Boswell and Auchinleck Old Kirk - The Boswell Trust
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Boswell and Auchinleck Old Kirk

The Boswell associations with Auchinleck and its church and churchyard were close, and spanned several generations, as we learn from The History of Auchinleck: Village and Parish (1991; 2nd edition 2015) by Dane Love. Lord Auchinleck, among other improvements to his estate, the village and its wider road network, built a three-mile Barony Road, which he called his ‘Via Sacra’ (‘Holy Way’), lined handsomely with beech and oak tress, from the estate to the parish church.  After his improvements to the church itself, Lord Auchinleck erected a commodious new two-storey manse.  On the death of Boswell’s mother, Lady Auchinleck in 1766, two silver communion cups were given to the church.  When Lord Auchinleck himself died in 1782, his funeral, which his son James Boswell arranged and superintended, “was probably one of the largest seen in the parish, the corpse brought back from Edinburgh for burial in the mausoleum which he had previously erected” (Love, 2nd ed., p. 68).  Boswell’s diary movingly records how he himself helped carry his father’s coffin into the vault.

The most important and influential of Boswell’s boyhood tutors was John Dun, whom, on his ordination, Lord Auchinleck presented to the parish of Auchinleck, where he served for 40 years until his death in 1792.  Dun was a very able minister, whose sermons Boswell helped see to publication, and he brought a new detail and regularity to the session records and registers of births, deaths and marriages.  In 1792, Boswell devoted much serious lairdly care to the choice of Dun’s successor (the Rev. John Lindsay), with more than forty letters on the subject surviving among his correspondence.

When larger congregations required the building of a new church in the late 1830s and early 1840s, during the lairdship of Boswell’s grandson, Sir James Boswell, 2nd Baronet, freestone for the work was obtained from a quarry owned by the Boswells, who did not charge for it.  After Sir James’s death in 1857, his widow, Lady Boswell (formerly Jessie Jane Cuninghame, daughter of the 6th Baronet of Corsehill) continued the family benefactions.  ‘She was responsible for having the wall and railings erected around the churchyard, and during her lifetime paid for the upkeep of the grounds within, keeping them “like a garden”’ (Love, 2nd ed. p. 132.)

In 1894, during extensions and repairs to the church, a window was installed in memory of Lady Jessie (who had died in 1884) with funds raised by public subscription.  The window’s scene, which incorporates the Boswell arms and the family motto, is based on a painting called ‘Charity’, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, affording a pleasing historical symmetry: this memorial of generations of Boswell family generosity to the church and parish draws inspiration from a painter who was the biographer James Boswell’s great friend, the man to whom his pathbreaking biography Life of Samuel Johnson was dedicated.