Chirnside Parish Church

Chirnide Church, south door

Summary description

A complex building incorporating masonry of a presumably rectangular medieval predecessor, including an early twelfth-century south door. Largely rebuilt in 1878 and 1907.

Historical outline

Dedication: unknown

The first surviving reference to the church of Chirnside is the record of its dedication on 10 April 1242 by Bishop David de Bernham of St Andrews.(1)  It was an independent parsonage throughout the thirteenth century, being recorded as such in Bagimond’s Roll, where the rector of the churches of Chirnside and Whitsome was assessed at 12 merks for taxation, and in the second year at 6 merks 6s 8d for Chirnside alone.(2)

It emerges in the 1340s that Chirnside was in the patronage of the earls of Dunbar.  On the erection of the collegiate church of Dunbar in 1342 by Patrick, earl of Dunbar, the church of Chirnside was annexed to it with its parsonage and vicarage revenues supporting a prebend and the cure of the parish being served by a vicar pensioner or parochial chaplain, although the foundation charter itself referred to a ‘perpetual vicar’.(3)  The annexation was to become effective from the time that the next vacancy occurred at the church.  Under the terms of the annexation, the prebendary of Chirnside in the church of Dunbar was to be responsible in future for any rebuilding or repair to the choir of the annexed church.(4)  The parsonage and vicarage remained annexed to the collegiate church at the Reformation, when they were together valued at £98.(5)


1. A O Anderson (ed), Early Sources of Scottish History, ii (Edinburgh, 1922), 521 [Pontifical Offices of St Andrews].

2. A I Dunlop (ed), ‘Bagimond’s Roll: The Statement of the Tenths of the Kingdom of Scotland’, Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, vi (1939), 35, 60.

3. D E Easson (ed), ‘The foundation charter of the collegiate church of Dunbar AD 1342’, Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, vi (1939), 90, 94.

4. Easson (ed), ‘Foundation chart of Dunbar’, 94.

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

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Parsonage and vicarage erected into a prebend of the college of Dunbar in 1342, with provision for a vicar pensioner (see Register of the Great Seal of Scotland vi, no. 1773).  Dunglass college in 15th century is within the parish.(1)

1446 Patrick Hume, holds the canonry and prebend of Chernside in the church of Dunbar, which is in the patronage of the King. (value £26).(2)


Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage of Chirnside valued at £98.(3)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of parsonage £32 13s 4d.(4)

1691 (19 Dec) Note in the session that the heritors should be prepared for a stent for paying for the new kirk yard dykes.(5)

1699 (8 June) Visitation of the church by the Presbytery of Chirnside to discuss the church and manse. George Brown, mason and James Richardson and David Aitchison, wrights, report that a whole new roof is required for the church and the west gavel needs to be repaired. Combined with repairs to the kirk yard dykes the total cost is estimated to be £576.(6)

1711 (25 Sept) Visitation of the church by the Presbytery note that Mr Hume of Mordington wrote to the session and alleges that the east aisle of Chirnside Kirk is ‘Ninewell’s’ property and that he is concerned to repair it. Alex Gilkie, James Dunwood, masons, appear to inspect the church; having considered the choir of Chirnside, they report that to repair the thatch will cost £222 Scots (a stent is agreed between the heritors).(7) A further report on 25 Dec notes that the final cost will be £252 11s 2d and is expected to take 3 months to complete.(8)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Walter Anderson, 1791): ‘that the church may have been 2 or 3 centuries old, appears from the architrave, or course fluting of the principal door…That the church might been older than this signature [a inscription on the aisle dated 1573] upon the choir aisle is not improbable’.(9)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Thomas Logan, 1834): ‘When the body of the church was rebuilt, the western door of Saxon architecture, with a small part of the walls belonging to the ancient fabric, was with good taste preserved’.(10)

[no other changes between 1791 and 1834 mentioned]


1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland , 31.

2. CSSR, iv, no. 1279.

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

4. Donaldson, Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices, 24.

5. NRS Chirnside Kirk Session, 1691-1704, CH2/407/1, fol. 4.

6. NRS Presbytery of Chirnside, Minutes, 1690-1702, CH2/516/1, fols. 183-185.

7. NRS Presbytery of Chirnside, Minutes, 1702-1721, CH2/516/2, fol. 162.

8. NRS Presbytery of Chirnside, Minutes, 1702-1721, CH2/516/2, fol. 170.

9. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1791), xiv, 47.

10. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1834), ii, 128.


National Records of Scotland, Chirnside Kirk Session, 1691-1704, CH2/407/1.

National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Chirnside, Minutes, 1690-1702, CH2/516/1.

National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Chirnside, Minutes, 1702-1721, CH2/516/2.

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1433-47, 1983, ed. A.I. Dunlop and D MacLauchlan, Glasgow.

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

On the architectural evidence of a retained door, the church must date back to at least the early twelfth century, though one of the first specific references to it is a dedication by Bishop David de Bernham, on 10 April 1242.(1) In 1342 both the parsonage and vicarage were erected into a prebend of Dunbar Collegiate Church, with the cure to be served thenceforth by a vicar pensioner.(2)

The church has been so extensively modified on several occasions that it is now difficult to be certain of its medieval form. But from the evidence of the lower masonry, the final medieval plan of its main core appears to have been a rectangle of about 23.75 by 7 metres, and it is said that it was at least partly stone vaulted.(3) There was apparently a west tower,(4) which had been demolished before the 1790s, perhaps around 1750,(5) but there are no indications of where this abutted.

After the Reformation, works on the church may have been necessary as early as 1573, the date of an inscribed stone that also carried an exhortation to help the poor. Major works costed at £576 were required to the roof and west gable in 1699, which were carried out by the mason George Brown and the wrights James Richardson and Davidson Aitchison.(6) A now-lost inscription records repairs in 1705, and there was further work to the choir roof in 1711 that was costed at £222.(7) A lateral north aisle is presumably the product of one of the post- Reformation campaigns of work.

Much of the present appearance of the church, however, dates from two major restorations. The first was carried out in 1878 by J. Maitland Wardrop, when much Romanesque-inspired detail was introduced, following the lead of the retained south door. Along the south flank this is seen in four large round-headed windows at the centre, with smaller windows below the galleries at each end; above those at the east end is a bipatrtite window within a gablet to light the gallery itself.

But it was a restoration of 1907 that has had the greatest impact on the massing of the church as now seen. This was carried out by A.G. Sidney Mitchell and Wilson at the behest of the second Baron Tweedmouth and in memory of his wife, Lady Fanny, who had died in 1904.

Externally,(8) the most clearly identifiable architectural feature of the first church is the early twelfth-century doorway, which  was originally framed within a salient section of wall, towards the west end of the south face. Its segmental arch has chevron decoration carried on engaged shafts with scalloped caps to the inner order, and a roll moulding carried on renewed en-délit shafts with cushion caps to the outer order; it has a rubble tympanum above a lintel. Apart from the door, medieval work may also be identifiable in the lower courses of masonry in the eastern part of the building, including a rather enigmatic projection from the east wall.

The church is now dominated by the broad squat west tower with a saddle-back roof behind a corbelled parapet, which is the result of a heightening of the end of the nave dating from the 1907 campaign. It is flanked and overtopped to the north by a substantial stair turret capped by a spirelet and pinnacles, which has a porch projecting westwards from its base.

Also as part of the 1907 operations, a hall and vestry were added north of the north aisle, with a screened Tweedmouth burial atrium formed in the hollow between tower, aisle and hall. These, in a stylised arts and crafts version of Scottish Gothic, are what is first seen when approaching from the village, and they give little clue to the church behind.

Other additions of 1907 were a gabled open porch carried on cylindrical piers over the south doorway, and a small memorial aisle for Lady Fanny in the angle between the chancel and north aisle. Otherwise the main body of the church was left much as after the remodelling of 1878.

Internally the restoration of 1907 left the liturgical arrangements little changed from 1878. The three arms are focused on the pulpit and communion table near the centre of the south wall, with galleries in all three arms. The scissor-beam roofs, pews and gallery fronts are also largely of 1878 and present a stark contrast to the 1907 craft detailing within the west tower and the streamlined Gothic of the hall and vestry. The tower creates a vertiginous space above the west gallery, rising to a flat panelled ceiling above an arcaded clearstorey passage.


1. Alan Orr Anderson, The Early Sources of Scottish History, Edinburgh, 1922, vol. 2, p. 521.

2. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 31.

3. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-99, vol. 18, p. 8.

4. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-99, vol. 18, p. 8.

5. James Robson, The Churches and Churchyards of Berwickshire, 1896, 34; C.A.C. Binnie, The Churches and Churchyards of Berwickshire, 1995, p. 58.

6. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Chirndie, Minutes, 1692-1702, CH2/516/1, fols 183-5.

7. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Chirndie, Minutes, 1702-21, CH2/516/2, fol. 162.

8. 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, pp. 167-68.



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

  • 1. Chirnide Church, south door

  • 2. Chirnide Church, south door arch

  • 3. Chirnside Church, exterior, east wall, possible medieval masonry

  • 4. Chirnside Church, exterior, from south

  • 5. Chirnside Church, exterior, chancel, from south

  • 6. Chirnside Church, exterior, from south west

  • 7. Chirnside Church, exterior, from west

  • 8. Chirnside churchyard, gravestone, 1

  • 9. Chirnside churchyard, gravestone, 2