The  Clannaboy  0’Neill  family  controlled  this  part  of  Co.  Down  but  in  the  early  part  of  the  17th
Century  the  then  Lord,  Con  0’Neill  fell  foul  of  Queen  Elizabeth  and  was  imprisoned  in
Carrickfergus  Castle.  His  wife  arranged  with  Hugh  Montgomery,  the  laird  of  Braidstone  in
Ayrshire,  who  had  trading  connections  with  Carrickfergus,  for  him  to  help  Con  escape  from  prison
and  arrange  a  pardon  for  him  from  James  I.  In  return  Montgomery  would  receive
two-thirds  of  Con’s  ancestral  lands.  He  did  assist  Con  to  escape  but  to  obtain  a  pardon  for  him  he
had  to  enlist  the  help  of  another  Scot  James  Hamilton  who  in  turn  received  half  of Montomery’s
portion  of the  land.  Montgomery  found  himself  in  control  of the  Ards  and  he  worked  hard  to  attract
Scots  to  his  new  lands  in  north  Down  and  had  reasonable  success  in  this  venture.  In  1641  there  was
a  rebellion  of the  native  Ulster  chiefs  which  was  countered  by  a  force  raised  by  local  planters.  The
following  year  help  arrived  in  the  form  of Monro’s  Scottish  army  some  of which  was  stationed  in
Newton  and  district.  Presbyterian  clergy  accompanied  the  army  and  this  was  the  beginning  of  the
establishment  of  Presbyterianism.    The  third  Viscount  Montgomery,  grandson  of Hugh,  wrote  to
the  Scottish  General  Assembly  requesting  two  clergymen,  one  for  the  army  and  the  other  for  the
parish  church  of Newton.  The  result  was  that  the  Rev  John  Greg  was  called  to  Newton.  In  the
early  1650s  he  was  deposed  by  Cromwell,  took  shelter  in  Scotland  for  a  time,  and  when  harsh
measures  were  dropped  to  be  replaced  by  milder  ones,  John  Greg  returned  and  resumed  his
ministerial  duties.  However  in  the  meantime  Bishop  Jeremy  Taylor  had  been  appointed  to  the
Diocese  of  Down  &  Connor  and  finding  that  the  Presbyterian  ministers  would  not  submit  to  his
government  he  declared  their  charges  vacant  in  about  1661.  John  Gregg  was  affected  by  this  and
like  most  of the  Presbyterian  ministers  affected,  lingered  in  his  parish  where  he  could  find  suitable
habitation  and  depending  for  support  on  private  resources  and  the  offerings  of  his  people.  There
was  a  futile  plot  against  the  Viceroy,  the  Duke  of  Ormonde,  in  which  some  of  these  ministers  were
suspected  to  be  involved  and  were  unfairly  imprisoned  in  Carlingford  Castle.  After  full  enquiry  the
conspiracy  charges  were  deemed  to  be  groundless  and  the  ministers  emerged  from  their
imprisonment  and  attempted  to  return  to  their  ministry.  The  pulpits  in  which  they  had  preached
were  now  occupied  by  others  but  the  congregations  still  adhered  to  them  and  were  glad  to  get  back
their  former  pastors.  Bams  became  sanctuaries  one  day  in  seven.  With  the  freedom  to  worship
“Preaching  Houses”  as  they  were  described  began  to  be  built  in  various  localities  and  Newtownards
was  one  of the  first  places  to  embark  on  this.  John  Greg  died  in  1670  and  it  must  have  been  about
the  close  of his  ministry  that  the  first  meeting  house  in  Newtownards  was  built  somewhere  between
Greenwell  Street  and  Chapel  Brae  Street  (now  Movilla  Street).  It  was  a  humble  single  story
building  devoid  of  any  pretensions  to  architectural  beauty  with  a  thatched  roof.

Rev  James  Kennedy  succeeded  Mr  Greg  in 1671  and  during  his  lengthy  ministry  there  was
comparative  peace  and  tranquillity  resulting  in  the  borders  of  Presbyterianism  being  enlarged  with
new  churches  planted.

In  1720  John  Mairs  ,  jnr.,was  ordained  as  minister.  His  unorthodox  views  gave  rise  to  complaints
from  the  congregation  that  he  wished  to  conform  to  Anglican  procedures,  and  that  he  advocated
non-subscribing  principles.  This  caused  the  Presbytery  of Down  at  a  meeting  in  1723  to  form  the
non-subscribing  persons  into  a  separate  congregation.  The  date  stone  on  the  Unitarian  Church  in
Newtownards  states  :  “This  house  was  built  by  the  old  congregation  of Newtownards  in  the  year  1724.”  As
result  of  Mr  Mairs  joining  the  non-subscribers,  a  new  congregation  was  formed  in
1723.  The  Rev  Thomas  Moorehead  was  called  from  Ballymoney  to  be  its  minister. 
In  1800  Rev  James  McCullough  was  ordained  as  minister  and  as  the  roof  of the  original  Church
needed  a  considerable  amount  of repairs  a  new  church  was  built  and  opened  in  1815  on  the  site  of
the  present  Church.  He  died  in  1842  -  43  and  was  succeeded  by  his  son  the  Rev  Julius  McCullough
who  had  been  ordained  as  assistant  and  successor  to  his  father  in  1834.  He  was  acclaimed  for  his
ministerial  faithfulness  and  kindliness  of heart.  At  a  time  when  fever  and  pestilence  caused
suffering  to  many  in  the  area  he  “visited  and  relieved  the  afflicted  of  all  denominations  in  this

The  Rev  Julius  McCullough  was  succeeded  in  1865  by  Rev  Matthew  Macauley  who  after  an
acceptable  and  fruitful  ministry  resigned  ini879  to  take  up  a  charge  in  London.  The  next  minister,
ordained  ini  879,  was  the  23  year  old  Rev  William  Wright,  one  of  the  most  outstanding  ministers  to
serve  in  First  Newtownards.  He  ministered  for  40  years  until  his  death  inl919.  He  was  described
as  a  man  gifted  with  talents  of  oratory  and  expression  much  above  the  average,  an  able  expositor  of
the  Scriptures  and  endowed  with  a  cheerful  and  winning  personality.  When  he  arrived  the  pews
were  high-backed  and  boxed-in  and  virtually  belonged  to  those  families  who  paid  the  pew  rent.
The  young  minister  persuaded  the  Committee  to  take  away  these  pews  and  to  reseat  the  church  in  a
modern  style.  About  1882  a  manse  was  purchased  -  previously  the  minister  dwelt  in  rented
property.  The  Revised  Version  of the  psalms  was  gradually  introduced  and  eventually  some
Paraphrases  but  no  hymns  during  the  whole  of his  ministry  although  he  was  in  favour  of using
hymns  especially  at  Childreif's  Services.  There  was  need  for  a  congregational  hall  and  in  1899  the
Guild  Hall  was  completed  costing  £2,000.  A  number  of  activities  were  started  both  for  young  and
old.  Four  Societies  were  established,  Musical,  Debating,  Literary  and  Reading.  Rev  Wright  was
manager  of  the  East  Street  School  built  in  the  church  grounds  and  of  five  rural  schools,  namely,
Ballyalton,  Ballycullen,  Drumhirk,  Loughries  No.  1  and  Loughries  No  2.  To  raise  funds  for  their
upkeep  he  enlisted  the  aid  of the  Church  Choir  for  concerts  and  other  fund  raising  activities.  When
the  Union  was  in  danger  under  Mr  Gladstone’s  Home  Rule  Bill  of  1886  he  openly  joined  the
Unionist  cause  and  spoke  at  several  meeting  both  in  Belfast  and  in  England  and  Wales.  In  1912,  the
Faculty  of the  Assembly’s  college  Belfast,  in  recognition  of  his  long  and  valuable  services  to  the
General  Assembly  conferred  on  him  the  degree  of  Doctor  of Divinity.  He  died  on  13  August  1919
and  is  buried  in  Movilla  Cemetry.

Dr  Wright  was  succeeded  in  1920  by  his  son  Rev  A.R.  Wright  who  had  ministered  in  the  United
States  and  he  disapproved  of the  finances  of the  church  being  dependent  on  Bazaars  and  Sales  of
Work.  He  held  that  the  method  of  collecting  the  Stipend  and  Sustentation  once  every  three  months
was  not  suitable  and  he  persuaded  the  Committee  and  the  Congregation  to  adopt  the  Freewill
Offering  System  which  in  fact  in  its  first  year  more  than  doubled  the  church’s  annual  income.
On  Sunday  17  June  1923  as  the  Evening  Service  was  about  to  commence  a  rumbling  sound  was
heard  followed  by  the  collapse  of part  of the  gallery.  It  transpired  that  one  wooden  pillar  had
collapsed  and  that  this  was  full  of  dry  rot  and  many  of the  adjacent  pews  were  similarly  affected.
After  much  discussion  it  was  decided  that  what  was  needed  was  a  new  ground  floor,  new  gallery,
new  pews,  new  windows,  new  ceiling  and  re-plastering  of the  walls  estimated  to  cost  about  £8,000.
In  Augustl924  Rev  A.R.  Wright  resigned  as  minister  and  returned  to  the  United  States.

Rev  George  F  McQuitty  was  installed  in  December  1924.  He  wished  to  introduce  instrumental
music  and  hymns  into  the  praise  service.  Initially  there  was  significant  opposition  to  this  but  he
bided  his  time  and  gently  won  over  these  people  to  his  opinion.  The  extensive  renovation  work  in
the  Church  was  complete  by  May  1925  and  Mr  McQuitty  knew  that  change  could  be  brought  about
after  that.  On  5  September  1926  the  memorial  tablet  erected  in  memory  of members  of the  church
who  fell  and  served  in  the  Great  War  (1914  -  1918)  was  unveiled  and  dedicated.  He  resolved  to
clear  off the  debt  on  the  refurbishing  of the  church  and  this  was  achieved  in  a  little  over  three  years. 

Mr  McQuitty  then  turned  his  thoughts  to  bringing  about  the  changes  he  desired  and  at  an  annual
meeting  of the  congregation  he  announced  that  he  had  received  from  an  anonymous  donor  the  gift
of  an  individual  Communion  Service.  It  was  unanimously  agreed  that  this  was  a  very  acceptable
gift,  and  from  a  hygienic  point  of view  desirable.  It  was  agreed  to  lay  aside  the  old  cups  and
substitute  the  new  set.  Four  years  later  the  possible  introduction  of  an  organ  and  the  singing  of
some  hymns  was  discussed  at  the  annual  meeting  and  a  majority  of those  present  were  in  favour  but
there  was  some  opposition.  A  sub-committee  was  appointed  to  explore  the  whole  question  and  in
their  report  they  unanimously  recommended  that  an  organ  be  installed  and  a  limited  number  of
hymns  used.  This  was  tactfully  worded  so  as  not  to  cause  “loss  of  dignity  or  honour  on  the  part  of
those  who  were  or  had  been  opposed  to  the  change”.  A  few  members  of  the  Congregation
purchased  the  organ  and  had  it  installed  without  expense  to  the  members.  The  Boys’  Brigade  and
Girls’  Life  Brigade  Companies  were  set  up  in  1943,  1944  marked  the  tercentenary  of the
church/Presbyterian  worship  in  Newtownards.  As  part  of the  celebrations  it  was  decided  to
establish  a  Tercentenary  Organ  Fund  with  the  object  of  installing  a  three  manual  pipe  organ.  Rev
McQuitty,  who  was  not  married  was  ably  assisted  by  his  sister  in  the  work  of the  church  who  took  a
deep  personal  interest  in  the  Girls’  Auxiliary,  which  preceeded  the  GLB,  and  in  the  promotion  of
missions.  She  introduced  the  idea  that  each  home  should  have  a  Collection  Box  for  Missions.  In
1946  it  was  decided  to  form  a  branch  of the  Woman’s  Missionary  Association  under  her  leadership.
In  1946  Rev  McQuitty  accepted  a  call  to  a  lighter  charge  after  19  years  of  faithful  ministry  and  the
introduction  of  several  innovatory  ideas.

In  1947  he  was  succeeded  by  Rev  Andrew  M  Adams.  The  Tercentenary  Organ  was  installed  in
1950  requiring  considerable  alteration  to  the  church  building  itself  in  the  form  of  large  apertures
and  a  heated  chamber  behind  the  pulpit.  Other  innovations  in  Rev  Adams’  ministry  were  the
introduction  of  a  Creche  for  infants  and  Children’s  Church  for  4  -  8  year  olds  on  Sunday  mornings.
In  1971  Mr  Adams  was  awarded  the  Honorary  Degree  of  Doctor  of  Divinity  by  Union  College  and
in  the  same  year  he  accepted  a  call  to  a  lighter  charge.

At  this  time  it  was  decided  to  build  a  new  manse  on  land  owned  by  the  church.  In  1973  Rev  Robert
Cobain  succeeded  Dr  Adams  and  initially  he  and  his  family  lived  in  a  bungalow  owned  by  the
Church  in  Sketrick  Island  Park  but  in  1974  were  able  to  move  into  the  new  manse.  After  a  relatively
short  ministry  resigned  in  1976  to  take  up  the  post  of  Publications  Editor  in  Church  House.

In  September  1976  Rev  Thomas  S  Reid  was  installed  as  minister.  By  the  end  of the  1970s  the  old
Minor  Hall  and  Session  room  were  in  an  advanced  state  of  decay  and  urgent  remedial  action  was
required.  It  was  decided  to  demolish  the  old  buildings  and  replace  them  with  new  accommodation
attached  to  the  church,  as  the  old  buildings  were  separate  from  it.  The  new  Minor  Hall,  Session
Room,  Minister's  Room,  kitchen  and  toilets  were  officially  opened  in  December  1980.  In
September  1983  Rev  Reid  resigned  to  take  up  his  new  post  as  Professor  of  Practical  Theology  at
Union  Theological  College.

In  January  1984  Miss  Isabella  Purdy  was  Commissioned  as  a  missionary  to  South  Korea  and  in
August  1987  Miss  Barbara  Corrie  was  Commissioned  as  a  short  term  missionary  to  China.

Towards  the  end  of  1984  Rev  David  Johnston  was  installed  as  minister.  Following  the  completion
of the  new  Minor  Hall  complex  it  became  apparent  that  part  of the  Guild  Hall,  in  particular  the  East
Street  side  needed  renewal  or  replacement.  This  part  was  demolished  and  an  extension  built
comprising  kitchen  toilets  and  four  rooms.  This  was  opened  in  March  1988.
To  attempt  to  lighten  the  load  on  Rev  Johnston  the  Session  obtained  the  services  of  a
Deaconess,  Miss  Mary  Henderson,  who  was  inducted  in  January  1990  and  resigned  in  December 

1993.  She  concentrated  mainly  on  the  young  people  and  the  elderly  and  helped  to  form  the
Wednesday  Friendship  Hour  a  weekly  afternoon  meeting  for  the  more  senior  members  of the
congregation  and  community.  Following  Miss  Henderson’s  resignation  the  Session  obtained  the
assistance  of The  Rev  Dermot  McMorran,  recently  retired  as  minister  of Trinity  Church,  Bangor  to
help  Mr  Johnston.  His  ministerial  help  both  in  visiting  and  in  preaching  was  very  acceptable  to  the
people  of First  Newtownards.

On the evening of Thursday 3 March 1994 due to an accidental electrical fault in the roof space a fire engulfed the main church building reducing the interior to smouldering rubble in a very short time. A structural engineer indicated that the main walls could be retained thanks largely to the new strengthened gallery put in place in the 1925 restoration. The building was restored and refurbished basically in the style existing before the fire and in addition a larger two-story vestibule suite with a stairway to the gallery. This was officially opened and dedicated by the Moderator of The General Assembly, Right Rev Dr John Ross on Saturday 7 October 1995.Rev Johnston after fourteen years of dedicated ministry in First Newtownards retired in January 1999.

After a short vacancy the Congregation called the Rev Jim Campbell, then minister of Ballynure Presbyterian Church, and he was installed in September 1999. His preaching and his ministry have been much appreciated by the congregation and we trust that he will be with us for many years to come. In 2002 the Session appointed Miss Jan Carson as Youth and Family Worker on a three year contract. She developed a good rapport with our young people and indeed with many un-churched young people of our town making a very useful contribution to the work in First Newtownards. A Mums and Tots Group started in 2002 and this very worthwhile project has had strong support from the Congregation but also from many others. As a result some children, not originally from the Congregation have joined the Primary Sunday School and the Girls" and Boys" Brigade Companies. Our Assistant Minister, Mr Mark Catney commenced in that role in October 2007 having acted as Summer Assistant in July and August of that year. His ministry has been very valuable.

It is our intention in 2009 and beyond to continue to reach out to the community in our parish area and further afield in our town and district.