Largo Parish Church

Largo Church, exterior, chancel and south transept from south east

Summary description

Largely rebuilt, but possibly incorporating medieval fabric. The east limb is of 1623, the tower of 1628, and the main body of the church of 1816-17. Restored and augmented in 1894-95

Historical outline

Dedication: uncertain(1)

No original charter survives but confirmations by Duncan earl of Fife’s son, Earl Malcolm, datable 1204-13, and King William, issued in probably 1213, both identify Duncan as the original donor of the church to the nuns of North Berwick.(2)  Between 1202 and 1234 Bishop William Malveisin confirmed the church in proprios usus to the priory, reserving the vicarage for life for Master Hugh Medicus, and then providing for a suitable vicar thereafter.(3

Following this settlement, the church was dedicated on 17 July 1243 by Bishop David de Bernham.(4)  The vicarage was recorded in 1274/5 in the records of the papal tax-collector in Scotland, assessed in the first year at 22s 6½d.(5) After Hugh Medicus, no known vicar is named until the end of the fourteenth century when in 1394 one John Ade held the perpetual vicarage.  On his death, inconclusive litigation commenced between John Ker and Andrew of Riccarton over the vicarage, which was valued at £20.(6)  In a process extending from 1449 to 1451 John Arras, perpetual vicar and archdeacon of Glasgow, resign his cure in favour of his probable kinsman, William Arras, the agreement reserving the rights of patronage and presentation to the nuns of North Berwick.(7)  A similar resignation process in 1516 again saw the rights of the priory being confirmed, this time by Archbishop Forman of St Andrews.(8)  The parsonage, valued at £177 13s 4d,  remained annexed to the nunnery at the time of the Reformation, while the church was recorded as a vicarage perpetual, pertaining to Mr Alexander Wood, and valued at 100 merks, from which a 20 merks fee was deducted for his curate.(9)

The parish church benefited from the pious gifts of the leading families of the district, who provided for the establishment of endowed chaplainries at additional altars in the church.  The first of these appears to have been in respect of an altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was described as lying ‘in the north aisle’ of the parish church, which probably means the north lateral chapel or transept of the building.  On 3 February 1496/7 King James IV issued a Great Seal confirmation at mortmain of a charter drawn up on 28 January 1496 by Janet Ramsay, lady of Pitcruivie and lady Lindsay of Byres, wife of the late David Lindsay of Byres, by which and for the salvation of the souls of the king etc, and the late John Ramseay of Pitcruivie, knight, her grandfather, Walter Ramsay of Pitcruivie, her father, Lady Isobel Wemyss her mother, the late John Lundy of that ilk, Andrew Lundy of Pitlochy his brother, Sir John Lundy currently of that ilk, and Robert Lundy of Balgonie, she had granted to sir Thomas Fergusson, chaplain, and his successors, five merks annually from named lands.(10)

The Lundy family appear to have followed Dame Janet Ramsay’s lead, in 1503 building a new chapel at the church and endowing a chaplainry within it. On 4 July 1503 James IV confirmed at mortmain a charter that ‘his familiar knight John Lundy of that ilk’ had had drawn up in favour of the chaplainry, apparently during a visit to the king at the royal hunting lordge at Falkland on 1 July 1503.  By that charter, Lundy had granted annual rents worth 12 merks from the lands of Dempsterton in pure alms to a chaplain celebrating at the altar of SS John the Baptist and John the Evangelist in the new aisle built by himself contiguous with the parish church.(11)  Further endowment followed by a charter issued at Lundin on 12 November 1510, which confirmation at mortmain on 6 June 1516 in the name of the underage King James V.   By this charter, John Lundy of that ilk, knight, granted in pure alms to sir William Allanson,  perpetual chaplain, and his successors at the altar of SS John the Baptist and John the Evangelist in the new aisle at Largo further annual rents from his properties.(12)

A third altar and chaplainry was endowed by the man described in King James IV’s confirmation as ‘his familiar servant and knight’, Sir Andrew Wood of Largo, whose family had grown rich on the profits of trade and piracy.  On 8 August 1504 at Largo, he granted a charter to the chaplain celebrating in perpetuity at the altar of St Michael the Archangel and St Andrew the Apostle which was located in the new aisle built by him contiguous with the parish church.  This received confirmation at mortmain under the Great Seal on 28 February 1504/5, the king’s charter detailing various properties and annual rents, including land with a manse and orchard on the north side of the church.(13)

Together, these endowments and newly-built chapels reveal a significant programme of investment in the church building independently of any obligatory repair work undertaken on behalf of the nuns of North Berwick.  Three lateral chapels were added to the building in the decade either side of 1500, presumably giving the basis of the plan that is still evident in the present structure.  There may have been an element of competition in the relative rapidity with which these three new endowments were made, particularly between the lords of Largo and Lundin who were endowing their chapels in 1503 and 1504.  The dedications of the altars probably reflect the personal tastes of the patrons, which were evidently quite conservative.

Notes

1. Taylor and Markus note that we cannot be certain of the dedication of the medieval parish church. When the town became a burgh of barony the burgesses were allowed to hold fairs on the feast days of St Barnabas, Paul and Ternan. There was also an altar of St Mary. Any of these could have echoed the church dedication.  See S Taylor and G Markus G, The Place-Names of Fife, ii, Central Fife between the Rovers Leven and Eden (Donington, 2008), 307-8.

2. Carte Monialium de Northberwic (Bannatyne Club, 1847), no.7 [hereafter North Berwick Charters]; Regesta Regum Scottorum, ii, The Acts of William I, ed G W S Barrow (Edinburgh, 1971), no.516.

3. North Berwick Charters, no.8.

4. A O Anderson (ed), Early Sources of Scottish History, ii (Edinburgh, 1922), 523 [Pontifical Offices of St Andrews].

5. 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.

6. Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Petitions to the Pope, ed W H Bliss (London, 1896), 617; Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, ii, 1423-1428, ed A I Dunlop (Scottish History Society, 1956), 205, 211, 221.

7. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, v, 1447-1471, eds J Kirk, R J Tanner and A I Dunlop (Glasgow, 1997), nos 295, 437; Calendar of Entries in the Papal Letters Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, x, 1447-1455, ed J A Twemlow (London, 1915), 203.

8. NRS Papers of the Earls of Airlie, GD16/46/6.

9. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 78-9, 145, 146, 148.

10. Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, ii, 1424-1513, ed J B Paul (Edinburgh, 1882), no.2342 [hereafter RMS, ii].

11. RMS, ii, no.2733.

12. Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, iii, 1513-1546, eds J M Thomson and J B Paul (Edinburgh, 1883), no.78.

13. RMS, ii, no.2825.

Summary of relevant documentation

Medieval

Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Granted to North Berwick by Duncan, earl of Fife 1154x1204. Proprious usus to the nunnery with the parsonage, with provision made for a perpetual vicarage.(1)

Place Names of Fife vol. 2 notes that we cannot be certain of the dedication of the medieval parish church. When the town became a burgh of barony they were allowed to hold fairs on feast days of St Barnabas, Paul and Ternan. There was also an altar of St Mary. Any of these could have echoed the church dedication.(2)

1394-1426 John Ade holds the perpetual vicarage. On his death in 1426x28 litigation between John Ker and Andrew de Richarton over the church (inconclusive, value £20).(3)

1440 William Cassy provided to the vacant perpetual vicarage.(4)

1449-51 John Arras resigns the vicarage in favour of William Arras, patronage and presentation rights of North Berwick confirmed.(5)

1516 (2 Mar) Notarial instrument narrating resignation by Andrew Formane, perpetual vicar of the parish church of Largo, in the hands of Andrew, archbishop of St Andrews, of the said parish church; the said archbishop granted right of presentation to the said church to the prioress and convent of Northbervik who granted the same, on 6 March 1516, in favour of Mr William Thomsone, priest.(6)

1541 Brief reference to the testament of George Trumbell, vicar of Largo.(7)

Altars and chaplaincies

Blessed Virgin Mary

1496 (28 Jan) The King has confirmed in mortmain a charter of Janet Ramsey of Pitcruvie and Lady Lindsay of Biris, wife of David, Lord Lindsay of Biris, by which she granted to Sir Thomas Ferguson, chaplain, and his successors, chaplains, to celebrate mass at the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the north aisle of the parish church of Largo, the annual revenue of 5 marks from the lands of Scheithum.(8)

St John the Baptist and Evangelist

1503 (1 July) The King has confirmed in mortmain a charter of his household knight, John Lundy, of that ilk, by which he granted in pure and perpetual alms, to one chaplain, to celebrate mass perpetually at the altar of SS John the Baptist and John the Evangelist in the new aisle contiguous with the parish church of Largo, built by him, the annual revenue of 12 marks from half of the lands of Dempsterton, shire of Fife.(9)

SS Michael and Andrew

1503 (8 Aug) The King has confirmed in mortmain a charter of his household knight, Andrew Wood of Largo, by which he granted in pure alms to one chaplain to celebrate mass perpetually at the altar of SS Michael the Archangel and Andrew the Apostle in the new aisle contiguous with the parish church of Largo built by him, the annual revenues written below.(10)

Post-medieval

Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage with nuns of North Berwick, value £177 13s 4d. Perpetual vicarage held by Alexander Wood, value £53 6s 8d, with addition of corpse presents etc £66 13s 4d, with a 20 mark stipend for the curate.(11)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of vicarage £6 13s 4d.(12)

1564 (25 July) Robert Montgomerie, the minister of Cupar, ordered by the General Assembly to support every other Sunday the kirk of Largo until further provision is made.(13)

1671 (6 Jan) £5 paid for helping the church, for lime and for the slates.(14)

1673 (22 June) £3 4s paid for lime for the church by the heritors.(15) [no further refs to church fabric in the kirk session 1671-, suggests that church was in reasonable condition]

1696 (22 Jun) Visitation of the church by the Presbytery of St Andrews, found that kirk and kirk yard dykes are in need of reparation. The heritors agree to pay their proportions. Some of the heritors object against the reparation of the choir, that the Laird of Largo had formerly been used to repair the same, as claiming a peculiar right thereto (they agree to repair the choir as long as the laird of Largo gives up any right he had to it).(16)

1702 (19 May) Visitation of the church by the Presbytery of St Andrews, Thomas Coventry, Andrew Watson, masons, John Thompson and James Bissel, wright, John Innes, slater, to report on the ruins of church and manse. On 19 May they note that the repairs will cost £467 in total.(17)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Spence Oliphant): [No reference to ecclesiastical buildings]

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Robert Brown, 1837): ‘The parish church… was built in 1817; and in 1826, there was taken into the new building , an aisle belonging to the old, by which the spire is supported, bearing the date 1623’.(18)

[only reference to older buildings is the aisle mentioned above]

Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches: (George Hay): 1817, incorporating 1623 aisle and 1628 steeple, Alexander Leslie, architect; renovated 1826, refurnished 1894, 1636 Burgerhuys bell. Built in 1817 against a 1623 aisle, in 1826 the aisle was taken into the church; it is now a chancel. (‘T’ Plan church) A spire of simpler design (than Cupar) dates from 1628 and straddles the burial aisle at Largo (crenelated parapets added in 1817), part of Fife tower tradition, most capped by corbelled parapets, known locally as bortizers.(19)

Notes

1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 127.

2. Taylor & Markus, The Place-Names of Fife. Volume Two, pp. 307-308.

3. CPP, 617, CSSR, ii, 205, 211 & 221.

4. CSSR, iv, no. 634.

5. CSSR, v, nos. 295 & 437, CPL, x, 203.

6. NRS Papers of the Earls of Airlie, GD16/46/6.

7. Rentale Sancti Andree, p.162.

8. RMS, ii, no. 2342.

9. RMS, ii, no. 2733.

10. RMS, ii, no. 2825.

11. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 78-79, 145, 146 & 148.

12. Donaldson, Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices, 13.

13. Acts and Proceedings of the General Assemblies of the Kirk of Scotland, i, 46.

14. NRS Largo Kirk Session, 1671-1690, CH2/960/1, fols. 8-9.

15. NRS Largo Kirk Session, 1671-1690, CH2/960/1, fol. 49.

16. NRS Presbytery of St Andrews, Minutes, 1693-1698, CH2/1132/20, fol. 116.

17. NRS Presbytery of St Andrews, Minutes, 1699-1705, CH2/1132/21, fols. 191-195 & 196-197.

18. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1837), ix, 442.

19. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, pp. 120, 171 & 258.

Bibliography

NRS Largo Kirk Session, 1671-1690, CH2/960/1.

NRS Presbytery of St Andrews, Minutes, 1693-1698, CH2/1132/20.

NRS Presbytery of St Andrews, Minutes, 1699-1705, CH2/1132/21.

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

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

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

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

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

Donaldson, G., 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.

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.

Rentale Sancti Andree, 1913, ed. R. Hannay (Scottish History Society), Edinburgh.

Taylor, S & Markus G., 2008, The Place-Names of Fife. Volume Two. Central Fife between the Rovers Leven and Eden, Donington.

Architectural description

The steeply mounded circular churchyard at Largo could indicate an early origin for the church site. Some support from this may be derived from the survival of an Early Christian cross slab, that is now located within a shelter at the entrance to the churchyard; on one side is an interlace-decorated cross flanked by intertwined seahorses, while the other side has three horsemen with a hound, two deer and the Pictish symbols of a double-disc with Z-rod and an elephant.(1) It was found in two pieces in 1839, when it was repaired and mounted in the grounds of Largo House until later removed to Polton House, before being eventually brought back to Largo. However, since one account of the stone states that the pieces were found ‘at places a mile asunder’, it is not certain that it originated at Largo, and its survival therefore does not necessarily support Largo’s longevity as a centre of Christian cult.(2)

The parish was in existence by no later than the second half of the twelfth century, when it was granted to North Berwick Cistercian Nunnery by Duncan earl of Fife (1154-1204), with provision for a vicarage being made by Bishop William of St Andrews at a date between 1202 and 1334.(3) Bishop David Bernham carried out one of his many dedications on 17 July 1243,(4) but there is nothing in the existing fabric to indicate if this might have related to a specific building campaign.(5)

There are references to a number of additional altars in the church that might have a bearing on our understanding of the medieval building. In 1497 Janet Ramsay of Pitcruvie offered benefactions to the altar of the Virgin, which was said to be in a north aisle.(6) In 1503 John Lundin is said to have built a new aisle adjoining the church that housed an altar dedicated to Sts John the Baptist and John the Evangelist,(7) and later in the same year there another reference to a new aisle containing an altar for St Michael and St Andrew that had been built by Andrew Wood.(8)

Most of what is now seen of the cruciform church assumed its present form after the Reformation. The eastern limb has a prominent armorial tablet on the exterior of its east wall inscribed ‘FEAR GOD/PB/1623’, in reference to Peter Black, who held the estate between 1618 and 1633. A low tower and spire were built over the western part of the extrados of the pointed barrel vault that covers the east limb; that tower is dated 1628, and houses a Burgerhuys bell of 1636.

The rest of the church was rebuilt in 1816-17 by Alexander Leslie, with walls of grey polished ashlar; although it adjoined the eastern limb, it appears to have been intended to stand as an independent T-plan church with no internal communication with that part.(9) The new building is a little wider towards the north than the eastern limb. As part of the 1816-17 campaign, the existing parapet and pinnacles were added to the tower. In 1826 the church is said to have been enlarged ‘to include an old aisle’,(10) which perhaps suggests that an opening was created between the eastern arm and the rest of the church at that time.

A major restoration was carried out in 1894-5 to the designs of John Honeyman.(11) In the course of this work an offshoot was added on the east side of the south transept, together with a vestry on the south side of the east limb, which was now brought into service as a chancel. At the same time the present open-timber roofs and galleries were inserted, a more appropriate chancel arch was formed, and ‘ecclesiologically correct’ tracery was inserted in the windows. The most recent significant work was a careful re-ordering by L.A.L Rolland in 1969, during which a pulpit of 1815 was introduced from the secularised church at Newburn, another work by Alexander Leslie. 

On the architectural evidence, the church as now seen is entirely a building of the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. There are, however, reasons for considering that its plan may have been at least partly conditioned by its medieval predecessor, and there are even grounds for suspecting that that some medieval fabric has survived in modified form in the lower walls of the eastern limb. That part is now covered in masonry-lined cement-rendering, unlike the ashlar of the rest of the buildings, though in areas where the render has fallen away it can be seen that the walls are of regular squared masonry of a very different character from that elsewhere in the building. It is true that such masonry would not be inconsistent with the date of 1623 given in the armorial tablet in the upper part of the east wall.

But it would also be consistent with a late medieval date, and that must be considered as a clear possibility when account is taken of the orientation of the building, the eastern limb’s width of 6.33 metres, and the fact that the walls rest on a broad chamfered base course. On that basis, the inscription would simply record the date when the medieval chancel was adapted as a burial aisle for the parish’s principal heritor after it had been abandoned for worship, a process that was being repeated at many other churches around those years. Whether the pointed barrel vault could also be medieval, or whether it was installed in 1623, could only be determined through invasive investigation of the fabric, however.

The rest of the church is unquestionably work of the earlier and later nineteenth century as now seen. Nevertheless, it cannot be ruled out that its plan took that of the medieval building as a starting point. As laid out by Alexander Leslie, the new church was evidently intended to function as a T-plan building, with the three arms presumably focused on a pulpit against the wall that cut off the eastern limb. At his other churches, Leslie appears to have preferred a rectangular plan, though it was possible that this plan was required by Largo’s patrons, possibly because the restricted area on top of the churchyard mound made an extended rectangular plan problematic.

One other explanation for the T-plan should at least be considered, however, which is that the western parts of the medieval church had also been to some extent of that plan. The western limb that serves as the nave of the church as restored in 1894-5 is in the position that the medieval nave would have occupied if the eastern limb was indeed the medieval chancel; its greater width than the chancel towards the north perhaps being due to an enlargement that is said to have taken place in 1688.(12)

At least one of the transepts may also have had a medieval origin, since the endowments of 1497 for the Lady Altar stated that it was in a north aisle, and in Scottish usage an aisle is more often a lateral projection rather than a space running alongside the building. At the risk of taking the evidence further than is safe, it should also be borne in mind that in 1503 the chapel containing the altars of the two Sts John was said to be ‘contigue’, that is adjoining, the church, and that might also suggest a lateral projection. Considering the dedications of the chapels, a further factor that might be taken into account is that these altars could have been purposely located to reflect the rood at the entrance to the chancel, in which the crucifix would have been accompanied by the figures of the Virgin and St John.

None of this could be considered as conclusive evidence that any part of the medieval church has been either retained in, or has conditioned, the present fabric. Nevertheless, taken together, there is enough to make a case that these possibilities should be taken into account trying to understand the process by which the church assumed its final form.

Notes

1. J. Romilly Allen and Joseph Anderson, The early Christian Monuments of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1903, pt 3, pp. 344-47.

2. The Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland, ed. John Marius Wilson, London and Edinburgh, 1865, vol. 2, p. 297.

3. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p, 127.  

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

6. Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, vol. 2, no 2342, cited in Simon Taylor, The Place Names of Fife, Doninton, vol. 2, 2008, p. 308.

7. Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, vol. 2, no 2733, cited in Simon Taylor, The Place Names of Fife, Doninton, vol. 2, 2008, p. 307.

8. Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, vol. 2, no 2825.

9. George Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, Oxford, 1957, pp. 120 and 258; Howard Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, New Haven and London, 4th ed., 2008, p. 646.

10. Francis H. Groome, Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, Edinburgh, London, Glasgow and Aberdeen, vol. 4, 1883, p. 468.

12. Douglas Lister and James Gillies, Largo Kirk, Largo, 1968, p. 3.

Map

Images

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

  • 1. Largo Church, exterior, chancel and south transept from south east

  • 2. Largo Church, exterior, chancel and south transept from east

  • 3. Largo Church, exterior, from south

  • 4. Largo Church, exterior, chancel and south transept from east

  • 5. Largo Church, exterior, nave and south transept from south west

  • 6. Largo Church, exterior, north transept and nave from north

  • 7. Largo Church, exterior, south transept and nave from south

  • 8. Largo Church, exterior, chancel, east wall, masonry exposed beneath cement render

  • 9. Largo Church, exterior, chancel, date tablet in east wall

  • 10. Largo Church, cross slab

  • 11. Largo Church, cross slab, 1

  • 12. Largo Church, interior, chancel

  • 13. Largo Church, interior, nave from east

  • 14. Largo Church, interior, view into chancel from west

  • 15. Largo Church, (Ballingall, 'Shores of Fife', 1872)