Durris Parish Church

Durris Church, exterior, from south

Summary description

Rebuilt in 1822, possibly on the site of its medieval predecessor. A burial aisle of c. 1595 to the east could be on the site of the chancel.

Historical outline

Dedication: unknown

Despite the importance of the secular lordship for which it was the parish church, there is virtually no record of the kirk of Durris in the pre-Reformation period.  The earliest record of its existence is in the 1274-5 rolls of the papal tax-collector in Scotland, which record the church of ‘Dinres’ as a free parsonage assessed for taxation at two merks.(1)  It remained independent throughout the pre-Reformation period, various rectors being recorded in the mid-fifteenth century.(2)  It remained a free parsonage at the Reformation, when it was held by John Duff and valued at 114 merks, while the distinct vicarage was valued at £12.(3)

Notes

1. A I Dunlop, ‘Bagimond’s Roll: Statement of the Tenths of the Kingdom of Scotland’, Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, vi (1939), 36.

2. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, iv, 1433-1447, ed A I Dunlop and D MacLauchlan (Glasgow, 1983), 1, 185; Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, ix 1437-1447, ed J Twemlow (London, 1912), 509.

3. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumptio of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 404-405, 407, 408.

Summary of relevant documentation

Medieval

Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: It was listed as a parsonage in Bagimond's Roll, and remained unappropriated at the Reformation, in the patronage of the bishop of St Andrew.(1)

1433 Supplication for vacant rectory by John de Camera (val £16); by 1441 Robert Wells (dispensed son of a priest) is described as rector.(2)

1445 Simon de Rede (canon of Aberdeen) collated to church after incumbent Hugh Wells accused of paying previous rector William Crawford to resign (in return for a yearly pension), as well as being a usurer, committing adultery and incest and laying violent hands upon a clerk of Aberdeen called Alexander Ethale, wounding him to bloodshed .(3)

Post-medieval

Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: Rental of the parish church parsonage of Durris pertains to Mr John Duff.  Parsonage value 114 marks, vicarage value 18 marks (£12).(4)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of parsonage £25 6s 8d. Third of vicarage £4.(5)

1601 (26 Jun) Visitation of Durris by the Presbytery of Aberdeen finds only a small group of the heritors present and the laird of Durris and his family often absent despite their residence in the parish. The manse and gleib require to be designed. A report on the fabric finds the kirk is repaired and ‘thecked’ with slate. The minister Mr Alex Youngston admonished to have the work done with all diligence and that the kirk be made both water tight and wind tight between now and the next visitation.(6)

1602 (15 Jan) Minister Alexander Youngstone, minister thereof, being removed and censured, the complaint from his parishioners that he only preaches every other Sunday (Alex excuses his absence by saying that he has to serve another congregation, the tempestrous river was filled with ice and snow). Alexander ordered to remain in the town. The same day Alexander Gordon was ordered to apologise for the abusing of James Milne in the church in time of divine service.(7) The fabric of the church from the same visitation [not mentioned in the printed edition] finds that it is not repaired as was required and there are charges given to the minister, elders and remainder of the congregation to make sure the same is well repaired both within and without, by slating, casting and harling of the walls, by stanching and glassing of the windows, and purging of the same of the door and with things within that are not seemly [not specified but perhaps pre-1560 decorations?] to be removed. To be paid for the collection of various penalties.(8)

1602 (29 Jan) Record of the stipends of the ministers of the Presbytery of Aberdeen states James Ross of Nigg has 400 marks pa and Alex Youngston of Durris 200 marks pa.(9)

1602 (3 Sept) Further visitation of the church finds the minister to be competent, but Youngston complains that the stipend is not sufficient. The kirk is reported as repaired and made water tight and shortly to be made wind tight for the stanching and the windows are ready to be put in.(10)

1603 (28 July) A further visitation wrings promises out of the parishioners who promise to augment the stipend with produce rather than cash.(11)

1604 (15 Jan) A visitation of the church by the Presbytery of Aberdeen found the minister to be competent and recorded that Thomas Watson (a mason) promises faithfully to putt on the ryggin stones on the kirk and that he shall make them to last as the slates of the kirk.(12)

1606 (3 Mar) Record of ministers stipends within the Presbytery of Aberdeen records James Ross of Nigg has 400 marks pa and Alexander Youngston of Durris, 200 marks pa.(13)

1666 (16 May) William Reid (minister) regrets (to the Presbytery of Fordun) that his kirk is ruinous and that the manse and gleib are still not sufficient, requesting that some brethren come with him to deal with Sir Andrew Fraser of Kinmundie, for consideration of repair.(14)

1670 (15 Apr) William Reid, minister, desires that a cause might be taken for repairing the fabric of the kirk (Andrew Fraser as factor of the Laird of Durris asked to see to it).(15)

1677 (20 June) visitation of the church of Dorres [possibly Durris, different Presbytery from c.1600] notes the minister (James Reid) has a stipend of £477 Scots; the brethren find the fabric of the church to be in great decay and recommend seriously to the minister for its reparation offering their assistance.(16) (Henderson thinks that this is meant to be Durris).(17)

1684 (15 Aug) Further visitation of the church of Doors [see above], asks the minister John Reid about the fabric of the church, the minister answered that it was presently new built by the heritors and was maintained by them.(18)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev William Strachan, 1791): ‘The earl of Peterborough is both patron and proprietor. The manse and most of the office house are new, built in 1773 and 1774’.(19)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Robert Copland, 1838): ‘There is no place of worship in the parish except the parish church built in 1822. The parish was formerly a chapelry belonging to the Knights Templer… The date on the part of the old church still remaining is 1537’.(20)

‘Church built in 1822 by the late proprietor (Duke of Gordon)’.(21)

Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches: (George Hay): 1822; interior recast, some additions.(22)

Notes

1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 56.

2. CSSR, iv, 1 & 185.

3. CPL, ix, 509.

4. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices,  404, 407 & 408.

5. Donaldson, Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices, 10 & 11.

6. NRS Presbytery of Aberdeen, Minutes, 1598-1610, CH2/1/1, fols. 97-98.

7. Selections from the the Kirk Session, Presbytery, and Synod of Aberdeen, 185.

8. NRS Presbytery of Aberdeen, Minutes, 1598-1610, CH2/1/1, fols. 137-138.

9. NRS Presbytery of Aberdeen, Minutes, 1598-1610, CH2/1/1, fol. 149.

10. NRS Presbytery of Aberdeen, Minutes, 1598-1610, CH2/1/1, fols. 190-191.

11. NRS Presbytery of Aberdeen, Minutes, 1598-1610, CH2/1/1, fol. 246-247.

12. NRS Presbytery of Aberdeen, Minutes, 1598-1610, CH2/1/1, fol. 290-291.

13. NRS Presbytery of Aberdeen, Minutes, 1598-1610, CH2/1/1, fol. 346.

14. NRS Presbytery of Fordoun (alias Mearns), Minutes, 1662-1685, CH2/157/1, fol. 42.

15. NRS Presbytery of Fordoun (alias Mearns), Minutes, 1662-1685, CH2/157/1, fol. 84.

16. NRS Presbytery of Fordoun, Records of Visitations, 1677-1688, CH2/157/13, fols. 3-8.

17. Henderson, Annals of Lower Deeside, p.25-27.

18. NRS Presbytery of Fordoun, Records of Visitations, 1677-1688, CH2/157/13, fols. 61-64.

19. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1791), iii, 260.

20. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1838), ii, 173.

21. Ibid, 175.

22. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, p. 260.

Bibliography

NRS Presbytery of Aberdeen, Minutes, 1598-1610, CH2/1/1.

NRS Presbytery of Fordoun (alias Mearns), Minutes, 1662-1685, CH2/157/1.

NRS Presbytery of Fordoun, Records of Visitations, 1677-1688, CH2/157/13.

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.

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.

Henderson, J. A., 1892, Annals of Lower Deeside, Aberdeen.

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.

Selections from the Records of the Kirk Session, Presbytery, and Synod of Aberdeen, 1846, ed. J. Stuart (Spalding Club), Aberdeen.

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

Architectural description

Durris Church remained an unappropriated rectory up to the Reformation, in the patronage of the bishops and archbishops of St Andrews.(1) Following the Reformation there were complaints as early as 1602 that the church was not in a state of repair;(2) and by 1666 it was said to be ruinous, a situation that had not been ameliorated by 1677 when it was said to be in great decay.(3) Rebuilding evidently followed soon afterwards, because in 1684 it was said that it had been newly built by the heritors.(4)

However, the present church, a rectangular structure, was built in 1822,(5) for which the contractor appears to have been Henry Lumsden.(6) The main face to the south has a regular sequence of four round-arched windows. A western porch and a diminutive bellcote on the west gable appear to be later additions, possibly dating to 1877, from which date there are drawings by F.A.M. Macdonald.(7)

A short distance to the east of the church is the burial enclosure of the Fraser family. Its south face, which is approximately aligned with the south face of the church, is pierced by three large triangular-headed openings: a door flanked by two windows. Above the door is a stone dated 1869, possibly in reference to its reconstruction for the Mactier family. It is clear, however, that, although extensively remodelled at that date, the aisle is considerably older. On the north side are cavetto-moulded inscribed skewputts, which are said to have had the initials ASF and the date 1537.(8) There is also an early stone set into the east wall with a now illegible inscription.

Set within the north wall of the enclosure is a canopied tomb, with a panelled front to the chest, a moulded round arch, pinnacle-like finials on each side at the arch springing, and an armorial tablet at the summit of the arch, which is topped by a baluster-like finial. Flanking the helm of the armorial panel are the initials of Thomas Fraser, and on a scroll round the top finial is the date 1595.

There seems little reason to doubt that the tomb is in its intended position, and this suggests that the burial enclosure has been in its present position from soon after the Reformation. Since that is the case, it may be wondered if this was an example of the local land-owning family taking over the chancel of a medieval church to adapt as their mausoleum.

The north-south width of the enclosure is 6.91 metres, which is close to the average for the width of a rural parish church. The total length of the enclosure and church together, however, is 26.5 metres, which might be seen as rather long in relation to the width for a medieval church. This perhaps indicates that the church of 1822 does not perpetuate the plan of the part of the medieval church that had been given over to the nave; it is also the case that it is considerably wider towards the north than the burial enclosure.

Nevertheless, in view of the frequent strictures on the proportions of medieval churches when being used for reformed worship that are found in the entries in the Statistical Account of Scotland, it is perhaps only to be expected that the church of 1822 would have been designed to be both wider and longer than the medieval nave. On that basis, and taking account of the relationship with the burial enclosure to its east, it should be seen as a possibility worth considering that the south wall of the 1822 church is on the same line as the south wall of the medieval nave, and that it might also incorporate some of its masonry.

Notes

1. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 56.

2. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Aberdeen, Minutes, 198-1610, CH2//1/1, fols 137-38.

3. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Fordoun, Minutes, 1662-85, CH/2/157/1, fol. 42.

4. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Fordoun, Records of Visitations, 1677-1688, CH2/157/13, fols 61-64.

5. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 11, p. 173

6. National Records of Scotland, GD44/Sec37, bundle 33.

7. In the collections of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.

8. New Statistical Account, vol. 11, p. 173.

Map

Images

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  • 1. Durris Church, exterior, from south

  • 2. Durris Church, exterior, Fraser Aisle, exterior, from east, 1

  • 3. Durris Church, exterior, Fraser Aisle, exterior, from east, 2

  • 4. Durris Church, exterior, Fraser Aisle, exterior, inscribed stone in east wall

  • 5. Durris Church, exterior, Fraser Aisle, exterior, north east skewputt

  • 6. Durris Church, exterior, Fraser Aisle, exterior, north west skewputt

  • 7. Durris Church, exterior, Fraser Aisle, exterior, date stone above entrance

  • 8. Durris Church, exterior, Fraser Aisle, interior, mortsafe

  • 9. Durris Church, exterior, Fraser Aisle, interior, tomb of Thomas Fraser

  • 10. Durris Church, exterior, Fraser Aisle, interior, tomb of Thomas Fraser, finial

  • 11. Durris Church, Fraser Aisle, exterior, from south