Raising the Bar : Newmills – a Potted History : Part 1

Posted on September 23, 2016 · Posted in General

Jesus said ‘I will build my Church!’


From the early 1700’s, Presbyterians held meetings for worship in a little thatched cottage on a hill top in the townland of Ballynagarrick.


The congregation of Newmills was formally approved and established in February 1796 by the Presbytery of Down.


Rev William Agnew from Clenances Co. Tyrone was appointed as the first minister. Mr Agnew worked as a farmer through the week and preached on Sundays.



The thatched cottage was burnt down in an arson attack in April 1797!! A new meeting house was built and completed later that year.

Up to Mr Agnew’s death in 1836, the congregation witnessed rapid numerical growth



The second minister appointed in 1838 was Rev Thomas Lowry, formerly minister in Glenhoy Co Tyrone. When he left to minister in Canada in 1849, over 100 families claimed a connection to Newmills.


Minister No.3 was Rev James Orr from Dervock Co. Antrim, appointed in 1850. The congregation grew massively from the 1859 Revival. By 1864 the average Sunday attendance was 175.


In 1861, the congregation took the major decision to build a manse. In 1863, the Orr family moved into their ‘mansion’, having previously resided at Moyallon.


1874, a revival mission took place in Newmills, resulting in many conversions, numerical growth and several prayer meetings in individuals’ homes. These continued for many years.


To accommodate the numerical growth a larger meeting house was constructed in 1878. It was T-shaped in design.


After Mr Orr’s retirement, Rev James Irwin, from Broughshane, Co. Antrim, was appointed as the 4th minister in 1887.


In 1896, the congregations of Newmills, Waringstown and Donacloney united to oppose the introduction of a new hymnbook by the Presbyterian Church, insisting on the preservation of unaccompanied Psalm singing.


From 1892-96, the congregation undertook:

  • Major renovations to the Manse
  • A new heating system for the Church
  • Stabling for horses
  • Improvements to the church grounds



The early 20th century saw numbers level off at around 126 families.

Some of the elders and leaders at the times included:

  • James Blane JP
  • Boyd McCleary
  • George Chambers
  • Samuel James Watson
  • George Sydney Wilson
  • Thomas Lowry Adamson




The tradition of Carol Singing in the local district commenced in the early 1920’s.
Carollers were known to sing each night for up to a fortnight before Christmas, perhaps serenading the neighbours as late as Midnight!


After Mr Irwin retired
in 1928, Rev Thomas McDermott was appointed minister. He stayed for just 22 months before accepting a call to Albert Street congregation, Belfast.


During Mr McDermott’s short tenure:

  • Evening services commenced.
  • A Christian Endeavour was formed (hugely influential on many young people’s lives).
  • Paraphrases were introduced somewhat controversially.

The Ballynagarrick Schoolhouse closed in 1922, and was formally ‘gifted’ by the LEA to the Congregational Committee in 1929.
Known initially as the ‘Lecture Hall’ it became the congregation’s only Church Hall up to 1991.


Minister No. 6 was Rev Joseph Nimmons, formerly a missionary serving in Manchuria, China, appointed to Newmills in 1932. He was a classics scholar and held regular Hebrew and Greek classes in the Manse.


During the 1930’s, electric light and new fireplaces were installed in the Manse, Church Hall and Meeting House.
The graveyard was also overhauled and tidied.


A growing Bible Class took part in the annual ‘Presbytery Exam’. Newmills consistently topped the results – by a country mile!


In 1949, a mission led by Mr William Wylie from the Belfast City Mission resulted in the conversion of a number of young people, who were to play a significant role in the congregation for many years to follow.


In 1953, the Session House was built by Mr Sam Calvert, a member of the congregation, who gifted it to the congregation on the day of the official opening. It remains as the oldest part of our church buildings.


Continued in Part 2…..