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Ladykirk / Upsettlington / Easter Upsettlington / Kirk of Steill Parish Church

Ladykirk Church, exterior, from south east

Summary description

A structurally complete cruciform stone-vaulted church built under royal patronage between about 1496 and 1507, the only significant later modification being the upper part of the tower. Remarkable for the triplet of apses to the east end and the lateral chapels.

Historical outline

Dedication: Our Lady

The parish church known originally as Upsettlington and subsequently as the Kirk o’ Steill and finally as Ladykirk, served the eastern portion of the large barony of Upsettlington.  The western part of the barony had for a time down to the mid-fifteenth century a separate parochial existence as Wester Upsettlington (see Upsettlington - Wester).  There is nothing known of the early history of the church of Easter Upsettlington, its first appearance in a surviving record being the entry in the accounts for 1274-5 of the papal tax-collector in Scotland, where the rector of the church of ‘Hupsetlingtoun’ was recorded as paying 30 shillings in tax.(1)  Only a single church of Upsettlington, presumably Easter Upsettlington, is recorded in the 1290s tax-roll for the churches in the archdeaconry of Lothian.(2) Reference in the financial records of the priory of Coldingham for 1325 note a payment of 6s 8d made to the parochial chaplain of ‘Esthuppesedlington’ for administering the sacraments of the church to the villeins of ‘Westhuppesedlington’.(3)  There is no further reference to any chaplain serving the parish church and it seems that the church continued as a free parsonage.  It is possibly this church but, due to the reference to the cure being a vicarage, more likely that of Wester Upsettlington which was referred to in 1394 as lying near the English march and being utterly devastated.(4)

Easter Upsettlington remained a free parsonage throughout the medieval period, the patronage presumably lying with the lords of Upsettlington, who from the thirteenth century were the Bissets.(5)  Possession was confirmed under the great seal in November 1490 to James Hering, son and heir of David Hering of Glasclune in Perthshire, who had resigned all of his possessions to James, including Easter Upsettlington with the patronage of the parish church.(6)  On 30 March 1491, James Hering, descriebd as ‘of Tulibole’ and ‘baron of the barony of Upsettlington’, issued a precept of sasine to his bailies, directing them to infeft Alexander Hume of that Ilk in the lands of the barony of Easter Upsettlington with the patronage of the church.(7)  Only four months later, with no reference to previous Hering ownership, possession was confirmed under a complex tailzie to Alexander Hume, lord Hume, the charter specifically including the patronage of the parish church.(8)  The church continued as a free parsonage at the Reformation, when its value was recorded as £46 annually.(9)

According to tradition, following his escape from drowning in a sudden flood of the River Tweed either in 1496 or in 1497 during his siege of Norham Castle, King James IV made significant investment in the construction of a new church at Upsettlington which was at that time known as the Kirk o’ Steill.(10)  Work appears to have been started in 1499/1500, with £40 being assigned from the customs of wool and other goods in 1500 to pay for ‘construction at the Kirk of Upsettlington’, for which Sir Patrick Blacader was superintendent.(11)  Expenditure of £483 6s 8d on the church by 1501 suggests that the main building-work was underway at that time.(12)  Unfortunately, the Treasurer’s Accounts do not provide details of what exactly the nature of that work was.  The king’s investment in the rebuilding programme extended down to 1512/3, in its latter stages from 1504 under the supervision of George Ker, laird of Samuelston as master of works, but the main operation appears to have been completed by the end of 1507.  Purchase of 16 chalders of lime and the carriage of it and certain ‘treis’ (large timbers) to Eyemouth in April 1505 at a cost of £5 16s 8d suggest that significant structural work was still underway on part of the building, but references at the same time to the purchase of 60 feet of glass for £1 10s from Thomas Peblis, ‘glassinwricht’ for the operations at the church suggests that construction was at an advanced stage, perhaps in the chancel area.(13)  When King James himself visited the site on 16 September 1505, his dispersed 28s in drinksilver to ‘the masons of the Steill’, 9s to the quarries working there, and paid 40s to ‘Jacson, mason of the Steill’, for ‘ane ald rest’.(14)  In April 1506, Nicol Jacson, ‘mason of the Steill’, received payment of £5 for unspecified work on the church and a further £10 for work at ‘divers times’ in May.(15) Jacson received a further £30 for mason-work in October 1506 and in January, March and August 1507 the sums of £13 6s 8d, £20 and £30 as part-payment instalments for ‘the kirk theking’ or roofing of the building.(16)  Jacson received a final payment of £10 for ‘theking’ in September 1507.(17)  In October that year Thomas Peblis was paid 38s for his expenses in carriage of certain ‘maid glas’ to the church and in putting it up, payment of £11 20d for 130ft of ‘maid glas’ in November perhaps being for the material he had carted to the church the previous month.(18)  When taken in conjunction with the 60ft purchased in 1506, it seems likely that the whole building had been glazed before the end of 1507.  One-off payment of 14s on 31 January 1511 for arranging for a mason to go to the Kirk o’ Steill might represent completion of small elements of outstanding work, but the payment of £120 of £200 owed to George Ellis, mason, on 8 April 1512 for his work on the church, £20 to ‘the mason’ of Kirk o’ Steill on 2 October 1512, and a final payment of £30 to Ellis on 1 March 1513, mark a settlement of outstanding accounts for wages and expenses.(19)  Royal investment ended with King James IV’s death at Flodden in September 1513, within sight of the church which he had paid for.


1. A I Dunlop (ed), ‘Bagimond’s Roll: Statement of the Tenths of the Kingdom of Scotland’, Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, vi (1939), 35.

2. The Correspondence, Inventories, Account Rolls and Law Proceedings of the Priory of Coldingham, ed J Raine (Surtees Society, 1841), cx.

3. Coldingham Correspondence, Appendix, iii.

4. Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britin and Ireland: Petitions to the Pope, ed W H Bliss (London, 1896), 545.

5. Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland, ii, 1272-1307, ed J Bain (Edinburgh, 1884), no.979.

6. Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, ii, 1424-1513, ed J B Paul (Edinburgh, 1882), no.1995 [hereafter RMS, ii].

7. HMC, 12th Report, Appendix, pt VIII, The Manuscripts of the Duke of Athole, KT, and of the Earl of Home (London, 1891), MSS of the Earl of Home, no.282.

8. HMC, 12th Report, Appendix, pt VIII,, no.283; RMS, ii, no.2050.

9. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 185.  See also note on p.186, where it is stated that the parson of Upsettlington was Abraham Crichton, who was also provost of Dunglass collegiate church, and the inclusion of Dunglass amongst the list of Berwickshire benefices was probably because the parsonage of Upsettleington was annexed to the provostry of the college.  This is an error.  It was Wester Upsettlington that was so annexed.

10. N Macdougall, James IV (East Linton, 1997), 219.

11. The Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, xi, 1497-1501, ed G Burnett (Edinburgh, 1888), 276.

12. Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, ii, 1497-1504, ed J B Paul (Edinburgh, 1900), 85.

13. Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, iii, 1506-1507, ed J B Paul (Edinburgh, 1901), 82, 83 [hereafter TA, iii].

14. TA, iii, 161.

15. TA, iii, 88.

16. TA, iii, 296, 297.

17. Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, iv, 1507-1513, ed J B Paul (Edinburgh, 1902), 44 [hereafter TA, iv].

18. TA, iv, 45, 81.

19. TA, iv, 283-4, 329, 379, 446.

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes:

The parish church of the eastern part of Upsettlington. Its patronage was with the  lords of the barony, Humes of that Ilk, by 1490, and was independent at the Reformation. (See Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, ii, 2050, V, no, 1963).(1)

1394 Richard de Tavenent holds the vicarage (value 15 marks), ‘but now worth little or nothing, as it is near the English march, and is devastated’.(2)


Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage valued at £46, held by Abraham Crichton, (provost of Dunglass).(3)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of parsonage £15 16s 8d.(4)

1698 (5 July) visitation of the church by the Pres of Dun includes a report by John Berry, mason, John Aitkin, wright, that minor repairs to the church are required, £10 in total.(5)

1727 (27 Jun) visitation requested by the minster at Ladykirk, George Redpath, who notes that his church is in disrepair as are the manse and office houses. The subsequent visitation on 25 July reports that only minor repairs are required to the church, mainly the roof.(6)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Thomas Mill, 1791): ‘The ancient name of the parish was Upsettlington, which James IV changed to Ladykirk, after he built a handsome church in it, which he dedicated to the Virgin Mary’.(7) (1500)

[No reference to church fabric]

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev George H Robertson, 1834):

 ‘The church…. is built in the form of a cross, is a handsome and substantial structure, of gothic architecture, and it is composed of lofty freestone arches in the interior… It has been as much as possible disfigured by modern bad taste. [Repaired in 1743] when a belfry was then added. From the interior of the church a school room has been portioned off’.(8)


1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 204.

2. CPP, 585.

3. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 185 & 186n.

4. Donaldson, Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices, 24.

5. NRS Presbytery of Duns, Minutes, 1690-1698, CH2/113/2, fols. 104-105.

6. NRS Presbytery of Chirnside, Minutes, 1721-1732, CH2/516/3, fols. 165 & 168-169.

7. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1791), viii, 71.

8. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1834), ii, 186.


NRS Presbytery of Chirnside, Minutes, 1721-1732, CH2/516/3.

NRS Presbytery of Duns, Minutes, 1690-1698, CH2/113/2.

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

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.

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

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

Architectural description

Initially known as Easter Upsettlington, since it served the eastern part of the barony of Upsettlington, this parish has to be distinguished from that of the separate parish of Wester Upsettlington, which was absorbed into the parish of Hutton in or soon after 1476. Easter Upsettlington remained an independent parsonage throughout the middle ages.(1)

The church was rebuilt to its present form at the behest of James IV, and it came to be known more commonly as Ladykirk or Kirk of Steill. There is a tradition that this royal benefaction was in thanksgiving for the king being saved from drowning at the nearby ford of the Tweed when in spate; this might have been in September 1496 or August 1497, when he is known to have been in the vicinity.(2) However, although something of this kind is an attractive possibility in view of the commitment that the king clearly made to its construction, no contemporary support is known for this.

Whatever the circumstances behind its construction, Ladykirk is a key building for our understanding of Scottish late medieval church architecture.(3) This is both on account of its fine architectural qualities and because its construction is relatively well documented.

There are several references to payments in the royal accounts from the first years of the sixteenth century, starting around 1500.(4) Nicholas Jackson, who also worked for the king at Linlithgow Palace,(5) acted as master mason up to 1507, in which year he was at work on the roof, while the glazier Thomas Peebles was fitting windows as early as 1505. The only part left unfinished in the main building campaign was the upper part of the tower.

In 1741-3 major repairs were carried out for local landowners, William Robertson of Hillhousefield and Thomas Coutts, and the former had the tower completed by the addition of a top storey,(6) with a round arched opening to each face and a square dome capped by a lantern that is a smaller version of the work below it. This addition is traditionally said to have been designed by William Adam, though there is no known documentation to support this. The completion of work on the tower was commemorated by a tablet with a Latin inscription inside the west wall.

In 1793 the church was subdivided in order to accommodate the parish school in the west bays, with the entrance to it through a now-blocked doorway in the west wall of the south transept. This led the author of the entry in the New Statistical Account to bemoan that the church had ‘been as much as possible disfigured by modern bad taste’.(7) These partitions were removed during a restoration of 1861 by James Cunningham, when the pulpit was placed by the arch into the south transeptal chapel, with pews facing towards it on three sides. A re-ordering of 1987 re-located the pulpit to the centre of the chancel area.

The external treatment of the building is strikingly finely detailed. The walls of pink sandstone ashlar rise from a deep base course, with a string course running below the windows. The buttresses marking the bay divisions have a single intake at around mid-height and are capped by minimal pinnacles a little above the wall-head cornice.

The main body of the church is an aisle-less rectangle terminating in a full-height three-sided apse at the east end; a full-height transeptal apse projects laterally on each side of the main space half way down its length, at the junction of chancel and nave. At the west end is a small tower with a circular stair turret in the north angle between the tower and nave. The lower storey of the tower does not communicate with the church, while the two storeys above that appear to have been habitable.

Eastern apses had become relatively common in Scotland since the building of St Salvator’s Chapel at St Andrews in about 1450, and laterally-apsed side chapels were to be built at Arbuthnott before 1506, and the Dominican friary at St Andrews after 1516, perhaps reflecting a wider European vogue seen also at such as Windsor, Annaberg and Florence. But the combination of these elements in a symmetrical design is uniquely found in Scotland at Ladykirk.

The window tracery is of the simplest kinds, and in most cases all of the light heads reach up to the window arch. In the apses the windows have equilateral arches with Y-tracery, or with three-light intersecting tracery in the case of the east window. Along the south flank, however, the three-light windows have flattened three-centred arches, perhaps largely in response to the horizontal springing line of the vault.

There are doorways for the laity on both sides of the nave, that on the north now opening into a heating chamber and vestry. A doorway was provided for the clergy through the south wall of the chancel, above which is an inscribed tablet of presumable eighteenth-century date recording in Latin the construction of the church. A blocked door in the west face of the south transeptal chapel is clearly a later insertion on the indications of the breaks in coursing and the change in colour.

Internally the transeptal chapels are separated from the main space by arches set below the level of the vault. The steeply pointed barrel vaulting runs through nave and chancel into the east apse without any break. Over the main space the vault has widely spaced parallel ribs, while above the three apses the ribs are set radially. The ribs spring from corbels, and the heavily restored responds and arches into the transeptal chapels are plainly chamfered. As usual with such vaults, the vaults are covered externally by parallel lines of stone flags.

The use of pointed barrel vaulting, which had become a characteristic feature of many of the more ambitious Scottish late Gothic churches of middling scale, has several implications for the overall design. Externally, since the vaults spring from well below the wall head, there is the consequence that the windows appear to be set relatively low in the walls. But the most striking external consequence in this case is the way the vaults of the transeptal chapels stop against gable walls rising above the main church walls, and the chapel roofs are thus not carried back to the main roof. This gives the chapels an ear-like appearance, when viewed from the east and west.


1. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, pp. 204-5.

2. Norman Macdougall, James IV, Edinburgh, 1989, p. 219

3. Accounts of the church include: W. Dobie, ‘Notes on Ladykirk Parish’, History of the Berwickshire Naturalists’ Club, vol. 12, 1890–1, pp. 369-78; David MacGibbon and Thomas Ross, The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Scotland, Edinburgh, vol. 3, 1897, pp. 218–22; G.A.C. Binnie, The Churches and Graveyards of Berwickshire, Ladykirk, 1995, pp. 301–09; Kitty Cruft, John Dunbar and Richard Fawcett, The Buildings of Scotland, Borders, New Haven and London, 2006, pp. 476–77.

4. Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, ed. T. Dickson, J. Balfour Paul et al., Edinburgh, 1877-, vol. 2, pp. 347, 359, 362, 366, 391, 440, vol. 3, pp. 82, 83, 87, 88, 295–99; Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, ed. J. Stuart et al., Edinburgh, 1878-1908, vol. 11, p. 276.

5. John G. Dunbar, Scottish Royal Palaces, London, 1999, p. 229

6. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 2, p. 185.

7. New Statistical Account, vol. 2, p. 185.



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

  • 1. Ladykirk Church, exterior, from south east

  • 2. Ladykirk Church, exterior, from south west

  • 3. Ladykirk Church, exterior, chancel and transeptal chapel from south

  • 4. Ladykirk Church, exterior, from south east 2

  • 5. Ladykirk Church, exterior, from east

  • 6. Ladykirk Church, exterior, south transeptal chapel, pinnacles and roof

  • 7. Ladykirk Church, exterior, tower, from south west

  • 8. Ladykirk Church, exterior, inscription above chancel south door

  • 9. Ladykirk Church, exterior, nave, south door

  • 10. Ladykirk Church, exterior, north door

  • 11. Ladykirk Church, exterior, south transeptal chapel, west door

  • 12. Ladykirk Church, interior, chancel apse

  • 13. Ladykirk Church, interior, inscriptions on west wall

  • 14. Ladykirk Church, interior, looking east, 1

  • 15. Ladykirk Church, interior, looking east, 2

  • 16. Ladykirk Church, interior, looking west

  • 17. Ladykirk Church, interior, south transeptal chapel, wall above entrance arch

  • 18. Ladykirk Church, interior, south transeptal chapel

  • 19. Ladykirk Church, interior looking east

  • 20. Ladykirk Church, interior looking west

  • 21. Ladykirk Church, interior, east apse vault

  • 22. Ladykirk Church, interior, transept arch respond

  • 23. Ladykirk churchyard, gravestone

  • 24. Ladykirk Church, plan