Lauder Parish Church

Lauder, site of old church, 1

Summary description

Of the medieval church adjacent to Thirlestane Castle nothing remains. A new church of cruciform plan with a central tower was built in the village of Lauder in 1673-74. It was modified in 1820, 1864 and 1973.

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Originally a chapel of Channelkirk, patronage of church resigned to Dryburgh by John Baliol and his wife Dervoguilla in1268. The chapel was served by first two then one chaplain, and revenues remained with the abbey.(1)

Mackinlay notes that the church was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary (the Virgin was on the burgh seal too).(2)

1446 Reference to the chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Nenicirius in the cemetery of Lauder parish church.(3)

1468 Perpetual vicarage held by John Fenton, (canon of Dryburgh), value 6 marks.(4)

1529 Andrew Hume rector of Lauder.(5)

1553 (3 July) Andrew Hume, rector  of Lauder acts as the procurator for John Hume of Blackadder.(6)

1545 Dispute over teind scheaves between Andrew Hume, rector pensionary of the church and John Hoppringall of Smailholm.(7)


Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church pertains to Dryburgh, parsonage worth £133 6s 8d. Vicarage set for £60 with a glebe of £33 6s 8d.(8)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of parsonage £44 4s 5 1/3d.(9)

1673? [Kirk session records only survive from 1677 and Presbytery records from 1691; neither contain references to the building of the new church or remains of the previous one]

1708 (4 Feb) Visitation of the church by the Presbytery of Earlston includes a report from John Edmonston, Mungo Dick and James Young, workmen, who note that the kirk windows need to be repaired along with other minor repairs. This includes 2 long windows in the north aisle, 1 in the south aisle and 2 windows in the east aisle.(10)

1716 (21 Jun) Visitation of the church includes a report by David Murray, slater, and John Clerk, glasier who note  work on the roof and steeple. The total costs amount to 860 6s 8d Scots.(11)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev James Ford, 1793): ‘The church of Lauder was originally a chapel of ease of Channelkirk (made into a parish at Reformation). At first the church stood on the north side of the town, fronting Lauder fort…. The house in which he (James III in 1482) was seized is still standing’.(12)

[Not made explicit in the account but the above church was no longer in use by 1791, location of new church not mentioned]

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Peter Cosens, 1833): ‘The church is now situated close to the town on the south west side…built in the year 1673’.(13)

[Writer of NSA refutes the suggestion in OSA that Lauder was chapel of ease and makes no reference to the remains of the old church]

Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches: (George Hay): 1673, Sir William Bruce, architect; repaired 1820 ad 1864, 1820 pulpit. New cruciform style church, similar to canongate.(14)


1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 128.

2. Mackinlay, Scriptural Dedications, p. 140.

3. CSSR, iv, no. 1334.

4. CSSR, v, no. 1326, CPL, xii, 297.

5. Selkirk Protocol Books, 1511-47, C89.

6. NRS Prot Bk of James Nicholson, 1545-79, NP1/10, fol. 32v.

7. Prot Bk of Robert Wedderop, Lauder 1543-1553, no. 11.

8. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 67, 190-91 & 194.

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

10. NRS Presbytery of Lauder/Earlston, Minutes, 1704-1716, CH2/118/2, fols. 117-121.

11. NRS Presbytery of Lauder/Earlston, Minutes, 1704-1716, CH2/118/2, fols. 356-357.

12. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1793), i, 74-75.

13. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1833), ii, 12.

14. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, pp. 39, 42, 51, 63, 66, 174, 187 & 252.


NRS Presbytery of Lauder/Earlston, Minutes, 1704-1716, CH2/118/2.

NRS Prot Bk of James Nicholson, 1545-79, NP1/10.

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 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.

Mackinlay, J.M, 1910, Ancient Church Dedications in Scotland. Scriptural Dedications, Edinburgh.

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

Protocol Book of Robert Wedderop, Lauder 1543-1553, 1993, eds. T. Maley & W. Elliot, Selkirk.

Selkirk Protocol Books, 1511-47, 1993, eds. T. Maley & W. Elliot (Stair Society), Edinburgh.

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


Historical outline

Dedication: Our Lady(1)

For most of its pre-Reformation history, the church of Lauder remained at least nominally a dependent chapel of the principal early church of Lauderdale, Channelkirk (qv), which lies towards the head of the valley.  As such, it followed Channelkirk into the hands of the canons of Dryburgh, being confirmed to them in proprios usus by Bishop William Malveisin before c.1220.(2)  The lords of Lauderdale, first the Morvilles and then the Galloways, appear to have had ambitions to develop the chapel at Lauder as a parish church, but there is no evidence that their efforts were every pursued in a formal manner with the diocesan authorities or with Dryburgh.  Matters were complicated further by the award of some teinds from lands around Lauder to the monks of Kilwinning Abbey in Cunningham, which had been founded by the Morvilles in the late twelfth century.

On 9 July 1221, papal judges-delegate were appointed by Pope Honorius III to hear and settle a dispute between the canons of Dryburgh and Kilwinning concerning those teinds, plus some real property within the parish of the church of Lauder, which had been granted to Kilwinning by a previous lord of Lauderdale. A settlement dividing the disputed fruits was agreed in a court at Irvine in 1222 and was approved by Alan of Galloway as lord of Lauderdale, with the rider that the settlement was in no way to affect the portion of ‘he who at that time was parson of Lauder’.(3)  Bishop William Malveisin of St Andrews’ confirmation mentions not only revenues in dispute but also the issue of patronage of the church of Lauder, although that is mentioned in neither the papal mandate nor the settlement.(4)  Settlement of the conjoined issue of patronage and the teinds, however, was confirmed by Pope Gregory IX in 1230, although he did not confirm possession of any ‘church’ of Lauder in his general confirmation to the canons made two years previously.(5)  Bishop William Malveisin also confirmed Dryburgh’s possession of the divided teinds and other dues in proprios usus and Pope Gregory issued a separate confirmation in 1228 of specifically that right, and not the full church.(6

Fresh contention broke out in the 1240s between Eymer, rector of Lauder, and the canons of Dryburgh, which resulted in the appointment in March 1246 of papal judges-delegate to hear the case between them.  Eymer failed to appear and in 1248 the judges awarded possession of the church to Dryburgh.(7)  The rector appealed the judgement against him and in the details of the hearing it emerges that there were several issues at contention, of which the main one was the divided teinds, which Eymer claimed should pertain entirely to him.  The abbey, however, claimed that the over-riding right to the teinds lay with their appropriated church of Channelkirk, which was from ancient times the mother-church of the whole valley.  The final issue was Eymer’s status, as he had been presented by John Balliol, son-in-law of Alan of Galloway, who claimed to be patron of the church of Lauder.(8)  Sentence was given in favour of the abbey in August 1252.

That did not settle the issue.  On 19 June 1268, John Balliol, husband of Dervorgilla of Galloway, who had inherited much of Lauderdale as one of the heiresses of Alan of Galloway, resigned all right and claim which they had to the patronage of the church of Lauder to the canons of Dryburgh, a renunciation confirmed by Dervorgilla in a separate charter.(9)  The following month, Bishop Gamelin of St Andrews confirmed that resignation and, notwithstanding papal judgement on the matter which had ruled that the church of Lauder was a chapel of the mother-church of Channelkirk, annexed Lauder in proprios usus to the abbey.(10)  Confirmation of the union by the chapter of St Andrews followed.(11)  Shortly after this sequence of resignations and confirmations, John Balliol again confirmed the resignation of patronage rights on behalf of himself and his wife but also confirmed an agreement between them and the abbey in respect of the provision of six chaplains at the church who would say pro anima masses for John and Dervorgilla.(12)  Bishop Gamelin was also responsible for a vicarage settlement covering all of Dryburgh’s appropriated churches.  Amongst its provisions was that the vicar of Channelkirk was also to make his oath of obedience to the bishops of St Andrews for the ‘chapel’ of Lauder as well as Channelkirk, that he would receive £10 annually from the canons and that the canons would provide a suitable chaplain to serve at Lauder. This settlement was reconfirmed by Bishop William Lamberton in 1318.(13)

As a fully appropriated church, Lauder does not appear in the rolls of the papal tax-collector in Scotland in the 1270s.  In the surviving tax-roll for the archdeaconry of Lothian, however, Lauder was listed as a separate church in the hands of the canons of Dryburgh, with a value of £68 14d.(14)  The arrangements for serving the cure of the church remain unclear for one hundred and fifty years after the 1318 confirmation of Bishop Gamelin’s vicarage settlement, which provided for the services at Lauder to be delivered by a chaplain.  In 1468, a supplication by John Fenton, canon of Dryburgh, revealed that he was the incumbent vicar of Lauder.(15)  Andrew Hume, styled ‘rector’ of the church and, on one occasion, ‘rector pensionary’ is on record between 1529 and 1553.(16)  At the Reformation, however, it was noted that the parsonage remained in the hands of the canons of Dryburgh, and was worth £133 6s 8d, while the vicarage was set in assedation for 100 merks.(17)                             

There is one reference to the provision of an additional chapel at the church-site.  On 28 December 1446, King James II and James, earl of Douglas, supplicated the pope for the granting of an indulgence to encourage all those visiting the parish church of Lauder to make an offering towards the building costs of the chapel dedicated to St Mary the Virgin and St Nenicirius, which had been begun ‘within the cemetery’ of the church.(18)  This is likely to refer to a lateral chapel than to a free-standing building.  No significant endowment appears to have been attached to the chapel and there is no record of a chaplainry associated with it.


1. J M Mackinlay, Ancient Church Dedications in Scotland: Scriptural Dedications (Edinburgh, 1910), 140 suggests that the church was dedicated to St Mary, but there is no surviving pre-Reformation record of that dedication.  It was noted that the burgh seal, however, had an image of St Mary as part of its arms.

2. Liber S Marie de Dryburgh (Bannatyne Club, 1842), no 237 [hereafter Dryburgh Liber].

3. Dryburgh Liber, nos 84, 85; P C Ferguson, Medieval Papal Representatives in Scotland: Legates, Nuncios and Judges-Delegate, 1125-1286 (Stair Society, 1997), 233.

4. Dryburgh Liber, no.85.

5. Dryburgh Liber, nos 257, 266.

6. Dryburgh Liber, nos 88, 265.  Dryburgh and Kilwinning continued to share the teinds from the named lands until 1426 when, through a pension arrangement with the priory of Whithorn, Kilwinning made over its share of the teinds to the canons of the priory: Dryburgh Liber, Appendix, no.xii.

7. Dryburgh Liber, no.280.

8. Dryburgh Liber, no.280.

9. Dryburgh Liber, nos 9, 13.

10. Dryburgh Liber, no.10.

11. Dryburgh Liber, no.11.

12. Dryburgh Liber, no.12.

13. Dryburgh Liber, no.293.

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

15. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, v, 1447-1471, eds J Kirk, R J Tanner and A I Dunlop (Glasgow, 1997), no.1326.

16. NRS Prot Bk of James Nicholson, 1545-79, NP1/10, fol. 32v; Selkirk Protocol Books, 1511-47, eds T Maley and W Elliot (Stair Society, 1993), C89; Protocol Book of Robert Wedderop, Lauder 1543-1553, eds T Maley and W Elliot (Selkirk, 1993), no.11.

17. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 67, 190-191, 194.

18. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, iv 1433-1447, eds A I Dunlop and D MacLauchlan (Glasgow, 1983), no.1334.

Architectural description

The church at Lauder was originally a chapel within Channelkirk Parish, but it subsequently achieved parochial status and its patronage was granted to Dryburgh Abbey in 1268 by John and Dervorguilla Balliol.(1) The church evidently stood about 55 metres to the west of Thirlesane Castle, and in 1446 it is said there was a chapel of the Virgin and St Nenicirius in the churchyard,(2) though that may simply mean that the chapel projected from the flank of the church.

However, its location so close to the castle was an inconvenient impediment to the duke of Lauderdale’s ambitious plans for improvements to the castle and its setting, and in 1673 it was decided to move it outside the policies, with instructions that the new building should be ‘decent and large enough, with a handsom litle steeple’.(3) Nothing remains visible of the medieval church.

The architect of the new church was Sir William Bruce, who was then working on the castle; the mason was Alexander Mein of Newstead, the wright John Young and the slater Gilbert Anderson. The date of the commencement of work, 1673, is inscribed on the north gable, and work was largely complete by the end of 1674.

Major additions and re-furnishing were carried out in 1820 by John Smith of Darnick. As part of this, porches with crenellated wall-heads were added in the in the north-west and south-east re-entrant angles; in addition to covering the entrances, these house stairs to the lofts. Much of the internal furnishing also dates from 1820, including the box pews, the loft fronts and the pulpit,

The church is a Greek cross in plan,(4) with a central tower carried on four engaged piers at the junction of the arms. Nowhere in Scotland before Lauder had the spatial equality of four arms of a Greek-cross plan been so clearly expressed, and with such concentration of focus on the central space.

Externally, each of the four arms is lit by two tiers of windows in the gable walls, reflecting the intended provision of lofts within all, although only two of those may have been initially installed. A pair of rectangular windows lights the lower level of the four gable walls, while the upper level has a pointed three-light window with intersecting tracery and a transom, showing that windows of overtly ‘ecclesiastical’ character were still considered most seemly for churches.

The skewputts at the base of the north gable have miniature obelisk finials, and the other gables may once have been similarly treated.  The tower is square up to the roof ridges, but above that it is intaken to an octagon, with broaches at the angles and round-headed windows to the cardinal faces; it is capped by a pyramidal roof with a ball finial.

Internally there are plastered walls above a boarded dado, and all the arms have plastered ceilings of polygonal profile, while there is a flat ceiling within the tower that is pierced by a central circular opening. In the original arrangement, and in keeping with the duke of Lauderdale’s high church views, it seems the east arm contained the communion table; but by 1746 it was said to have been taken over by a joiner as his workshop.

The pulpit against the east pier is an elevated octagon with raised and fielded panels beneath a tester, and with a fretted cornice and concave-sided pyramidal cap. The Lauderdale Loft in the west arm extends up to the tower piers, and the Tweeddale Loft in the east arm similarly reaches close to the tower piers. The Burgess Loft in the north arm, however, is set a little back, while the Trabrown Loft in the south arm is set well back.

David Bryce was consulted about work on the church in 1860, and in 1864 wooden floors were extended throughout. More recently there was a general restoration in 1973 by Neil Jack of Miller and Black. Since then the walls have been re-harled, leaving only the red sandstone margins and dressings exposed.


1. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, pp. 128-9.

2. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1433-47, ed. A.I. Dunlop and D. MacLauchlan, Glasgow, 1983, no 1334.

3. National Records of Scotland, Bruce of Kinross Papers, GD 29/1879/9, letter of 15 April 1673; printed in Robert Scott Mylne, The Master Masons to the Crown of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1893, pp. 185-86.

4. Accounts of the church include: Richard F. James, Lauder, its Kirk and People, Lauder, 1973; John G. Dunbar, ‘The Building-activities of the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale, 1670-82’, Archaeological Journal, vol. 132, 1975, pp. 202-30 at pp. 213-14; G.A.C. Binnie, The Churches and Churchyards of Berwickshire, Ladykirk, 1995, pp. 327-43. The description offered here is based on that in Kitty Cruft, John Dunbar and Richard Fawcett, The Buildings of Scotland, Borders, New Haven and London, 2006, pp. 484-85.



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

  • 1. Lauder, site of old church, 1

  • 2. Lauder, site of old church, 2

  • 3. Lauder Church, exterior, 1

  • 4. Lauder Church, exterior, 2

  • 5. Lauder Church, interior, 1

  • 6. Lauder Church, interior, 1