North Berwick Parish Church

North Berwick Church, porch

Summary description

Partial remains of a church with an aisled nave, a north transeptal chapel, a south porch and a west tower. This was replaced by a more centrally located church in 1660, which was augmented in 1770, and is now a roofless shell.

Historical outline

Dedication: St Andrew the Apostle(1)

It is likely that the parish church of North Berwick had been appropriated to the nunnery of North Berwick by Earl Duncan II of Fife c.1150 and it was confirmed as his gift by both his grandson, Earl Malcolm (c.1204-13) and by King William in a charter of 21 April 1212 x 1214.(2)  There is no surviving record of when a vicarage settlement was instituted but it evidently pre-dated 1275-6 when the church of North Berwick was recorded as a vicarage in the accounts of the papal tax-collector in Scotland.(3)

Although King David II petitioned in 1365 for the provision of his chaplain, Walter Bell, to the vicarage, vacant through the death ‘some time ago’ of the previous incumbent, John Smith, it seems that it had already been annexed to the nunnery for some time by that date.(4)  In October 1380 there was a mandate for collation to the vicarage of one William of North Berwick, which cited the free resignation of the vicarage by John Smith.(5) This collation, however, seems to have triggered a protest by the nuns, for a papal letter of 18 February 1384 confirmed a grant made by Bishop William Landallis, to them of the perpetual vicarage, described as vacant by the free resignation of John Fabri into the hands of the said bishop.(6)  The letter went on to state that the nuns had held the vicarage for over twenty-three years and had presented to the bishop, in accordance with the conditions of the grant, a chaplain to serve the church, and had assigned to him an annual pension.  If this pension was found to be insufficient, then a suitable portion of the revenues of the vicarage was to be allotted to the chaplain.  It appears that the nunnery established a vicarage pensionary thereafter.

The union of the parsonage to the nunnery of North Berwick continued at the Reformation, at which time it was set by the nuns for £211 annually.  The vicarage was valued at the more modest £11 6s 8d.(6)  The value of the church appears to have derived principally from the valuable teinds of fish and gannets, but was also in part a consequence of the importance of North Berwick as one of the crossing-points for pilgrims travelling to and from St Andrews.  It was possibly through this role as a station on the pilgrim route that the church attracted the additional endowments which established a series of subsidiary altars within it.

Four additional altars are named in surviving records.  The earliest is the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary at which in 1491 a chaplaincy was founded by Agnes Faulaw, wife of Sir Robert Lauder of Bass and endowed with 10 merks of annual rents from her property in Edinburgh.(7)  The record of a property transaction in 1531 notes that the agreement was made at Our Lady altar in the south aisle of the church.(8)  The second named altar was that of Our Lady of Pity.  This was founded in1497 by William of Carrick, indweller in the mains of Tantallon. It was located in the aisle of St Ninian, between St Ninian’s aisle and the north gable of the aisle.(9)  It was in the document relating to the altar of Our Lady of Pity that the altar and aisle of St Ninian was first recorded, but it is clear that this was already in existence before 1497.  There is no further surviving reference to this altar.  The final altars recorded are those of St Sebastian and the Holy Rood or Cross.  In 1540 one James Laing was presented as chaplain at St Sebastian’s altar, which was then vacant by the death of John Ramsay.(10)  There is a further reference in 1545 to lands in North Berwick pertaining to the altar of St Sebastian.(11)  No record survives of where in the church the altar was located.  Holy Rood altar is recorded only in the context of its chaplain, William Fowler, who was a witness to the 1540 record of the presentation of Laing to St Sebastian’s altar.(12)  It is likely that this altar was located either in front of the rood screen in the nave or in the rood loft itself.

Notes

1. Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, ii, 1424-1513, ed J B Paul (Edinburgh, 1882), no.2068 [hereafter RMS, ii]

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

3. A I Dunlop (ed), ‘Bagimond’s Roll: Statement of the Tenths of the Kingdom of Scotland’, Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, vi (1939), 33, 57, 58.

4. Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Petitions to the Pope, ed W H Bliss (London, 1896), 508.

5. Calendar of Papal Letters to Scotland of Clement VII of Avignon 1378-1394, ed C Burns (Scottish History Society, 1976), 50 [hereafter CPL Clement VII].

6. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford,1995), 147, 148, 166, 167, 174.

7. RMS, ii, no.2068.

8. NRS GD1/413/9 Material relating to the parish: North Berwick, Oldhamstocks, Ormiston, Pencaitland, fol. 30.

9. W Fraser (ed), The Douglas Book, iii (Edinburgh, 1885), 165-6.

10. NRS GD1/413/9 Material relating to the parish: North Berwick, Oldhamstocks, Ormiston, Pencaitland, fol.32.

11. NRS Protocol Books: Robert Lawder, 3 Feb 1539/1540-14 Dec 1562, B56/1/1, fol. 42.

12. NRS GD1/413/9 Material relating to the parish: North Berwick, Oldhamstocks, Ormiston, Pencaitland, fol.32.

Summary of relevant documentation

Medieval

Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Probably appropriated to nunnery of North Berwick by c.1150, by Duncan, earl of Fife. A vicarage was mentioned by 1274 but it was also annexed to the nunnery in 1360, with a vicar pensioner thereafter.(1)

1365 Petition by David II on behalf of his chaplain, Walter Bell, for the vicarage of North Berwick (value 20 marks), void by death of John Fabri some time ago.(2)

1542 William Sinclair, vicar of North Berwick, appears as a witness.(3)

Altars and chaplaincies in the church

Blessed Virgin Mary

1491 Chaplaincy at the Lady altar founded by Agnes Faulaw, wife of Lauder of Bass.(4)

1531 Deal made at Our Lady altar in the south aisle of the church.(5)

Holy Cross

1529 (14 Mar) James Laing presented to the altar, vacant by death of John Ramsay (witness is William Fowler, chaplain of the altar of the Holy Cross in North Berwick).(6)

Our Lady of Pity

1497 Founded by William of Carrick, in dweller in the mains of Tantallon. It was located in the aisle of St Ninian, between St Ninian’s aisle and the north gabell of the same aisle.(7)

St Ninian

b. 1497 Reference to the altar and aisle of St Ninian (see above altar of Lady of Pity).(8)

St Sebastian

# 1540 James Laing presented to the altar, vacant by death of John Ramsay (witness is William Fowler, chaplain of the altar of the Holy Cross in North Berwick).(9)

1545 Reference to lands pertaining to St Sebastian.(10)

Post-medieval

Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage with priory of North Berwick, set for £211.(11)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of vicarage £3 15s 6 2/3d.(12)

1592 (4 Oct) Visitation of Haddington presbytery finds that doctrine was well kept on the Sabbath in all its churches except in North Berwick in the harvest and sometimes at Baro and Bothans.(13)

1598 (22 Oct) Visitation of the church by the Presbytery of Haddington orders the heritors and baillies to talk to Alexander Hume of North Berwick to put good order up for the reparation of the kirk; Alex Hume to pay £200 and the rest of the tax to be paid by the parishioners for repairing of the church.(14)

1608 Kirk session orders that no graves be made in the north side of the kirk because the ground is not solid on that side.(15)

1612 John Douglas, in the name of the earl of Angus, requests that the north aisle be given to him to repair above for himself and below for his servants (as a burial aisle) and that he shall uphold the whole aisle.(16)

[First moves toward building a new church]

1656 (29 May) Visitation of the church by the Presbytery of Haddington notes that the heritors being present consented and acknowledged the necessity of building a new church (at a better place than formerly).(17)

1656 (14 Oct) The minister convened with the heritors who asked for the designation of a place where a new kirk may be built and of a burial place thereof. They noted that the ‘old kirk is altogether ruinous and that the place where it was formerly situated is altogether very incommodious’.(18)

1657 (2 Apr) A warrant was read in the kirk session for receipt of £100 from the crown for help to build a new church.(19)

1657 (10 May) Kirk session receives an estimate for rebuilding of the old kirk with wood and slate, £160, for keeping the old church and making a way into it from the land through the high water, £200, for building of a new church, including stone carriage, sand, lime and new kirk yard dykes, £460.(20)

1657 (8 July) Heritors decide (having taken serious consideration) that the place of the old kirk was small, narrow and had problems with influxes of water. They decide to build a new church in a more convenient place and a new burial place also.(21)

1658 (30 Mar) The heritors with the elders think that the new kirk should be built in the form of a capital similar to the new kirk at Gladsmuir. The body lying east to west to be 70 foot by 80 feet within the walls, 22 feet in breadth with 4 doors and competent windows. Considering the pillars of the old church are now useless (and stone is hard to get), the minister is ordained to cast down the said pillars and make use of the stones.(22)

1658 (15 July) Visitation of the church notes that the building of the church has been impeded by a suit between the heritors over the location of the church and how it should be subsequently divided. (the presbytery orders a meeting to get an agreement).(23) 15 Sept a letter was received indicating that the laird of Bagoond (?) had yielded anent the location of the church of North Berwick and should be built in the place designated.(24)

1659 (24 May) It was noted in the presbytery record that the heritors of North Berwick had organised a stent for the perfecting of the fabric of the new church.(25)

1675 (12 Aug) Visitation of the church by the Presbytery of Haddington finds that the church stands in need of reparation, that the church bell is not hung and so is useless for this time.(26) Report of a subsequent meeting on 9 Nov 1675, Marquis of Douglas is the main heritor along with the lord of Smeaton. Workmen John Robertson, slater, Alex Ferguson, mason, Thomas Hogg, wright, report that that the church roof needs pointing at a cost of £57 13s 8d, and that the sum of £1000 scots needed to build a steeple for the bell. (money to be raised from a stent).(27)

#1770 [no kirk session or presbytery records have survived for that year]

1774 The Douglas family vault at the church (earls of Angus) was destroyed by a violent storm in that year.(28)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Henry B Hill): [No reference to church fabric]

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Robert Balfour Graham, 1835): ‘Near the harbour, on a small sandy eminence close to the shore, stands the remains of what is traditionally called the Auld Kirk…. The main entrance, a strong built archway, is still entire, and the font is still permitted to remain in its primeval state… The building is said by some to have been a chapel… would seem to have been the auld kirk of the parish’.(29)

‘The present church was erected in 1770, on the site of the old one said to have been built in 1670’.(30)

Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches (George Hay): 1664; enlarged 1770, now roofless, 1642 Monteith bell in present kirk.(31)

Notes

1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 157.

2. CPP, 508.

3. NRS Protocol Books: Robert Lawder, 3 Feb 1539/1540-14 Dec 1562, B56/1/1, fol. 16.

4. RMS, ii, no. 2068.

5. NRS GD1/413/9 Material relating to the parish: North Berwick, Oldhamstocks, Ormiston, Pencaitland, fol. 30.

6. RSS, ii, no. 579.

7. Fraser, The Douglas Book, iii, 165-166.

8. Fraser, The Douglas Book, iii, 165-166.

9. RSS, ii, no. 579.

10. NRS Protocol Books: Robert Lawder, 3 Feb 1539/1540-14 Dec 1562, B56/1/1, fol. 42.

11. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, pp, 147, 148, 166 & 167.

12. Donaldson,  Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices, 28.

13. Synod Records of Lothian and Tweeddale, p. 47.

14. NRS Presbytery of Haddington, Minutes, 1587-96, CH2/185/1, fol. 49.

15. NRS GD1/413/9 Material relating to the parish: North Berwick, Oldhamstocks, Ormiston, Pencaitland, fol. 32.

16. NRS GD1/413/9 Material relating to the parish: North Berwick, Oldhamstocks, Ormiston, Pencaitland, fol. 32.

17. NRS Presbytery of Haddington, Minutes, 1648-1661, CH2/185/6, fols. 270-271.

18. NRS North Berwick Kirk Session (transcript), 1608-1720, CH2/285/1, fols. 17-18.

19. NRS North Berwick Kirk Session (transcript), 1608-1720, CH2/285/1, fol. 18.

20. NRS North Berwick Kirk Session (transcript), 1608-1720, CH2/285/1, fol. 18.

21. NRS North Berwick Kirk Session (transcript), 1608-1720, CH2/285/1, fol. 19.

22. NRS North Berwick Kirk Session (transcript), 1608-1720, CH2/285/1, fol. 20.

23. NRS Presbytery of Haddington, Minutes, 1648-1661, CH2/185/6, fol. 319.

24. NRS Presbytery of Haddington, Minutes, 1648-1661, CH2/185/6, fol. 326.

25. NRS Presbytery of Haddington, Minutes, 1648-1661, CH2/185/6, fol. 340.

26. NRS Presbytery of Haddington, Minutes, 1662-1686, CH2/185/7, fols. 202-203.

27. NRS Presbytery of Haddington, Minutes, 1662-1686, CH2/185/7, fols. 206-207.

28. Fraser, The Douglas Book, i, 189-190.

29. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1835), ii, 328.

30. Ibid, 339.

31. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, pp. 174 & 255.

Bibliography

NRS Material relating to the parish: North Berwick, Oldhamstocks, Ormiston, Pencaitland, GD1/413/9.

NRS North Berwick Kirk Session (transcript), 1608-1720, CH2/285/1.

NRS Presbytery of Haddington, Minutes, 1587-96, CH2/185/1.

NRS Presbytery of Haddington, Minutes, 1648-1661, CH2/185/6.

NRS Protocol Books: Robert Lawder, 3 Feb 1539/1540-14 Dec 1562, B56/1/1.

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.

Donaldson, G., 1949, Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices, (Scottish History Society), Edinburgh.

Ecclesiastical Records. Selections  from the minutes of the Synod of Fife, 1611-87, 1837, ed. C. Baxter (Abbotsford Club), Edinburgh.

Fraser, W., 1885, The Douglas Book, 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.

Matthew Livingstone et al, ed. 1908-1982, Registrum Sectreti Sigilli Regum Scotorum  (HMGRH), Edinburgh.

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

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

Architectural description

A church at North Berwick may have been appropriated to North Berwick Cistercian Nunnery as early as around 1150 by Duncan, earl of Fife. The cure was served by a vicar by about 1274, but by around 1360 it had been appropriated along with the parsonage, and the cure was by then a vicarage pensioner.(1) Bishop David de Bernham carried out one of his dedications on 10 October 1242.(2)

The church was located on the promontory overlooking the harbour, a site subject to erosion, and by 1656 it was said to be in a state of ruination. It was therefore decided to build a new church on a site within the burgh in 1659, and that new building is dated 1660 at its south-east corner.(3) There was a major remodelling of the new church in 1770, when a western tower was added. That church is now itself a roofless shell, with parochial worship taking place in a church built to the designs of Sir Robert Rowand Anderson in 1882.

Until the mid-twentieth century, the only visibly upstanding fragment of the medieval church on the promontory was the barrel-vaulted south porch. This is a rubble-built single-storey structure of 5.8 metres from north to south and 5.5 metres from east to west, with a crow-stepped south gable, and with a buttress at the mid-point of its east and west walls. It is entered by a round-arched doorway framed by a heavy quirked roll moulding that points to a sixteenth-century date for the construction of the porch; the door into the church has been widened, but also appears to have been initially round-headed.

Excavations on the site of the church carried out by James S. Richardson in 1951, but unfortunately never fully published, suggested that there had been four principal phases of construction.(4) In the first phase the nave, tower and presbytery had been built; in the second phase the west tower was added; in the third phase aisles were added to north and south, with arcades on the line of the earlier walls; finally, the south porch was added.

Further investigations in 1999-2000, by Tom Addyman of Addyman and Kay, that were associated with the construction of the adjacent Scottish Seabird Centre broadly confirmed the sequence suggested by Richardson, but found evidence that the church had initially been of cruciform plan.(5) Further work by Addyman Associates in 2003-04, in the course of consolidating the excavated walls, suggested that Romanesque masonry had been re-used in building the north aisle.(6)

In addition to the south porch, there are now exposed lower walls or footings of the following parts of the building: the south wall and parts of the west and north walls of the west tower; parts of the south and west walls of the south nave aisle; the north and west walls of the north nave aisle; parts of the sleeper walls of the south and north nave arcades; the west and north walls of the north transeptal chapel. The sites of the chancel and of any southern transeptal chapel have been lost through erosion, and their presumed locations are beyond the present sea wall.

Insufficient survives of most of the excavated parts to be able to offer any architectural analysis with confidence. However, the walls of the north transeptal chapel have retained a carefully formed chamfered base course, and the surviving walls above that base course are of roughly squared grey masonry. The lowest courses of the west respond of the south nave arcade have also survived, and show that respond to have been of rectangular profile with chamfered arrises; it rises from a rectangular base with a heavy roll above a chamfer. To the west of that base is what appears to have been the bottom courses of the south-west corner of the initially unaisled nave before the addition of the south aisle and west tower; it has a narrow chamfered base course, but nothing of the wall it supported remains.

Of the internal arrangements, the only altar whose approximate location is known is the Lady Altar, which is referred to in 1531 as being in the south aisle.(7) The relatively better preserved state of the north transeptal chapel is presumably because it was taken over as a laird’s aisle by the earl of Angus in 1612.(8)

Notes

1. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 157.

2. A.O. Anderson, Early Sources of Scottish History, 1922, vol.2, 523.

3. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Inventory of East Lothian, 1924, p. 57.

4. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, CANMORE on-line resource.

5. Discovery and Excavation in Scotland (the journal of the Council for Scottish Archaeology), new ser. vol. 1, 2000, pp. 27-28; Thomas Addyman, Kenneth Macfadyen, Tanja Romankiewicz and Alasdair Ross, The Medieval Kirk, Cemetery, and Hospice at Kirk ness, North Berwick: the Scottish Seabird Centre Excavations 1999-2006, Oxford, 2013.

6. Discovery and Excavation in Scotland, new ser. vol. 5, 2004, p. 45-46; Thomas Addyman et al. 2013.

7. National Records of Scotland, GD1/413/9, fol. 30.

8. National Records of Scotland, GD1/413/9, fol. 32.

Map

Images

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

  • 1. North Berwick Church, porch

  • 2. North Berwick Church, arcade pier

  • 3. North Berwick Church, chapel

  • 4. North Berwick Church, monument base

  • 5. North Berwick later church, 1

  • 6. North Berwick later church, 2

  • 7. North Berwick later church, 3

  • 8. North Berwick later church, 4