Bassendean Parish Church

Bassendean Church, exterior, from south east

Summary description

A rectangular medieval shell remodelled in 1647, and adapted as a mausoleum after abandonment for worship the following year.

Historical outline

Dedication: Our Lady

Endowed with properties and granted to the nuns of Coldstream by William de Maille towards the end of the twelfth century, the church of St Mary of Bassendean was fully annexed to the priory from an early date.(1)  Confirmations of its appropriation to the nunnery followed but by the fifteenth century it was designated as simply a chapel rather than a church and the clerk serving there was simply noted as a chaplain before 1200. 

At some point before the Reformation, however, it appears to have regained full parochial status, the cure being described as a vicarage perpetual.(2)  Despite that designation, however, it seems that the actual duties of parish priest were discharged by a pensioner.(3)  In the Books of Assumption Bassendean is noted simply as a possession of Coldstream with teind income valued at £40.(4)


1. Chartulary of the Cistercian Priory of Coldstream (Grampian Club, 1879), no.43 [hereafter Coldstream Charters].

2. Coldstream Charters, 33-34.

3. I B Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society, 1967), 15.

4. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 186.

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Church endowed by Melville’s of Bassendean, granted by a William Melville to the nuns of Coldstream at end of the 12th century. While referred to as a chapel in 1457/58, it appears to have gained parochial status by the Reformation, cerved by a perpetual vicar, but in reality a vicar pensioner.(1)

c.1200 Charter by William de Mahle of Bassendean granting 15 acres of land in Harlaw and Bassendean with a meadow and a toft and croft to the church of St Mary of Bassendean.(2)


Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: Teinds of Bassendean (not referred to as a church or chapel) valued at £40 and pertaining to the priory of Coldstream.(3)

1648 the parliament was obliged to resolve a dispute between the inhabitants of Bassendean and the local presbytery. A church had been erected there in 1647, but following the addition of Westruther to the parish, the presbytery wanted the place of worship to be more centrally located. Parliament therefore gave approval for a new church to be built in Westruther which they regarded as equidistant from all the heritors and parishioners. The synod of Lothian and Tweedale recommended the subdivision of Dunbar parish in spite of objections by some heritors.(4)

[Parish united to Westruther, reference to the church in the Statistical Account]

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Robert Jamieson, 1834): ‘The chapel of Bassendean, the ruins of which still exist to about ten or twelve feet from the ground, was employed for religious [worship], and served by a vicar, long before the Reformation…the interior of the chapel is still used as a burying-place for that family (The Homes of Bassendean)’.(5)


1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 15.

2. Chartulary of the Cistercian priory of Coldstream, no. 43.

3. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 186.

4. APS, vi, pt 2, p. 288, cited in Spicer, Calvinist Churches in Early Modern Europe, p. 93.

5. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1834), ii, 71.


Chartulary of the Cistercian priory of Coldstream, 1870, ed. C. Rogers (Grampian Club), London.

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

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

New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, Edinburgh and London.

Spicer, A., 2007, Calvinist Churches in Early Modern Europe, Manchester.

The Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, ed, T. Thomson and C. Innes, Edinburgh, 1814-75.

Architectural description

Bassendean has a complex parochial history. A chapel here that was granted to Coldstream Cistercian Nunnery by William Melville of Bassendean in the late twelfth century had become parochial before the Reformation. The cure was intended to be served by a vicar perpetual, though it appears to have been generally served by a vicar pensioner.(1)

Around the time of the Reformation Bassendean was absorbed into Hume parish, but when that parish was united with Stichill, Bassendean was instead united with Gordon parish. As a result of a further change, in 1647 it again became a parish that covered an enlarged area, and it appears that the church was rebuilt or remodelled to serve its new purpose.(2) However, its location was deemed to be unsuitable for a majority of parishioners, and parliament gave approval for a church at Westruther to be made parochial instead in the following year.(3) The church at Bassendean was then closed and became a burial enclosure for the Homes of Bassendean,(4) a function it continued to serve until at least 1860.

As now seen the building is essentially the late medieval church,(5) albeit with some remodelling of around 1647 and subsequently. Although unroofed, it is structurally largely complete to the wall head, being a rubble-built oriented rectangle of about 16.5 by 6.1 metres. Signs of heightening along the south and north walls, which are particularly clear along the north side, presumably date from either 1647 or from its later adaptation as a burial enclosure.

All the openings are along the south side: towards the west end is a rectangular doorway with chamfered jambs; near the middle is a rectangular window; and towards the east end is a two-light rectangular mullioned window. The reveal mouldings of the windows are finely detailed, with broad splays beyond the half-mullion, though they may have been modified at some stage, perhaps in about 1647. The two-light window now has safe lintels formed from sections of railway track.

Inside the church there are small rectangular recesses to the east of the door, one of which was presumably for a holy water stoup. There is also a small recess further east in that wall, south of the site of the high altar, presumably for an aumbry or piscine. A recess with a rebated surround in the north wall was perhaps a sacrament house. An irregular circular basin lying on the floor is said to have been a font, though it is perhaps more likely to have been a domestic mortar.

A medieval grave slab is propped up against the north internal wall, and another has been recorded. One of them is said to have had an incised cross with fleur-de-lis terminals, and the other incised shears. There are references to a grave slab having been re-used as a window lintel,(6) and it may be that this was the east window on the south side that now has the sections of railway track performing this function.


1. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 15.

2. G.A.C. Binnie, The Churches and Churchyards of Berwickshire, Ladykirk, 1995, pp. 1995.

3. Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, ed. T. Thomson, C. Innes et al., Eedinburgh, 1814-75,  vol. 6, pt. 2, p. 288.

4. Francis H. Groome, Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, vol. 1, 1882.

5. This description takes as its starting point that in Kitty Cruft, John Dunbar and Richard Fawcett, The Buildings of Scotland, Borders, New Haven and London, 2006, p. 117.

6. James Robson, The Churches and Churchyards of Berwickshire, Kelso, 1896, p. 218.



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

  • 1. Bassendean Church, exterior, from south east

  • 2. Bassendean Church, exterior, from north east

  • 3. Bassendean Church, exterior, from south

  • 4. Bassendean Church, exterior, north wall, from west

  • 5. Bassendean Church, exterior, south door

  • 6. Bassendean Church, exterior, south wall, window at centre

  • 7. Bassendean Church, exterior, south wall, window at east end

  • 8. Bassendean Church, interior, aumbry at east end of south wall

  • 9. Bassendean Church, interior, grave slab

  • 10. Bassendean Church, interior, looking east

  • 11. Bassendean Church, interior, north wall, aumbry to north of altar

  • 12. Bassendean Church, interior, possible font basin

  • 13. Bassendean Church, interior, south wall from east

  • 14. Bassendean Church, interior, south wall from west

  • 15. Bassendean Church, interior, south wall, stoup and aumbry to east of south door

  • 16. Bassendean Church, plan (MacGibbon and Ross)