Dunbar Parish Church

Dunbar Parish Church, exterior, 1

Summary description

In its final state the medieval church was cruciform with a single north nave aisle and a west tower; a number of lateral aisles were added after the Reformation. Rebuilt on the same site in 1819-21 and re-ordered in 1897 and 1987, the latter after a fire.

Historical outline

Dedication: St Baya/Bee

The Northumbrian origins of the church at Dunbar are indicated by its dedication to the semi-mythical St Bee, whose cult centre lay at St Bees on the Cumbrian coast.(1)  Considering the evident importance of this church, it is surprising that no record of its seems to survive from earlier than the mid-1270s when it was recorded in the rolls of the papal tax-collector in Scotland.  There, an unappropriated free parsonage and paired with another church called ‘Pentland’ or ‘Pentathat’ (believed to be Pinkerton), it was assessed for tax at 22 merks.(2)  It was still as a free parsonage that it was recorded in 1311 in the hands of John de Sandale, an English royal clerk and noted pluralist who held multiple benefices scattered throughout the British Isles.(3)

In 1342, Patrick, earl of Dunbar, received confirmation from Bishop William Landallis of St Andrews for the erection of the parish church into a collegiate church.  The original foundation charter does not survive, but details of the constitution of the new college, its associated prebends and the revenues allocated for their support are preserved in a confirmation granted in 1429 by Bishop Henry Wardlaw.(4)  The foundation annexed most of the teinds of Dunbar and four of its dependent chapels – Hedderwick, Penshiel, Spott and Stenton – plus a portion of the revenues of the quasi-parochial church of Whittinghame (thereafter served by a vicar), plus those of the churches of Chirnside, Duns and Linton which were in the earl’s gift, for support of the prebendaries.  The college was to be headed by a dean, but the principal allocation from the revenues of the parish of Dunbar went to the ‘archpriest’, who was thereafter to discharge the duties of parish priest through the services of a curate.  Eight other prebends or canonries were instituted, supported on the teinds of the three other appropriated parishes and the tounships of Belton, Dunbar, Pinkerton, Pitcox and Spott, with the residue of the teinds forming a common fund from which all of the prebendaries benefited.

Although the foundation charter provided only for a curate to serve the cure of souls in the parish of Dunbar, it appears that a perpetual vicarage was instituted.  In 1443 the perpetual vicarage, valued at £20, was in the hands of Adam Hepburn.(5)  In 1504, when James IV petitioned the pope for permission to annexe the archpriestship and several of the prebends funded from within Dunbar parish to the Chapel Royal, reservation was again made for a perpetual vicarage.(6)  In 1541, on Thomas Adeson was named as ‘vicar’ of the church.(7)  At the Reformation, however, only the parsonage was recorded, which suggests that the cure might indeed have been served by a curate on a fixed stipend.  The parsonage was then in the hands of Mr John Hamilton, described as a student at Paris, and valued at £133 6s 8d.(8)

The patronage of the collegiate church lay in the hands of Earl Patrick’s successors as earls of Dunbar or March.  Between 1400 and 1409, during the exile and forfeiture of George Dunbar, earl of March, the right of presentation was in crown hands, reverting to the Dunbar’s on George’s restoration, but falling again to the crown following his final forfeiture in 1435.  This close relationship with the Dunbars is well illustrated by the provision to the deanery of the collegiate church in 1413 of Columba Dunbar, Earl George’s son, and the role of confessor to the earl and his eldest son, also called George, of the archpriest of the college.(9)  From 1435, the kings of Scots – or their councillors – used royal possession of the patronage to provide royal clerks or family-members of favoured royal servants to the prebends in the church.(10)

Several altars and chaplainries are recorded in the church.  The high altar is referred to throughout the pre-Reformation period, but it is only in 1540 that additional provision was made for the lighting of this altar, dedicated to St Baya.(11)  The earliest subsidiary altar recorded is that of the Blessed Virgin Mary, otherwise referred to as the altar of Our Lady, which was described in 1342 as ‘newly erected’ in the nave of the church.(12)  The foundation charter indicates that it was at this altar that parish services were to be conducted thenceforth.  In 1559, one Adam Learmonth was described as chaplain of the Lady altar.(13)  Whether he was the curate serving the cure of souls at this altar or holder of a wholly separate chaplainry is unknown.  In the fifteenth century, two perpetual chaplains – described as of ancient foundation by the earls of March - founded in the collegiate church are recorded in the Exchequer Rolls as receiving their annuities from the king’s revenues from the burgh of Dunbar and its mills, but there is no more detailed information relating to at which altar(s) these men served.(14)

In 1501, a chaplaincy at the altar of St Salvator in the aisle of the same dedication was recorded as being founded by George Inglis of Lochend.  The aisle had been built by George’s father, Robert Inglis, and the new chaplaincy was being founded for the welfare of the soul of the late Robert.(15)  In 1515 Elizabeth Cunningham of Belton, widow of John, Lord Hay of Yester, was described as patroness of the altar of St Monan in the church of Dunbar, to which she made an endowment of £10 and provided the chaplain.(16)  A final altar, dedicated to St Patrick, is only recorded in a post-Reformation source, but the dedication to a saint with whom the early earls of Dunbar had a close personal identification (exemplified by the succession of eleventh- to fourteenth-century earls called Cospatric or Patrick) suggests that this was a much older foundation.(17)

Notes

1. Calendar of Papal Letters to Scotland of Pope Benedict XIII of Avignon 1394-1419, ed F McGurk (Scottish History Society, 1976), 312 for the identity of the patron saint.

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), 33, 57, 58.

3. Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, ii, 1305-1342, ed W H Bliss (London, 1895), 88.

4. D E Easson (ed), ‘The Foundation Charter of the Collegiate Church of Dunbar AD 1342’, Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, vi (1939), 81-109.

5. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, iv, 1433-1447, ed A I Dunlop and D MacLauchlan (Glasgow, 1983), no.959.

6. Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, xviii, 1503-1513 (Dublin, 1989), no.363.

7. NRS Dunbar Burgh Court and Council Records 1538-1566, GD1/413/15, fol. 3.

8. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 169.

9. Calendar of Papal Letters to Scotland of Pope Benedict XIII of Avignon 1394-1419, ed F McGurk (Scottish History Society, 1976), 203, 312.

10. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, iv, 1433-1447, eds A I Dunlop and D MacLauchlan (Glasgow, 1983), no.1016.

11. NRS Dunbar Burgh Court and Council Records 1538-1566, GD1/413/15, fol. 2.

12. Easson (ed), ‘Foundation Charter of the Collegiate Church of Dunbar’, 92.

13. NRS Dunbar Burgh Court and Council Records 1538-1566, GD1/413/15, fol. 51.

14. See, for example, The Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, vi, 1455-1460, ed G Burnett (Edinburgh, 1883), 57, 59, 258, 336, 432, 588, 624; The Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, vii, 1460-1467, ed G Burnett (Edinburgh, 1884), 98, 178, 317, 400, 493.

15. Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, ii, 1424-1513, ed J B Paul (Edinburgh, 1882), no.2618.

16. Calendar of Writes Preserved at Yester House 1166-1503, eds C C H Harvey and J Macleod (Scottish Record Society, 1930), 373.  There is further reference to the altar in her testament: NRS GD28/273.

17. NRS, Material relating to the parish: North Berwick, Oldhamstocks, Ormiston, Pencaitland, GD1/413/9, fol. 30.

Summary of relevant documentation

Medieval

Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Erected into a collegiate church in 1342; teinds fell to archpriest who paid a curate to provide the cure.(1)

1311 John de Sandale, (English pluralist and clerk of Edward II) has the church and several others across British Isles.(2)

1443 Adam Hepburn, described as perpetual vicar of Dunbar (value £20).(3)

1504 James IV petition to unite the collegiate church of Dunbar, described as in crown patronage, to the Chapel Royal at Stirling. Cure to be served thereafter by a perpetual vicar.(4)

1527 (12 Aug) James V confirms a mortmain charter by John White, prebendary of Petcokkis in church of St Baye the virgin, Dunbar, for the souls of the king, royal family, the Colvilles of Ochiltree and his own family. In honour of Jesus, Mary, Trinity, St Anne, John the Baptist and Evangelist, and Saints Giles, Columba, Leonard and Cuthbert, John founds a chaplaincy at the altar of the Holy Cross ‘on the south part’ of the church of St Giles, Edinburgh. After his death patronage to James Colville of Ochiltree and his heirs.(5) (original testament considerably shorter).(6)

James V confirms a mortmain charter by John White, prebendary of Petcokkis in the church of St Baye the virgin, Dunbar, for the souls of the king, the royal family, the Colvilles of Ochiltree and his own family. The foundation was in honour of Jesus, Mary, the Trinity, St Anne, Sts John the Baptist and the Evangelist, and Sts Giles, Columba, Leonard and Cuthbert, John founds a chaplaincy at the altar of the Holy Cross ‘on the south part’ of the church of St Giles, Edinburgh. After his death patronage passed to James Colville of Ochiltree and his heirs.(5) [original testament considerably shorter].(6)

1541 Thomas Adeson referred to as vicar of church.(7)

Altar and chaplaincies in Dunbar

Our Lady

1559 Adam Learmonth described as chaplain of the Lady altar in the church.(8)

Holy Cross

1504 Chaplainries at the Rood altar in the loft, and the altar of St John the Baptist in the south aisle receive gifts from Alexander Gifford, rector of Newlands.(9)

St Salvator

1501 Chaplaincy at the altar founded by George Inglis of Lochen (his father Robert built the aisle of St Salvator).(10)

St Baya (patron of the church/high altar)

1540 Alexander Down, gift of 16s 13d to light of St Baya in the collegiate church.(11)

St Monan

1515 Elizabeth Cunningham, lady of Beltoun and wife of John, Lord Hay, described as patroness of the altar of St Monan in Dunbar which had been founded by her, grants £10 yearly to the new chaplain, John Leis.(12)  The chalice, book and other ornaments of the altar were delivered to him. Further reference given in her testament.

St Patrick

1589 George Lauder of Bass grants chapel of Our Lady and altar of St Patrick in collegiate church to George Swinton, parson of Nevay.(14)

Post-medieval

Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage held by John Hamilton, £133 6s 8d.(15)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of parsonage £44 8s 10 2/3d.(16)

1560 (20 Dec) William Lamb and William Bonkle represented the church at the first meeting of the General Assembly in Edinburgh.(17)

1571 (15 Jan) The Minister is nominated to be one of the 21 members of the chapter of the Archbishop of St Andrews.(18)

1652 (7 Sept) Visitation of the church by the Presbytery of Dunbar finds the minister and session to be competent; however, the minister notes that the heritors regret the reparation of the kirk which his for the present very ruinous (the brethren order them to convene a stent for repairing the church). Further visit on 25 Oct finds the heritors still neglecting the repair of the kirk.(19)

1654 (24 Nov) Further reference to the fabric of the church not being complete. Robert Lauder appointed to make a stent for repair of the church.(20)

1660 (3 Apr) John Bell given permission to adapt his seat standing ‘in St John’s isle’ so that it faces the pulpit, as long as he mends the wall of that part of the church casting it in lime. [this aisle seems to be the same as the south aisle].(21)

1662 (31 Mar) The heritors agree a stent for the glass windows in the body of the kirk and the porch to be ‘castine, lime and point’; £40 set aside for the reparation thereof.(22)

1662 (4 Nov) After several further meetings the heritors agree on an extra £20 for the repairs taking the total to £60. They also decide to delay mending the kirk yard dykes until the spring.(23)

1683 (1 Aug) Visitation of the church by the Presbytery of Dunbar, William Mathie, wright, Thomas Bryson, slater, Patrick Ferguson, mason, compeared; mention made of the ruinous condition on the part of the kirk dykes and manse. Stent organised, overall cost of repair of kirk, kirk dykes and manse £796, 7s 4d.(24)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev George Bruce, 1792):‘The fabric of the church is very old and the form of it is very bad for auditory. It is built exactly in the form of a cross. It was founded in 1392 by George, the earl of March’.(25)

‘It was repaired in 1779, floored with deal and ceiled in the roof’.(26)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev John Jaffray, 1838): ‘When last taken down, its style was a mixture of Gothic and Saxon… The foundation stone of a new church was laid on the site of the old one 17th April 1819’.(27) [new one finished 1821]

Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches: (George Hay): 1821 James Gillespie Graham, architect, altered and enlarged 1897.(28)

Notes

1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 50.

2. CPL, ii, 88.

3. CSSR, iv, no. 959.

4. CPL, xviii, no. 363.

5. Registrum Sancti Egidii de Edinburgh, no. 130.

6. NRS Edinburgh Commissary Court. Register of Testaments, 1515-1532, CC8/8/1A, fol. 21.

7. NRS Dunbar Burgh Court and Council Records 1538-1566, GD1/413/15, fol. 3.

8. NRS Dunbar Burgh Court and Council Records 1538-1566, GD1/413/15, fol. 51.

9. RMS, ii, no. 2789.

10. RMS, ii, no. 2618.

11. NRS Dunbar Burgh Court and Council Records 1538-1566, GD1/413/15, fol. 2.

12. Yester Writs, no. 373.

13. NRS, GD28/273.

14. NRS, Material relating to the parish: North Berwick, Oldhamstocks, Ormiston, Pencaitland, GD1/413/9, fol. 30.

15. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 169.

16. Donaldson, Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices, 28.

17. Acts and Proceedings of the General Assemblies of the Kirk of Scotland, i, p.4

18. Acts and Proceedings of the General Assemblies of the Kirk of Scotland, i, 222-23.

19. NRS Presbytery of Dunbar, Minutes, 1652-1657, CH2/99/1, fols. 9-11 & 64.

20. NRS Presbytery of Dunbar, Minutes, 1652-1657, CH2/99/1, fol. 85.

21. NRS Dunbar Kirk Session, 1659-1662, CH2/647/1, fol. 27.

22. NRS Dunbar Kirk Session, 1659-1662, CH2/647/1, fol. 48.

23. NRS Dunbar Kirk Session, 1659-1662, CH2/647/1, fol. 67.

24. NRS Presbytery of Dunbar, Minutes, 1657-1684, CH2/99/2, fols. 279-280.

25. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1792), v, 481.

26. Ibid, 482.

27. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1838), ii, 89.

28. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, pp.119, 141, 142, 209 & 255.

Bibliography

National Records of Scotland, Dunbar Burgh Court and Council Records 1538-1566, GD1/413/15.

National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh Commissary Court. Register of Testaments, 1515-1532, CC8/8/1A.

National Records of Scotland, Material relating to the parish: North Berwick, Oldhamstocks, Ormiston, Pencaitland, GD1/413/9.

National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Dunbar, Minutes, 1652-1657, CH2/99/1.

National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Dunbar, Minutes, 1657-1684, CH2/99/2.

Acts and Proceedings of the General Assemblies of the Kirk of Scotland, 1839-45, ed. T. Thomson (Bannatyne Club), Edinburgh.

Calendar of entries in the Papal registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland; Papal letters, 1893-, ed. W.H. Bliss, London.

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

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.

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

Registrum Cartarum Ecclesie Sancti Egidii de Edinburgh, 1859, ed. D. Laing (Bannatyne Club), Edinburgh.

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

Architectural description

Little is known of the parochial history of Dunbar before the foundation of a college within the parish church in 1342,(1) and nothing survives of the medieval building. The present church dates from 1819-21 and is essentially the work of James Gillespie Graham,(2) the only feature from the previous church to be retained being the ambitious early seventeenth-century monument to George Home, earl of Dunbar.

There was a major remodelling of the church of 1819-21 in 1897, by W. and J. Hay of Liverpool in 1897, when a polygonal apse was added and the horse-shoe arrangement of galleries was replaced by a pair of arcades. There was a further internal remodelling by Campbell and Arnott after it was gutted by fire in 1987, when the arcades were removed with the roof being supported by modern joists.(3)

The plan and external appearance of the medieval church were relatively well recorded before its demolition. Particularly valuable sources of information are a view from the east of 1816, and a plan of 1817 by A. Morton, both of which are amongst the papers of General George Henry Hutton in the National Library of Scotland.(4) The plan shows that in its final state the church had an unaisled choir of five buttressed bays, widely projecting transepts, a nave with a north aisle of three bays and a west tower. Of the several altars that were eventually founded within the church, it is known that by 1504 the altar of St John the Baptist was in the south aisle and that of the rood was, as might be expected, in the loft.(5)

The view of the east face shows that the medieval building had handsome triplet of lancets tightly framed by three slender gableted buttresses, a composition that clearly dates from the first half of the thirteenth century. There was a very similar composition at Prestonkirk Church, which was appropriated to the college at Dunbar, and it must be wondered if the two churches could have been earlier expressions of the patronage of the Dunbar family. However, there are also very similar buttressed east gable walls with triplets of lancets over the English border, at the Northumberland churches of Lindisfarne and Ovingham, indicating that, whatever the immediate inter-relationship between the two churches, Dunbar and Prestonkirk were examples of a more wide-spread approach to the design of parochial east gable walls.

The information provided by those views is amplified by a pair of views of the church from the south and the north.(6) These appear to show that the flanks of the choir were lit by a single lancets resting on a string course in each bay, with the bays demarcated by buttresses. The south transept had a three-light window with intersecting tracery in its gable wall. In the nave, there was evidently no clearstorey over the north arcade, though there was a break in the pitch of the roof at that point. The west tower had circular turrets with conical roofs at its four angles, and with what appears to have been an octagonal belfry rising from its centre.    

The monument to the first earl of Dunbar, who died in 1611, and which was carved by Maximilian Colt, was placed against the east wall of the medieval choir, the eastern two bays of which were designated as the Roxburgh Aisle by the time of the plan of 1817.(7) The monument is thought to have been set against the east wall of the later church, which might suggest that the new church was rebuilt around it. Since the remodelling of 1897, however, it has been relocated to the north side of the arch into the apse.(8)

It is an extremely ambitious creation with the kneeling figure of the earl set within a triumphal arch flanked by armed figures, and with his arms in a tablet above the arch. A closely related monument was commissioned for himself from the same sculptor in 1618 by David Murray, viscount Stormont, and remains in the truncated and remodelled chapel at Scone.

It is known that a number of burial enclosures were added around the medieval church. But the church itself appears to have suffered a long history of poor repair, with complaints about its ruinous condition being recorded as early as 1652 and 1654.(9)

The tower was evidently remodelled in 1739, but by the later eighteenth century the church was evidently once again in poor repair, and the usual difficulties in adapting a relatively complex medieval building for reformed worship were leading to the common range of complaints expressed by the incumbents who wrote the entries for the Statistical Account.

The fabric of the church is very old, and the form of it is very bad for an auditory. It is built exactly in the form of a cross. The body of it is 100 feet long and it is only 24 wide within the walls...the church, till lately, was, in the inside especially, one of the worst and most inconvenient, perhaps in Scotland. The floor was sunk below the ground without, which made it always damp and cold. It was repaired by the heritors in 1779, floored with deal, and ceiled in the roof. A part of the long body was cut off. by a partition, as useless, and it was regularly seated; so that it now looks clean and neat, the quire only remaining unaltered.(10)

Once the decision to rebuild, on the site of the old church, had been taken, the foundation stone was laid on 17 April 1819, and the new church was opened on 20 April 1821.(11)

Notes

1. D.E. Easson, ‘Foundation Charter of the Collegiate Church of Dunbar’, Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, vol. 6, 1939, pp. 89–97; Ian  B. Cowan, The Parishes of  Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 50; Ian B. Cowan and David E. Easson, Medieval Religious Houses, Scotland, London and new York, 1976, p. 219.

2. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol.2, p. 89; Howard Colvin, Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 4th ed., New Haven and London, 2008, p. 441.

3. Accounts of the church include: Colin McWilliam, The Buildings of Scotland, Lothian, Harmondsworth, 1978, p. 181; Dunbar Parish Church 1342-1987 (East Lothian Antiquarian and Field Naturalists’ Society), 1987.

4. National Library of Scotland, Adv. MS 30.5.23, 28b and 28c. The plan was re-drawn for Howard Colvin, Architecture and the After-Life, New Haven and London, 1991, fig. 271.

5. Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, ed. J,M Thomson et al., Edinburgh, 1882-1914, vol. 2, no 2789.

6. Reproduced in Dunbar Parish Church 1342-1987, p. 30.

7. The duke of Roxburghe had a residence within the parish at Broxmouth.

8. Gordon Donaldson, ‘The Dunbar Monument in its Historical Setting’, in Dunbar Parish Church 1342-1987, pp. 1-16; David Howarth, ‘Sculpture and Scotland 1540-1700’, in Fiona Pearson, ed., Virtue and Vision, Sculpture and Scotland 1540-1990 (National Galleries of Scotland), 1991, pp. 27-30; Deborah Howard, Scottish Architecture from the Reformation to the Restoration, 1560-1660, Edinburgh, 1995, pp. 203-04.

9. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Dunbar, Minutes, 1652-57, CH”/99/1, fols 9-11, 64 and 279-80.

10. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, vol. 5, pp. 481-82.

11. New Statistical Account, 1834-45, vol. 2, p. 89.

Map

Images

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

  • 1. Dunbar Parish Church, exterior, 1

  • 2. Dunbar Parish Church, exterior, 2

  • 3. Dunbar Parish Church, interior, 1

  • 4. Dunbar Parish Church, interior, 2

  • 5. Dunbar Parish Church, interior, monument of earl of Dunbar, 1

  • 6. Dunbar Parish Church, interior, monument of earl of Dunbar, 2

  • 7. Dunbar Collegiate Church, north and south flanks

  • 8. Dunbar Collegiate Church, north flank

  • 9. Dunbar Parish Church, gutted following fire of 1987