Polwarth Parish Church

Polwarth Church, exterior, from south east

Summary description

Largely rebuilt in 1703, possibly incorporating the shell of the medieval church, with the addition of a north lateral aisle and a west tower; re-ordered in 1928. No longer in ecclesiastical use.

Historical outline

Dedication: St Mungo?

What appears to be the earliest surviving reference to the church of Polwarth is the record of its dedication, possibly to St Mungo,(1) by Bishop David de Bernham of St Andrews on 7 April 1242.(2)  It appears as an independent parsonage in the accounts of the papal tax-collector in Scotland in 1275, when its parson was noted as having paid 21s 4d in the second year of the tax.(3)  It remained an independent parsonage throughout the pre-Reformation period but only one named rector is known from surviving sources, James Simpson, who was recorded in 1539.(4)  At the Reformation it was noted that the church, which was valued at only £10 annually, was in the patronage of the Humes of Polwarth.(5)  In post-Reformation sources it emerges that the patronage was exercised alternately by the Humes of Polwarth, who held a moiety of the barony of Polwarth, and the Humes of Wedderburn, who held the other half.(6)

Notes

1. J M Mackinlay, Ancient Church Dedications in Scotland: Non-scriptural Dedications (Edinburgh, 1914), 182.

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

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), 56.

4. NRS Protocol Book of Edward Dickson, 1537-45, NP1/5B, fol. 16.

5. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 195.

6. See, for example, Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, vi, 1593-1608, ed J M Thomson (Edinburgh, 1890), nos 80, 618.

Summary of relevant documentation

Medieval

Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Listed as a parsonage in Bagimond’s Roll, the church remained unappropriated at the Reformation, the patronage being held by  the crown and the Humes of Polwarth(1) (see Registrum Secreti Sigilli Regum Scotorum, ii, 2466; Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, vi, 86).

Mackinlay notes that the church was dedicated to St Mungo.(2)

1539 (27 Mar) James Simpson, rector of the parish church of Polwarth, pursues some rents in Edinburgh.(3)

Post-medieval

Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church patronage with the Humes of Polwarth, value £10.(4)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of vicarage £3 6s 8d.(5)

1659 (11 Sept) Thomas Brown paid £4 for putting a sun dial upon the kirk.(6)

#1703 [Nothing in the Presbytery records anent the new church and the kirk session records have not survived for that period]

1708-1711 (Various) long term problem between the earl of Marchmont (the main heritor) and the congregation over the plantation of the church - the church remains vacant for some time.(7)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Robert Home, 1793): [Includes transcription of inscription on the old church](8)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Walter Home, 1834): ‘The church stands on the edge of a beautiful glade in the grounds of Marchmont House…. The church [from the inscription transcribed in OSA] to have been rebuilt upon the ancient foundation walls [in 1703], these bearing evident marks of a much greater age than the superstructure’.(9)

Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches (George Hay): 1703; interior recast 1928, 1717 Maxwell bell and 1715 mortbell. ‘T’ shaped church built in 1703 by Patrick Hume, later 1st earl Marchmont. The church is capped by a slated broad spire.(10)

Notes

1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 166.

2. Mackinlay, Non-Scriptural Dedications, p. 182.

3. NRS Prot Bk of Edward Dickson, 1537-45, NP1/5B, fol. 16.

4. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 195.

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

6. NRS Polwarth Kirk Session, 1652-1678, CH2/721/1, fol. 26.

7. NRS Presbytery of Duns, Minutes, 1707-1716, CH2/113/4, fol. 30.

8. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1793), xvii, 36.

9. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1834), ii, 232.

10. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, pp. 39, 61, 174 & 252.

Bibliography

NRS Polwarth Kirk Session, 1652-1678, CH2/721/1.

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

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, 1914, Ancient Church Dedications in Scotland. Non-Scriptural Dedications, Edinburgh.

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

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

Architectural description

The church remained an unappropriated parsonage throughout the middle ages, and by the sixteenth century the patronage alternated between the crown and the Homes of Polwarth.(1) There was one of Bishop David de Bernham’s dedications here on 7 April 1242.(2) An inscription above the blocked door at the centre of the south wall of the present church states that it had been repaired in about 1378 by John Sinclair of Herdmanston,(3) though the basis for that claim is uncertain.

Taking account of the later part of that inscription, most of what is now visible in the church can be attributed to a campaign for Patrick Hume, first earl of Marchmont, in 1703.(4) However, so far as the main body of the building is concerned, the New Statistical Account was almost certainly correct in saying that it was raised on the old foundations,(5) and it may be that some of the earlier fabric was also retained.

Hume certainly added the tower and incorporated the family burial vault below the east end of the building; it was in that vault that he had hidden in 1684 to avoid arrest following his implication in the Rye House plot. He probably also added the laterally projecting north aisle, which has volute skewputts of the same form as those to the gables of the main body of the church.

The building is of T-shaped plan, with the tower at the west end of the main body and the lateral aisle off the north flank.(6) The main body is an approximately oriented rectangle of 16.9 by 7.45 metres, dimensions that would be acceptable for a church of medieval origins.

The walls are harled with exposed red sandstone margins and dressings. There have been five doorways, one at the base of the tower, and three along the south flank, all with bolection-type mouldings; there has also been a door in the west face of the north aisle. The west doorway, which is the only one to remain unblocked, is round-headed, those along the south flank have rounded shoulders and an ogee flip.

There are heraldic panels on the west and south sides of the tower and carved shields below the volute skewputts at the four angles of the main body of the church. In addition to the inscription giving the history of the church, prominently framed Latin inscriptions with biblical texts are interspersed with the pointed windows along the south flank and on the flanks of the tower.

The tower rises through four storeys, with what may have been a vestry or minister’s room on the first floor. It is capped by a slated splay-foot spire with a chimney emerging through the east side.

Beneath the east end of the church, where the Marchmont family pew was located, is a burial vault. If, as seems likely, this is the vault where Patrick Hume took refuge, this would support the likelihood that the rectangular core of the church at least partly pre-dates the 1703 remodelling.

Internally the three arms of the church are covered by collar-beam roofs with ashlar struts and sole plates at the wall head; this is a common type of construction, albeit the timbers are more roughly finished than might be expected in a church of such high quality. This suggests that they were intended to be concealed above ceilings.

The interior was re-ordered in 1928 under the guidance of Sir Robert Lorimer, when a communion table was set up the east end. The rails of the Marchmont pew, with its closely spaced turned balusters and gate, were re-utilised as a communion rail.

The pews are of framed and panelled construction, some with raised and fielded panels. The pulpit valance was worked by Lady Grisell Baillie in 1703. The font, which appears to be medieval, has a simple cylindrical bowl.(7) It is said to have been rediscovered in the mid-1870s, and is now located in the base of the tower.

Notes

1. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 166.

2. Alan Orr Anderson, Early Sources of Scottish History, Edinburegh, 1922, vol. 2, p. 512.

3. A . dno . Johanne . de . sancto . claro . de . Herdmanston . Genero . dni . patricij . de . Poluarth . de . eodem . circa . annum . 1378 . reparatum.

4. Dni . patricij . Hume . comitis . de . Marchmont . etc . summi . scotiae . cancellarii . Et . dnae . Griselliae . Kar . comitissae . suae . sposae . Sepulchri . sacello . arcuate . recens . constructum . Et . camapanarum . obelisco . adauctam . fuit . Anno . domini . 1703.

5. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 2, p. 232

6. The following account is based on that in Kitty Cruft, John Dunbar and Richard Fawcett, The Buildings of Scotland, Borders, New Haven and London, 2006, pp. 637-38.

7. J. Russell Walker, ‘Scottish Baptismal Fonts’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 21, , 1886-7, p. 361.

Map

Images

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  • 1. Polwarth Church, exterior, from south east

  • 2. Polwarth Church, exterior, from north east

  • 3. Polwarth Church, exterior, from north west

  • 4. Polwarth Church, exterior, from south west

  • 5. Polwarth Church, exterior, heraldic tablet on south face tower

  • 6. Polwarth Church, exterior, heraldic tablet on west face tower

  • 7. Polwarth Church, exterior, inscribed tablet on south face tower

  • 8. Polwarth Church, exterior, inscribed tablet over east door

  • 9. Polwarth Church, exterior, inscribed tablet over middle door

  • 10. Polwarth Church, exterior, inscribed tablet over west door

  • 11. Polwarth Church, exterior, inscribed tablet to east of east door

  • 12. Polwarth Church, exterior, inscribed tablet to west of west door

  • 13. Polwarth Church, interior, burial vault

  • 14. Polwarth Church, interior, font

  • 15. Polwarth Church, interior, laird's aisle rails

  • 16. Polwarth Church, interior, looking north east

  • 17. Polwarth Church, interior, looking north west

  • 18. Polwarth Church, interior, pews

  • 19. Polwarth churchyard, gravestone,1

  • 20. Polwarth churchyard, gravestone, 2

  • 21. Polwarth churchyard, gravestone, 3