The independent minister James Murray was born at Fans near Earlston Berwickshire, studied at Edinburgh University and left Scotland to live in Northumberland, first in Alnwick and from 1764 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where he was Minister of the Presbyterian Silver Street Chapel until his death in 1782. Murray is a central figure in Newcastle’s radical tradition and was a major influence on the revolutionary Thomas Spence whose family regularly heard Murray preach. Murray also used print to promote his ideas. The cover of Murray’s Sermons to Asses published in Newcastle in 1768 depicts an ass weighed down by two panniers called ‘politics’ and ‘religion’. Whether Whig or Tory, Murray believed politicians were only interested in relatively small sections of society and not the people who attended his services and lectures at the Meeting House. Murray was a vocal opponent to war in America and after the 1771 flash flood known as the ‘Great Inundation’ which swept away the old Tyne Bridge, Murray protested against the inactivity of the town’s corporation. He continued to rail against local oligarchical interests when he led opposition to the enclosure of the Town Moor.
As well as publishing works on religious subjects of a highly political nature and histories, Murray was also a grammarian whose book The Rudiments of the English Tongue was published in Newcastle in about 1771.