Dalgety Parish Church

Dalgety Church, exterior, from south west

Summary description

This church survives as a roofless but structurally largely complete shell. It has a medieval core of rectangular plan, around the perimeter of which a number of post-Reformation lairds’ aisles have been added. There are two contiguous rectangular aisles against the north flank, with parts of two others against the south flank. The most ambitious of the aisles is at the west end, and is of staggered L-shaped plan.

Historical outline

Dedication: St Brigid

The church of Dalgety with its chapel of Beath (q.v.) was granted or confirmed to the canons of Inchcolm by King William 1165x1179.(1) Possession was confirmed in March 1178/9 by Pope Alexander III.(2) During the episcopate of Richard de Inverkeithing, bishop of Dunkeld (c.1251-1272), the church was confirmed to the canons in proprios usus, with permission to serve the cure with a chaplain.(3) Despite that grant, and the absence of reference to the church in Bagimond’s Roll, it appears later that only the parsonage was annexed to the abbey with the cure being served by a vicarage, probably pensionary. In 1420, in a supplication to the pope it was reported that the cure was normally served by a vicar, who had always been a canon of Inchcolm, but that the Bishop of Dunkeld had intruded a secular priest into the position whereas the right of presentation belonged to the Abbot of Inchcolm. The dispute was settled by the intruded priest, John Bulloc, resigning the vicarage into the hands of the abbot and receiving it back from him.(4) Despite that compromise, it is clear that Bishop Robert de Cardeny still regarded the right to present to the vicarage as lying with him, and before March 1425/6 fresh contention over the right had broken out between the canons and him.(5) The dispute may not have been settled by February 1429/30 when Pope Martin V took the abbey and its appropriated churches under his protection.(6) There is, however, no further record of any litigation and at the Reformation the church appears to have been fully appropriated to the abbey.(7)


1. RRS, ii, no 541A.

2. Inchcolm Charters, no 2.

3. Inchcolm Charters, no 22.

4. CSSR, i, 195.

5. Inchcolm Charters, no 46.

6. Inchcolm Charters, no 49.

7. Kirk (ed.), Book of Assumptions, 62, 63

Architectural description

The church stands within an isolated terraced graveyard on the north shore of the Firth of Forth. Its earliest identifiable part is a rectangular structure of about 6.75 metres from north to south and 18.7 metres from east to west, which is constructed of irregularly coursed large blocks of rubble. There are no diagnostic features that can be regarded as primary to this structure, although later medieval features include a crudely constructed pointed-arched doorway towards the west end of the south wall, and a rectangular piscina recess at the east end of the south wall. A buttress added at the south-east angle may also be medieval.

A particular interest of the church stems from the ways it illustrates some of the means by which a medieval church could be adapted for reformed uses. Timber lofts were evidently constructed at each end of the church, that at the east end accessed from a forestair against the gable wall. The first identifiable structural additions were laterally projecting lairds’ aisles, and it seems that the earliest of these may have been symmetrically disposed on the two sides of the church, creating an approximately Greek cross plan. That on the north side, which was built in 1645 for the holders of the Fordell estate, survives as a partial shell, and it appears to have contained a loft lit by a large window in the north wall, above a lower area lit by two small slit windows. The arch opening into this aisle was later blocked, and the window in the blocking indicates that the aisle must by then have been no longer in use. Of the south aisle that faced across to it only the lower parts of the west wall survive, because it was later replaced by a smaller aisle that evidently in turn also passed out of use. Adjoining the east wall of the north aisle a single-storey barrel-vaulted aisle was constructed in the later seventeenth century for the Inglis of Otterston family, and this survives in a virtually complete state. In its north wall is a handsome blocked doorway with a swan-necked pediment containing the initials of William Inglis and his wife, above a frieze with foliate volute decoration and a central tablet. From the church this aisle was entered through a pointed-arched opening carried on responds decorated with sunk panelling, and there are rectangular recesses along the west flank for memorials to members of the family, one of which is said to commemorate a member who died in 1621.

The grandest aisle to be added – which was one of the most impressive ever to be built in Scotland - was that at the west end, which was built for Chancellor Seton, the first earl of Dunfermline, in about 1610. It appears on the evidence of its masonry that its construction required the destruction of the existing west wall of the church. This aisle is a two-storeyed structure that rises considerably higher than the church itself; its main body takes the form of a westward extension of the church, with a polygonal stair turret on the north side at the junction with the church, and there is a substantial square tower-like off-shoot projecting south and west from the south-west angle. At the lower level are two vaulted burial chambers that are entered from a door in the north wall and lit by a number of slit openings. At the upper level is a large chamber with windows that alternate with stone panelling in the three external walls; it was evidently covered by a segmental ceiling on the evidence of the ghosting on the upper part of the west wall. There is evidence that this chamber opened onto a loft that projected into the church, and it must be assumed that there would have been an associated fine display of woodwork. There was certainly figurative glass in the windows at one stage, because in 1649 the widowed countess was accused of having placed ‘superstitious images’ in them. The smaller chamber at the south-west corner of the main chamber had a fireplace, and served as a withdrawing room to which the family could retire between services.

The church passed out of use for worship, and was subsequently unroofed, when a new parish church was built to the designs of James Gillespie Graham about 1.5 kilometres to its north in 1829. Its is now in state care. The latter church in turn passed out of use as the parish church in 1980-1, when a church was built in the new housing development of Dalgety Bay.


Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1418-22, 1934, ed. E.R. Lindsay and A.I. Cameron, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh, 195.

Charters of the abbey of Inchcolm, 1938, ed. D.E. Easson and A. Macdonald, (Scottish History Society), Edinburgh, nos 2, 22, 34, 46, 49.

Coles, F.R., 1899, ‘Antiquarian notes on various sites in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, xxxiii, 330-53.

Cowan, I B, 1962, ‘The religious and the cure of souls in medieval Scotland’,  Records of the Scottish Church History Society, xiv (1960-62), 215-30.

Cowan, I.B., 1967, The parishes of medieval Scotland, (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh, 43

Gifford, J., 1988, The Buildings of Scotland, Fife, London, 170-1.

Hay, G., 1957, The architecture of Scottish post-Reformation churches, 1560-1843, Oxford, 193, 257.

Kirk, J., 1995, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, (British Academy) Oxford, 62, 63.

Lewis, J.H., 1987, ‘St Bridget’s Church, Burial’, Discovery and Excavation Scotland, 12.

MacGibbon, D. and Ross, T., 1896-7. The ecclesiastical architecture of Scotland, iii, Edinburgh (1897), 549-51.

Mercer, A, 1828, History of Dunfermline…and of Inverkeithing, Dalgety, Aberdour..., Dunfermline.

Millar, A H 1895, Fife: pictorial and historical: its people, burghs, castles and mansions, Edinburgh 175-6.

National Archives of Scotland, Ministry of Works official file, 1936-37. MW.1.424. Scheduling prior to Guardianship (Sc 22093/1a).

National Archives of Scotland, Ministry of Works official file, 1936-37, 1947-66. Dd.27.1190. Acceptance of Guardianship (22093/3/A).

National Archives of Scotland, Ministry of Works official file, 1936-37, 1949. MW.1.1358. Finds 1949 (Sc 22093/02).

New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845, Edinburgh, ix (Fife), 188, 190-1.

Regesta Regum Scottorum, Acts of William I (1165-1214), 1971, Edinburgh, no 541A

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, 1933, Inventory of Fife, Kinross and Clackmannan, Edinburgh, 93-5.

Scotichronicon by Walter Bower, 1987, ed. D.E.R. Watt et al., viii, Aberdeen, 139, 212.

Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, ed. J. Sinclair, Edinburgh, ix (1793),  598.

Walker, J.R., 1888, Pre-Reformation churches, Fife and the Lothians, Edinburgh.



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

  • 1. Dalgety Church, exterior, from south west

  • 2. Dalgety later church

  • 3. Dalgety Church, plans (RCAHMS)

  • 4. Dalgety Church, plan (Historic Scotland)

  • 5. Dalgety Church, interior, N-S section through Dunfermline Aisle, looking W (Walker)

  • 6. Dalgety Church, interior, E-W section, looking S (Walker)

  • 7. Dalgety Church, interior, chancel, S wall, monument

  • 8. Dalgety Church, interior, Dunfermline Aisle, retiring room

  • 9. Dalgety Church, interior, Dunfermline Aisle

  • 10. Dalgety Church, interior, Inglis Aisle, entrance arch

  • 11. Dalgety Church, interior, Fordell Aisle, from south

  • 12. Dalgety Church, interior, north west aisle, blocked entrance

  • 13. Dalgety Church, interior, north wall

  • 14. Dalgety Church, interior, chancel, aumbry

  • 15. Dalgety Church, interior, from east

  • 16. Dalgety Church, interior, from west

  • 17. Dalgety Church, exterior, west elevation (Walker)

  • 18. Dalgety Church, exterior, south elevation (Walker)

  • 19. Dalgety Church, exterior, Dunfermline Aisle, from north east

  • 20. Dalgety Church, exterior, south aisles, from south west

  • 21. Dalgety Church, exterior, Inglis Aisle, blocked doorway

  • 22. Dalgety Church, exterior, Fordell and Inglis Aisles from west

  • 23. Dalgety Church, exterior, nave and Dunfermline Aisle, junction

  • 24. Dalgety Church, exterior, south nave wall, door

  • 25. Dalgety Church, exterior, south wall, from east

  • 26. Dalgety Church, exterior, from south