History of the Congregation

In 1843 on the formation of the Church of Scotland Free - or as it shortly after became known the Free Church of Scotland - the parish church was located at Clachan, Lochbroom with the ailing Rev. Dr. Thomas Ross as its pastor. Dr, Ross was too ill to attend the historic General Assembly where the Disruption took place but he was able to append his signature to the all-important deed in which he separated himself from the established Church. One of the leading Gaelic scholars of his day, Dr. Ross had been the minister since 1808 but his life was ebbing to a close and he was unable to preach as a minister of the Free Church. He died in July 1843 just as legal steps were being taken to eject him from the manse. Dr. Ross had during his lifetime served the parish well and in addition to being the author of the Lochbroom portion of the Second Statistical Account had been one of the editors of the Gaelic translations of the scriptures for the SPCK. In 1820 his translation of the Bible into Gaelic was rejected by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in favour of a committee approach in which various people translated various parts. Dr. Ross' valuable contribution to the world of Gaelic scholarship seems to have been mislaid.

The Rev George MacLeod, the Free Church minister of Maryburgh, a man of considerable ability, was one of the ministers who had been appointed by the church to advise and counsel congregations who had left the Church of Scotland and wished to join the new Free Church. On 29 September 1843 he crossed the Direadh Mor for the first time on his way to Lochbroom. He preached in the open air on Sunday and on Monday met the congregation to explain the principles and position of the Free Church. He was persuaded to stay for a further two days preaching and it is recorded that over two thousand people came to hear him, some from the most remote parts of the parish, they remaining in Lochbroom until he left.

The following year a call signed by 2,530 was made by the congregation (which had been busy building a church and manse) to the same Rev George MacLeod; he accepted the call but his congregation of Maryburgh took an appeal to the Presbytery and then to the General Assembly which sustained the call. He was inducted to the charge on 18 July 1844 in their new church at the corner of Mill Street and Market Street. But the new Free Church was concerned not just with the spiritual education of its parishes; it was concerned with the burden of the dream of John Knox - a school in every parish. And George MacLeod was at the forefront. In 1848 an application was made to the Government - the 'Lords of the Committee of Council on Education' in Edinburgh for grant aid to build a Free Church school in Ullapool. The school was for the 'instruction of the labouring poor' and was intended to accommodate 92 boys and 43 girls. There was already a Parish School that had an average attendance of 20. A site on Market Street was obtained and the school built (where it continued until 1929 when a new school was erected). The former school is now the village hall. The school was taken over by a school board after the 1872 Education Act.

The Lochbroom congregation also encompassed Coigach - where a church was built in 1854, although initially it had no seats. Later a church was built at Little Lochbroom. In 1868 three more schools were built, Achiltibuie, Strath Kanaird, and Altandhu. But travelling to the corners of his far-flung parish was an arduous task for George MacLeod for there were virtually no roads. It has been said that he travelled over 9000 miles in open boats - how better to get to Coigach, Scoraig, Tanera or Isle Martin? The remainder of his journeys were on horseback but all of them took their physical toll, and he retired because of ill health in 1870, dying a year later. After his death Coigach was disjoined from Lochbroom, the charge being sanctioned in 1872. In October that year the Coigach congregation called the Rev Archibald Beaton.

In 1872 the Lochbroom congregation called the Rev. John MacMillan who was ordained and inducted to the charge in the summer of that year. He was married the next year and remained in the charge until 1900 when he went into the Union with the United Presbyterian Church (UPC). John MacMillan made a name for himself as a staunch defender of crofters rights and was particularly vociferous about the Leckmelm Clearances. He addressed several meetings and wrote many letters and articles; indeed he gave evidence to the Napier Commission at their visit to Ullapool in 1883.

In 1893 a number of the congregation (among them some office bearers) left and joined the newly formed Free Presbyterian Church some them deeming that they were unhappy with their pastor. A Free Presbyterian Church was built in Ullapool in Market Street, and in Coigach and in Scoraig. Of these only the Ullapool congregation survives and it has been without a minister for many years. The next major blow was the union with the UPC that took place in 1900 under the name of the United Free Church. Mr Macmillan became the minister of the new United Free Church and a goodly portion of his congregation went with him. But a strong contingent led by the Senior Elder of the congregation, Kenneth Stewart from Rhue, would have none of the departure from the principles and practices of their forefathers and fought a determined rearguard action, at one time managing to hold on to possession of the church in which they had been baptised. Unfortunately the Commission set up under the Churches Act, 1905 gave possession of the building to the United Free Church and the hunt was on for another building and a minister. A site on Quay Street was made available and the present church building was opened for worship in 1909. On 6 September 1910 the Rev. James MacDonald was ordained and inducted to the charge of Lochbroom. The congregation was ably assisted by the minister of Coigach during their difficult vacancy as far as he was able to do so.

Rev James MacDonald remained with the congregation through the arduous years of World War One which saw so many of their families suffer loss in that conflict. He received a call from Killearnan in 1919 and was translated to that congregation on 25 September 1919.

A short vacancy followed; on 13 July 1921 Rev Ranald Lamont Fraser was ordained and inducted to the charge. But his tenure of the office was short; he was translated to Lochcarron on 15 April 1926.

The period that followed must have been the most arduous in the history of the congregation as the charge was vacant for the next 13 years. It must also have been difficult for them to see the Church of Scotland take over the United Free Church building after the union of the United Free Church with the Church of Scotland in 1929; the building most of them had worshipped in until the fateful union of 1900. But the Rev John Angus Newall was inducted to the charge on 20 September 1939, although he remained only until 15 February 1943 when he joined the Church of Scotland. This next vacancy was mercifully short - Rev Norman MacDonald was ordained and inducted to the charge on 15 September 1943. And as an additional benefit he found himself a wife in the congregation, Mary MacLeod from Moss, Ullapool who was teaching in the Primary department of Ullapool Senior Secondary School. They were married in the summer of 1946. He accepted a call to Gairloch and was translated there on 12 May 1953. Until the end of Mr MacDonald's ministry there had been regular Gaelic services; the pattern was to have Gaelic in the morning and English in the evening. But the Rev John MacKenzie who was translated to Lochbroom on 7 June 1955 did not preach in Gaelic and the chain was broken. He remained a beloved pastor of the congregation until 6 May 1965 when he was translated to Kiltearn from which he retired in October 1983.

Three years later the Rev Neil Shaw was ordained and inducted to the charge on 29 July 1968. Whilst he was a fluent Gaelic preacher the demand for reinstating the Gaelic services did not exist. But a call from Kilmallie and Arisaig was accepted by him and he was translated there on 24 September 1971.

The next vacancy was again short; Rev Donald Norman MacLeod was ordained and inducted to Lochbroom on 5 September 1972 remaining until 29 April 1980 when he was translated to Duke Street, Glasgow.

Only 9 or 10 months later Rev Kenneth Stewart was inducted to the charge having been translated from Knock on 20 March 1981. But some 4 years later he was translated to Leverburgh on 25 July 1985 but retired because of ill health in June 1994 and died a few months later.

Just over a year later Rev Wilfred Weale was ordained and inducted to the charge on 14 August 1986. He remained ministering to the congregation until after the secession of the FCC in 2000, a secession he thought was wrong because it was schismatic. He was very troubled about the problems of the church but did not in any way attempt to influence his congregation. He quietly made application to the Free Presbyterian Church to be admitted to their ministry and was accepted by their Synod. He departed with the prayerful good wishes of the Lochbroom congregation and is now ministering in the FP church in Kilmuir in Skye.

After a vacancy of three and a half years the present pastor, the Rev Alasdair Macleod was ordained and inducted to the Lochbroom congregation on the 8th October 2004.

Copyright K J B S MacLeod : extracts from "Lochbroom Through the Centuries"

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