Midcalder / Mid Calder and West Calder / Calder Comitis Parish Church

Midcalder Church, exterior, from south

Summary description

The finely finished apsidal choir, sacristy and tomb house of an important but incomplete church, built according to a bond of 1542 that provided detailed specifications for how it should have been finished. A transeptal augmentation was made at the west end in 1863.

Historical outline

Dedication: St Cuthbert (?)

As the parish church of a portion of the landed estates of the earls of Fife in Lothian, Calder-Comitis (Earl’s Clder), possibly dedicated to St Cuthbert,(1) was in the patronage of the Fifes in the first half of the twelfth century.  Sometime before 1162, by which date King Malcolm IV had confirmed the grant, the church had been gifted by Earl Duncan of Fife to the monks of Dunfermline.(2

Possession of the church was confirmed by Duncan’s wife, Ela, and by Bishop Robert of St Andrews.(3)  Further confirmations followed from bishops Richard and Hugh of St Andrews, the latter of whom confirmed the church to the abbey in proprios usus.(4)  The church is recorded as having been dedicated by Bishop David de Bernham on 14 March 1242.(5)  It does not occur in the papal tax rolls of the mid-1270s, which presumably reflects its appropriation to Dunfermline.

Despite the regular confirmations of the church to the monks of Dunfermline, the abbey failed to establish possession and by the early 1400s was clearly a free parsonage when a rector, Andrew of Lilliesleaf, is named.(6) In 1430, the rector was John Gray, the illegitimate son of a nun who had risen to become physician to King James I. 

It was perhaps in consequence of that link that the king that same year attempted to annexe the churches of Calder-Comitis and Strathbrock with a collective value of around £400 sterling annually, to St Michael’s Linlithgow, which he was aiming to have erected into a collegiate church.(7)  The attempt failed and the church remained an independent parsonage in the gift of the Sandilands of Calder. 

The value of Calder-Comitis is borne out at the Reformation, when the parsonage was valued at £185 6s 4d, plus two touns paying 36 bolls of oats as horsecorn and one chalder of bere.  The vicarage was valued at approximately £20 per annum.(8)

Notes

1. J Mackinlay, Ancient Church Dedications in Scotland. Non-Scriptural Dedications, Edinburgh, 1914), 254, suggests that it shared the same dedication as neighbouring Calder-Clere.

2. Regesta Regum Scotorum, i, The Acts of Malcolm IV, ed G W S Barrow (Edinburgh, 1960), no.165.

3. Registrum de Dunfermelyn (Bannatyne Club, 1842), nos 91, 153 [hereafter Dunfermline Registrum].

4. Dunfermline Registrum, nos 94, 100.

5. A O Anderson (ed), Early Sources of Scottish History, ii (London, 1922), 521 [Pontifical Offices of St Andrews].

6. Calendar of Papal Letters to Scotland of Pope Benedict XIII of Avignon 1394-1419, ed F McGurk (Scottish History Society, 1976), 178.

7. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, ii, 1423-1428, ed A I Dunlop (Scottish History Society, 1956), 121, 140.

8. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 98-99.

Summary of relevant documentation

Medieval

Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Earl Duncan of Fife granted church to Dunfermline in 1154x59 but the annexation was ineffective. The independent parsonage was in lay patronage of the earls of Fife until the 14th century, when patronage passed from the Douglases to the family of Sandilands, with whom it remained, despite attempts to unite it to Linlithgow in 1430 .(1)

Mackinlay notes that the church was dedicated, along with that of East Calder, to St Cuthbert.(2)

1394 John de Haddington has the church (value 30 marks).(3)

1408-1415 Alexander de Lilliscleff (papal sub collector) has church, which he exchanged with former vicar James de Borthwick.(4)

1430 John Gray (illegitimate son of a Cistercian nun, described as Master of Arts and Medicine and medicus of James I) is rector of Liston and Calder Comitis; failed attempt by James I in the same year to erect Linlithgow into a collegiate church with Calder and Strabrock united to it.(5)

1432 Gray still rector; church described as in lay patronage. [Gray led an eclectic life - he also had prebends in Le Mans, Orleans, Glasgow and Tours!](6)

1472 Patrick Sandilands described as rector.(7)

1511 Peter Sandilands (MA) rector of church described as West Calder.(8)

1542 (18 Dec) Peter Sandilands described as rector of Calder Comitis, acting as procurator for his brother Archibald Sandilands.(9)

#1542 Contract for the choir roof of Midcalder church, where it is specified that ‘the said queir to be compleitlie pendit with croce brace and re-ruif, conforme to Sanct Anthonis Yle in Sanct Gelis Kirk’. [See St Giles, St Anthony’s aisle completed c.1500](10)

1546 Allan Balviard chaplain at altar of Blessed Virgin Mary in Perth; Peter Sandilands, rector of Calder Comitis described as patron.(11)

Post-medieval

Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage independent, value £185 5s 4d.(12)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of £61 15s 1 1/3d.(13)

1560 (20 Dec) James Douglas and James More represented the church at the first meeting of the General Assembly in Edinburgh.(14)

1571 (15 Jan) The Minister is nominated to be one of the 21 members of the chapter of the Archbishop of St Andrews.(15)

1590 (5 May) Series of complaints in the synod records of Lothian and Tweedale that markets are being held in Calder on the Sabbath.(16)

1673 (8 July) Visitation of the church of Mid-Calder finds that money had been taken from ‘the box’ for the reparation of the kirk, whereupon the visitation did order that the session shall restore the money with a half stent then required for repairing the church. The presbytery note that the church is in good repair.(17)

1739 (8 May) Visitation of the church (known as West Calder) for repairing of the church, the total sum estimated at £967 15s, (£359 for the manse and £142 on the school). Heritors to be stented proportionally.(18)

1767 (29 Apr) Report on a visitation of the church notes that £105 13s 9d is required for repairs to the church [no details].(19)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev James Wilson, 1793): [Church of Calder Comitis is in modern parish of Mid-Calder]

‘the church of Mid-Calder is built in the Gothic manner. There is no date or record from which the time of its erection can be ascertained. There is only that part of the edifice which was intended for the chancel [building incomplete]… A new building was added on to the west end [no date]’.(20)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev John Sommers, 1834): ‘the church is in good repair; but the exact period of its erection cannot be ascertained’.(21)

Notes

1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 25.

2. Mackinlay, Non-Scriptural Dedications, p. 254.

3. CPP, 580.

4. CPP, 638 & 314-5, CPL, Ben, 179-80.

5. CSSR, ii, 121 & 140

6. CPL, viii, 381.

7. Abstract of the Protocol Book of Stirling, 1469-84, 14.

8. CPL, xix, no.554.

9. NRS Prot Bk of Edward Dickson, 1537-45, NP1/5B, fol. 154.

10. Hay, ‘The late medieval development of the High Kirk of St Giles’, 250.

11. NRS Protocol Books: Henry Elder, B59/1/1, fol. 18.

12. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 98-99.

13. Donaldson, Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices, 27.

14. Acts and Proceedings of the General Assemblies of the Kirk of Scotland, i, p.4

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

16. Synod Records of Lothian and Tweeddale, pp. 14, 20 & 66.

17. NRS Presbytery of Linlithgow, Minutes, 1653-1676, CH2/242/5, fols. 483-485.

18. NRS Presbytery of Linlithgow, Minutes, 1731-1742, CH2/242/13, fols. 273-274.

19. NRS Presbytery of Linlithgow, Minutes, 1742-1773, CH2/242/14, fol. 503.

20. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1793), xiv, 370.

21. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1834), i, 375.

Bibliography

NRS Presbytery of Linlithgow, Minutes, 1653-1676, CH2/242/5.

NRS Presbytery of Linlithgow, Minutes, 1731-1742, CH2/242/13.

NRS Presbytery of Linlithgow, Minutes, 1742-1773, CH2/242/14.

NRS Prot Bk of Edward Dickson, 1537-45, NP1/5B.

NRS Protocol Books: Henry Elder, B59/1/1.

Abstract of the Protocol Book of the Burgh of Stirling, 1469-84, 1896, Edinburgh.

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 Papal letters to Scotland of Benedict XIII of Avignon, 1976, ed. F. McGurk, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh.

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1423-28, 1956, ed. A.I. Dunlop, (Scottish History Society) 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., 1975-76, ‘The late medieval development of the High Kirk of St Giles, Edinburgh, PSAS, cvii, 242-260.

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.

Synod Records of Lothian and Tweeddale, 1589-1596, 1640-1649, 1977, ed. J. Kirk (Stair Society), Edinburgh.

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

Architectural description

The parish of what is now known as Midcalder, but was earlier known as Calder Comitis, was made up of Mid- and West-Calder. At a date between 1154 and 1159 Duncan, earl of Fife made an ineffective attempt to grant the church, which was then referred to as Huchtercaledouir, to the Benedictine abbey of Dunfermline. It was, however, to continue as a free parsonage, despite a further abortive attempt to unite it to another religious institution in 1430, when it was proposed to annex it to the college that was then proposed at Linlithgow.(1) Bishop David de Bernham carried out one of his dedications here on 14 March 1242.(2)

An ambitious rebuilding of the church was started by its rector, Peter Sandilands, a younger son of the local land-holding family, to which the estate had passed by marriage in 1348. Having built the vestry at the east end and started work on the choir, but fearing that he would not live to see its completion, he set aside the necessary funds and attempted to bind his nephew and great-nephew, James and John Sandilands respectively, to complete the work in a bond of 1542.(3) That bond stated in great detail how the work was to be carried out, and is one of the most interesting documents of its kind to have survived.

Amongst the detailed specifications in the bond were the following:

  • the vestry was to be completed
  • detailed provisions were made for the buttressing and the windows of the choir
  • there was to be a cloister on the north side of the choir
  • the choir was to have a vault like that over St Anthony’s Aisle in Edinburgh St Giles’ Church
  • there was to be a steeple (presumably a bellcote) for bells over the west wall of the choir
  • a stair to the rood loft and steeple was to be provided on the north side
  • west of the choir was to be a nave 80 feet long and 28 feet wide, with a south porch between two of the buttresses
  • there was also to be a west door below a window
  • the choir was to be completed in three years, and the nave in the next three years

However, the terms of the bond were only partly fulfilled, presumably because the Sandilands of Calder became keen supporters of the Protestant cause. All that was completed was the vaulted vestry, set above a burial vault, and the shell of the aisle-less two-bay choir with its eastern apse and its western arch flanked by the stair that was intended to give access to the rood loft and steeple.(4)

In the case of bonds or contracts for medieval building operations which cite models to be followed, it is of particular interest to be able to establish how closely it was expected that the cited models would be followed, or how far they were intended to offer no more than general guidance on what was required. Unfortunately, St Anthony’s Aisle in Edinburgh St Giles, which was in the south transept there, has lost its medieval vaulting, and in any case the vault at Midcalder was itself never completed, so we are unable to reach a view on this.

By the later eighteenth century the medieval choir was deemed to be no longer adequate for the congregation, and it was said that

The old building is too small for the accommodation of the people, it was deemed necessary to enlarge it. The new erection is at the W end; and not being built in the same style, rather hurts the appearance without; but the addition is not much seen from the street.(5)

A plan of 1807 shows the western extension mentioned above as a utilitarian rectangular space,(6) while an internal view of the choir shows galleries looking towards a pulpit against the south wall, and a coved plaster ceiling above the springers of the medieval vaulting.(7) In 1863, the utilitarian western extension was replaced by a more sympathetically detailed transeptal western arm designed by Brown and Wardrop, at which time the tierceron vaulting was completed in plaster.

The work that was carried out at Midcalder in the years around 1542 was of notably high quality, with masonry of excellent grey ashlar. The only externally visible rubble masonry is along the lower part of the north wall of the vestry and choir, where the cloister was to run; here the bond specified ‘rouch werk with corbel and walter tabill’, which was indeed provided, the corbels and drip moulding remaining in place.

Around the south side of the choir and the south and east sides of the vestry the walls rise from a chamfered string course. The windows rest on a string course which steps up around the head of a round-arched doorway in the eastern straight bay, which is framed by two continuous orders of filleted rolls. The windows themselves have reveals with two orders of broad chamfers.

Particular care was taken over the design of the window tracery, which is composed of uncusped loop-like forms. The east window and one of the windows of the south flank are similar to the transept windows at Trinity College in Edinburgh, which were probably built around 1531–2. The window in the west bay of the south flank, and that in the south-east face of the apse are more complex, the latter having two inwardly curved loops within sub-arches, and four interlocking loops at the head of the window.

Designs of this kind appear to have their origins in windows at a number of churches in the coastal provinces of the Netherlands, where the frequent use of brick encouraged some simplification of detailing. Parallels may be found, for example, at the Dominican church and St James’ Church in the Hague, both dating from around 1500.(8)

The heraldry and initials of the Sandilands family is liberally displayed on the vestry pinnacles and the corbels of the window hood moulds.(9) There are also heraldic references to the Douglas family, from whom the Sandilands acquired Midcalder through the marriage of James Sandilands to Alienora, a sister of the first earl of Douglas in 1348. Another family heraldically represented is that of Sir John Cockburn of Ormiston, to whom a daughter of Sir James Sandilands was married.

The pinnacles of the vestry have been said to have a classical treatment of acanthus foliage to the crockets. They would thus be one of the very few cases of Renaissance detailing – however tentative – to be found on a pre-Reformation church, other than on elements of liturgical furnishing or tombs. On close examination of the foliage, however, it appears unlikely that there was any intention of following classical forms.

Notes

1. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 25.

2. Alan Orr Anderson, Early Sources of Scottish History, Edinburgh, 1922, vol. 2, p. 521.

3. Published in  J. Robertson, ‘Notice of a Deed by which Sir James Sandilands...binds Himself and his Heir to Complete the Vestry and Build the Nave, Steeple and Porch of the Parish Church of Mid-Calder’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 3, 1857–60, pp. 160-65.

4. Accounts of the building will be found in: David MacGibbon and Thomas Ross, The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Scotland, Edinburgh, vol. 3, 1897, pp. 279–87; Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland, Inventory of Midlothian and West Lothian, Edinburgh, 1929, pp. 135–38; Cowan 1967, p. 25; Christopher Wilson in Colin McWilliam, The Buildings of Scotland, Lothian, Harmondsworth1978, pp. 322–24.

5. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-99, vol. 14, p. 370.

6. In the Sime drawings in the National Monuments Record of Scotland (DP029310).

7. Reproduced as pl. XVIII in Robertson, 1857-60.

8. Rijkscommissie voor de Monumentenbeschrijving, Kunstreisboek voor Nederland, Amsterdam, 1977, pp. 454, 451.

9. John Stuart, ‘Notice of Armorial Bearings and Inscriptions in the Church of Midcalder’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 3, 1857–60, pp. 166-71.

Map

Images

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

  • 1. Midcalder Church, exterior, from south

  • 2. Midcalder Church, exterior, from north east

  • 3. Midcalder Church, exterior, choir from south

  • 4. Midcalder Church, apse, east window

  • 5. Midcalder Church, exterior, north flank

  • 6. Midcalder Church, exterior, vestry and apse from north east

  • 7. Midcalder Church, exterior before restoration (James Drummond)

  • 8. Midcalder Church, exterior, apse, south-east face window

  • 9. Midcalder Church, exterior, choir, south flank, east window

  • 10. Midcalder Church, exterior, choir, south flank, west window

  • 11. Midcalder Church, exterior, apse, east window north corbel

  • 12. Midcalder Church, exterior, apse, south-east window corbel, 1

  • 13. Midcalder Church, exterior, apse, south-east window corbel, 2

  • 14. Midcalder Church, exterior, choir, south flank, east window, west corbel

  • 15. Midcalder Church, exterior, choir, south flank, east window, east corbel

  • 16. Midcalder Church, exterior, choir, south flank, west window, east corbel

  • 17. Midcalder Church, south flank west window corbel

  • 18. Midcalder Church, exterior, vestry, north pinnacle

  • 19. Midcalder Church, exterior, vestry, south pinnacle

  • 20. Midcalder Church, exterior, south door

  • 21. Midcalder Church, interior before restoration, looking east (James Drummond)

  • 22. Midcalder Church, interior, aumbry

  • 23. Midcalder Church, interior, carved panel

  • 24. Midcalder Church, interior, from west, 1

  • 25. Midcalder Church, interior, from west, 2

  • 26. Midcalder Church, interior, looking east

  • 27. Midcalder Church, interior, looking north east

  • 28. Midcalder Church, interior, north wall

  • 29. Midcalder Church, interior, sacristy

  • 30. Midcalder Church, interior, vestry

  • 31. Midcalder Church, plan (MacGibbon and Ross)