Dowally Parish Church

Dowally Church, exterior, from south west

Summary description

The core of the church is an oriented rectangle, with a lateral aisle on the north side and a porch on the south side. It is likely that the main body represents a reconstruction of a truncated section of the medieval building.

Historical outline

Dedication: St Anne

Until shortly after 1500, the district of central Strathtay east of the river that was to form the parish of Dowally was the north-eastern portion of the sprawling parish of Little Dunkeld. It was Bishop George Brown who, according to Alexander Myln in his Vitae Dunkeldensis Ecclesiae Episcoporum, became concerned at the risk of plague being spread through the sprawling parish of Little Dunkeld, especially by funeral parties who crossed the bridge at Dunkeld from the part east of the Tay to the church on the west bank, and responded by establishing a cemetery at Caputh c.1500.(1) Soon afterwards, Bishop Brown divided the parish and built a new church at Caputh, and then followed that with a separation of the northern portion of the new parish of Caputh which was largely Gaelic-speaking. On existing kirklands in this district, said by Myln to be ‘among the woods’, the bishop paid for the building of a new church dedicated to St Anne.(2) In the Granitar’s accounts for 29 March-29 October 1506 in the rental-book of the bishopric there was a discharge of 17s 4d for the roofing of the church of St Anne, which may point to the completion of the establishment of the new parish church around that date.(3) A further discharge of 12 shillings in the period 31 December 1509-13 December 1510 covered repairs to the windows at the churches of Caputh, Cargill and Dowally.(4) The parsonage revenues of Little Dunkeld pertained to the episcopal mensa and the vicarage revenues had been assigned to the prebend of the treasurer of Dunkeld, the cure of the new parish was served by a chaplain.(5) These annexations remained in place at the Reformation. The parish and church otherwise has left little record in pre-Reformation sources.


1. Myln, Vitae, 42-3.

2. Myln, Vitae, 43.

3. Rentale Dunkeldense, 89.

4. Rentale Dunkeldense, 109.

5. Rentale Dunkeldense, 26.

Architectural analysis

Construction of a new church was evidently begun at the time that Bishop George Brown separated the parish of Dowally from that of Caputh, and structural work must have been nearing completion in October 1506, when the accounts of the granitar of Dunkeld recorded a payment for the roof.

The Statistical Account in 1798 bemoaned the fact that the church was ‘a long, narrow, inelegant structure’. This was certainly a widespread complaint against medieval churches on the part of ministers, who generally considered that a more compact plan was better suited to worship in which preaching was a principal element; it is significant, however, that such an accusation could not be levelled against the building in its existing form. The Account also said that it was ‘very incommodiously seated’, despite the fact that in 1755 it had been ‘repaired and new seated’ after having become ‘ruinous’. In 1845 the New Statistical Account recorded that the church had been rebuilt in 1818 ‘nearly on the site of the old one’, and it was presumably then that a lateral aisle was added on the north side which now serves as a vestry. There was a major internal re-ordering in 1908, when a sanctuary was formed at the east end, lined with Archibald Elliot’s timberwork of 1814-15 that had been ejected from Dunkeld Cathedral in the course of the restoration then in progress there.

The church as now seen at Dowally has an oriented rectangular main body of 13.47 metres from east to west and 7.85 metres from north to south, with a birdcage bellcote on the west gable. Projecting from the centre of its north flank is the lateral aisle presumed to date from 1818, and there is a porch towards the west end of the south flank, which dates from 1985 in its present form. The church is lit by pointed windows, some with timber tracery, and there were rectangular doorways towards each end of the south wall, the eastern one of which was blocked during the re-ordering of 1908.

The only certainly identifiable medieval fragment at the church is a stone carved with an angel holding a shield, which is set into the masonry to the west of the blocked eastern door. Unfortunately, the charges on the shield have been lost. However, the New Statistical Account said that a shield bearing the arms of Bishop George Brown, the founder of the parish, was then on the east wall, and it must be thought likely that this was that shield. Despite the fact that there is nothing else that could be firmly identified as medieval, the orientation of the building, its width of 7.85 metres, and the statement that the church had been rebuilt ‘nearly on the site of the old one’ all suggest that the present church is on part of the site of the medieval building. But the great length of the church that had been deemed so objectionable in the late eighteenth century has presumably been reduced, and the chancel is the most likely candidate for such truncation. If that is the case, it would explain the need to find a new location for the heraldic stone that had originally been set in the east wall.


Cowan, I.B., 1967, The parishes of medieval Scotland, (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh, 47. 

Gifford, J., 2007, The Buildings of Scotland, Perth and Kinross, New Haven and London, 312-3.

Hay, G., 1957, The architecture of Scottish post-Reformation churches, Oxford, 240, 268.

New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845, Edinburgh and London, x, 999-1000.

Kirk, J., 1995, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, (British Academy) Oxford, 305-6, 359.

Rentale Dunkeldense, 1915, ed. R.K. Hannay, (Scottish History Society), Edinburgh, 26, 89, 109.

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

Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, ed. J. Sinclair, Edinburgh, xx (1798), 465.

Vitae Dunkeldensis Ecclesiae Episcoporum…Ad Annum Mdxv, 1823, ed. T. Thomson, (Bannatyne Club), Edinburgh, 42-3.



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

  • 1. Dowally Church, exterior, from south west

  • 2. Dowally Churchyard, monument

  • 3. Dowally Church, interior, south porch, re-set inscribed stone

  • 4. Dowally Church, interior, from west

  • 5. Dowally Church, exterior, south wall, heraldic stone

  • 6. Dowally Church, exterior, from west