Duns Parish Church

Duns churchyard, Wedderburn burial enclosure

Summary description

In its final state a cruciform structure, of which nothing remains. Rebuilt nearby in 1790 and again in 1880, retaining the tower of 1790.

Historical outline

Dedication: unknown

There are no surviving references to the parish church of Duns before the fourteenth century.  The absence of any reference to the church in Bagimond’s Roll (the roll of the papal tax-collector in Scotland in the mid-1270s) suggests that it had already been annexed by that time to the hospital of Duns, but we have no record of when the hospital was founded, by whom, or when any appropriation occurred.(1)  The hospital, however, does appear in the tax roll, paired with the church of Ellem which had been appropriated to it before 1274.(2)  It is possible, therefore, that the revenues of Duns hospital included the parsonage and vicarage fruits of the parish church.

In 1342, the church was annexed to the collegiate church of Dunbar to establish a prebend there, Ian Cowan suggesting that this annexation might have included the whole fruits of the hospital and its annexed church of Ellem as well as of the parish of Duns.(3)  A vicar pensioner was established to serve the cure.  Under the terms of the foundation charter of the collegiate church, the prebendary of Duns was to be responsible for the maintenance of the choir of his nominal parish church, while the nave would remain the responsibility of the parishioners.  Records from the 1550s suggest (see below) suggest that this arrangement was not being adhered to by that time.  Following the crown’s acquisition of the rights of the earls of Dunbar following their forfeiture in 1435, attempts were made to disjoin the church from Dunbar and annexe it instead to the Chapel Royal.  In 1501/2, King James IV attempted to annexe Duns to the Chapel Royal at Stirling,(4) but this attempt proved to be abortive.

While a vicarage pensionary had been instituted in 1342, the actual cure of souls appears to have been discharged by a curate.  In 1529, the arrangements for the maintenance of the then curate, Patrick Morisone, by the then vicar-pensioner, John Clark, are set out in a notarial instrument recording a tack of part of the property in question.  His main income came from land totalling four husbandlands with 12 ‘gerse soumes’ upon which to keep eight oxen and two horses, for which he paid eight merks annually to Clark.(5)  At the Reformation, no reference is made to provision for any curate.

Despite the diversion of the majority of its revenues elsewhere and the discharge of services within the church by a vicar-pensioner or his curate, the parish church continued to serve as the primary focus for the the spiritual life of the local community.  Well-to-do parishioners continued to make gifts to their parish church, particularly for the welfare of their souls.  The key evidence for this, however, exists only in a post-Reformation source – a charter of 1567 which received confirmation only in 1584 - which records the presence in the church of a secondary altar in the church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, served by an endowed chaplainry and retained in the patronage of the Homes of Ayton.(6) The support of lay patrons which this document indicates is somewhat at odds with letters from 1555 and 1556 from John Hamilton, archbishop of St Andrews, to the Dean of Christianity of the Merse, in which the parish church of Duns is one of 22 from the deanery that is specifically named as being in poor physical condition.  The archbishop stated that ‘a great many of the parish churches are - their choirs as well as naves - wholly thrown down and as it were levelled to the ground; others were partly ruinous or threatening collapse in respect of their walls and roofs; they were without glazed windows and without a baptismal font and had no vestments for the high altars and no missals or manuals…. The fault and shortcomings belong to the parishioners as well as to the parsons’. The dean was instructed to investigate the fruits, garbal teinds and other rights of the said churches and to act as necessary.(7)  Archbishop Hamilton’s comments in respect of the state of both the nave and the chancel point to the failures of the lay parishioners as much as the appropriating institution to meet their obligations to maintain the buildings.

Notes

1. I B Cowan and D E Easson, Medieval Religious Houses: Scotland, 2nd edition (London, 1976), 174.

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.

3. D E Easson (ed), ‘Foundation-Charter of the Collegiate Church of Dunbar AD 1342’, Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, vi (1939), 90; I B Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society, 1967), 55.

4. History of the Chapel Royal of Scotland (Grampian Club, 1882), cxxxiv, 4, 14; Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, xvii, part 2, 1492-1503, ed A P Fuller (Dublin, 1994), no.781.

5. Historical Manuscripts Commission, Report on the Manuscripts of Colonel David Milne Home of Wederburn Castle (London, 1902), no.55.

6. NRS Title Deeds relating to land in Berwickshire, GD1/200/5.

7. NRS Miscellaneous Ecclesiastical Records, CH8/16.

Summary of relevant documentation

Medieval

Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Not mentioned in Bagimond’s Roll. May originally have been annexed to hospital of Duns. Erected into a prebend of Dunbar in 1342, with a vicar pensioner thereafter. In 1501, an attempt to annex this prebend to the chapel royal at Stirling failed.(1)

1419 Columba de Dunbar holds the prebend, obtained through exchange.(2)

1433 George de Newton, nephew of bishop Wardlaw of St Andrews, holds the prebend along with provostry of Bothwell (Diocese of Glasgow).(3) Has held the church since at least 1427.(4)

1484 Litigation between John Brady and Thomas Maclennnoquhay over the prebend, described as in patronage of the King of Scots. Thomas retains church; John gets 40 marks pa pension from the fruits.(5)

1499 (5 Sept) Notarial instrument narrating that Mr Alexander Butler, vicar of Duns, appointed an anniversary to be celebrated in the parish church of St Andrews for the souls of himself, his father and mother, Isabel, his sister, and all unrequited benefactors.(6)

1502 Attempt to annex church to the Chapel Royal in Stirling.(7)

1517 Michael Ker, rector of Duns, recently dead.(8)

1556 (9 April ) Parish church is one of 22 from the Merse specifically mentioned in two letters (the 1555 letter does not have a specific date, McRoberts suggests August) from John Hamilton, archbishop of St Andrews (1547-1571) to the Dean of Christianity of the Merse. Hamilton states that ‘a great many of the parish churches are - their choirs as well as naves - wholly thrown down and as it were levelled to the ground; others were partly ruinous or threatening collapse in respect of their walls and roofs; they were without glazed windows and without a baptismal font and had no vestments for the high altars and no missals or manuals…. The fault and shortcomings belong to the parishioners as well as to the parsons’. The dean was instructed to investigate the fruits, garbal teinds and other rights of the said churches.(9)

Altars and chaplaincies

Our Lady

1584 (5 Sept) Charter of Confirmation under the Great Seal, confirming Charter (dated 1567 Mar 10) by Sir Hugh Hudesoun, chaplain of the Altar of the Virgin Mary in the Parish Church of Duns with consent of George Home of Aytoun, patron of said Altar, to Cuthbert Home in Duns of 9 acres of land in the parish of Duns.(10)

Post-medieval

Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church of Duns valued at £196 13s 4d [no reference to where it pertains to].(11)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of parsonage and vicarage £62 4s 5 2/3d.(12)

1571 (15 Jan) The Minister is nominated to be one of the 21 members of the chapter of the Archbishop of St Andrews.(13)

1671 (24 Apr) Visitation of the church by the Presbytery of Duns (requested by the minister); the minister asks the Brethren to speak with the heritors anent the repair of the church fabric and kirk yard dykes. Minister complains that the kirk windows are not sufficiently glassed and that the church yard dykes are no way fencable and that the school house is ruinous.(14)

1683 (22 June) Visitation of the church by the Presbytery of Duns notes the ruinous state of the church, school house and kirk yard dykes. The windows are not glassed, some of the doors lack locks and keys (heritors ordered to sort the problems out). It is also reported that the steeple of the kirk was like to decay, that the schoolhouse was ruinous and that the church was not furnished with communion tables. The workmen charge £90 20s for mending the steeple.(15)

1708 (9 Sept) Report of workmen on the repairs required at the church and kirk yard dykes. They note that the thatch and associated materials will cost £433, £150 for kirk yard dykes, the total cost for repairs to the church £834.(16)

1709 (22 Feb) Further visitation of the church includes a report by the same workmen. The final report was made on 3 May and was now referred to as the ‘rebuilding of the church of Duns’. They note that ‘the church being 36 yards in length and 6 yards in height, the walls from east to west and from south to north 20 foot in wideness each, and one yard thick in the walls. The costs include 8 doors, 12 windows and 4 pillars and the roof which needs to be remade completely. The total sum of the repairs amounts to £5760 18s 8d.(17)

1709 (22 Mar) Note in the kirk session that the heritors are to meet the following Friday to consider what is to be done anent the fabric of the church.(18)

1710 (19 Dec) The presbytery included a visitation of the ‘choir of Duns’ which is the only place of preaching in the parish (the kirk being taken down by heritors orders). The choir is not large enough and considered dangerous. It is noted that the choir had these walls on which the roof stands before the isles were there.(19)

1711 (23 Jan) Workmen are employed by the session to see if the choir of Duns is altogether ruinous and needs taking down or can be repaired. They reply that the choir was not so ruinous that it would not stand but that it needed reparation. The costs of the repair will be £101.(20) On 6 Feb the workmen reported that the costs of building a new church at Duns to seat 1700 persons would be £4126 Scots. On 22 Feb a stent was organised amongst the heritors.(21)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Dr Robert Bowmaker, 1791): ‘A new church is now being built on a large scale’.(22) (no reference to the earlier building)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev George Cunninghame, 1834): ‘The present church was built in the year 1790...The Saxon pillars an arches of the old church, which it replaced, indicated its antiquity’.(23) (it is not clear from the language used in the above statement and surrounding paragraph as to whether Cunninghame is commenting on the remains of the old church or an earlier description)

Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches: (George Hay): 1790 steeple; remainder rebuilt after 1879 fire.(24)

Notes

1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 55.

2. CSSR, i, 130.

3. CSSR, iv, no. 84.

4. Copiale Prioratus Sanctiandree, p.471.

5. CPL, xiii, 844.

6. StAUL St Andrews Burgh Charters and Miscellaneous Writs, B65/23/155c.

7. CPL, xvii, no. 781.

8. Prot Bk of John Foular, 1514-28, ii, no. 46.

9. NRS Miscellaneous Ecclesiastical Records, CH8/16. Noted in Donaldson, Scottish Reformation, p. 23 and McRoberts, ‘Material destruction caused by the Scottish Reformation’, 427.

10. NRS Title Deeds relating to land in Berwickshire, GD1/200/5.

11. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 185 & 192.

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

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

14. NRS Presbytery of Duns, Minutes, 1659-1688, CH2/113/1, fols. 97-98.

15. NRS Presbytery of Duns, Minutes, 1659-1688, CH2/113/1, fols. 244-245.

16. NRS Presbytery of Duns, Minutes, 1707-1716, CH2/113/4, fols. 27-28.

17. NRS Presbytery of Duns, Minutes, 1707-1716, CH2/113/4, fols. 52-53.

18. NRS Old Duns Kirk Session, 1702-1712, CH2/571/3, fol. 103.

19. NRS Presbytery of Duns, Minutes, 1707-1716, CH2/113/4, fols. 104-108.

20. NRS Presbytery of Duns, Minutes, 1707-1716, CH2/113/4, fols. 111-113.

21. NRS Presbytery of Duns, Minutes, 1707-1716, CH2/113/4, fols. 113-115.

22. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1791), iv, 384-5.

23. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1834), ii, 255.

24. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, p. 251.

Bibliography

NRS Miscellaneous Ecclesiastical Records, CH8/16.

NRS Old Duns Kirk Session, 1702-1712, CH2/571/3.

NRS Presbytery of Duns, Minutes, 1659-1688, CH2/113/1.

NRS Presbytery of Duns, Minutes, 1707-1716, CH2/113/4.

NRS Title Deeds relating to land in Berwickshire, GD1/200/5.

StAUL St Andrews Burgh Charters and Miscellaneous Writs, B65/23/155c.

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 1418-22, 1934, ed. E.R. Lindsay and A.I. Cameron, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh.

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

Copiale Prioratus Sanctiandree. The Letter-Book of James Haldenstone, Prior of St Andrews (1418-1443), 1930, ed. J. H. Baxter, Oxford.

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.

Donaldson, G., 1960, The Scottish Reformation, Cambridge.

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.

Protocol Book of John Foular, 1514-28, 1944, ed. M. Wood (Scottish record Society), Edinburgh.

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

Architectural description

The church of Duns may have been annexed to the hospital in Duns, but in 1342 both the parsonage and vicarage were granted to Dunbar Collegiate Church, with the cure subsequently being served by a vicar pensioner. In 1501 there was an abortive attempt to annex the prebend to the Chapel Royal in Stirling Castle.(1)

The church that preceded the present building was a short distance to its south east. A plan of it that may not be entirely reliable shows a cruciform structure with a rectangular core of about 24.1 by 8.25 metres, with a thickening at the centre of the west wall that was perhaps a support for a belfry. To the east there was a square chamber with sides of about 6.1 metres, and there were asymmetrical projections near the east end of both north and south flanks.(2) It is possible that all three of those projections beyond the rectangular core were of medieval origin, and the eastern extension in particular appears to have been generally accepted as having originated as the medieval chancel.

However, it is perhaps more likely that the offshoots to north and south originated as post-Reformation family aisles rather than as medieval transeptal chapels. If the plan is accurate, that may also be the case with the eastern extension, since that part appears to be rather too small in relation to the rest of the building to have been a chancel. Whatever the case, all three projections were in use as family burial aisles before the abandonment of the building: the eastern projection by the proprietor of Wedderburn Castle; the north aisle by the owners of Duns Castle; and the south aisle by the owners of Manderston.(3)

The church appears to have suffered in the course of the Border warfare with England, and in a letter of 9 April 1556 from Archbishop John Hamilton it was said to be one of 22 churches in the Merse that was in a ruinous state.(4) Whatever repairs were then done, the church was evidently in a poor state by the later seventeenth century. In 1683 it was said the windows were unglazed and the steeple decayed,(5) while in 1708 repairs were costed at £834.(6)

The situation had evidently deteriorated by 1709, when necessary works were estimated to cost £5,760.18s.8d: those works embraced eight doors, twelve windows, four pillars and the remaking of the roof.(7) In that report the dimensions of the church are given as 36 yards by 20 feet (about 33 by 6.1 metres), which is around the total length of the church as shown in the published plan and the width of its eastern chamber. But in 1710 it was said that only the choir remained in use, because the nave had been taken down by the heritors,(8) presumably pending reconstruction.

By that stage the relative costs of repair and reconstruction were being weighed. On 23 January 1711 repairs to the choir were expected to cost £101, while on 6 February it was said that a new church would cost £4,126.(9)  But rebuilding was only eventually agreed upon in 1790, and the old church, apart from the Wedderburn Aisle at its east end, was demolished. The greater part of the Wedderburn vault was itself to be demolished much later, at the behest of the minister, in 1874,(10) leaving only an enclosure, in the west wall of which some inscribed stones were re-set.(11)

The history of the later church is summarised on an inscribed tablet on the tower ‘ERECTED 1790 DESTROYED BY FIRE 1879 RESTORED 1880’. Of the building erected in 1790 the tower, at the centre of the south front is the only survivor. It has a pedimented door and inscribed tablet to the lower stages; at the level corresponding to the roof of the church is a slightly inset storey with blind oculi which is capped with console-supported pediments with urn finials at the corners; rising above that is an octagonal storey from which there rises a stone spire.

The main body of the church, which was rebuilt in 1880 immediately after the fire of 1879 by Wardrop and Reid, is a basically T-plan structure. The show front on the south side is of buff droved ashlar with polished quoins and dressings. On each side of the retained central tower, which is not quite equal to the increased scale of the church as remodelled in 1880, is a tall round-headed window containing timber tracery consisting of two round-headed lights and an oculus. The treatment of the outer bays reflects the existence of internal galleries: above a blocked pedimented doorcase on each side is a bipartite window with round arches.

Around the core of the building a plethora of off-shoots to the sides and rear accommodate porches and a hall. These parts are built of a variety of coursed and uncoursed rubbles, reflecting the complex structural history of these parts, and they are pierced by two storeys of round-headed windows arrranged singly, in pairs, or, at the upper level of the north aisle, as a triplet.

Internally there is a horse-shoe arrangement of galleries carried on cast iron columns, facing towards the pulpit, communion table and organ at the centre of the south wall. The roof is of ceiled hammer-beam form, with a central rectangular roof light.

Notes

1. Ian B.Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 55.

2. J. Fergusson, ‘Notices of Remains of Pre-Reformation Churches... in Berwickshire’, History of the Berwickshire Naturalists Club, vol. 13, 1892, pp. 86-188, reproduced in David MacGibbon and Thomas Ross, The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Scotland, vol. 1, 1896, p. 381.

3. James Robson, The Churches and Churchyards of Berwickshire, Kelso, 1896, p. 80.

4. National Records of Scotland, Miscellaneous Ecclesiastical Records, CH8/16.

5. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Duns, Minutes, 1659-1688, CH2/113/1, fols 97-98

6. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Duns, Minutes, 1707-16, CH2/113/4, fols 27-28.

7. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Duns, Minutes, 1707-16, CH2/113/4, fols 52-53.

8. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Duns, Minutes, 1707-16, CH2/113/4, fols 104-108.

9. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Duns, Minutes, 1707-16, CH2/113/4, fols 111-115.

10. MacGibbon and Ross, 1896, p. 381.

11. The earliest of those inscribed stones was evidently the lintel of the door into the vault, and it is dated 1608, with the initials of Sir George Home and his wife Isabella. Another stone records repairs of 1763, with the initials of Patrick Home. Between those two is a longer inscription, records that the enclosure was ‘formerly covered by a vault’.

Map

Images

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  • 1. Duns churchyard, Wedderburn burial enclosure

  • 2. Duns churchyard, Wedderburn burial enclosure, inscriptions

  • 3. Duns Church, exterior, from south

  • 4. Duns Church, exterior, inscription on tower

  • 5. Duns Church, exterior, tower

  • 6. Duns, earlier church, plan (MacGibbon and Ross after Ferguson)