Mystery of The Stained Glass Window

Rosalind K. Marshall

When the two beautiful stained glass windows were installed in Dalserf Parish Church in 1999, no one seemed to know anything about the original windows that now served as a background for a new contemporary design. Diana O’Niell was eager to find some details for this book. The minister had suggested she try the Kirk Session Records, which are kept in the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh, but of course Diana was far away across the sea in Texas and so, as I live in Edinburgh, I offered to look the next time I was at the Archives.

First of all I contacted the Church of Scotland Committee on Artistic Matters to see if the files of their Scottish Stained Glass Symposium contained any information, but we drew a blank there. Next I tried the Kirk Session Records, which have been computerised and are quick to consult. Diana had told me that the windows might date from around 1894 when Sir William Hozier of Mauldslie, later Lord Newlands, paid for extensive work to be done in the church, but all I could find was his gift of ‘an American Organ ­Harmonium’ that year. Most of the records dealt with matters such as dates for Communion services, the election of elders and the admission of new members, nor did the Lanark Presbytery Records yield anything useful.

However, my friend at the Symposium reminded me about the Heritors’ Records, the minutes and accounts of wealthy landowners who had to support the church financially. These have not yet been digitised, and they had to be brought out of one of the Archive stores, but it was well worth the trouble. First of all there were details of Sir William paying for the north aisle to be taken down and rebuilt to double its former size, so that he and his tenants could occupy half of it. They had not had seats there before, but now there would be enough pews to accommodate ninety people in all. There were arrangements for the various tradesmen to send in their estimates and it was agreed that while the work was being done, worship would be held in Rosebank and the Mission Halls at Netherburn and Ashgillhead. The 12th Duke of Hamilton offered to pay for the remodelling of the pews in the main part of the church so that they matched the ones being put in the new aisle. The Heritors’ Records also mentioned the Reverend Henry Gibson of Dumbreck saying he was going to put up a monument to his parents, and then Sir William W. Hozier giving a new clock for the steeple. The Heritors gave him ‘hearty thanks for such a handsome presentation’.

That was interesting, but even better was a short entry over the page. There in the minutes for the Heritors’ Meeting of 5 December 1894 was the information Diana was seeking. The Reverend William P. Rorison, minister of Dalserf, was asking permission to put in the church ‘two windows of coloured glass on each side of the pulpit, as a presentation from Mrs Rorison and himself’ and ‘the Heritors courteously agreed and thanked Mr Rorison.’ The mystery of the stained glass windows was solved at last! The donors had been none other than Andrew Shaw’s minister and his wife.

According to the Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, volume 3, page 247, William Peebles Rorison (1826–1907) was the only son of William Rorison, minister of Stair. He was educated at Glasgow University and presented by Alexander, 10th Duke of Hamilton to Dalserf Parish Church on 25 February 1851. He was ordained on 1 May that year, was eventually made Doctor of Divinity by his old university in 1900 and died on 11 March 1907, having spent his entire career at Dalserf. The Reverend William Rorison was buried at Stair, but it is at Dalserf where the windows he donated over a hundred years ago still reside. They serve as a background for a new twentieth-century design commissioned by the American descendants of one of Dr Rorison’s young parishioners.

Yes, the mystery is solved, thanks to hands across the sea!


June 2005

About the Author

Rosalind K. Marshall, MA, Ph.D., FRSL, FRSA, FSA Scot, read Scottish History at Edinburgh University and her prize-winning Ph.D. thesis, based on the Duke of Hamilton’s Archives, subsequently became her first best-selling book, The Days of Duchess Anne. Specialising in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century history and women’s studies, she has since written a dozen more books, including biographies of Mary of Guise and John Knox, as well as numerous scholarly articles. For twenty-six years she combined her writing career with her position as historian at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Her latest book, Queen Mary’s Women: Female Relatives, Servants, Friends and Enemies, was published in October 2006. Dr Marshall is currently writing a new history of St Giles’ Cathedral, to be published by Saint Andrew Press in 2009. She is vice-chairman of the Virtual Hamilton Palace Trust.