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Friday April 6 2018

Looking Back: The Grand Old Lady of the Church of Scotland

A 1938 tribute to Frances Shakerley who had recently died aged around 107, written by her minister.

Almost 107!
The Grand Old Lady of the Church of Scotland

By the Rev. C. Rolland Ramsay, M.A.


IT is now nearly half a century since Miss Frances Shakerley chose Trigony as her Scottish home, and her name is indissolubly entwined with the parish of Closeburn.

Every movement of the social, moral and religious welfare of the parishioners had her unfailing support. To the homes of all classes she was ever a most welcome visitor. In times of sickness and sorrow she proved a veritable ministering angel.

From the outset, she was a valued member of Closeburn Parish Church, to which she was warmly attached. As long as strength permitted she never allowed even the stormiest weather to prevent her being in her accustomed place. In all the activities of the Church she took the keenest interest. When a branch of the Woman’s Guild was formed – now four-and-forty years ago – she was unanimously appointed President, and this office she held till her death on 1st February.

Many missionaries in India, Africa and China found in Miss Shakerley an unfailing friend and generous financial supporter.

Work among the young had at all times for her a special appeal. Commencing at the early age of 16 to teach a Sunday-school class she continued this work for over 80 years – surely without precedent in any church!

At her centenary celebrations, many of her old Sunday-school scholars, some of them over 70 years of age, gathered from all parts to acknowledge the spiritual help and inspiration they had received from their Sunday-school teacher in the years of long ago. On that occasion, Miss Shakerley impressed all as she stood amid a large company of admiring friends, and delivered, without notes, a speech, characterised by its choice diction and felicity of expression.

Another memorable occasion was when, in her 105th year, she unveiled the beautiful memorial in Closeburn Church.

Miss Shakerley was a lady of remarkable culture. She read widely on all kinds of subjects – from theology to astronomy! – and in all matters she kept herself abreast of the times. Possessed of a keen sense of humour, her eyes would sparkle as she recounted some of the foibles of her contemporaries, or, as by a rapier thrust, laid bare the pretensions of some would-be reformers of our times. To talk with her was a veritable inspiration.

In the words of one of her fellow-members (I. M. B.):

The happy spirit has now winged its flight,
A fuller heavenly life has now begun.
It is good-night, we will not say good-bye
But keep the lamp of faith clear burning bright,
Assured that in God’s keeping all is well,
And that the road well-trodden will be light.
                        It is good-night.

Miss Shakerley was the oldest person in Scotland when she died, although there seems to be some dispute over the spelling of both first and last names, how long she lived and how long she was in Trigony (with some websites claiming she lived there over a century). The house is now a hotel.
Closeburn Parish Church, a historic parish in the Presbytery of Dumfries and Kirkcudbright, is still open, linked with Kirkmahoe. The Rev Charles Rolland Ramsay, who had been the minister there since 1910, died the year after this piece was written.
If anyone can shed any light on the hymn/poem at the end, or the mysterious I.M.B., please get in touch!

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