Cockpen / Dalwolsy Parish Church

Cockpen Church, interior, looking east

Summary description

The shell of a rectangular medieval church of late twelfth- or early thirteenth-century date, around which a number of post-Reformation aisles have been added. Replaced by a new church on a different site in 1817-20.

Historical outline

Dedication: St Kentigern?

Possibly dedicated to St Kentigern,(1) nothing is known of the early history of Cockpen before its dedication on 4 May 1242 by Bishop David de Bernham of St Andrews.(2)  It was a free parsonage in the mid-1270s when it was listed in the rolls of the papal tax-collector, assessed for taxation at two merks.(3) The patronage of the church belonged by the thirteenth century to the Ramsays of Dalhousie, within whose lordship it lay.(4

On 11 November 1356, Sir Patrick Ramsay of Dalhousie granted and confirmed the patronage of Cockpen, with an acre of land to be the glebe, to the monks of Newbattle Abbey.(5)  The gift was confirmed by King David II,(6) and by Bishop William Landallis of St Andrews, who permitted the monks to annexe the revenues on the death or resignation of the current rector and install a chaplain to serve the cure with a stipend of 100s.(7

Following Bishop Landallis confirmation, the whole fruits of the church were annexed to Newbattle, the cure thereafter being served by a vicar pensioner.  At the Reformation it was recorded that the whole fruits of the church were uplifted by the abbey.(8)


1. J M Mackinlay, Ancient Church Dedications in Scotland. Non-Scriptural Dedications (Edinburgh, 1914), 180.  His suggestion is based on the presence in the parish of a ‘bog of S quintergerni’.

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

3. A I Dunlop (ed), ‘Bagimond’s Roll: Statement of the Tenths of the Kingdom of Scotland’, Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, vi (1939), 58.

4. Registrum S Marie de Neubotle (Bannatyne Club, 1849), Carte Originales, no.XXII [hereafter Newbattle Registrum].

5. NRS GD40/1/55; Newbattle Registrum, Carte Originales, no.XXIII.

6. Newbattle Registrum, Carte Originales, no.XXIV.

7. NRS GD40/1/56; GD40/1/58.

8. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 102-103.

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Also known as Dalwosy. Granted to Newbattle by Patrick de Ramsey in 1356. Both parsonage and vicarage were annexed, with a vicar pensioner to serve the cure.(1)

Mackinlay suggests that a reference to a ‘bog of S. quintergerni’ in the parish may suggest that the church was dedicated to St Kentigern.(2)

1455 Robert of Ramsay, late rector of parish church of Kerington, received £40 from David Hay of Yester upon the great altar of kirk of Cockpen for the lands of Gamiltoun and Yester.(3)


Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The parish church parsonage and vicarage with Newbattle, produce only.(4)

1590 (28 May) Visitation of the church by the Presbytery of Dalkeith approves the minister but finds the church to be ruinous (agreement made with elders to see to this).(5)

1593 (3 Oct) Synod of Lothian and Tweedale visitation of the presbytery of Dalkeith finds that doctrine was kept in all the churches on the sabbeth but none in the churches of Lasswade and Cockpen.(6)

1594 (7 Mar) Visitation of Cockpen by the Presbytery of Dalkeith finds the fabric of the kirk to require mending, in particular the seats (the lord of Dalhousie to be consulted).(7)

1614 (8 Sept) Visitation of Cockpen by the Presbytery of Dalkeith finds that kirk yard dykes are required and the church requires repair (following consultation the lord of Dalhousie contributed 400 marks.(8)

1627 (7 May) Report on the parish by the minister (M. A. Penman) describes the church as having formally belonging to the abbey of Newbattle; the relationship was dissolved in 1587 and the church was erected into a parsonage and vicarage; the lords of Newbattle are patrons with the church having a choir without a roof, and there is only room in the church for half the parishioners.(9)

1636 (9 July) Report by the minister of Cockpen (Adam Penman), that his church is unslated and he had hoped to get some help and therefore asks for a visitation. The subsequent visitation on 21 July finds that the minister complaining that the church is standing in such a place of the country and by the high street should be thatched with ‘diviots’, this is seen to be unseemlie and incommodious (the brethren agree and organise a stent to be paid equally amongst the heritors).(10)

1646 (8 Oct) Visitation of church by the Presbytery of Dalkeith regrets that the kirk yard dykes are down, and to be repaired. [nothing of the church fabric noted].(11)

1676 (18 June) George Kannie, slater, paid £6 for mending a breach in the roof of the church.(12)

1679 (9 Nov) £9 paid to Thomas Scarsburgh, plasterer, in part payment for beam filling and plastering the kirk. (further £6 12s paid on Dec 14).(13)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Ebenezer Marshall): [No reference to church buildings]

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev William Davidson, 1845): ‘The parish church… was built in 1809’.(14) (no reference to previous church or any older buildings)

Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches: (George Hay): 1820, R and R Dickson, architects; refurnished c. 1885, walls of medieval kirk extant. Cockpen, Kilconquhar and Cranstoun are of identical style by the same architects (‘T’ plan churches).(15)


1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 33.

2. Mackinlay, Non-Scriptural Dedications, p.180.

3. Yester Writs, no. 116.

4. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 102-03.

5. NRS Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1582-1630, CH2/424/1, fol. 214.

6. Synod Records of Lothian and Tweeddale, p. 65.

7. NRS Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1582-1630, CH2/424/1, fols. 311-312.

8. NRS Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1582-1630, CH2/424/1, fol. 372.

9. Reports on the State of Certain Parishes in Scotland, pp. 5-8.

10. NRS Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1630-1639, CH2/424/2, fols. 93-94.

11. NRS Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1639-1652, CH2/424/3, fol. 163.

12. NRS Cockpen Kirk Session, 1675-1680, CH2/452/1, fol. 17.

13. NRS Cockpen Kirk Session, 1675-1680, CH2/452/1, fols. 65 & 67.

14. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1845), i, 609.

15. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, pp. 121 & 264.


National Records of Scotland, Cockpen Kirk Session, 1675-1680, CH2/452/1.

National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1582-1630, CH2/424/1.

National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1630-1639, CH2/424/2.

National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1639-1652, CH2/424/3.

Calendar of writs preserved at Yester House, 1166-1625, 1930, eds. C. Harvey and J. McLeod (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh.

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

Hay, G., 1957, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, 1560-1843, Oxford.

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.

Reports on the State of Certain Parishes in Scotland, Made to his Majesty’s Commissioners for Plantation of Kirks, 1835, ed. A. MacGrigor (Maitland Club), Edinburgh.

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

Synod Records of Lothian and Tweeddale, 1589-1596, 1640-1649, 1977, ed. J. Kirk (Stair Society), Edinburgh.

Architectural description

Bishop David de Bernham carried out one of his dedications at Cockpen, which also went by the name of Dalwolsy, on 4 May 1242.(1) In 1356 it was granted to the Cistercian abbey of Newbattle by the lord of Dalwolsy, Patrick Ramsay. This was confirmed by David II and Bishop Malcolm of St Andrews in the following year, and provision was made for a vicar pensioner.(2)

In its final medieval state the church was an elongated rectangle of about 4.7 metres from south to north and 20.15 metres from east to west. Excavations in 1993, in advance of consolidation of the upstanding fabric, revealed that it had attained this form as a consequence of a more complex structural history than is first apparent.(3)

It was found that there had been a first single-cell church, which must have been about half the length of the present building, on the evidence of the excavated foundations of its west wall. Recycled chevron-decorated fragments, which were thought to be from a feature such as a doorway, suggested an earlier twelfth-century date for this first phase.

The east wall, which is the building’s most striking feature, was considered by the excavators to be the result of a partial remodelling of that first church. However, the continuity of the masonry from the east end through the eastern half of the building, with carefully squared masonry above a narrow chamfered base course, may suggest rather that the whole church was rebuilt at this phase.

The dominant feature of the east wall is a handsome grouping of two lancets and a circlet, all without external hood moulds and with widely splayed rear arches. This is clearly of the late twelfth or early thirteenth century, being a combination of elements greatly favoured in high quality work at that time. Variants with a vesica rather than a circlet between the light heads are to be seen in the sacristy at Dryburgh Abbey and at the east end of Keith Marischal Church.

The east front is framed by substantial clasping buttresses. Within the church, the principal altar at the east end was served by a piscina at the east end of the south wall; the recess is blocked, but it can be seen where the basin has been cut away.

The westward doubling in length of the church at some date in the later middle ages is apparent in the change of masonry from squared blocks to uncoursed rubble that is most clearly visible along the south wall. But no firm evidence was found for the date at which this was carried out. The jambs of a doorway with rounded arrises towards the west end of the north wall may have been part of this operation, as may a wider round-arched doorway with similarly rounded arrises in the south wall, which has been turned around to serve as the entrance to a burial enclosure.

The church was extensively modified after the Reformation. This involved the cutting of a number of new door and window openings, while evidence for the insertion of galleries to meet the needs of new forms of worship is to be seen in external forestairs that have been constructed at the east and west ends. Regrettably, the former necessitated the destruction of much of the southern lancet window in the east wall.

A number of aisles or burial enclosures have been added around the periphery of the church. That at the west end of the south wall was entered from the church by a round-arched doorway that it has been suggested could have been a medieval doorway that has been turned around, and it can be seen there is recycled medieval masonry in its south wall. Foundations were also found of a second enclosure further east along the south wall.

Of the two additions to the north flank, the aisle of the earls of Dalhousie, near the centre of the wall, is the most prominent. It appears initially to have been open to the body of the church through a wide arch, and was presumably the place where the family sat during services. It was walled off after the abandonment of the church.

Presbytery, heritors’ and Kirk Session accounts record the usual tally of running repairs after the Reformation, though few are sufficiently specific to help understanding of the remaining fabric. In 1590, for example, there was the common – and presumably generally over-stated - complaint that the building was ruinous,(4) while in 1636 the minister said it was unslated.(5)

The church was eventually replaced by a new building, about one kilometre to the north-west. This was designed by Richard Crichton in 1816 and built by Richard and Robert Dickson, under the supervision of Archibald Elliot, in 1817-20.(6) The latter date is inscribed above the entrance. The new church was cited as the model for the design of Kilconquhar Church in Fife, which the Dicksons built in 1820-21.


1. Alan Orr Anderson, 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. 33.

3. Jerry O’Sullivan, ‘Archaeological Excavations at Cockpen Medieval Parish Church, Midlothian, 1993’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 125, 1995, pp. 881-900.

4. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1582-1630, CH2/424/1, fol. 215r.

5. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1639-52, CH2/424/3, fol. 163.

6. Howard Colvin, Dictionary of British Architects, 4th ed., New Haven and London, 2008, p. 287; National Records of Scotland, CH2/452/29 and HR 333/6.



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

  • 1. Cockpen Church, interior, looking east

  • 2. Cockpen Church, exterior, east gable from south east

  • 3. Cockpen Church, exterior, east window modified as door

  • 4. Cockpen Church, exterior, from north west

  • 5. Cockpen Church, exterior, from south west

  • 6. Cockpen Church, exterior, nave south wall

  • 7. Cockpen Church, exterior, west wall

  • 8. Cockpen Church, interior, arch into south-west aisle

  • 9. Cockpen Church, interior, blocked piscina

  • 10. Cockpen Church, interior, east windows

  • 11. Cockpen Church, interior, recycled stone in south wall of south-west aisle

  • 12. Cockpen Church, plan (MacGibbon and Ross)

  • 13. Cockpen churchyard, gravestone

  • 14. Cockpen churchyard, gravestones

  • 15. Cockpen later church, 1

  • 16. Cockpen later church, 2

  • 17. Cockpen later church, date inscription