The Glencairn Aisle Preservation Project — Phase II

by Sheryl Cunningham and David Pickens

The Glencairn Aisle is the earliest known burial site of one of our clan chiefs. It became the final resting place of James Cunningham, the 7th Earl of Glencairn, his wife and children, and other relatives. Completed in 1600, the Aisle has stood the test of time. The Aisle underwent several restorations and repairs between 1793 and 1888. Clan Cunningham International (CCI) started a project in 2014 to restore the 4 missing stained glass windows, and those windows were installed in the summer of 2019. During our July 2019 tour and triennial meeting, we held a ceremony at St. Maur’s Glencairn Church to commemorate the completion of this important project. CCI now hopes to continue raising funds needed for further restoration and tender loving care so that the Aisle can be enjoyed by Cunninghams for generations to come. The stained glass windows were jointly designed in 2014 by Susan Bradbury of the Stained Glass Partnership in Kilmaurs, Rose-Ann Cuninghame, and David Pickens. For the project, Susan replicated the type of glass that would have been used in 1600. When Susan was producing the windows, she made a couple of extra shakefork panes and presented one to David Pickens, who initiated the Glencairn Aisle Windows Project, and to two others who played an important role in the project. At the 2019 Triennial Gathering at Caprington Castle, CCI decided to hold the extra pane to be auctioned off at some future date to benefit the Glencairn Aisle’s preservation efforts. During the installation of the windows in the Glencairn Aisle in 2019, Susan Bradbury noticed sand on the floor of the Aisle, which was flaking off from the beautiful monument honoring James Cunningham and his family. Susan contacted an Edinburgh company she had worked with when doing conservation work at St. Giles Cathedral and obtained a comprehensive evaluation of the Aisle and its monument. The evaluation revealed the immediate need for action on several problem areas in the 420-year-old Aisle, including sandstone stabilization of the monument, structural repairs needed to secure Lady Cunningham’s head, and the removal of concrete that had been used to make various repairs to the monument and are only adding to the sandstone deterioration. In partnership between members of CCI’s Governing Council and individuals in Kilmaurs, a committee has been established and has met several times and discussed how to proceed with this preservation project, from scheduling the work to raising funds. The CCI Governing Council is well represented on this committee and adopted the project at the September council meeting. CCI will solicit donations as well as start fundraising by auctioning off of the shakefork window pane. This is only the beginning of CCI’s fundraising efforts.

    Kilmaurs (from Scottish Gaelic CillMhàrais) is a village in East Ayrshire, Scotland. It lies on the Carmel Water, 21.1 miles south by west of Glasgow.
The Parish Church, Saint Maurs, now St Maurs-Glencairn, dates from 1170 and was dedicated either to the Virgin or to a Scottish saint of the 9th century called Maure. Saint Maura, was a Scottish saint who is said to have died in 899. She lived and worked on the Isle of Little Cumbrae, and was thought to be the daughter of a Scottish Chieftain. It was enlarged in 1403 and great part rebuilt in 1888.
Cunninghams and the Glencairn Aisle
Adjoining it is the burial-place of the Earls of Glencairn, the leading personages in the district during several centuries, some of whom bore the style of Lord Kilmaurs. The aisle, designed and erected in 1600 by David Sewgal, Mason Burgess from Carel, (he was also responsible for designing the tomb dedicated to William Schaw, James VI’s Master of Works in Dunfermline Abbey), contains the restored tomb of the 7th. Earl with his wife and eight children. Their family name was Cunningham, adopted from the Baillie,which they acquired in the 12th century, or more probably from the district of Cunninghame (Ayrshire) where the town is situated.
The town was made a burgh of barony in 1527 by the Earl of that date. Robert Burns’s patron, James Cunningham the fourteenth earl of Glencairn, upon whose death the poet wrote his touching “Lament”, sold the Kilmaurs estate in 1786 to the Marchioness of Titchfield, later the family held the title of Duke of Portland.

Kilmaurs has strong links with the Cunningham family who are associated with the town of Lambroughton for a significant period during their rise to power. The Cunningham Chiefs had a weaker connection with the Barony of Kilmaurs after 1484 when Finlaystone became the family seat; Sir William Cunningham of Kilmaurs had married Margaret Denniston, sole heir to Sir Robert Denniston in 1405, and the dowry included the baronies of Denniston and Finlaystone in Renfrewshire, the lands of Kilmaronock in Dumbartonshire, and the barony of Glencairn in Dumfrieshire. James, the fourteenth Earl of Glencairn, broke the centuries-old connection of the Cunnigham family with the area by selling the Barony and Estate of Kilmaurs, including Kilmaurs place, in 1786 to the Marchioness of Titchfield.

Kilmaurs Church and village
Metcalfe, William M. (1905). A History of the County of Renfrew from the Earliest Times. Paisley : Alexander Gardner. p. 121
Robertson, William (1908). Ayrshire. Its History and Historic Families. Vol. 2. Grimsay Press (2005). ISBN 1-84530-026-2. P. 326.

​The Glencairn Aisle
David Pickens
The Glencairn Aisle is the tomb containing several early generations of Earls of Glencairn, the Chief’s of Clan Cunningham, and is located in Kilmaurs, Ayrshire, Scotland.  It is attached to the St. Maurs-Glencairn Parish Church but is centuries older than the more modern church building which dates to 1888.  To fully appreciate the Aisle you must first understand the history of the church and how it has fit into the lives of the community now for centuries.
The church actually predates the formal organization of Kilmaurs as a “burg” or town. Chalmers in his book, Caledonia, that Wernebald held the township of Cuninghame (villa mea de Cunygham).  It wasn’t until the 13th century that the town was referred to as Kilmaurs. The name is derived from the Gaelic word cille (pronounced “kil”) meaning a church (or  cell) and the person to whom it was dedicated, St. Maura. She came to the area in about 868 AD and was part of the religious community that existed less than 30 yards southwestfrom the present church. Just over the cemetery wall can be seen an ancient building believed to have been a part of that community. The lower half dates to the 10th century and the upper half to at least 1636 (the lintel above the door has the date carved into it, probably when the building was converted to a Dovecot). Just behind this building is the Lady’s Well, from which it is believed the nuns drew water for the original church settlement. It is believed St. Maura died in 899 AD and is buried in the area.
The first mention of the church was in 1413 when Sir William Cunningham of Kilmaurs is recorded as endowing the church.  Later in June 1515, Sir William Cunningham, Lord Kilmaurs (later the 4th Earl of Glencairn), granted the church lands.  By the time Timothy Pont published his monumental collection of maps with the attached notes on various localities.  Pont refers to the church as “veil built, the common sepulture of the Earlls of Gleancairne”.  This reference was made sometime between 1604 and 1608 at which the Aisle was completed but not referenced by Pont.
At one time it was thought the William Cunningham, the 9th Earl, built the Aisle as a memorial to his father.  Another misconception was that Alexander Cunningham, the 5th Earl began the Aisle before his death  in 1574.  However, it is now known that James Cunningham, the 7th Earl commissioned the Aisle and it was completed in 1600. It is not known how many generations of Cunninghams prior to James are buried in the crypt but when the crypt was opened in 1870 during repairs and renovations to the Aisle, 15 complete skulls and part of 5 more were positively identified.  The monument in the Aisle is dedicated to James, his wife and children.
The Aisle at one time was altered so that it actually opened into the church and the entrance covered by a curtain.  During the 1888 renovation the Aisle was returned to its original design and detached from the actual church.  The present entrance to the Aisle is from the outside of  the church as it was originally.  The outside architecture is highlighted by what is referred to as “crow’s feet” steps on the end gables.  There are 4 small windows on the end of  the Aisle (presently covered over) that were at one time stained glass windows.
The Aisle has seen good and bad days in its 406 year life.  By 1793 it had fallen into “a shameful state of repair” such that Lady Henrietta Cunningham Don of Newton, sister to John Cunningham (the 15th and last Earl) provided a door to keep people out.  Later the roof actually fell in causing great damage to the monument.  In 1846 Sir Alexander Montgomerie Cuninghame of Corsehill arranged for the roof’s repair.  In 1870 Dame Charlotte Montgomery Cuninghame paid for the repairs to the monument.

There are many inscriptions on the monuments and on the stone floor, some legible and some almost indistinguishable. However, one inscription that is very legible and very appropriate to us all is: “Anno 1600. Nothing surer than death, be therefore sober and with in prayer.”

Kilmaurs Parish & Burg by Duncan McNaught
Kilmaurs Past and Present by Robert Beattie, 1993
Cuninghame topographized by Timothy Pont, A.M. 1604-1608
Information from Jim Gray, Session Clerk of St. Maurs-Glencairn Church—information obtained in November 2005

The following letter was received from Susan Bradbury, Stained Glass Artist:
​Dear Members of Clan Cunningham,
I was delighted to renew contact with your member David Pickens last week and since then I have located the files, and reminded myself of the correspondence, the images and the glass samples for the new leaded glass windows at the Glencairn Aisle in Kilmaurs.
When my colleague and I removed the damaged windows back in February 2015 we found that the surrounding stone is unstable and that remedial work will need to be done before the renewed windows can be installed. Two quotes have been obtained for this work, one company proposing to charge £1850 plus tax, and the other asking £1562 plus tax. The lesser sum is quoted by a company I can recommend, having worked with them before. Their work is reliable and in fact I am working with them at the Cathedral in Ayr, where I have just been commissioned to make stained glass for the west window, to be installed at the end of this year. I am sending copies of both quotes to David Pickens in USA and to Rose-Ann Cunningham here in Ayrshire.
You may remember that there is also an additional charge of £520 plus tax for external protective meshes made of stainless steel with a matt black powder coated finish. These are to protect the new windows from any malicious damage such as sadly occurred in the 1960s, and against accidental damage such as falling roof slates or similar.
Therefore the total cost for the four leaded glass windows to be made to the agreed design, installed and protected will be as follows:
Restoration of the unstable stone surround: 1562.00
External protection with steel meshes: 520.00
SubTotal: 2082.00
Value Added Tax at 20%: 416.40
SubTotal: 2498.40
Design, making in handmade glass, and installation: 1820.00
Total cost:  £4318.40
Please note that I was paid £600 at the time of removal of the window in early 2015 and that I was paid £60 as a result of fund-raising during Scotlands Open Garden Day in May 2015. Also note that as I am running a much smaller business than previously I am no longer registered for VAT and so tax is not payable on the portion of the work that I will be responsible for. Therefore the payment due on completion would be £4318.40 – £660 = £3658.40.There is an additional decision to be made, which is whether or not to reinstate the vents which I did not previously know abouts. They are made of thick sheet lead pierced with circular holes and although only three were in situ the fourth was found among debris in a corner. All are strong enough to be restored and it is my op inion that in view of the fact the building is opened so rarely, a permanent form of ventilation would be beneficial. Most of the glass is broken and the lead calmes are torn and deformed, therefore these materials cannot be retained; so it would be good to save the one element which can be retained ie the vents. I am attaching a photograph so that you can see what they look like. There is no cost implication regarding this decision, but I will need confirmation of whether or not you wish me to retain the vents.
I have now started to make one of the panels so that it will be available for exhibition during this summer. So far I am only cutting the glass; next I will do the etching and glass painting and then move on to the leadwork. By the end of May this panel will be complete and I will send a photograph. At this time you will be able to decide about exhibiting the glass and I can deliver it to Caprington Castle if required. While I am etching and painting the heraldic shields I will make some extras which can be used for fund raising purposes. There will be no charge for these.
Thank you so much for your patience during the difficult times last year when my husband passed away. I am now in a much better frame of mind. Although Paul will not see the result of all his work planning this project he was aware that I had become involved and he was pleased to know that his efforts would finally come to fruition.
I think I have now covered the important points and brought us all up to date with the current situation. I will be in touch regularly as work progresses and I hope that I will meet many of you on your trip to Scotland in 2017.
Yours sincerely
Susan Bradbury      Stained Glass Artist     3rd May 2016