Earlston Parish Church

Earlston Church, exterior, 2

Summary description

Rebuilt in 1736 and again in 1891-92, presumably on the site of the medieval church.

Historical outline

Dedication: unknown

Earlston is first recorded c.1160 when Walter de Lindsay attempted to grant possession of the church to the monks of Kelso.  His actions were immediately challenged by the monks of Durham, who claimed that Earlston was simply a dependent chapel of their parish church of Edrom, which had been granted to them by Earl Cospatric of Dunbar sometime between 1124 and 1138.  The resulting dispute was settled in favour of Durham, with Lindsay making a fresh grant of Earlston to the cathedral-priory.  Shortly afterwards, the monks erected the chapel of Earlston into a full parish, annexing the parsonage to their house but establishing a perpetual vicarage to serve the cure.(1)

References to the church for most of the thirteenth century are principally in the form of confirmations of the possessions of Durham cathedral-priory, but a note in the Pontifical Offices of St Andrews recorded that Bishop David de Bernham consecrated Earlston on 20 March 1243.(2)  In the mid-1270s, as the vicarage of ‘Erceldoun’, ‘Erchildon’ or ‘Ersledun’ it is recorded in the rolls of the papal tax-collector in Scotland, assessed at 2 merks for the first year of taxation.(3)

In common with most of Durham’s possessions north of the River Tweed, Earlston was assigned to the support of its dependent priory-cell at Coldingham.  The surviving accounts of the priory provide us with a series of insights into the monks’ maintenance of their appropriated churches in fulfilment of their obligations as corporate ‘parson’ of the parish.  The earliest surviving record of such work dates from 1325 when they paid 3s 4d for unspecified repair work on the chancel of the building.(4)  More extensive works commenced in the 1330s.(5)  Details of the expenditure show provision of new mass vestments, including a ‘new alb, with parure, stole and maniple’ which cost 5s 6d, an frontal for the the high altar costing 3s, two vials for sacred oils costing 10d, and one thurible at 2s 6d.  The monks also provided a psaltery worth 5s and a ‘troper’ with a baptistery, costing 2s.  Most of the accounts, however, relate to the maintenance of the building fabric.

Through the 1330s they entered into a range of contracts for work on the church.  First recorded was a payment of 15d for a new door for the chancel.  This was linked to repairs to the south side of the chancel, using lime for mortar bought at Berwick.  Charges for the work included costs of carriage of the lime to Earlston, and the labour of one mason and two assistants at the church for 4 days, which cost the princely sum of 6s 6d.  Around the same date the monks also disburse 9d for a lead holy water stoup.

A second sequence of itemised expenses, unfortunately damaged in the original manuscript, but from around the same date points to a more sustained programme of building-work.(6)  The account begins with payment for one man carrying sand for 8 days with one horse, totalling 4s 8d at 7d a day.  A man carrying stones for 6 days received 6s.  There is an illegible entry, followed by a total of 11s 4d for this carriage-work.  This sequence of entries related to the preparation for what was a significant operation recorded in the subsequent entry.

The next sequence starts with payment to a certain William [illegible] for his wages and cost of a horse, for 13 weeks, totalling 21s 8d or 20d a week, and a second payment for the same amount of time amounting 19s 6d, or 18d weekly.  Walter Brad for labouring on the building for the same time received 19s 6d, while William Workman, who was also labouring for the same time, received 13s, the difference probably marking the relative seniority and experience of Walter over William.  A second payment of 12d was made to these two men, but the details of what this was for are lost.  In contrast to their relatively high wage level, a ‘certain wife’ who provided labour carrying sand received only 8d.  The finaly entry in this section reveals that Walter and William were in fact masons and were undertaking work on the stone fabric of the church across this period of three months; the smith was paid 6d for the repair of the mason’s tools.  The total for this programme of stonework operations was  £3 15s 9d.

Work, however, extended to the roof.  The next run of accounts records the cost of purchase and carriage of timber and nails and payments to roofers.  The monks paid 14s for bringing ‘Estland boards’ (usually meaning sawn oak planks from the eastern Baltic region), which had been bought at Berwick.  Portage of the same from the harbour on the Tweed to what seems to have been a materials depot which they maintained at the church of the Holy Trinity in Berwick cost a further 2s 6d, with subsequent carriage of the planks to Earlston costing 17s 6d plus a payment of 12d to the carriers ‘for drink’.  Large quantities of iron nails were procured: 1100 ‘longspykyngs’ at 10d; 300 ‘scothnale’ at 2s; and 200 ‘smallnayls’ at 8d.  The total for the materials came to £3 18s 8d.  Wages for two carpenters for three weeks and four days totalled 21s, with a further 12d ‘for drinks and glose’.  A ‘certain servant’ received 4s for helping the carpenters for three weeks.  This should have totalled 26s, but only 25s was accounted for.

The final work undertaken at this time was on the windows.  The monks paid for expensive glazing, the account stressing that it was for repair of existing glasswork, which indicates that they had spent handsomely on the building in the past.  At this time, two new glass windows were remade, costing 8s and the other four windows in the chancel were repaired at a cost of 4s.  The 18 iron bars – probably glazing bars onto which the lead-mounted glass panels were fixed - for the six windows, plus the wedges and tackets to fix the glazing-bars cost a further 2s 6d.  For the whole programme of work, the monks paid a grand total of £11 17s 7d.  Given that towards the end of the thirteenth century the annual value of the church had been assessed at £13 6s 8d,(7) they had spent close to a full years’ income from the parish on the repair of the chancel.

The church remained in the possession of the priory at Coldingham through the fifteenth century, with the monks controlling the right of presentation to the perpetual vicarage.(8)  Although Durham’s ultimate possession was confirmed on a number of occasions, there were increasingly effective attempts by the kings of Scots to detach Coldingham and its annexed churches from the English cathedral-priory and bring it fully into Scottish control.  Before the end of the fifteenth century, Coldingham had been brought under the superior jurisdiction of the abbot of Dunfermline.  Despite this upheaval, at the Reformation Earlston remained annexed to the priory at Coldingham, when it was valued at £120.(9)


1. J Raine, The History and Antiquities of North Durham (London, 1852), appendix, nos cxvi, clxiv, cccclix-cccclxi.

2. A O Anderson (ed), Early Sources of Scottish History, ii (Edinburgh, 1922), 523.

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), 34, 59.

4. The Correspondence, Inventories, Account Rolls and Law Proceedings of the Priory of Coldingham, ed J Raine (Surtees Society, 1841), appendix, iii [hereafter Coldingham Correspondence].

5. Coldingham Correspondence, appendix, xii.

6. Coldingham Correspondence, appendix, xii-xiii.

7. Coldingham Correspondence, appendix, cx.

8. Calendar of Scottish Supplictions to Rome, iv, 1433-1447, eds A I Dunlop and D MacLauchlan (Glasgow, 1983), nos 1056, 1103, 1152.

9. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 200, 204

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Granted by Walter de Lyndesay to Kelso, c. 1166, but challenged by Durham who claimed it as a chapel of Edrom. Lyndesay then granted church to Durham who erected it into parish church with perpetual vicarage.(1)

1378 Mandate at the petition of Robert II to provide Walter Bell (scholar of Canon law) and perpetual vicar of Earlston to canonry of Dunkeld.(2)

1426 Robert Penven accuses perpetual vicar of Earlston, William Stitchel of obtaining the church through  an exchange with Robert de Sprinton that involved a ‘simoniacal pact, namely that Robert for his lifetime shall receive the rents and profits of Earlston, or some part thereof, and William also gave a large sum of money to Robert’.(3) (value 20 marks)

1444 William survives accusation and holds church until his death in 1444. Robert Lauder (MA and vicar of Cadzow) collated; vicarage in the presentation of Coldingham. However, Henry Brisson presented to church by bishop of St Andrew in the same year; litigation with Lauder follows.(4)

1444  December, Pope Eugene IV issues a confirmation of the possession of Durham in Scotland, including the churches of Ayton (chapel), Swinton, Ednam, Stitchel, Old Cambus, Lamberton, Berwick, Fishwick, Edrom and Earlston.(5)

1447 Lauder wins suit before resigning the church on promotion to bishopric of Dunblane (1447-1466). He is replaced by William Tours (in the suite of the Scottish ambassador to the Apostolic See).(6)

1450 William is dead, John Eccles is provided. In 1453 he swaps the church for Symington with Thomas Malcihauche.(7) (value £9).

1517 David Lauder holds the vicarage.(8)

1549 James Hume invested as clerk of the diocese (son of former clerk Alexander Hume), by James Ker the curate, given the ‘stoup, holy water and sprinkler’.(9)

1556 (9 April) The 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.(10)


Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage with Coldingham, set for £120.(11)

1694 (29 Apr) Visitation of the church and manse notes that workmen have examined the building and reported that 201 8s Scots are required for repairs. The heritors agree to be stented proportionally.(12)

1695 (5 Sept) Visitation of the church at the petition of Mr Johnstone who stated that the kirk was like to become altogether ruinous and the amount previously put toward repairs. A visitation on 3 Oct noted that a further 192 11s Scots is required to mend the church.(13)

1697 (16 Sept) Visitation of the church includes a report by Mungo Dick and John Sanderson, wrights, who note that 600 marks at least will be required for repairs to the church. The heritors approve the report.(14)

1736 (2 Mar) Application made to the presbytery for a visitation of Earlston ‘which is ruinous’. The subsequent visitation is on 6 April at which the heritors were asked whether they ‘judged the fabric of the present church as it now stands sufficient to contain the whole congregation’. They answer that it is not. John Home, mason, and Robert and Andrew Pringle, Alexander Anderson, Robert Young, James Paterson, masons, asked to report whether reparation can be made sufficient for the walls to bear a slate roof. They report that the walls are not sufficient. Mr Baillie prestns a motion that a new church be built 49 foot long, 24 foot wide with the present walls of the same church and a session house 12 foot by 14. Workmen estimate that it will cost £241 14s 21d. The heritors agree and are appointed to be stented.(15) [no further references in the presbytery and kirk session records that indicate when the church was finished]

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Laurence Johnston, 1791): ‘the manse was built in 1724, the church in1736’.(16)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev David William Goldie, 1834): ‘The parish church, built in 1736, is now undergoing extensive repairs’.(17)


1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 189.

2. CPL, Clem, 14.

3. CSSR, ii, 144-45.

4. CSSR, iv, nos. 1036, 1103 & 1152.

5. CSSR, iv, no.1111.

6. CSSR, iv, nos. 19, 90 & 110.

7. CPL, x, 478,CSSR, v, no. 497.

8. Prot Bk of John Foular, 1514-28, ii, nos. 28, 74 & 75.

9. Prot Bk of  William Corbet, no. 39.

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

11. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 200 & 204.

12. NRS Presbytery of Lauder/Earlston, Minutes, 1691-1704, CH2/118/1, fol. 55.

13. NRS Presbytery of Lauder/Earlston, Minutes, 1691-1704, CH2/118/1, fols. 73-74.

14. NRS Presbytery of Lauder/Earlston, Minutes, 1691-1704, CH2/118/1, fols. 109-110.

15. NRS Presbytery of Lauder/Earlston, Minutes, 1730-1748, CH2/118/4, fols. 173-174.

16. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1791), iv, 252.

17. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1834), ii, 23-24.


NRS Miscellaneous Ecclesiastical Records, CH8/16.

NRS Presbytery of Lauder/Earlston, Minutes, 1691-1704, CH2/118/1.

NRS Presbytery of Lauder/Earlston, Minutes, 1730-1748, CH2/118/4.

Calendar of Papal letters to Scotland of Clement VII of Avignon, 1976, ed. C. Burns, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh.

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1423-28, 1956, ed. A.I. Dunlop, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh.

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

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1447-71, 1997, ed. J. Kirk, R.J. Tanner and A.I. Dunlop, Edinburgh.

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

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

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.

Protocol Book of Sir William Corbet, 1529-1555, 1911, eds. J. Anderson & W. Angus (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh.

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

Architectural description

The church at Earlston was granted to Kelso Abbey in about 1160 by Walter de Lyndesay, but Durham then successfully claimed it as a chapel of Edrom; it subsequently achieved parochial status and was devoted to the uses of Coldingham Priory.(1) There was a dedication by Bishop de Bernham on 20 March 1243.(2)

Works on the chancel costed at 3s.4d are recorded in 1325. Those operations continued into the 1330s, with references to works involving sand, lime and glazing, while Eastland boards were purchased at Berwick. Amongst the tradesmen, labourers referred to as Walter Brad and William are named. There was evidently also a major campaign to equip the church with appropriate furnishings and vestments at that time.(3)

By April 1556 Earlston was one of twenty-two churches in the Merse that were reported to Archbishop Hamilton as being in a bad condition.(4) This was presumably because of the disturbed conditions that had prevailed across the Borders for an extended period.

Significant repairs were required by the 1690s.(5) But by the 1730s it was decided that a new church should be built, based on an estimate of 9 January 1735 by the wright James Runciman;(6) this was put into effect in the following year, and it is assumed that this new building was on the site of its predecessor. A century later the church was said to be ‘undergoing extensive repairs’.(7)

The church was again rebuilt, on the old site, by Hardy and Wight of Edinburgh in 1891-2. Nothing identifiable of the medieval fabric has survived the two major rebuildings, though within the church is a medieval cross slab of uncertain date, incised with a Maltese Cross. Built into the wall at the south end of the east face is a stone from the previous building that commemorated the thirteenth-century poet, Thomas the Rhymer.

The new church was designed in a style that was probably intended to evoke something of the thirteenth century.(8) It is built of red-rock-faced snecked rubble with ashlar dressings; the main front to the south has a tower at the south-east angle and a lower porch block to the south-west. The central gabled section has the main doorway flanked by buttresses, with a two-light window on each side, and at the upper level there is a slightly under-scaled three-light window with quatrefoils set within an intersecting matrix.

The tower rises through four storeys to be capped by an open arcaded parapet, with a weathervane on a pinnacle at the south-west corner. Along each of the flanks are three gables pierced by two tiers of windows: triplets of lancets below and with three lights reaching up to the window arch in those above. The organ chamber and vestry project at the north end.

Internally, galleries run around three sides, with a vestibule and modern offices below the south gallery; they are supported on square piers, and there are slender columns supporting the lateral roofs. The massive pulpit, communion table and organ are at the north end.


1. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 57.

2. Alan Orr Anderson, Early Sources of Scottish History, Edinburgh, 1922, vol. 2, p. 523.

3. The Correspondence, Inventories, Account Rolls and Law Proceedings of the Priory of Coldingham, ed. John Raine (Surtees Society), 1841, appendix iii and p, xii.

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

5. National records of Scotland, Presbytery of Lauder/Earlston, Minutes, 1691-1704, CH2/118/1, fols 55, 73-74, 109-10.

6. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Canmore online resource, citing Mellerstain Muniments, bundle VII.

7. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 2, pp. 23-24.

8. This description of the present building is based on that in Kitty Cruft, John Dunbar and Richard Fawcett, The Buildings of Scotland, Borders, New Haven and London, 2006, p. 244.



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

  • 1. Earlston Church, exterior, 2

  • 2. Earlston Church, exterior, 1

  • 3. Earlston Church, inscribed stone, 1

  • 4. Earlston Church, inscribed stone, 2

  • 5. Earlston Church, interior, 1

  • 6. Earlston Church, interior, 2

  • 7. Earlston churchyard, gravestone, 1

  • 8. Earlston churchyard, gravestone, 2