Murroes / Muirhouse Parish Church

Murroes Church, exterior, from north

Summary description

Rebuilt in 1848, possibly on the site of the medieval church.

Historical outline

Dedication: unknown

No reference to a church or parish of Murroes survives prior to its grant c.1201x1204 by Gille Chriosd, earl of Angus, with its chapels, lands, teinds, oblations, rights of common pasture, other easements and all other things justly pertaining to it, to the monks of Arbroath Abbey.(1)  The earl’s grant was confirmed in 1204 or 1205 by King William.(2)  Around the same time Bishop William Malveisin confirmed the church to the monks in proprios usus first of all in a charter specifically in respect of Murroes and subsequently in a general confirmation of the abbey’s properties and rights.(3)  In c.1233, Bishop Malveisin confirmed the appropriation again in a general settlement of the vicarage provision at all of Arbroath’s churches.(4)  King William again confirmed the monk’s possession of Murroes in his general charter issued in 1213.(5)  Further confirmations followed from Earl Gille Chriosd’s descendents, from the pope and from subsequent bishops of St Andrews.(6)  In 1249 Bishop David de Bernham confirmed the vicarage settlement, with the parsonage confirmed as annexed to the abbey and a pension of three merks due also from the vicar to the monks.(7)  This settlement continued until 1352 when the vicar of Murroes was one of nine vicars of churches appropriated to Arbroath who complained to Bishop Landallis concerning the inadequacy of their portions.(8)

There is little record of the church in later medieval sources.  A notarial instrument of 20 September 1483 records the presentation to the vicarage perpetual of Master John Douglas, son of William Douglas of Drumlanrig.(9)  Following Douglas’s resignation, a further instrument dated 9 February 1488 records the presentation of James Ogilvy, a ‘man properly literate and sufficient for the administration of the sacraments and the cure of souls’.(10) Similar records of succession of vicars perpetual survive down to the 1520s. (11)  At the Reformation the parsonage, yielding produce, remained with the abbey while the vicarage, held by Ninian or William Cook, was valued at £23 6s 8d, from which £10 was paid as a pension to David Cunningham.(12)


1. Liber S Thome de Aberbrothoc, i (Bannatyne Club, 1848), no.41 [hereafter Arbroath Liber, i].

2. Arbroath Liber, i, no.42; Regesta Regum Scottorum, ii, The Acts of King William (Edinburgh, 1971), no.457 [hereafter RRS, ii].

3. Arbroath Liber, i, nos 163, 165.

4. Arbroath Liber, i, no.167.

5. Arbroath Liber, no.1; RRS, ii, no.513.

6. Arbroath Liber, nos 46-9, 100, 172.

7. Arbroath Liber, i, no.236.

8. Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Petitions to the Pope, ed W H Bliss (London, 1896), 235.

9. Liber S Thome de Aberbrothoc, ii (Bannatyne Club, 1856), no.222 [hereafter Arbroath Liber, ii].

10. Arbroath Liber, ii, no.315.

11. Arbroath Liber, ii, nos 351, 357, 552, 577, 775.

12. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 361, 398.

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: The church was granted to Arbroath by Gilchrist, earl of Angus in 1201x04. A vicarage settlement took place in 1249. There was a vicar perpetual and the parsonage remained with the abbey.(1)

1201x05 Church given by Gilchrist, earl of Angus to Arbroath, with chapels, lands, teinds and common pasture. Confirmed by William I.(2)

1213 Church included in confirmation by William I of the possessions of Arbroath.(3)

1202x04 Possession of church by Arbroath confirmed  by William, bishop of St Andrews, in two charters, the first specifically related to the church, the second including all the churches held by Arbroath in the diocese of St Andrews.(4)

1204x11 Church included in confirmation of gifts to abbey of his father by Duncan, earl of Angus and in 1214x26 by Malcolm, earl of Angus.(5)

1214x18 Church included in confirmation by Alexander II of all the lands and churches belonging to Arbroath.(6)

1219 Church included in papal bull by Honorius III of possessions of Arbroath given by earls of Angus.(7)

c.1233 Church included in a confirmation by David de Bernham, bishop of St Andrews, all the churches held by Arbroath in the diocese of St Andrews.

1249 Vicarage settlement by the bishop, parsonage with abbey, perpetual vicarage set up owing 3 marks pa to the monks.(8)

1352 Suit brought before the bishop of St Andrews between abbey of Arbroath and the vicars of Inverlunan, St Vigean, Barry, Arbirlot, Monifieth, Muirhouse, Newtyle, Glamis and Kirriemuir. ‘The vicars asserted that they had insufficient portions, whereupon the bishop made an ordinance, which the Pope is asked to confirm’.(9)

1487 James Ogilvy presented to perpetual vicarage on resignation of John Douglas.(10)

1495 Alexander presented on death of James Ramsay, in 1496 resigns in favour of John Gray.(11)

1519 David Scot (vicar of Tarland) obtains church in exchange with Thomas Harvar.(12)

1523 James Simson obtains church on resignation of last vicar. Dead by 1532, succeeded by Thomas Dalrymple.(13)


Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage with Arbroath, in produce. Vicarage held by Ninian/William Cuke, value £23 6s 8d, from which a yearly pension of £10 is paid to Sir David Cunningham.(14)

1613 (5 Sept) A visitation of the church finds the fabric to be in good estate.(15)

#c.1642 New aisle noted in New Statistical Account [kirk session and presbytery records have not survived for 1640s so unable to confirm]

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Alexander Imlach, 1793): ‘The church and manse are situated in the south east corner of the parish, 5 miles from Dundee’.(16)

‘Two galleries in the church’.(17) [only reference to church fabric]

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev John Currie, 1842): ‘The church is a plain old fashioned building. It is supposed to have been built before the Reformation but the date of its erection is unknown. The aisle seems to have been added to the church in about 1642. It is in tolerable repair’.(18)


1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 154.

2. Liber Aberbrothoc, i, nos. 41 & 42, RRS, ii, no. 457.

3. RRS, ii, no. 513, Liber Aberbrothoc, i, nos. 1.

4. Liber Aberbrothoc, i, nos. 163 & 165.

5. Liber Aberbrothoc, i, nos. 47 & 48.

6. Liber Aberbrothoc, i, no. 100.

7. Liber Aberbrothoc, i, no. 222.

8. Liber Aberbrothoc, i, nos  172 & 236.

9. CPP, 235.

10. Liber Aberbrothoc, ii, no. 315.

11. Liber Aberbrothoc, ii, nos. 351 & 357.

12. Liber Aberbrothoc, ii, no. 552.

13. Liber Aberbrothoc, ii, nos. 577 & 775.

14. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 361 & 398.

15. NRS Records of the Synod of Fife, 1610-1636, CH2/154/1, fol. 142.

16. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1793), xiii, 161.

17. Ibid, 166.

18. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1842), 595.


NRS Records of the Synod of Fife, 1610-1636, CH2/154/1.

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.

Kirk, J., 1995, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, (British Academy) Oxford.

Liber S Thome de Aberbrothoc, 1848-56, ed. C. Innes and P. Chalmers, (Bannatyne Club) Edinburgh, i.

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

Regesta Regum Scottorum, Acts of William I (1165-1214), 1971, Edinburgh.

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

Architectural description

A fragment of an early cross slab found in the churchyard in 1896 raises the possibility of a long history of Christian worship on this site. The fragment, which is now in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, has part of an interlace-decorated cross shaft flanked by a beast.(1)

The church was granted to the Tironensian abbey of Arbroath by Gilchrist, earl of Angus, at a date between 1201 and 1204. Having confirmed that grant, Bishop William stipulated that the cure should be served by a vicar perpetual, and in 1249 there was a vicarage settlement.(2)

The author of the entry in the New Statistical Account said:

The church is a plain old fashioned building. It is supposed to have been built before the Reformation but the date of its erection is unknown. The aisle seems to have been added to the church in about 1642.(3)

On this basis it may be assumed that a rectangular medieval building had been augmented to a T-plan by the addition of a mid-seventeenth-century lateral north aisle. The author of the entry in the Statistical Account had said that there were two galleries in the church, which were perhaps at the two ends of the building.(4)

The church was rebuilt by William Scott in 1848, to a T-plan, with porches in the re-entrant angles between the main body and the north aisle. Some of the windows were remodelled in 1892.(5)

It may be suspected that Scott’s work perpetuated the footprint of the existing church, apart from the porches, or that it may even have been to some extent a re-casing of the existing church. The main body, which is oriented, has dimensions of 18.7 by 6.9 metres, which would certainly be acceptable for a rural medieval church, while re-set into the north aisle is a pedimented plaque with the arms and initials of Thomas Fothringham of Powrie and his wife, Margaret Gibson, and the date 16[4]2.

The long-standing significance of the Fothringham family for the parish is also indicated by an ex-situ plaque set into the churchyard wall to the north of the church, which appears to be of late medieval date. It has a winged angel in sixteenth-century costume holding a shield with the family’s arms.

The church is constructed of carefully coursed dark pink rubble, with ample ashlar dressings. The main body, north aisle and porches all rise to the same height, and there are diagonal buttresses at the angles. There is an octagonal bellcote with arched openings capped by gablets to each face, below a spirelet. The south face is pierced by four pointed-arched windows, the two outer ones having timber geometric tracery; at the centre of the front is a tablet with a Latin inscription and the date 1848. The north face of the north aisle has an echelon triplet of lancets.   


1. J. Romilly Allen and Joseph Anderson, The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1903, pp. 265-66.

2. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 154.

3. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 11, p. 595.

4. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, vol. 13, p. 166.

5. John Gifford, The Buildings of Scotland, Dundee and Angus, New Haven and London, 2012, p. 645.



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

  • 1. Murroes Church, exterior, from north

  • 2. Murroes Church, exterior, from south east

  • 3. Murroes Church, exterior, from south

  • 4. Murroes Church, exterior, north aisle, west face, heraldic plaque

  • 5. Murroes Church, exterior, south front date plaque

  • 6. Murroes churchyard wall, angel holding arms

  • 7. Murroes churchyard, gravestone, 1

  • 8. Murroes churchyard, gravestone, 2

  • 9. Murroes churchyard, gravestone, 3

  • 10. Murroes churchyard, gravestone, 4

  • 11. Murroes cross slab (Allen and Anderson)