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Preston Parish Church

Preston Church, plan (MacGibbon and Ross)

Historical outline

Dedication: unknown

As with the adjoining parish of Bunkle (q.v.), the process by which Preston came into the possession of the bishops of Dunkeld is unknown but it is likely that a non-parochial church was granted to one of the early bishops as a personal property and it became attached to the estate of the Celtic monastery at Dunkeld. When the church gained parochial status, probably in the twelfth century, it remained under the spiritual authority of the bishops of Dunkeld. Preston’s later recorded status as a mensal church of the bishops lends support to this hypothesis. The annexation to the episcopal mensa probably occurred in the twelfth century but it is only in 1274-5 in Bagimond’s Roll that the union can first be seen. The parsonage only had been annexed, however, the vicarage apparently having been erected into a vicarage perpetual.(1) The annexation remained in place at the Reformation when, along with those of the kirk of Bunkle, the teinds of Preston had been feued to James Douglas, fourth earl of Morton.(2) The parish of Preston was united with that of Bunkle after 1617, at which time it was noted that the parsonage pertained to the bishopric of Dunkeld and the vicarage was in the bishop’s gift.(3)


1. SHS Misc, vi, 48, 72.

2. Kirk (ed.), Book of Assumptions, 302, 342, 346; RSS, v, no 2693.

3. Report on Certain Parishes, 1.

Summary decsription

The church appears to have been composed of two rectangular compartments, possibly with a lateral aisle on the north side at the east end of the nave. Although sections of the medieval walls stand virtually to their full height, the medieval structure has been extensively adapted and rebuilt to form a series of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century burial enclosures.

Architectural analysis

The church stands on an elevated plateau on the north bank of the Whiteadder, to the south-west of the village. There appears to have been a church here from the twelfth century on the evidence of a number of chevron-decorated stones that have been rebuilt into the masonry above the nave doorway. The present building is constructed of red and buff sandstone rubble with roughly squared dressings of the same stones, and has overall dimensions of 23.22 metres from east to west by 7.19 metres from south to north, over walls with a maximum thickness of 84 centimetres. In its final medieval form it appears to have been a two-compartment structure, and there is evidence on the south side that the chancel, which was slightly less than half the length of the nave, was a little narrower than the nave. However, any supporting evidence for this on the north has been obscured as a result of the evident post-Reformation rebuilding of much of the wall on that side. A north lateral chapel aisle appears to have been added immediately west of the line of the chancel arch, though the only visible evidence for that aisle is now a respond with chamfered arrises.

The date of the church in its present form is uncertain. A pair of small pointed-arched windows with chamfered arrises in the east wall, and a single window of the same external form in the south wall of the chancel, may point to a thirteenth-century date. However, pointed-arched windows remained in use over an extended period, and are thus of only limited diagnostic value, particularly since in this case the tooling of the dressed stone surrounds suggests they have undergone some rebuilding, perhaps at the time when metal bars were inserted externally to prevent access to the post-medieval burial enclosure within. There is a similar window that is now blocked in the west wall of the nave, though, whereas the chancel window arch heads are cut into single blocks of stone, the arch of the west window is cut from two blocks.

Whatever the date of the main body of the building, most of the surviving medieval features appear to be no earlier than the fifteenth century. The south nave door is lintelled below a segmental relieving arch, and has a chamfered surround; the south chancel door is also lintelled and has a chamfered surround, though in this case there is no relieving arch and the chamfer is narrower. It is attractive to suspect that the latter doorway dates from the campaign of re-roofing the chancel recorded in the Granitar of Dunkeld’s accounts for works carried out in 1511. A third doorway in the south wall is at the east end of the nave next to its junction with the chancel, and the way in which it is set into an angled section of wall suggests that its construction entailed the remodelling of the external south-east corner of the nave where it would have projected south of the line of the adjacent chancel wall. This last doorway has a raised margin to its jambs and lintel, around mouldings consisting of a small sunk roll and a narrow cavetto, and it appears unlikely to be earlier than the seventeenth century. The only other medieval feature visible externally is the respond on the north side that has already been metioned, immediately west of the line of the wall between the nave and chancel; this respond rises the full height of the wall and has a broadly chamfered arris. As already said, this has the appearance of the jamb of a major arch which, in this position appears most likely to have been associated with the opening into a lateral aisle. Some support for this interpretation may be derived from the fact that MacGibbon and Ross depict a short spur of wall projecting northwards to the east of the jamb, though nothing is now to be seen of this.

Internally, the most clearly identifiable medieval features are to be found in the area of the chancel. In the east gable the pair of windows has rear-arches of depressed two-centred form. The wall is intaken below the springing level of these arches, at the level of the north and south wall heads. This could suggest that the gable has been rebuilt at a late date, though it may simply have been a scarcement provided as the seating for the roof timbers. The south window is internally lintelled, perhaps because the side walls of the church were of insufficient height to accommodate a rear arch. Below the south window is a piscina of most unusual form. The shallow basin is set within a large triangular projection above a roughly rounded base, and is framed by a round-headed arch. There is a vertical break near the northern end of the largely post-Reformation wall that crosses the church on the line where it may be presumed that the junction of the chancel and nave would have been, and it is possible that this was the western arris of the north jamb of a chancel arch. West of this, in the north wall, is another vertical break, which corresponds with the break on the exterior of this wall that it has been said may survive from an arch opening into a north chapel.

The parishes of Preston and Bunkle were united by Act of Parliament in 1617, and in 1669 the Synod of Dunkeld ordered that services were to be held only at Preston, though there seems to have been some resistance to this. In 1670 orders were given by the bishop for the roof of Bunkle Church to be relocated over that of Preston, and in 1683 orders were given by the presbytery to glaze the windows, while in 1688 a breach in the north wall had to be rebuilt. By 1718, however, it appears that Preston had been abandoned in favour of Bunkle Church.

There has evidently been extensive rebuilding and adaptation of the medieval fabric since its abandonment for worship, in order to make it suitable for its subsequent use as a series of burial enclosures. Almost the entire length of the north wall of the nave, between the west wall and the east respond of the presumed arch into the north lateral aisle, appears to have been rebuilt. In part this may date from around 1688, when orders were given for rebuilding, though the partial use of brick for the jambs of two small rectangular openings demonstrates that there has also been later rebuilding. In the wall that runs between the nave and chancel is a round-headed opening with rock-faced rustication to the western jambs and arch, and which has a width of 1.5 metres. This was evidently built as the entrance to the burial enclosure within what had been the chancel. Throughout the retained medieval fabric the wall heads have been coped in a variety of ways, and the west wall head has been re-formed to a curved profile, probably around the same time that its side walls were extended into anta-like buttresses to frame a burial area to the west. The most damaging intervention was the construction of a late nineteenth-century burial enclosure for the Wilson Smith of Cumledge family near the middle of the nave. It was probably around that time that the section of the north wall containing the two rectangular openings referred to above was rebuilt; whatever remained of the corresponding section of the south wall was demolished, and the burial enclosure was projected southwards by over two metres, being defined on that side by a dwarf wall and iron fence. At some stage the area of the nave to the east of this enclosure appears to have been adapted as a watch house, since there are the remains of a fireplace in the wall that separates this area from the Wilson Smith enclosure.


Binnie, G.A.C., 1995, The churches and graveyards of Berwiskshire, Ladykirk, 36-46.

Brooke, C.J., 2000, Safe sanctuaries, Edinburgh, 37-9.

Cowan, I.B., 1967, The parishes of medieval Scotland, (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh, 167.

Cruft, K., Dunbar, J., Fawcett, R., 2006, The Buildings of Scotland, Borders, New Haven and London, 641.

Dunlop, A.I., 1939, ‘Bagimond’s Roll, statement of the tenths of the kingdom of Scotland’ Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, vi, 1-77, at 48, 72.

MacGibbon, D. and Ross, T., 1896-7, The ecclesiastical architecture of Scotland, Edinburgh, i (1896), 416-8.

New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845, Edinburgh and London, ii (Berwick), 122.

Kirk, J., 1995, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, (British Academy) Oxford, 302, 342, 346.

Rentale Dunkeldense, 1915, ed. R.K. Hannay, (Scottish History Society), Edinburgh, 11-12.

Reports on the state of certain parishes in Scotland, 1835, ed. A. Macdonald, (Maitland Club), Edinburgh, 1.

Robson, J., 1896, The churches and churchyards of Berwickshire, Kelso, 17-26.

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Canmore database.

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, 1915, Inventory of Berwickshire, Edinburgh, 6.



Click on any thumbnail to open the image gallery and slideshow.

  • 1. Preston Church, plan (MacGibbon and Ross)

  • 2. Preston Church, plan

  • 3. Preston Church, interior, 'chancel arch', from east

  • 4. Preston Church, interior, chancel, piscina

  • 5. Preston Church, interior, east wall, windows

  • 6. Preston Church, exterior, north wall, window 2

  • 7. Preston Church, exterior, north wall, window 1

  • 8. Preston Church, exterior, west wall, from south west

  • 9. Preston Church, exterior, south wall, re-used stones above nave door

  • 10. Preston Church,exterior, south wall, nave door

  • 11. Preston Church, exterior, south wall, middle door

  • 12. Preston Church,exterior, south wall, chancel, door

  • 13. Preston Church, exterior, south wall, chancel window

  • 14. Preston Church, exterior, east wall, windows

  • 15. Preston Church,exterior, east wall from south east

  • 16. Preston Church, exterior, from north east

  • 17. Preston Church, exterior, from south