Kirkcaldy Parish Church

Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, tower exterior from west

Summary description

The only survivor of the medieval church is its west tower; the church itself evidently had an unaisled chancel and a nave with an aisle along each flank. It was rebuilt 1807-08. It is no longer in ecclesiastical use.

Historical outline

Dedication: St Brice(1)

It is possible that the original grant of the whole shire of Kirkcaldy with its church was made to the monastery at Dunfermline by King Malcolm III and Queen Margaret, but the surviving parchment record attributes the gift to King David I, probably before 1130.(2)  It was confirmed in Dunfermline’s possession as a church by Bishop Robert of St Andrews before 1159 and by Pope Alexander III in 1163.(3)  A further confirmation was received from Bishop Richard before 1188 as part of a general confirmation of the abbey’s possessions in his diocese.(4)

Controversy erupted in the early 1200s over the status of the church of Kirkcaldy, with it being claimed by Simon, rector of Dysart, that it was in fact a dependent chapel of the church of Dysart.  To resolve the case, in February 1220 Pope Honorius III appointed Abraham, bishop of Dunblane, Gilbert, archdeacon of Dunblane, and William, abbot of Scone, as judges-delegate to investigate the case and make a settlement.(5)  The result of their investigation was a composition whereby it was agreed that the church of Dysart was in future to receive a payment of 100s annually from Kirkcaldy, which, for as long as Master William Greenlaw held Kirkcaldy, wasa to be paid by the monks of Dunfermline.  The settlement received confirmation from the chapter of St Andrews.(6)

Between that composition and his death in 1238, Bishop William Malveisin of St Andrews confirmed the church of Kirkcaldy to Dunfermline in proprios usus, which was confirmed again by Bishop David de Bernham and as part of a general ratification of such annexations by the chapter of St Andrews in 1240.(7)  Bernham is also recorded as having dedicated the church on 21 March 1245.(8)

Although the documents narrating the appropriation do not make it explicit, only mentioning reservation of the right to make appointments, the result of the annexation was the establishment of a vicarage perpetual.  It is thus as a vicarage that the church is recorded in 1274/5 in the accounst of the papal tax-collector in Scotland, paying one merk, a low figure which suggests a pensionary vicarage rather than a full vicarage perpetual.(9) Nevertheless, when incumbents are recorded with regularity through the fifteenth and into the sixteenth century they are most often referred to as vicars perpetual.(10)  The annexation continued at the Reformation, when it was recorded that the abbey received only some teinds from the church, the rest being set for £13.  The vicarage, however, held by James Multray, was valued at £120 annually, a high figure that probably reflects the economic prosperity of the wealthy merchant-burgesses of Kirkcaldy who patronised the church.(11)

Given the wealth of the trading community it is unsurprising that the the parish church of Kirkcaldy contained at least three subsidiary altars with associated chaplainries within it by the sixteenth century.  The earliest recorded of these was the altar of the Holy Rood, to which on 18 April 1532 George, abbot of Dunfermline, presented sir Walter chaplain, to James, archbishop of St Andrews, for institution.(12)  A second altar with chaplainry was dedicated to St Michael, to which one John Mason was instituted on 2 July 1545.(13)  The third chaplainry, that of the Holy Blood altar, first occurs in records at the Reformation when it was noted as pertaining to John Ballincanquall ‘ane auld blind man that seis nocht perfytlie’.  His chaplainry received 13 merks yearly, together with a tenement of land occupied by him in the burgh.(14)  At that time, the chaplainry of the Holy Rood altar, patron Edward Leyne and chaplain Henry Young, was recorded in the Books of Assumption with a value of £10 annually.(15)  While the cults of the Holy Rood and St Michael are unremarkable, the presence of a Holy Blood altar at Kirkcaldy appears to reinforce the association between that cult and members of the merchant-mariner class who are believed to have imported it from Flanders, which was one of its main centres in northern Europe.(16)

It is also in the late 1540s that the first evidence survives for the dedication of the church to St Brice.  Between 1548 and 1551 twelve people (four women and eight men) from the parish of Kirkcaldy registered their testaments at the St Andrews commissary court. Seven did not specify a burial location but five specifically identified the ‘parish church of St Briccii in Kirkcaldy’, one paying a fee of 40s which might indicate a prestigious location within the church.(17)


1. S Taylor and G Markus, The Place-Names of Fife, i, West Fife between Leven and Forth (Donington, 2006), 465-6; J M Mackinlay, Ancient Church Dedications in Scotland: Non-scriptural Dedications (Edinburgh, 1914), 317.  Taylor and Markus note that the church, which probably did not achieve parochial status until 1220, was dedicated to ‘St Bryce’. It is the only Brice dedication in Scotland and there was only one in England. Mackinlay notes the same. Taylor and Markus also state that no surviving medieval source mentions the dedication but see below.

2. Registrum de Dunfermelyn (Bannatyne Club, 1842), no.29 [hereafter Dunfermline Registrum].

3. Dunfermline Registrum, nos 92, 237.

4. Dunfermline Liber, no.94.

5. Dunfermline Liber, no.111.

6. Dunfermline Liber, no.112.

7. Dunfermline Liber, nos 117, 143.

8. A O Anderson (ed), Early Sources of Scottish History, ii (Edinburgh, 1922), 525 [Pontifical Offices of St Andrews].

9. 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.

10. Calendar of Scottish Supplicaions to Rome, v, 1447-1471, eds J Kirk, R J Tanner and A I Dunlop (Glasgow, 1997), nos 1093, 1308, 1324, 1327; Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, xii, 1458-1471, ed J A Twemlow (London, 1933), 644-45; Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, xvii, part 1, 1492-1503, ed A P Fuller (Dublin, 1994), no.407.

11. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 26, 29, 38, 41, 67.

12. Dunfermline Registrum, no.517.

13. Notices of the Local Records of Dysart (Maitland Club, 1853), 14-15.

14. Kirk (ed), Books of Assumption, 81.

15. Kirk (ed), Books of Assumption, 84.

16. D Ditchburn, ‘The “McRoberts thesis” and patterns of sanctity in late medieval Scotland’, in S Boardman and E Williamson (eds), The Cult of Saints and the Virgin Mary in Medieval Scotland (Woodbridge, 2010), 177-194 at 179 and 188-9.

17. NRS St Andrews, Register of Testaments, 1 Aug 1549-12 Dec 1551, CC20/4/1, fols.32-33, 67-8, 69-70, 333, 336-7.

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Granted to Dunfermline by David I (Taylor claims Malcolm III and Margaret), in the early 13th century the church was claimed as a chapel of Dysart, but this was resolved by an annual pension paid from the fruits of Kirkcaldy. A perpetual vicarage was erected, the parsonage remaining with the abbey.(1)

Place Names of Fife vol. 1 notes that the church probably did not achieve parochial status until 1220. The church is dedicated to St Bryce - the only one in Scotland and there was only one in England. Mackinlay notes the same.(2) Place Names of Fife suggests that no surviving medieval source mentions the dedication, but see 1548-51 below.

1465 Michael Flucker resigns perpetual vicarage due to his great age and blindness. William Tod provided (£3).(3)

1468 Suit between William and John Benning over church; settlement with John as vicar and William awarded an annual pension (13 marks out of overall value of 39). Same year John claims the rigours of age, petitions for William Tod to act as his deputy and serve the cure (for 13 marks).(4)

1501 Suit between William Turnbull and Robert Schanwel (described as the perpetual vicar). William granted it by apostolic authority, Robert by the ordinary. Settlement with William settling for 20 marks pension and allowing Robert to remain as vicar.(5)

1522 (7 Nov) John Simpson resigned an annual rent of 20s from the same tenement (in St Andrews) to Sir William Smith, chaplain, as procurator of the chaplains choristers of St Andrews who are to celebrate, yearly, two trentals during the lifetime of Mr Robert Shanwell, vicar of Kirkaldy and certain services after his death.(6)

1548-51 12 people (4 woman, 8 men) from the parish registered their testaments at the St Andrews Commissary court. 7 did not specify a burial location. 5 specified the parish church of St Briccii in Kirkcaldy, one paying a fee of 40s.(7) Curate of Kirkcaldy, Matthew Paterson, witnessed several of the testaments.

Altars and chaplaincies

Holy Blood

1573 (Former) chaplaincy of the Holy Blood in the parish church referenced.(8)

St Michael

1545 (2 July) John Mason instituted as chaplain of the chaplaincy of St Michael in Kirkcaldy parish church.(9)


Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage with Dunfermline; some produce teinds kept by abbey, others set for £13. Vicarage held by James Multray, value £120.(10)

Altars and Chaplainries

Chaplainry of the Holy Blood altar within the church, , value 13 marks.

Chaplainry of the Holy Rood altar, patron Edward Leyne, chaplain Henry Young, value £10.(11)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of vicarage, £40.(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)

#1584 The town council ordains that the kirk dykes and glass windows be repaired according to the last held court.(14)

#1585 (June) Council ordains that fines (from violence and breaking of burgh acts) be applied to the repairing and upholding of the north glass windows in the north aisle (the council grants the Maltmen to have five seats).(15)

1606 Collection made for the repairing of the south aisle of the church.(16)

1630 (15 Apr) Record of the stipends of ministers in the Presbytery of Kirkcaldy, the minister gets 320 marks pa and some produce.(17)

1636 (23 June) Visitation of the church by the Presbytery of Kirkcaldy finds the minister and reader to be competent but a school is required.(18)

1637 (4 Apr) Kirk session records that Mr James Millar reported his diligence in going over the water to speak to the Earl of Traquair for reparation of the choir, who promised faithfully to cause take order with it before he went off the country.(19)

#1642 (18 Oct) Kirk session anent the enlarging of the kirk the session agree with Mr John Mill master of work to certain repairs on the kirk amounting to £3000. And to that affect anent the paying of the same, to submit themselves to the Lairds of Halyards and Arnot, and to Mr Robert Cunninghame and George Gairdons for the Toun.(20)  

1650 (2 Jan) Kirkcaldy, Letter from Robert White to Mr Thomas Melville, minister at Kinglassie, asking him to send the discharge by John Milne for Lord Melville's part of the building of the aisle of Kirkcaldie church.(21)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Thomas Fleming, 1791): [Long section on the ‘unshapely’ medieval church.](22)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev John Alexander, 1843): [Information on new church (1807) with retained west tower, much to the ire of the minister].(23)

Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches (George Hay): 1808, incorporating medieval tower, James Elliot, architect; partly refurnished (hall church, rectangular hall with a horseshoe gallery), quite attractive, kirk attached to a rather mutilated medieval tower.(24)


1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 118.

2. Taylor & Markus, The Place-Names of Fife. Volume One, pp. 465-466, Mackinlay, Non-Scriptural Dedications, p. 317,

3. CSSR, v, no. 1033.

4. CSSR, v, nos. 1308, 1324 & 1327, CPL, xii, 644-45.

5. CPL, xvii, no. 407.

6. StAUL, Burgh Charters and Miscellaneous Writs, B65/23/227c.

7. NRS St Andrews, Register of Testaments, 1 Aug 1549-12 Dec 1551, CC20/4/1, fols.32-33, 67-8, 69-70, 333 & 336-7.

8. Kirkcaldy Burgh Records, pp. 35-36.

9. Notices of the Local Records of Dysart, pp. 14-15.

10. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 26, 29, 38, 41 & 67.

11. Ibid, 81, 84 & 85.

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

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

14. Campbell, The Church and Parish of Kirkcaldy, p. 77.

15. Campbell, The Church and Parish of Kirkcaldy, pp. 77-78.

16. Kirkcaldy Burgh Records, p. 155.

17. NRS Presbytery of Kirkcaldy, Minutes, 1630-1653, CH2/224/1, fol. 8.

18. NRS Presbytery of Kirkcaldy, Minutes, 1630-1653, CH2/224/1, fols. 172-173.

19. NRS Kirkcaldy Kirk Session, 1614-1645, CH2/1636/34, fol. 349, Campbell, The Church and Parish of Kirkcaldy, p. 78.

20. Campbell, The Church and Parish of Kirkcaldy, p. 79.

21. NRS Correspondence and General Papers, GD26/13/329.

22. Statistical Account of Scotland,  (1791), xviii, 4.

23. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1843), ix, 761.

24. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, pp. 124, 140, 199 & 258. 


NRS Correspondence and General Papers, GD26/13/329.

NRS Kirkcaldy Kirk Session, 1614-1645, CH2/1636/34.

NRS Presbytery of Kirkcaldy, Minutes, 1630-1653, CH2/224/1.

NRS St Andrews, Register of Testaments, 1 Aug 1549-12 Dec 1551, CC20/4/1.

StAUL, Burgh Charters and Miscellaneous Writs, B65/23/227c.

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 1447-71, 1997, ed. J. Kirk, R.J. Tanner and A.I. Dunlop, Edinburgh.

Campbell, J., 1904, The Church and Parish of Kirkcaldy, Kirkcaldy.

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.

Kirkcaldy Burgh Records, 1908, ed. L. Macbean, Kirkcaldy.

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.

Notices of the Local Records of Dysart, 1853 (Maitland Club), Glasgow.

Registrum de Dunfermelyn, 1842, ed. C. Innes (Bannatyne Club), Edinburgh.

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

Taylor, S & Markus G., 2006, The Place-Names of Fife. Volume One. West Fife between Leven and Forth, Donington.

Architectural description

The only upstanding medieval part of Kirkcaldy parish church is its west tower, the main body of the church having been rebuilt to the designs of James and Archibald Elliot in 1807-8.

The medieval building presumably began to take shape after it had been granted by King David I to his abbey at Dunfermline before his death in 1153, a grant confirmed by Bishop Robert of St Andrews and Pope Alexander III in 1163.(1) A dedication by Bishop David de Bernham on 21 March 1245(2) is unlikely to be of structural significance, in view of the large numbers of such dedications carried out by that bishop.

The main source of information on the layout of the medieval church is a survey dated 1775; this was re-drawn by W. Skinner in 1809 with the outline plan of the later church superimposed upon it, and it was again redrawn and updated by W. Little in 1880.(3) This plan shows that in its final medieval state, in addition to the axial west tower, there was an aisle-less rectangular chancel and a nave of four bays with an aisle running along each flank. Rather puzzlingly, a sketch plan by the Rev. John Sime of 1805 shows a layout that is the same in many respects, but that has a shorter chancel and no north aisle.(4) It is difficult to explain these discrepancies. The relative shortness of the chancel as depicted by Sime might be at least partly explicable by the fact the east end had been partitioned off as a synod house, though the absence of a north aisle cannot be explained so easily. On balance it seems likely that the plan based on the survey of 1775 is the more accurate, since it provides considerably more detail.

The medieval building is known to have been modified in a number of ways to meet the needs of reformed worship.(5) In 1618 the ‘great porch’ is said to have been added towards the west end of the nave south flank, and the ‘little porch’ against the south flank of the chancel in 1764.(6) However, the greatest augmentation had been the addition of a large laterally projecting north aisle off the east end of the north side of the nave, with a porch against the north end of its east flank. This addition was evidently constructed between 1642 and 1644 to the designs of John Mylne, of the prestigious family of royal master masons,(7) and it resulted in the T-plan that was much favoured for Scottish post-Reformation churches because of the way it provided good visibility of the pulpit for large numbers. However, it seems that the two eastern bays of the north nave arcade may only have been removed as late as around 1710,(8) which must have meant that sight lines between the north lateral aisle and the pulpit were somewhat restricted until that date. The pulpit had been set against the easternmost pier of the south nave arcade by 1613, if not before.

Before the later eighteenth century the provision of seating tended to be a rather haphazard process, with the principal land-holders, burgesses and trades obtaining locations close to the pulpit, and others fitting in as best they could. The process of adding large numbers of elevated lofts throughout the church had begun by the mid-seventeenth century, if not before. There were eventually at least four sets of external forestairs to those lofts, and perhaps as many as eight internal stairs, which gave individual access to the seating for the magistrates of the burgh and at least ten of the trades.

The one post-Reformation addition to the medieval fabric that has survived is a belfry stage to the tower, which appears to have been added in or soon after 1755, and is carried on the inner face of the tower walls, set back behind the medieval wall-head parapet. It was originally capped by a low pyramidal roof, which was subsequently replaced by a flat roof. After the latter had blown off in 1900 it was replaced in concrete.(9)

By the time of the publication of the Statistical Account of Scotland in 1791-99, the church was described by its minister as ‘a large unshapely the construction of which convenience has been more consulted than unity of design or beauty’ and it was said to be ‘in indifferent repair’.(10) The only part of the account that described the medieval fabric was the statement that ‘the in the antient Gothic, or rather the Norman stile of architecture...with low semicircular arches, supported by short thick columns’. However, at a time when understanding of Scottish medieval architecture was based on what was coming to be known of architecture in England, and when late medieval architecture in Scotland was especially poorly understood, it is likely that what was taken to be Romanesque was in fact late medieval. Such confusion was not unusual, as exemplified at Alyth parish church (Dunkeld diocese), where a late medieval arcade survived the demolition of the rest of the medieval church because it was assumed to be ‘Saxon’.

Rebuilding of the body of the church was precipitated by a serious fall of slates in 1805, and, after much discussion, in the following year James and Archibald Elliot were commissioned to produce designs for rebuilding the main body of the church. Two alternative designs were offered. One was octagonal,(11) like the church that was built to the Elliots’ designs in Glenorchy in 1810-11.

The preferred design was for a spacious five-bay rectangle constructed of grey droved ashlar, with porches at the centre of the north and south flanks, and a session house off the east wall. A Gothic repertory of forms was established externally through Y-traceried and transomed windows, an arcaded wall-head corbel table and miniature bartizans at the angles and at the east gable apex. Internally the pews and a horseshoe-shaped gallery were focused on the pulpit at the centre of the east wall. The foundation stone was laid in 1807, the date that is inscribed on a tablet on the east wall, and work was completed in 1808. Unfortunately, the quality of work was compromised by the failure and eventual bankruptcy of the contractor, Alexander McFarlane, and this eventually led to the partial collapse of the gallery in 1828 when large numbers had come to hear the Rev. Edward Irving preach. The interior of the church of has since been re-ordered on a number of occasions. In 1884-6 a new sanctuary area was formed with an organ as its backdrop – an accompaniment to worship that had only recently become acceptable. Works carried out in 1966-8 by Wheeler and Sproson substituted a small west gallery for the horseshoe gallery. Restoration was required in 1986 in the aftermath of a fire. The most recent works took place in 2005 before the church passed to the Kirkcaldy Old Kirk Trust; it is still in use for worship though no longer the parish church.

As already indicated, the only medieval part of the existing fabric is the west tower, which, despite its externally simple form is a surprisingly complex structure.(12) With its unbuttressed walls, paucity of openings to the lower walls, belfry windows of lancet form and parapet carried on a corbel table, it is related to several other towers along the east coast of Fife, the earliest of the type, at Crail, having evidently been started in the thirteenth century. The others, however, including those of Anstruther, Cupar, Dunfermline, Dysart, Kilrenny and St Andrews, can be dated to the fifteenth or early sixteenth century, and Kirkcaldy’s tower is likely to be of similarly late date.

The tower is constructed of large squared blocks of buff-coloured stone up to mid-height of the original belfry stage, above which it is of a harder grey ashlar. Areas of rough masonry in the lower part of the south and north walls immediately adjacent to the church of 1807-08 indicate where the west aisle walls of the medieval church extended out from the tower. (The early nineteenth-century church, although set out to be contiguous with the east wall of the tower, was built independently of it.) A curious feature at the west end of the south face at first floor level is a projecting corbel that appears to be decorated with a pair of shield-like forms; its function is no longer clear, though one possibility is that it supported a sundial.   

 There are doorways in the south and west faces of the tower, which in their present form are part of the 1807-08 operations on the evidence of the rather thin hood-mouldings, which are of the same form as those around the window heads in the new building. The south door perpetuates a door shown on the survey of 1775; that survey also shows a blocked opening in the west wall, though it is not clear if that had been a door or a window. Apart from the pointed-arched single light openings at belfry level, all of the original windows whose form is known with certainty were slit-like apertures, but at an uncertain date those at first-floor level in the south and north walls have been replaced by paired pointed-arched openings. The south belfry window has been blocked to allow the positioning of a clock face at this level, while the east belfry window, which faces towards the later church, is also partly blocked. The only horizontal articulation of the external walls below the parapet is a string course a short distance below the belfry stage. It may be suspect that the parapet itself was initially crenellated and that it was remodelled to its present unbroken horizontal form when the caphouse belfry was added in the eighteenth century.

The complexity of the tower is most evident internally. The ground-floor level was made into a vestibule as part of the 1807-8 operations, and the plaster cornice dates from that phase, though the walls are now lined with oak panelling that was installed in 1920 as a memorial to the dead of the First World War. On the north side of this level is a straight flight of stairs up to the first floor. That flight is not depicted on the plan of 1775, but is shown on Walker’s plan of 1885, and it must be thought likely that it was inserted in 1807-08 to give access to the town council’s robing room that was formed on the first floor. The masonry within the stair shaft is now exposed, and from the traces of stubs of an arch springing in the west wall and the roughly refaced masonry along the north wall, it is evident that the ground floor was covered by a barrel vault running on an east west axis. It is not clear what provision there was for access to the first floor before the stair was inserted.

At first-floor level it can be seen that the segmental rear-arches of the windows in the south and north walls are rather narrow for the paired lights that are now there, pointing to the likelihood that those paired lights replace slit windows like that which remains in the west wall, and that which survives in a modified state in the east wall. At the north end of the east wall is a blocked doorway with a segmental rear-arch that appears to be of medieval date on the evidence of the chamfered jambs on its east side; it has retained the hinge pins in its embrasure. The threshold level of this door indicates that the present floor level is higher than the medieval level, a change that was presumably made to give a more acceptable height to the vestibule created at the entrance level of the tower following the removal of the vault. This doorway must have opened into the upper level of the central vessel of the nave and, in the absence of any other obvious means of access to the first floor before the construction of the stair against the north wall, is it possible that access was through this door from a stair within the nave?

Access to the next levels of the tower is now by way of a timber stair against the west wall, but behind that stair there are a number of broken stumps of the stone steps of a straight flight, above which the wall is set back as if it had been intended at some stage that the flight should be walled in and covered over. However, any idea that this stair might be treated in this way seems to have been abandoned when it was decided that access between the two uppermost levels of the tower should be by a spiral stair in the south-west corner, at the head of the straight flight. The base of the projecting shaft of that spiral stair is now somewhat precariously corbelled out, though it would originally have been supported by the head of the straight flight leading up to it. At second-floor level there were slit windows in only the south and east walls, the latter being displaced to south of centre, presumably being set to one side of the adjacent medieval nave roof. The belfry stage appears to have been subdivided at mid-height, since there is an upper door off the spiral stair and provision for joists, though the windows rose through both divisions. (It may be noted, incidentally, that there seems to have been a similar subdivision of the belfry stage in the tower of the nearby parish church of Dysart.) It is perhaps most likely that the joists were the supports for the bell frame, with the upper door provided to give access to both the frame and the bells they supported. Since the mid-eighteenth century, however, the bell frame has been within the added caphouse, and in 1949 it was decided to replace the timber bell frame within that caphouse with one of steel.

The changes in the means by which access was provided between the different levels suggest that, as was often the case, construction of the tower was a relatively protracted process, perhaps with different master masons being responsible at the successive phases. Externally, however, the only evidence for medieval changes is the difference in the masonry of the upper courses, and, since it is likely that those differences would have been covered by a lime wash of some kind, the overall appearance would have been one of architectural homogeneity.

The writer of the description to the Statistical Account of 1791-9 had considered the medieval tower to be ‘plain and not unhandsome’. However, the monolithically massed church of 1807-8 was on an altogether different scale from its medieval predecessor, consequently dwarfing the retained tower, with the apex of the new building’s west gable rising to the height of the tower parapet. As a result, the contributor to the New Statistical Account  in 1845 considered that the architectural impact of the new church was ‘destroyed by part of an old tower being attached to the west end of it, which is not only in itself devoid of beauty, but is destitute of historical interest’.(13) Even allowing for the addition of the superstructure of the 1750s, the tower and church were evidently deemed to be altogether out of scale with each other, and between 1833 and 1838 there were proposals for heightening the tower, with designs being prepared by a Mr Angus and a Mr Nicol, architects, for doing so .(14) The merciful survival of the only medieval part of the church is attributable to the inability to raise funds for a replacement.


1. Ian B. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, (Scottish Record Society, vol. 93), Edinburgh, 1967, p. 118.

2. Alan Orr Anderson, Early sources of Scottish history, Edinburgh, 1990, vol. 2, p. 525.

3. Held by the church.

4. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, SIM 1/62v.

5. Helpful accounts of the church are: J. Campbell, Church and parish of Kirkcaldy, Kirkcaldy, 1904; John Irvine, Kirkcaldy old parish church, 1244-1994, Kirkcaldy, 1994

6. The latter date given on the plan of 1775/1809/1880.

7. Howard Colvin, A bibliographical dictionary of British architects, 1600, 1840, 4th ed., New Haven and London, 2008, p. 716. See also, Robert Scott Mylne, The master masons to the crown of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1893, p. 126.

8. Campbell, Church and parish, pp. 79-80

9. Irvine, Kirkcaldy old parish church, pp. 2021.

10. Statistical account of Scotland, 1791-9, ed. J. Sinclair, Edinburgh, vol. 18, p. 4.

11. George Hay,The architecture of Scottish post-Reformation churches, Oxford, 1957, pp. 140-1.

12. Good measured drawings are in J Russell Walker, Pre-Reformation church in Fife and the Lothians, vol. 1, Edinburgh, 1885.

13. New statistical account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 9, p. 761.

14. National Records of Scotland, Heritors Records, HR 239/2, pp. 73-116.



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

  • 1. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, tower exterior from west

  • 2. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, early view showing pyramidal roof on tower

  • 3. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, exterior from north east

  • 4. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, exterior from north, 1

  • 5. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, exterior from north, 2

  • 6. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, exterior from south east

  • 7. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, date stone in east wall

  • 8. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, interior at present

  • 9. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, interior before re-ordering of 1966-8

  • 10. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, plan of 1775 as re-drawn 1809 and 1880

  • 11. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, tower south elevation (Walker)

  • 12. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, tower traces of cut back vaulting over ground floor level

  • 13. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, tower worked stone at south west angle

  • 14. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, tower exterior from north

  • 15. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, tower exterior from south

  • 16. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, tower interior, second storey door in east wall

  • 17. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, tower interior, blocked belfry lancet in east wall

  • 18. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, tower interior, second storey south wall rear arch

  • 19. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, tower interior, traces of straight first floor stair in west wall

  • 20. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, tower interior, entrance to third storey spiral stair at north west corner

  • 21. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, tower interior upper levels, east wall

  • 22. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, tower interior upper levels, west wall

  • 23. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, tower north parapet

  • 24. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, tower south door

  • 25. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, tower west door

  • 26. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, traces of west wall of north nave aisle

  • 27. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, traces of west wall of south nave aisle

  • 28. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, interior after fall of gallery in 1828

  • 29. Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church, plan before rebuilding in 1807-8