Kilgour Parish Church

Kilgour, site of church, 1

Summary description

A level area within a heavily overgrown churchyard marks the likely site of the medieval church. The church was relocated to Falkland in the early seventeenth century, but was rebuilt in 1849-51.

Historical outline

Dedication: unknown

The early history of the parish church of Kilgour is utterly obscure.  A first reference to it in a surviving source occurs in the records of Bishop David de Bernham’s dedication of the parish churches in his diocese, where it was noted that he had dedicated Kilgour on 26 July 1243.(1)  It was, however, afree parsonage throughout the thirteenth century, being recorded as an independent church in the records of the papal tax-collector in Scotland in 1275.(2)  It was assessed first at a tax-payment of three merks in the first year, for which there was a subsequent eight-shilling augmentation.  A note of arrears states that 23 shillings was received from the executors of the will of the late rector of Kilgour, indicating his death in the course of the tax-year.(3)

A note of a now-lost charter of Duncan IV, earl of Fife, in the Great Register of St Andrews cathedral-priory records the earl’s grant of the patronage of the church and possession of its kirklands to the canons.(4)  According to Walter Bower in his Scotichronicon, Earl Duncan conferred the church on the canons ‘in full ownsership’ on the day of the consecration of St Andrews Cathedral [5 July] in 1318.(5)  The intention behind this grant – and Bower’s particular wording – appears to indicate that Duncan wished the church to be appropriated to the priory.  This intention appears to be confirmed by a commission and mandate issued in December 1329 to ascertain the facts behind the grant and for a perpetual vicar to be appointed.(6)  It is not, however, until 1392 that the institution of the vicarage perpetual is recorded, at which time it was noted that in the past it had been held by a canon of St Andrews.(7)  The vicarage was collated to James Bisset, prior of St Andrews, which resulted in a petition to Pope Benedict XIII by a secular clerk, Richard Cady, that the priory was more than adequately endowed and requesting provision for himself.(8)  Despite Cady’s petition, collation was given (subject to the dispensation permitting Bisset to hold the vicarage was revoked) to Richard Knight, envoy of King Robert III to the Avignon papacy.(9)  Cady received a fresh mandate in September 1411 for collation to the perpetual vicarage, valued at £16 to a non-resident and noted as normally served by secular clerks.(10)  He was still not, however, in possession by January 1413 when a further mandate was issued to examine the situation and collate Cady should his claims regarding Bisset’s illegal tenure of the vicarage – basically that the vicarage was previously held by secular clerks and not canons – be vindicated.(11)  Finally, in November 1413 letters were received which recorded Bisset’s resignation of all rights in the vicarage and the collation in his place of Cady.(12)  On Cady’s death in 1421, it was another secular clerk, Alexander Bisset, who supplicated for provision in his place.(13)

Around 1430, Prior James haldenstone of St Andrews sent out a general letter seeking financial support for the building-work of the priory.  In this letter, mention was made of ‘the complete building of our parish church of Kilgour, which was accidentally burned and still remains totally under construction, the which building work, it is agreed not out of necessity but out of common understanding and the burning of piety we wish to display…’(14)  The only other reference to it in Haldenstone’s accounts is for the set of the teind-sheaves pertaining to the parsonage to William Bonar, burgess of St Andrews, in December 1440.(15

At the Reformation, the parsonage of the parish church still pertained to the canons of St Andrews, who received payment in meal but also in cash under a set of both Kilgour and the kirk of Scoonie. (16)  There is no specific reference to the vicarage.


1. A O Anderson (ed), Early Sources of Scottish History, ii (Edinburgh, 1922), 524 [Pontifical Offices of St Andrews].

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), 37, 38.

3. Dunlop (ed), ‘Bagimond’s Roll’, 60.

4. Liber Cartarum Prioratus Sancti Andree in Scotia (Bannatyne Club, 1841), p.xxxix, no.53.

5. Walter Bower, Scotichronicon, ed D E R Watt and others, 6 (Aberdeen, 1991), 413, 415.

6. Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, ii, 1305-1342, ed W H Bliss (London, 1895), 304.

7. Calendar of Papal Letters to Scotland of Clement VII of Avignon 1378-1384, ed C Burns (Scottish Record Society, 1976), 179-80.

8. CPL, Benedict XIII, 244.

9. Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Petitions to the Pope, 1342-1419, ed W H Bliss (London, 1896), 594, 597.

10. Calendar of Papal Letters to Scotland of Benedict XIII of Avignon 1394-1410, ed F McGurk (Scottish History Society, 1976), 30-31 [hereafter CPL, Benedict XIII].

11. CPL, Benedict XIII, 267-8.

12. CPL, Benedict XIII, 285-6.

13. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, i, 1418-1422, eds E R Lindsay and A I Cameron (Scottish History Society, 1934), 242.

14. J H Baxter (ed), Copiale Prioratus Sanctiandree (Oxford, 1930), no.65 (p.120) [hereafter St Andrews Copiale].

15. St Andrews Copiale, nos 99, 119.

16. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 9, 15, 17, 21.  

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Granted to priory of St Andrews by Duncan, earl of Fife in 1316, the parsonage remained with the priory, while the vicarage on occasion was served by one of the canons.(1)

Place Names of Fife vol. 2:  ST A Lib, 327, Haldenstone, Copiale, nos. 65 & 115 (church burns down 1420s)

1318 According to Bower, in that year Duncan, earl of Fife conferred the church of Kilgour on the priory of St Andrews in  thanksgiving for the victory at Bannockburn.(2)

1329 Mandate for Bertrand Cariti (papal nuncio) to investigate the gift made by Duncan, earl of Fife of the parish church of Kilgour to the priory and canons of St Andrews (perpetual vicar to be appointed).(3)

1392-4 James Bisset, (rector of Forgen) exchanges his church with Willaim de Balmyle to get Kilgour, promoted successively prior of Loch Leven and St Andrews, allowed to hold the vicarage in conmmendum. This prompts complaint from Richard Cady (clerk St Andrews) that priory is well endowed and does not require the vicarage. 1394 dispensation to hold church in conmmendum is revoked and Richard Knight (Robert III’s envoy to the papacy) collated to Kilgour.(4)

1411-21 Richard Cady finally gets the church, (James Bisset resigns rights in 1413). Collation notes that church is ‘accustomed to be governed by secular clerks’ (value £16).(5)

1421 On Cady’s death Alexander Bisset supplicates for the church (20 marks value).(6)

c.1430 A circular begging letter sent by Prior James Haldenstone of St Andrews, asking for finances to restore his cathedral churches mentions a fire which nearly totally destroyed the church of Kilgour, which remains unrestored.(7)

1453 David Kay described as perpetual vicar (secretary of James Kennedy, bishop of St Andrews).(8)


Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage and vicarage with priory of St Andrews, parsonage set for £160. Vicarage rents £33 6s 8d.(9)

1611 (9 Aug) A visitation of the church (of Falkland) finds the minister (James Pitcairne) to be competent, and the kirk is ordained to be repaired; my lord of Glamis promises to be built an aisle on the south side and to contribute nails for building of an aisle on the north side of the church directly opposite to the aisle to be built by the lord of Slane. The gentlemen of the landward parish are ordained to build the other half or third part of the said north aisle.(10) [definitely the church of Falkland, which suggests that it had moved from Kilgour by this date]

1647 (4 Mar) William Levingstone, minister of Falkland, complains that his benefice is prejudiced by tacks of the vicarage by the previous incumbent.(11)

1667 (15 Dec) £1 12s paid for half a hundred slates for mending the hole in the kirk.(12)

1668 (16 Feb) 40s given to a glass wright for a window in the north side of the aisle.(13)

1672 (7 Apr) The kirk session orders that the Laird of Pikloched pays for building of a burial place and dykes and gates (cost £500 marks).(14)

1676 (28 May) William Marshall (on behalf of the session) went to the burial ground in Kilgour to check the dykes which had fallen down, 45 scots paid to a workmen to sort it out. The workman allowed to yse the stones that are lying there [presumably these came from old church in the centre of the burial ground].(15)

1679 (9 Aug) Some of the heritors met with the minister for taking a cause for repairing the roof of the church which is ruinous (stent made for slaits, lime, nails and for pointing the back side of the church).(16)

1694 (23 Jan) £95 13s paid out to Alex Lawson for glassing the windows and for their timber casements.(17)

1694 (28 May) Meeting organised between the minister and heritors anent the reparation of the church. Agreement made with George Marshall, slater, for furnishing and putting up of slates (£120), John Burrell, wright, paid 250 marks for ‘down taking of the timber of the church, and for putting up of the new timber for sarning and sealing of the whole church and aisle’.(18)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Andrew Brown): [No reference to church buildings]

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev A Wilson, 1845): ‘The church stood originally at Kilgour in the western confines of the parish and before the Reformation belonged to the Priory of St Andrews. It is difficult to tell when the church was moved to Falkland, there is a stone on the present structure bearing the date 1620 but there is reason to believe that there was a more ancient edifice on the same site. The present church [at Falkland]…. was repaired in 1772, but internally is in a state of dilapidation’.(19)

The church [at Kilgour], which seems to have been a small building, 40 feet by 16, stood in the centre [of the burial ground] with a quire at the east end. Not a single vestige of it is now visible, the foundations dug up 20 years ago [c.1825] to fill drains’.(20)


1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 100.

2. Chron. Bower, vi. 415.

3. CPL, ii, 304.

4. CPL, Clem, 180, CPP, 578, 594 & 597, CPL, Ben, 30-31.

5. CPL, Ben, 244, 267 & 285-86.

6. CSSR, i, 242.

7. Copiale Prioratus Sanctiandree, pp. 120 & 445. 8. CSSR, v, no. 482, CPL, x, 154.

9. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, pp. 9, 15, 17 & 21.

10. NRS Records of the Synod of Fife, 1610-1636, CH2/154/1, fols. 61 & 62.

11. NRS Presbytery of Cupar, Minutes, 1646-1660, CH2/82/1, fol. 28.

12. NRS Falkland Kirk Session, 1661-1706, CH2/428/3, fol. 6.

13. NRS Falkland Kirk Session, 1661-1706, CH2/428/3, fol. 7.

14. NRS Falkland Kirk Session, 1661-1706, CH2/428/3, fol. 61.

15. NRS Falkland Kirk Session, 1661-1706, CH2/428/3, fol. 120.

16. NRS Falkland Kirk Session, 1661-1706, CH2/428/3, fol. 170.

17. NRS Falkland Kirk Session, 1661-1706, CH2/428/3, fol. 232.

18. NRS Falkland Kirk Session, 1661-1706, CH2/428/3, fol. 234.

19. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1845), 937.

20. Ibid, 939.


NRS Falkland Kirk Session, 1661-1706, CH2/428/3.

NRS Presbytery of Cupar, Minutes, 1646-1660, CH2/82/1.

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

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

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.

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.

Scotichronicon by Walter Bower in Latin and English, 1987-99, D. E. R. Watt, Aberdeen.

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

Architectural description

The church at Kilgour was dedicated by Bishop David de Bernham on 26 July 1243,(1) though it is not known if this was associated with any specific building operation. In 1316 Duncan, earl of Fife granted the church to St Andrews Cathedral Priory, and in 1329 a commission was set up to erect a perpetual vicarage, which was occasionally served by one of the priory’s canons.(2) The church suffered a disastrous fire in about 1430 according to a letter of Prior James Haldenstone of St Andrews, and it was presumably rebuilt or extensively repaired after that.(3)

According to the New Statistical Account, by which time the site had been long abandoned, the church at Kilgour had been a building of 40 by 16 feet, (12.2 by 4.9 metres). But it may only have been the medieval nave that had continued in use, because it was also said that there had been a choir at the east end.(4)

The presumed site of the church is a platform at the centre of a heavily overgrown enclosure, a short distance to the south east of Kilgour farmhouse. The entry in the New Statistical Account, which was dated 1845, said that its foundations had been dug up twenty years previously to procure stones to fill drains, and that a stone coffin had been moved to the stables of the nearby farm to serve as a trough, but was later returned to the cemetery.

Still in the farmhouse garden is a badly eroded gravestone decorated with an incised cross, which it is said was found in 1956.(5) The form of the cross head, which is composed of a grouping of four circles, suggests a thirteenth-century date, though the details are too eroded to be certain of this.

Also in the garden is what appears to be a vaulting boss, attached to which are the stubs of four ribs; the boss itself appears to have been modified for some secondary use because a wide hole has been cut through it. Since it is unlikely that any part of the medieval church would have been vaulted, it is perhaps more likely that the boss originated at another building, with Falkland Castle as one candidate.

The church was relocated to Falkland at an uncertain date. The move may have been as early as about August 1611, when the lord of Glamis undertook to build a north aisle, opposite an aisle to be built by the lord of Slane, suggesting that major building operations were then in progress.(6) It may be significant that the church at Falkland could still be referred as ‘novam ecclesiam de Falkland’ in a charter of 1619.(7)

However, on 19 January 1620 the mason John Mylne contracted with Lord Scone to build a new church at a cost of £2000 Scots,(8) and in 1845 it was recorded that there was then an inscribed stone on the church with that date.(9) Taking account of the fact that that operation was the replacement of an existing structure, which it was said had to be first demolished, it may be that the first building on the Falkland site had been inadequate. Particular attention was paid in the contract to the loft in the north aisle, which was to be based on that at Scone.

There were evidently extensive repairs to the roof of both the main body of the church and the aisle in 1694,(10) and it was also said to have been repaired in 1772.(11) A brief description of the church by C. Gulland of 1876, twenty-six years after it had been demolished, recalled it as having had a front part ‘of considerable antiquity, with two porches’, though it was said that the duke of Athole had added a ‘north end facing the pulpit with the gallery’ about 150 years previously, suggesting, if accurate, that the north aisle had again been rebuilt.(12)

The church was completely rebuilt in 1849-51 to the designs of David Bryce, with the early involvement of William Burn.(13) The new church is an imposing essay in the Early English style, with an impressive west tower surmounted by a pinnacled splay-foot spire with lucarnes.


1. Alan Orr Anderson, Early Sources of Scottish History, Edinburgh, 1922, vol. 2, p. 524.

2. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 100.

3. Copiale Prioratus Sanctiandree, ed. J.H. Baxter, 1930, pp. 120 and 445.

4. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 9, p. 939.

5. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Canmore online resource.

6. National Records of Scotland, Records of the Synod of Fife, 1610-36, CH2/154/1, fols 61 and 62.

7. Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, ed. J.M. Thomson, et al., 1882-1914, vol. 7, no 1968.

8. The contract is published in Robert Scott Mylne, The Master Masons to the Crown of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1893, pp. 110-11.

9. New Statistical Account, vol. 9, p. 937.

10. National Records of Scotland, Falkland Kirk Session, 1661-1706, CH2/428/3, fol. 234.

11. New Statistical Account, vol. 9, p. 937.

12. Mylne, 1893, p. 112.

13. John Gifford, The Buildings of Scotland, Fife, London, 1988, p. 218; Howard Colvin, Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, New Haven and London, 2008, p. 188; National Records of Scotland GD 152/57/1/1-22.



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

  • 1. Kilgour, site of church, 1

  • 2. Kilgour, site of church, 2

  • 3. Kilgour House, cross-incised slab from church

  • 4. Kilgour House, vault boss fragment

  • 5. Kilgour, Falkland Church, exterior, 1

  • 6. Kilgour, Falkland Church, exterior, 2

  • 7. Kilgour, Falkland Church, interior, 1

  • 8. Kilgour, Falkland Church, interior, 2