Carnock / Kerneth Parish Church

Carnock Church, exterior, from south east

Summary description

The shell of a possibly truncated rectangular building with a secondary south porch, retaining considerable extents of twelfth- or thirteenth-century masonry. Abandoned after a new church was built on a different site in 1840.

Historical outline

Dedication: unknown

Very little record survives of the parish church of Carnock.  It first appears in the early thirteenth century when it was granted by Bishop William Malveisin of St Andrews (1202-38) to the hospital of Loch Leven, and passed with all of that hospital’s possessions into the control of the Trinitarian house of Scotlandwell by grant of Bishop David de Bernham c.1250.(1

Both parsonage and vicarage were annexed to Scotlandwell and was accounted in that way in the papal tax rolls in the mid-1270s.(2)  The cure appears to have been served by one of the brethren, and remained so at the Reformation, when it was recorded the kirk of Carnock contributed 52 bolls of meal and 20 bolls of bere towards the revenues of Scotlandwell, with 20 merks fee to be paid annually to the reader.(3)


1. Liber Cartarum Prioratus Sancti Andree in Scotia (Bannatyne Club, 1841), 175-176; I B Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society, 1967), 28.

2. A I Dunlop (ed), ‘Bagimond’s Roll: Statement of the Tenths of the Kingdom of Scotland’, Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, vi (1939), 37.

3. J Kirk (ed), The Book of Assumptions of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 56; G Donaldson, Accounts of the Collectors of the Thirds of Benefices (Scottish History Society, 1947), 68.

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Granted to the hospital of Loch Leven by William de Malvoison, bishop of St Andrews, and passed to the hospital of Scotlandwell in 1251 by grant of bishop David de Bernham.(1) Both parsonage and vicarage appear to have been annexed, as they were at the Reformation, while cure would be served by one of the brethren.(2)

1509 (16 June) Presentation directed to Alexander, archbishop of St Andrews and perpetual commendator of Dunfermline of Donald Gillespy to the chapel of Carnock in the parish of St Ninian near Stirling in the diocese of St Andrews, which chapel was in the patronage of Duncan Forster de Garden, knight, Christiana Hebbume of Gargunnock, Thomas For [?bes] of Camoth, Alexander Drummond of [Armor?] and Alexander Elphinstoun of Artht Edinburgh.(3)


Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage and vicarage annexed to the hospital of Scotlandwell.(4)

1602 [no reference in Synod of Fife to the new church and the Presbytery records only date from 1647]

1646 (6 Oct) Edward Baith of Carnock presents a minister to the church of which he is the patron.(5)

1657 (24 July) Visitation of the church by the Pres of Dunfermline (no refs to fabric).(6)

1729 (1 Jan) Minister and session ask the presbytery to intervene as the heritors refuse to contribute to the reparation of the kirk and manse until the sum from a mortification by Veronica, Countess of Kincardine, has been used for the repairs. The presbytery appoint the session to uplift the money and use it for the repairs.(7)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Alexander Thomson, 1791): ‘The church of Carnock appears, by an inscription still eligible on it, to have been built in 1602… It was last repaired in about the year 1772’.(8)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev William Gilson, 1843): ‘A new church was built in 1840’.(9)

[Neither accounts refer to buildings pre-dating 1602]

J. M Webster notes in 1938 that ‘the old church of Carnock, the ruins of which, thanks to the late Lieutenant Colonel Mitchell of Carnock and Luscar, are in excellent preservation, was built in 1200.(10)


1. Liber Cartarum Prioratus Sancti Andree in Scotia, 175-176.

2. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 28.

3. NRS Title deeds relating to the lands of Carnock and Plean, GD17/37/A.

4. Donaldson, Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices, 68.

5. NRS Records of the Synod of Fife, 1639-1657, CH2/154/2, fol. 143.

6. NRS Presbytery of Dunfermline, 1647-72, CH2/105/1/1, fol. 310.

7. NRS Presbytery of Dunfermline, Minutes, 1729-1745, CH2/105/6, fol. 354.

8. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1791), xi, 487.

9. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1843), ix, 712.

10. Webster, History of Carnock, p. 5.


National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Dunfermline, 1647-72, CH2/105/1/1.

National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Dunfermline, Minutes, 1729-1745, CH2/105/6.

National Records of Scotland, Records of the Synod of Fife, 1639-1657, CH2/154/2.

National Records of Scotland, Title deeds relating to the lands of Carnock and Plean, GD17/37/A.

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

Donaldson, G., 1949, Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices, (Scottish History 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.

Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, ed. J. Sinclair, Edinburgh.

Architectural description

Suggestions that Carnock may have been a site associated with Early Christian worship, which were made following the discovery of what was taken to be an early stone in the course of repairs carried out on the church in 1921, have to be treated with some caution.(1) The medieval parish, which was earlier known as ‘Kerneth’, was granted to the hospital of Loch Leven by Bishop William de Malvoisin of St Andrews (1202-38). Along with that hospital it passed to the Trinitarian hospital of Scotlandwell in 1250/1, and it appears that the cure was then served by one of the brethren of that house.(2)

The church was evidently repaired in 1602 by Sir George Bruce of Carnock, whose initials and that date are inscribed below the south kneeler of the east gable. His name is also inscribed on a relocated tablet set into the internal north wall of the church, where it is associated with a tablet inscribed with the name of the minister John Row and the date 1638. The latter date was also on the bell.(3) Further repairs are said to have been carried out in 1641, in about 1772 and in 1815.(4)

By the early nineteenth century, however, the church was deemed to be ‘old, inconveniently small and most uncomfortable’. Following the preparation of a report by James Gillespie Graham in 1838, it was decided that the church should be replaced by a new one on a different site, which was built to the designs of John Henderson and opened for worship in May 1840.(5)

The church is an oriented rectangle of about 14.6 by 6.7 metres, the earlier parts of which have walls of grey sandstone, with external faces constructed of large squared blocks laid in regular courses. The principal diagnostic features for this phase of works are to be found in three narrow windows: two in the east wall and one in the north wall, the last of which has probably been re-set, since the masonry around it appears to be later.

The two surviving window heads (one in the east wall is lost) have pointed arches, though that in the north wall differs from that in the east wall in being framed by a narrow external rebate. The surviving semi-circular rear-arch head in the east wall is constructed of carefully formed voussoirs. Another primary feature is a round-headed aumbry towards the north end of the east wall, which has similarly well constructed voussoirs as the surviving window rear-arch above it; it has evidently been secondarily adapted to receive a rectangular door frame.

Details of this kind point to a date in the late twelfth or early thirteenth century for the primary construction, and it may be suspected that the building represented by those details was already in existence at the time that Bishop Malvoisin granted the parish to Loch Leven.

Later modifications to the church are generally identifiable by the use of uncoursed rubble masonry. The west wall appears to have been completely reconstructed, together with extents of the north wall, and a section of the south wall adjoining the west wall. It may be wondered if the church was truncated in the course of this reconstruction, with the possibility that the existing rectangle was originally the chancel of a two-compartment building. However, the proportions of the church as now seen are much as would be expected for a medieval rural church, so the reconstruction may simply have been necessitated by structural problems.

The dating of a number of secondary modifications to the fabric is particularly problematic. There were evidently some medieval changes in the chancel area, presumably to enhance the setting of the liturgy. Cutting back of the stone beneath the east windows associated with a number of beam holes is perhaps best explained by the installation of an altarpiece, and the modifications to the adjacent aumbry that have already been mentioned were presumably part of the same phase of liturgical improvements.

It is less clear if other modifications date from before or after the Reformation. A porch that was added over the south nave door, for example, has generally been regarded as of post-Reformation date, and that may indeed be the case. However, a small ogee-headed recess in the east wall is best explained as a holy water stoup, and such a feature would certainly not have been provided after the Reformation. Beyond that, the continuous heavy quirked roll moulding of the porch’s outer arch would not be out of place in the second quarter of the sixteenth century. On that basis, a pre-Reformation date may on balance be more likely for the addition of the porch.

Such a date is also possible for the insertion of the two doors into the nave. The north door is round-arched and has a simple continuous chamfer to the reveal with no hood mould. Only the jambs of the more important door on the south side survive, and those are capped by imposts with a quirked cavetto moulding. Such details would not be out of place in the earlier sixteenth century.

A particular problem arises in areas where it appears that primary masonry has been re-used. This appears to have taken place in the west gable, which is constructed of large blocks unlike the random rubble of the lower part of the wall. The east gable is even more problematic because, if the stone is re-used, it has been re-set with greater care than in the west gable. Nevertheless, the way that the gable is set back above a chamfered intake, considered together with the insertion of a central window with chamfered reveals, makes it very likely that the gable has indeed been reconstructed. The most likely date for this reconstruction may be 1602, the date inscribed below the east kneeler.

Other openings, and particularly three windows along the south wall, are also difficult to date with certainty, though the chamfered reveals and glazing checks suggest a pre-Reformation date. However, two low-set small rectangular windows towards the west end of the south and north walls are best explained as being inserted to light the space under a post-Reformation gallery, with a window high up in the east wall lighting the gallery itself. Two features that are unquestionably of post-Reformation date are a simple arched bellcote at the apex of the west gable and a sundial at the south-west angle of the church that is dated 1683.


1. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Canmore Online Database.

2. Ian B. Cowan The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 28.

3. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-99, vol. 11, p. 487.

4. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 9, p. 711; Statistical Account of Scotland, vol. 11, p. 488.

5. New Statistical Account of Scotland, vol. 9, p. 711-12.



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

  • 1. Carnock Church, exterior, from south east

  • 2. Carnock Church, exterior, east gable from north east 1

  • 3. Carnock Church, exterior, east gable from north east, 2

  • 4. Carnock Church, exterior, from north west

  • 5. Carnock Church, exterior, from south

  • 6. Carnock Church, exterior, lancet in east gable

  • 7. Carnock Church, exterior, looking west

  • 8. Carnock Church, exterior, north door

  • 9. Carnock Church, exterior, south porch

  • 10. Carnock Church, exterior, sundial at south-west corner

  • 11. Carnock Church, exterior, west gable

  • 12. Carnock Church, interior, aumbry in east wall

  • 13. Carnock Church, interior, east gable

  • 14. Carnock Church, interior, memorial against east wall

  • 15. Carnock Church, interior, looking east

  • 16. Carnock Church, interior, north wall, inscription relating to Sir George Bruce

  • 17. Carnock Church, interior, south porch

  • 18. Carnock Church, interior, south porch stoup

  • 19. Carnock Church, exterior, inscribed stone beneath south kneeler of east gable

  • 20. Carnock Church, plan and elevations (Walker)

  • 21. Carnock, new church