to excellent condition. It is the
last remaining hand-wound, public clock in Renfrewshire.
Further information on Auld Simon is available in the Local History archives in the Community
Library. For those researching family history there is a list of most of the graves in the kirkyard
with their approximate positioning. This is not comprehensive but has proven extremely useful
given the sad state of disrepair of many gravestones.