A church was built at Longside in 1620 to serve the western part of Peterhead parish. The parish of Longside was created in 1641 and the church there raised to the status of a parish church. The Church of Scotland had an Episcopal form of church government from 1611 to 1638, then Presbyterian from 1638 to 1661, then Episcopal again from 1661.
Charles II died in 1685 and was succeeded by his brother James VII. James proved an unpopular monarch, particularly in England, for his Roman Catholic leanings, and the Protestant William of Orange (who had married James’s daughter, Mary) was invited to leave Holland and become king of England. This became known as the “Glorious Revolution”. William landed in England in 1688 and James fled to France. In the confused months that followed, the Scottish bishops found themselves unable to renounce their allegiance to James and respond to William’s request for support; William turned instead to the Presbyterian establishment in Scotland.
In May 1689, William and Mary accepted the crown of Scotland; two months later, Episcopacy was disestablished as the form of church government in Scotland. In southwest Scotland, the Episcopalian clergy were immediately driven out of their charges – the infamous “rabbling of the curates”. In northeast Scotland, however, many parishes retained their Episcopal clergy for many years beyond this, attempts by the authorities to place Presbyterian ministers being often fiercely resisted by local folk (as happened in 1711 in Old Deer).
The Incumbent of Longside at the time of the Revolution was Alexander Robertson. He had succeeded his father, Thomas, as Incumbent in 1687, and continued as Incumbent after the Revolution. In 1695, he took the Oath of Allegiance and was allowed to retain his charge unmolested. But Robertson came under a sentence of deprivation from the General Assembly in 1716, for complicity in the Jacobite Rising of 1715. By sentence of the Justices in 1718, he was ordered to remove from the church and manse and glebe in favour of the Presbyterian minister, and to give up the utensils of the church. He was also forbidden to exercise the functions of the ministry in the parish. Robertson, however, retained the registers of the church, the mortcloth, and the bonds and other documents of the poor-money. (Some years later he was legally obliged to hand these over to the Presbyterians.) He retired to Nether Kinmundy from where he continued to minister to his flock. He died about 1727.
Alexander Robertson was succeeded in 1727 by his grandson William Robertson, who resided at Langleys near Faichfield. A Chapel (or meeting house) was established the following year at Tiffery. During the time of William Robertson’s ministry, the Episcopal congregation in Longside was twice as wealthy as the Presbyterian congregation, and the Chapel was enlarged in 1737. Robertson removed to Dundee in 1742, where he became Incumbent of the Non-Usagers’ Chapel. He died in 1753; his daughter Mary later married John Skinner, the son of his successor at Longside.
Robertson’s successor, John Skinner, was Incumbent of Longside for nearly 65 years, and one of the giants of the 18th-century Scottish Episcopal Church. Born in 1721 at Birse in Deeside, where his father was the parish schoolmaster, Skinner entered Marischal College in Aberdeen in 1734. After graduating in 1738 he became a schoolmaster, first at Kemnay then at Monymusk. He began writing poetry during his time at Monymusk. Under the influence of Patrick Lunan, Incumbent of the Episcopal Chapel at nearby Blairdaff, Skinner joined the Scottish Episcopal Church.
In June 1740, Skinner became tutor to the son of Mr. Sinclair of Scalloway in Shetland. While in Shetland, he married Grissell Hunter in November 1741. She was the daughter of John Hunter, the Episcopal Incumbent at Lerwick. The following year, Skinner prepared for orders at Oldmeldrum and was ordained by Bishop Dunbar at Peterhead in August 1742. In November 1742 he became Incumbent of Longside.
The first few years at Longside were peaceful, but the failure of the Jacobite Rising of 1745 saw the beginnings of several troubled years both for Skinner and his congregation. The Chapel at Tiffery was burned by Government soldiers in May 1746. Lady Kinmundy, who had set the law in motion against Episcopalians in the area, is said to have presided over the destruction of the Chapel, riding round the blazing building crying, “Haud in the prayer books!” The Chapel at Old Deer suffered destruction on the same day. Two months later, on the night of 29 July 1746, while Mrs. Skinner was recovering from the birth of her fifth child (Elizabeth), a military party set upon the parsonage at Linshart and plundered the building.
Skinner was no Jacobite, and within a month had complied with the Act of 1746 (which permitted an Episcopal clergyman to remain in office provided he took the oath of allegiance to King George II), along with three other clergymen from Aberdeenshire. The Church, however, regarded compliance with the Act to be a sin, and subjected the complying clergymen to Church discipline. Skinner and his neighbour of Old Deer (William Livingstone) submitted to Bishop Gerard and repented of their action in 1747. Following the burning of the Chapel, Skinner conducted services at his house at Linshart. The building was L-shaped, and on Sundays the congregation assembled in the area between the two wings outside the house, while Skinner read the service from the window.
Despite a further Penal Act in 1748, which restricted Episcopal clergymen to conducting services to their own household and four other individuals at any one time, Skinner’s ministrations to his flock at Linshart attracted no adverse attention for some time. But in 1753, information was lodged against him with the authorities. Skinner was cast into prison in Old Aberdeen on 26 May for six months. His second son John (afterwards Bishop of Aberdeen), then eight years old, insisted on being allowed to share his father’s prison term. After six months, Skinner and his son returned to Longside; for several more years he had to be careful of keeping as far as possible within the letter of the law. In 1758 he took the farm of Mains of Ludquharn, while still retaining his residence at Linshart. Many of the clergy of those days took to farming as the only available means of supplementing the meagre stipend. Instead of improving his lot, however, the venture proved an embarrassing failure and the farm was given up after a struggle of seven years. To this period, however, belongs the writing of Skinner’s greatest poems, “Tullochgorum” and “The Ewie wi’ the Crookit Horn”.
Not until 1760, after the accession of George III, did the long-suffering Episcopalians begin to breathe more freely; the law was not altered but active persecution began to die down. In this period of comparative peace, Skinner had a new Chapel built at Linshart, which was opened for worship on 7 August 1763. He became Dean of Aberdeen in 1774.
In the following years Skinner began to undertake more regular and systematic literary work in the Church’s service. His son John, who was consecrated Coadjutor Bishop to Bishop Kilgour of Aberdeen in 1782 and succeeded Kilgour as Bishop of Aberdeen in 1786, was mindful of the need for better awareness of the story of the Episcopal Church and encouraged his father to write such a work. The result was the two-volume Ecclesiastical History of Scotland, begun in 1784 and completed in 1788. In 1787, following an encounter in Aberdeen between Bishop Skinner and Robert Burns, Skinner was in correspondence with the Ayrshire bard, who considered “Tullochgorum” to be “the best Scotch song ever Scotland saw”.
Prince Charles Edward Stuart died in 1788 and the Episcopal Church finally made its peace with the Government. In 1792, the year in which the Penal Laws were repealed (largely the result of his Bishop son’s endeavours), Skinner’s grandson, John Cumming, became his assistant. Skinner’s beloved wife, Grissell, died on 21 September 1799. Skinner removed to his Bishop son’s home in Aberdeen on 4 June 1807 and died there on 16 June, having been Incumbent of Longside for nearly sixtyfive years. He was buried in Longside kirkyard beside his wife.
John Skinner was the founder of one of the Episcopal church’s most potent dynasties. His son, John, who became Bishop of Aberdeen in 1786 and Primus in 1788, was one of the consecrators of Samuel Seabury, first Bishop of America, in 1784, and led the Episcopal Church to a settlement with the Government and the repeal of the Penal Laws. His grandson, William, succeeded his father as Bishop of Aberdeen in 1816 and became in turn Primus in 1841. Another grandson, John, became Dean of Dunkeld & Dunblane in 1829.
One of Skinner’s last acts for his congregation was to oversee the building of a new Chapel. In 1800, the old Chapel at Linshart, which had served the congregation for nearly forty years, was found to be in a very dilapidated state. A new Chapel was built on a knoll about 200 yards south of Longside village and was opened for worship in 1801.
John Cumming, the son of Elizabeth Skinner and Alexander Cumming, succeeded his grandfather as Incumbent in 1807. He became Dean of Aberdeen in 1834, and died in 1849. Alexander Low became assistant to Cumming in 1842, and succeeded as Incumbent in 1849. A few years later, with the lease on the ground of the old Chapel about to run out, the present Church of St. John the Evangelist was built at the east of Longside in 1853. A large Rectory was built alongside in 1855, and a church hall in 1888. Low died in 1885.
Robert Mackay continued the succession of long-serving Incumbents, being Rector until 1934. He became Dean of Aberdeen & Orkney in 1922. During his Incumbency, the Royal Naval Air Station, where airships were based, was built at Lenabo during the First World War. A Memorial to the crew of one of these airships, which crashed in the North Sea in 1918, is in the Church above the door to the Vestry.
Since 1934, the story of the Longside district, in common with many other rural areas in this part of Scotland, has been one of rural depopulation. The charge was linked with Old Deer in 1966; Strichen in turn was linked with these two churches in 1971. The three charges were briefly linked with Peterhead 1990-92. New Pitsligo became part of the group of linked charges in 1999 and Cuminestown in 2007. This group of five charges was broken up in 2009 and Longside and Old Deer were linked with Peterhead.
LIST OF INCUMBENTS OF LONGSIDE
- 1620-1621: Alexander Martin
- 1621-1634: [served from Peterhead]
- 1634-1661: Alexander Irvine
- 1661-1688: Thomas Robertson
- 1688-1727: Alexander Robertson
- 1727-1742: William Robertson
- 1742-1807: John Skinner (Dean 1774-1807)
- 1807-1849: John Cumming (Dean 1834-1849)
- 1849-1885: Alexander Low
- 1885-1934: Robert Mackay (Dean 1922-1934)
- 1934-1945: Percival Montague Buchanan
- 1945-1947: Wilfred Bennetto Currie
- 1947-1956: John George Aspinall
- 1957-1965: Donald Westwood Smith
- 1966-1974: William Leslie Dobb
- 1974-1989: Denis Philip Bovey (Dean 1983-1988)
- 1990-1991: William David Wightman
- 1991-1994: Godfrey John Simmons
- 1994-1996: Ian Malcolm Thompson
- 1996-1998: Patrick Geoffrey Dickson Jones
- 1999-2003: David Overington
- 2007-2008: Michael Fish
- 2009-: Richard O’Sullivan
Further details of the history of St. John’s Church and of Episcopacy in the parish of Longside can be found in Longside: A Parish and its People, edited by Gordon Hay (2000).