Kettins Parish Church

Kettins Church exterior, 3

Summary description

Rebuilt, probably on the old site, in 1768; further woks in 1790-91; augmentations in 1878 and 1893.

Historical outline

Dedication: St Bridget?

A now badly-weathered cross-slab standing in the churchyard is a surviving indication, along with the possible dedication to St Bridget,(1) of the presence here in the eighth or ninth century of an important Christian establishment.(2) There appears to be no surviving documentary record of the church, however, until it was granted to the Hospital of St Edward at Berwick shortly before 1234.(3)  Half of the lands of Kettins had been given to Queen Ermengarde, widow of King William, by her son, King Alexander II, the remainder being held by William Malveisin, bishop of St Andrews.  Ermengarde’s charter, which granted the whole church, was made for the support of the poor, while Bishop William Malveisin’s confirmation of his half of the church mentions the maintenance of the sick.  It seems that both parsonage and vicarage revenues were annexed to the hospital, which appears in no form in the records of the papal tax-collector in Scotland in the mid-1270s.  Otherwise, the only other pre-1300 reference to the church is the note of its dedication by Bishop David de Bernham on 18 April 1249.(4)

A papal letter of 14 January 1386 gave a mandate at the petition of King Robert II to provide his faithful clerk and familiar, David of Stirling, canon of Glasgow, to the parish church of Kettins.  The church was said to pertain to the minister and friars of the Trinitarian priory of the Bridge of Berwick (Hospital of St Edward), who were to be removed from possession on account of their submission to the Roman pope, Urban VI, since Berwick was at that date in the hands of Urbanist England.(5)  This attempt to intrude a royal clerk into the church, even by way of a temporary commend, was challenged by the Trinitarians and overturned in a court presided over by the Official of the diocese of St Andrews meeting on 19 July 1387 in the chapterhouse at Arbroath Abbey.(6)  The Trinitarians in Clementist Scotland, however, benefited materially from this dimension of the Great Schism, with King Robert III assigning the property of the Berwick convent, including the church of Kettins, to the hospital and Maison Dieu of order in Dundee, until such time as the burgh and castle of Berwick were restored to his faith and peace and liberated ‘from the hands of our enemies of England’.(7)  It is in subsequent manoeuvres over the presentation to the church that it emerges that the cure was served by one of the Trinitarians, as is revealed in a papal letter of 29 September 1415 to the archdeacon of St Andrews.  This gave a mandate to confirm a Trinitarian friar, John of St Andrews, who exercised the administration of their Berwick convent and Kettins, described as united to it, which were vacant by the resignation of the late Andrew of Scotlandswell into the hands of Reginald, supposed Grand Master of the Trinitarians.  Reginald had admitted the resignation by ordinary authority and by the same authority provided John to Berwick and Kettins.  It had, however, subsequently been shown to Henry Wardlaw, bishop of St Andrews and, papal legate of Benedict XIII in Scotland, that Reginald was a schismatic and adherent of the Roman pope, John XXIII, and that, therefore, John’s provision was invalid.  John, however, swore on oath that Reginald’s allegiance was unknown to him at that time, and so Wardlaw provided him to the hospital and church by by papal authority as legate.(8)

Contention over the church increased in the mid-fifteenth century, by which time it appears that the possessions of the Berwick house had been transferred to the administration of the Trinitarians of Peebles.  In 1446 a certain Edward Grey received a grant of Kettins in commendam for life from the pope.  The church, valued at ‘not exceeding £50’, was described as ‘wont to be held by the Trinitarian friars of Peebles’ and was claimed to be vacant by the death of John Andirstoun.(9)  On 8 October 1446 Grey supplicated for fresh provision in challenge to a certain William Restoun ‘who bears himself as a brother of the said order’ and who had succeeded in gaining administration of the church. Grey denounced William as ‘dissolute, of evil conversation, a simoniac, a usurer, and a dilapidator of ecclesiastical goods, who laid violent hands on a clerk and has long publicly kept a concubine, having offspring, for which he deserves deprivation even if he had claim in the said church’.  Edward was also litigating against John Butheoy, also a Trinitarian and intruded into Kettins, If his allegations proved true, Greay sought the deprivation of William from Kettins and a new commendation of it for life.(10)

How Grey’s efforts to gain control of Kettins ended is unknown but in 1456 the church of Kettins was in the hands of David Craig, described as minister of the Trintarians of Berwick and rector of Kettins.  Craig was accused of various offences for which he deserved deprivation by one Robert Clugston, a Cistercian monk from nearby Coupar Angus, who sought provision in his place and transfer from the Cistercian to Trinitarian order.(11)  Craig sought to counter Clugston’s efforts and supplicated himself for papal provision.(12)  A supplication of 8 January 1466 shows that Clugston was successful in gaining possession, for he was described in it as parson of Kettins.  The supplication by Thomas Lothian, priest, denounced him in terms identical to those used against David Craig and called for his deprivation and provision of Thomas – who would enter the Trinitarian order - in his place.(13)  Clugston was still in possession on 10 January 1471 when a further supplication denounced him as ‘a son of iniquity’ and sought provision in his place John Ker, priest diocese of Dunkeld.(14)  No outcome of this attempt is recorded.

Through these various disputes, although administered from Dundee and then Peebles, Kettins continued to be described as a possession of the Trinitarians of Berwick.  In 1473, however, King James III secured the formal annexation of the properties and possessions of Berwick to Holy Cross, Peebles.(15)  In March 1475/6, John Blenk, preceptor or minister of Peebles, sought and secured a mandate for formal papal approval of the union.(16)  The friars of Peebles thereafter retained control of the church, feuing out the kirklands and teinds to laymen and drawing income from that source.(17)  At the Reformation the church remained annexed to the Trinitarian convent of the Holy Cross at Peebles, valued at 320 merks.(18)

Amongst all the manoeuvres over possession of the parish church, the church itself is an invisble element.  It is only in the sixteenth century that some indication of any aspect of liturgical arrangements or additional provision of altars emerges in the record.  A confirmation at mortmain under the Great Seal by King James V, dated May 1533, ratified a charter of Alexander Rattray of Pitcur, by which Rattray had granted sir David Jack and his successors, described as chaplains at the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the parish church of Kettins, the mill and mill-lands of Kettins, with the brewhouse, and various tenanted crofts, valued at £10 annually, and also an unnual rent from the mill of Eassie at Balgownie, valued at 23s.(19)  The gift of the chaplainry was to rest with Rattray for life and on his death would pass to George Halyburton of Gask.  This is the only reference to what was a very well endowed chaplainry, no record of it occurring in the Books of Assumption at the Reformation.


1. J M MackinlayAncient Church Dedications in Scotland. Non-Scriptural Dedications (Edinburgh, 1914), 130.

2. J Romilly Allen, The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1903), part III, 224-5; H Coutts, Ancient Monuments of Tayside (Dundee, 1970), 61.

3. Calendar of Writs Preserved at Yester House 1166-1503, eds C C H Harvey and J Macleod (Scottish Record Society, 1930), nos 9, 11, 12 [hereafter Yester Writs].

4. A O Anderson (ed), Early Sources of Scottish History, ii (Edinburgh, 1922), 526 [Pontifical Offices of St Andrews].

5. Calendar of Papal Letters to Scotland of Pope Clement VII of Avignon, 1378-1394, ed C Burns (Scottish History Society, 1976), 112.

6. Yester Writs, no.36.

7. Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, i, 1306-1424, ed J M Thomson (Edinburgh, 1882), no.838.

8. Calendar of Papal Letters to Scotland of Benedict XIII of Avignon 1394-1419, ed F McGurk (Scottish History Society, 1976), 328.

9. Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, ix, 1431-1447, ed J A Twemlow (London, 1912), 531.

10. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, iv, 1433-1447, eds A I Dunlop and D MacLauchlan (Glasgow, 1983), no.1322 [hereafter CSSR, iv].

11. Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, xi, 1455-1464, ed J A Twemlow (London, 1921), 47-8.

12.CSSR, iv, no.690.

13.CSSR, iv, no.1081.

14.CSSR, iv, no.1484.

15. I B Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society, 1967), 94.

16. Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, xiii, 1471-1484, ed J A Twemlow (London, 1955), 491.

17. Calendar of Papal Letters Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, xix, Papal Letters 1503-1512, Julius II, ed M J Haren (Dublin, 1998), no.250; Yester Writs, no.687a.

18. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 249.

19. Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, iii, 1513-1546, eds J B Paul and J M Thomson (Edinburgh, 1883), no 1279.

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Granted to hospital of St Edward of Berwick by Queen Ermengade 1214x34. Both the parsonage and vicarage were annexed with the cure served by one of the friars. A dispute with Coupar Angus was resolved in favour of the friars. Following the schism the church was annexed to the house of Trinitarian Friars, Peebles, and the friars continued to serve the cure.(1)

Mackinlay notes that the church of Kettins was dedicated to St Bridget.(2)

1214x34 Charter by Ermengade, widow of William I; having been given half of Kettins by Alexander II, (the other half held by William, bishop of St Andrews) she grants the whole church to the hospital for the sustenance of paupers.(3)

1202x34 Grant confirmed by William, bishop of St Andrews, giving his half of the church to the hospital.(4)

1386 Mandate to provide David of Stirling (clerk of Robert II) to the church of Kettins (said to be appropriated to the ministry of Friars on the bridge at Berwick).(5)

1415 Confirmation to church of John of St Andrews (Trinitarian friar).(6)

1446 Commendation on behalf of Edward Gray by the King of France and Dauphin to be collated to the church of Kettins which is held by William Restoun, brother of the Holy Trinity of the Redemption of Captives. ‘William is dissolute, of evil conversation, a simoniac, a usurer and a dilapidator of ecclesiastical goods, laid violent hands upon a clerk and has long publicly kept a concubine having offspring’.(7) Collation appears unsuccessful as in 1447 (December) another friar John Guthrie was collated to the church.(8)

1458 David Gray is parson of church, accused by Robert Clugson (monk of Coupar Angus) of simony, Robert eventually gives up claim and David continues in possession.(9)

1466 Robert Clugston has succeeded David and is in turn accused of simony by Thomas Lothian. Accusation unsuccessful, Robert remains incumbent and is accused again in 1471 by John Keir. [no outcome specified].(10)

1509 Suit between Robert Mercer, layman, and brothers of the church of the Holy Cross, Peebles, over fruits of the church of Kettins. Some of the fruits made over to Robert and his father for a time not yet expire.(11)

1558 Kirkland of Kettins let to James Small for £8 40s pa, by church of the Holy Cross of Peebles, described as undoubted rectors of Kettins.(12)

Altars and chaplaincies

Blessed Virgin Mary

1532 (31 Jan) The King (James V) has confirmed, in mortmain, a charter of Alexander Rattray in Pitcur, by which he granted in pure alms to Sir David Jak and his successors, chaplains at the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the parish church of Kettins, the mill and mill-lands of Caithness, and their tofts.(13)


Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage and vicarage with the Trinitarian friary, Peebles, 320 marks value.(14)

1610 (21 Sept) A visitation of the church finds the minister (Colin Campbell), to be competent and the kirk to be in good estate; the kirk dykes are to be built according to the act of parliament.(15)

1690 (16 Feb) The session advanced £10 in the name of the heritors for repairing the roof of the church.(16)

1703 (4 Apr) £2 3s 6d was given to James Skeen for mending two glass windows in the church.(17) [Limited references to the fabric of the church in the Kirk Session records of 1682-1711, suggests fabric in reasonably good state]

1767 (23 Oct) The presbytery notes that a report from the session of Kettins that the church is in a very ruinous condition. A visitation on 28 Oct notes the ruinous and dangerous condition of the church which is to be taken down and rebuilt at a cost of £448 12s.(18)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev John Ritchie, 1794): ‘The church was built in 1768 and repaired in 1791’.(19) [no reference to earlier structure]

New Statistical Account of Scotland (John Gibb (Schoolmaster), written by Rev John Ross Macduff, 1843): ‘The church of Kettins, prior to the Reformation, belonged to the ministry of Red Friars at Peebles’.(20)

[Same info regarding church built in 1768 with no reference to earlier structures]


1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 93-94.

2. Mackinlay, Non-Scriptural Dedications, p. 130.

3. Yester Writs, no. 11.

4. Yester Writs, nos. 9 & 12.

5. CPL, iv, 253. CPL, Clem, 112.

6. CPL, Ben, 328.

7. CSSR, iv, no. 1322.

8. CPL, x, 287

9. CSSR, v, no. 690, CPL, xi, 47-8.

10. CSSR, v, nos. 1081 & 1484.

11. CPL, xix, no.250.

12. Yester Writs, no. 687a.

13. RSS, ii, no. 1543.

14. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 249.

15. NRS Records of the Synod of Fife, 1610-1636, CH2/154/1, fols. 14-17.

16. NRS Kettins Kirk Session, 1682-1711, CH2/518/1, fol. 94.

17. NRS Kettins Kirk Session, 1682-1711, CH2/518/1, fol. 247.

18. NRS Presbytery of Meigle, Minutes, 1749-1768, CH2/263/11, fols. 432-433 & 437-439.

19. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1794), xvii, 15.

20. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1843), xi, 643.


NRS Kettins Kirk Session, 1682-1711, CH2/518/1.

NRS Presbytery of Meigle, Minutes, 1749-1768, CH2/263/11.

NRS Records of the Synod of Fife, 1610-1636, CH2/154/1.

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

Calendar of Papal letters to Scotland of Benedict XIII of Avignon, 1976, ed. F. McGurk, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh.

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 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.

Calendar of writs preserved at Yester House, 1166-1625, 1930, eds. C. Harvey & 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.

Kirk, J., 1995, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, (British Academy) Oxford.

Mackinlay, J.M, 1914, Ancient Church Dedications in Scotland. Non-Scriptural Dedications, Edinburgh.

New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, Edinburgh and London.

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

Architectural description

The possibility of Kettins being a centre of early worship is suggested by the survival of an early cross slab. This was for long used as a footbridge across the Kettins Burn, as a consequence of which it is badly eroded; it is now set up in the churchyard, to the north of the church. On the main face there are faint traces of a cross flanked by mythical beasts.(1) It has been suggested that the church could have been the location of an early monastery, though this can be no more than speculation.(2)

The parish of Kettins was granted to the hospital of St Edward at Berwick by Queen Ermengarde, the widow of William the Lion, at a date between 1214 and 1234. Both the parsonage and vicarage were annexed, with the cure being served by one of the Trinitarian brethren of the hospital. In 1391/2 there was an abortive attempt by Robert III to transfer the parish to the Trinitarian hospital in Dundee, but in 1473 it was eventually granted to the Trinitarian house in Peebles.(3) Bishop David de Bernham carried out one of his dedications here on 18 April 1249.(4)

Following a succession of ultimately inadequate repairs in the seventeenth century, on 23 October 1767 it was stated that the church was so ruinous that it was to be taken down and rebuilt at a cost of £448.12s.(5)

The work was carried out in 1768,(6) by the mason William Mitchell, and there were further works in 1790-91 by Peter Brown.(7) In the course of operations in the later nineteenth century, in 1878 John Carver repaired the roof and modified the north side of the building, while in 1893 a tower was built to the designs of Alexander Johnston, in the angle between the north face of the main body and the west face of the north aisle.(8)

While it seems likely that the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century church is on the site of its medieval predecessor, there is nothing in the visible fabric that might be identifiable as of medieval date. The building, which is constructed of pink rubble with polished dressings, presents a curiously varied appearance, with the south, east and west faces being largely in their eighteenth century state, and the north side being a mixture of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The south face has two low-set round-arched windows at the centre, below two blind roundels that flank a tablet with the date 1768 on a shield. On each side of the central windows is a much larger round-arched window with timber Y-tracery, and at the outer ends of the elevation are superimposed pairs of segmental-arched windows which lit the areas above and below the galleries. The north and south faces each have a Venetian window at the lower level, below a large lunette of the same width as the Venetian windows, which rests on a string course extended round from the wall-head cornice of the south face.

The T-plan of the main body of the church is clearest when viewed from the north, and on this side the windows have been extensively modified, presumably in 1878; there are segmental arches at the lower level and round arches above. A vestry has been added in the east re-entrant angle between main body and aisle, but the most dissonant addition is the tower of 1893 to the west of the aisle.

That tower rises through three storeys, with single round-headed windows at the two lower levels and paired windows at the belfry stage. A stone spire rises behind the parapet; it has two levels of bands, with lucarnes resting on the middle band.

Inside the church there is a polygonal arrangement of galleries with arcaded fronts. These are focused on the pulpit, which is set between the two low-set windows at the centre of the south wall.

Within the churchyard, at the east end of the church, is a basin set on a fragment of the shaft of the market cross. The basin is believed locally to have been a medieval font, though the provision of a drainage hole in its side rather than in the base means it is more likely to have been a domestic mortar.

To the north of the church, arranged around the early cross slab, are a number of fragments, including a base and fragmentary capital of possibly thirteenth-century date, and part of a window reveal. These are said to have come from the nearby abbey of Coupar Angus, though it should be considered as a possibility that they originated at Kettins Church, and if they did this would indicate that the medieval church was a building of some quality.

Within the churchyard to the west of the church is a reconstructed birdcage bellcote, which was taken down from the church in 1893; it houses a bell made in Mechelen in 1519. The weathervane that emerges from the concave-sided pyramidal cap of the bellcote is dated 1768.


1. J. Romilly Allen and Joseph Anderson, The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1903, pt. 3, 224-25.

2. A.J. Warden, Angus or Forfarshire: the Land and People, Descriptive and Historical, 5 vols Dundee, 1880-5, vol. 4, pp. 1-4.

3. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, pp. 93-94.

4. Alan Orr Anderson, Early Sources of Scottish History, Edinburgh, 1922, vol. 2, p. 526.

5. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Meigle, Minutes, 1749-68, CH2/263/11, fols 432-433 and 437-439; GD 150/2639/ 17-19.

6. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-99, vol. 17, p. 15; New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 11, p. 646.

7. John Gifford, The Buildings of Scotland, Perth and Kinross, New Haven and London, 2007, pp. 446-48.

8. Gifford, 2007, pp. 446-48.



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

  • 1. Kettins Church exterior, 3

  • 2. Kettins Church exterior, 1

  • 3. Kettins Church exterior, 2

  • 4. Kettins Church exterior, 4

  • 5. Kettins Church exterior, date stone

  • 6. Kettins Church exterior, ex situ bellcote

  • 7. Kettins Church interior

  • 8. Kettins churchyard, gravestone

  • 9. Kettins churchyard, Early Christian cross slab

  • 10. Kettins churchyard, fragments said to be from Coupar Angus Abbey

  • 11. Kettins churchyard, supposed font (domestic mortar)