Stichill Parish Church

Stichill Church, exterior, from south east

Summary description

Rebuilt in 1770, possibly on the site of its predecessor; a burial enclosure of 1783 at the east end may be on the site of the chancel. Restored in 1905.

Historical outline

Dedication: unknown

In origin, Stichill was a dependent chapel of the parish church of Ednam and passed with it into the hands of the monks of Durham at the beginning of the twelfth century.  The teinds of the church and chapel were assigned for the support of Durham’s cell at Coldingham and continued to be diverted to that use into the fifteenth century.(1)  Although Stichill was still being described as a chapel in 1235, a vicarage had been instituted before 1232, and on 30 March 1242 it was as a church that it was dedicated by Bishop David de Bernham; it seems that in the course of the thirteenth century Stichill acquired full parochial status.(2)  Certainly, in the tax-roll of the 1290s, Stichill is labelled as a full church, valued at £26 13s 4d annually, with the vicarage given a verus valor of £10 and a taxation figue of 20s.

Through the long controversy over control of Coldingham and its Scottish properties which commenced in 1378,(3) Stichill was regularly confirmed as an appropriated church in the priory’s possession.  Following the decision of those who controlled the government of the under age King James II to admit an English prior in 1442, in December 1444 Coldingham’s mother-house at Durham secured a confirmation of all of its Scottish properties from Pope Eugenius IV, the church of Stichill being amongst the churches recorded as appropriated to the cathedral-priory.(4)  When James III in 1473 began an effort to convert Coldingham into a collegiate church as a Chapel Royal, the majority of the priory’s possessions were intended to become the source of revenue to support the prebends in the new institution.(5)  Named vicars perpetual are on record only from the 1430s but, amidst this protracted period of dispute, questions of rights of presentation and uncertainty over collation led to supplications to Rome and occasional litigation over provision.(6)  This was most evident in 1484 when, following the death of the vicar, Andrew Pringle, one ‘Girardus Hown’ (Hume?) was presented to the vicarage by the dean of James III’s Chapel Royal of Coldingham), but Archbishop Scheves of St Andrews refused to institute him.(7)  Although James III’s planned Chapel Royal effectively ended with his death in 1488, disputes over control rumbled on for a further two decades, with James IV in 1509 finally securing papal agreement for its annexation to Dunfermline Abbey and the confirmation to the abbey of all of Durham’s Scottish properties.

Little else is known of Stichill prior to the Reformation.  It was one of twenty-two churches identified in 1555-6 by the Dean of Christianity of the Merse as being in poor physical condition and with inadequate furnishings and equipment.  The deficiency was regarded as being as much a result of the neglect of local laymen as the failure of the appropriators to fulful their obligations for proper maintenance.  Archbishop John Hamilton instructed the dean to investigate further and take necessary steps to remedy the deficiencies.(8)  It is unlikely that any programme of repairs and refurnishing had advanced far before the upheaval of the Reformation struck.

At the Reformation it was recorded that the annexation of Stichill to Coldingham was still effective.  The paronage was recorded as annexed to the priory but set for £40 annually.  The vicarage, which was in the hands of Patrick Cockburn, was valued at £10 annually.(9)


1. The Correspondence, Inventories, Account Rolls and Law Proceedings of the Priory of Coldingham, ed J Raine (Surtees Society, 1841), 27, 241; Appendix vii, xlii [hereafter Coldingham Correspondence].

2. A I Dunlop (ed), ‘Bagimond’s Roll: Statement of the Tenths of the Kingdom of Scotland’, Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, vi (1939), 59; A O Anderson (ed), Early Sources of Scottish History, ii (Edinburgh, 1922), 521 [Pontifical offices of St Andrews]; Coldingham Correspondence, 241 and Appendix, cx, cxiii; J Raine (ed), History and Antiquities of North Durham (London, 1852), Appendix, no.dcl.

3. I B Cowan and D E Easson, Medieval Religious Houses: Scotland, 2nd edition (London, 1976), 56-7.

4. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, iv, 1433-1447, eds A I Dunlop and D MacLauchlan (Glasgow, 1983), no.1111 [hereafter CSSR, iv].

5. Cowan and Easson, Medieval Religious Houses: Scotland, 57; N A T Macdougall, ‘The Struggle for the Priory of Coldingham’, Innes Review, xxiii (1972), 102-114.

6.CSSR, iv, nos 118, 267, 956; Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, v, 1447-1471, eds J Kirk, R J Tanner and A I Dunlop (Glasgow, 1997), nos 666, 797; Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, xiii, 1471-1484, ed J A Twemlow (London, 1955), 192-3 [hereafter CPL, xiii].

7. CPL, xiii, 192-3.

8. NRS Miscellaneous Ecclesiastical Records, CH8/16.

9. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 195, 200, 204.

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: In origin a chapel of Ednam, the church was granted to Durham c.1107. A vicarage was erected in 1232, attaining full parochial status in the 13th century.(1)

1434-36 Thomas Mure accuses Robert Lauder of detaining perpetual vicarage for 2 years without becoming a priest (value £10).(2)

1443 William Turnbull holds the vicarage (value 20 marks).(3)

1444  (Dec) Pope Eugene IV issues a confirmation of the possession of Durham in Scotland, including the churches of Ayton (chapel), Swinton, Ednam, Stitchel, Old Cambus, Lamberton, Berwick, Fishwick, Edrom and Earlston.(4)

1457 Thomas Thorburn is dead, John Rapelaw (MA) provided, (value now £8).

1460 Reference to an earlier rector Thomas Kirkpatrick [same as above?] who had been dispensed for illegitimacy.(5)

1484 Andrew Pringle dead, Girardus Hown presented by the dean of the chapel of James III (Coldingham), that church having been united to that monastery, however, the bishop of St Andrews refused to institute him.(6)

1556 (9 April) Parish church is one of 22 from the Merse specifically mentioned in two letters [the 1555 letter does not have a specific date; McRoberts suggests August] from John Hamilton, archbishop of St Andrews (1547-1571) to the Dean of Christianity of the Merse. Hamilton states that ‘a great many of the parish churches are - their choirs as well as naves - wholly thrown down and as it were levelled to the ground; others were partly ruinous or threatening collapse in respect of their walls and roofs; they were without glazed windows and without a baptismal font and had no vestments for the high altars and no missals or manuals…. The fault and shortcomings belong to the parishioners as well as to the parsons’. The dean was instructed to investigate the fruits, garbal teinds and other rights of the said churches.(7)


Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage held by Coldingham, set for £40. Vicarage held by Patrick Cockburn, set for £10.(8)

[The parishes of Hume and Stitchel were united after the Reformation (before 11 May 1611) with the parish church located at Stitchel]

1770 (24 May) Extensive discussions in the presbytery minutes anent the minsters glebe which partly lies in an area enclosed by the earl of Marchmont. No references to the church [possibly suggests it has been built?].(9)

[No other references to the building work in the presbytery records and the kirk session records have not survived]

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Andrew Scott): [No reference to church buildings in either parish]

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Peter Buchanan, 1839): ‘The church stands in the village of Stitchel…and it is at present in excellent repair’.(10)

[No reference to date of church of Stitchel or to any remains in the former parish of Hume]

Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches (George Hay): c.1770; refurnished, 1632 Burgerhuys bell.(11)


1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 188.

2. CSSR, iv, nos. 118 & 267.

3. CSSR, iv, no. 956.

4. CSSR, iv, no.1111.

5. CSSR, v, no. 797.

6. CPL, xiii, 192-93.

7. NRS Miscellaneous Ecclesiastical Records, CH8/16. Noted in Donaldson, Scottish Reformation, p. 23 and McRoberts, ‘Material destruction caused by the Scottish Reformation’, 427.

8. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 195, 200 & 204.

9. NRS Presbytery of Kelso, Minutes, 1766-1800, CH2/1550/2, fols 91-94.

10. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1839), iii, 458.

11. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, p. 274.


NRS Miscellaneous Ecclesiastical Records, CH8/16.

NRS Presbytery of Kelso, Minutes, 1766-1800, CH2/1550/2.

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., 1960, The Scottish Reformation, Cambridge.

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.

McRoberts, D., 1962., ‘Material destruction caused by the Scottish Reformation’, in D. McRoberts, Essays on the Scottish Reformation, 1513-1625, Glasgow.

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

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

Architecural description

The church of Stichill originated as a chapel of Ednam, and with that church it was granted to the Benedictine cathedral priory of Durham in about 1105. By around 1150 the revenues had been allocated to Durham’s daughter house of Coldingham Priory. It appears to have attained parochial status during the course of the thirteenth century, with the parsonage annexed to Coldingham and the cure a vicarage perpetual.(1) Bishop David de Bernham carried out one of his dedications here on 30 March 1242.(2)

In a letter of 9 April 1556 from Archbishop John Hamilton, it was said to be one of 22 churches in the Merse that were in bad structural condition,(3) presumably at least partly as a result of the wars with England. After the Reformation, in about 1640, the parish was united with that of Hume,(4) following which the church at the latter was abandoned.

The present church is thought to have been built in about 1770, but its alignment on an east-west axis suggests the medieval plan could have partly conditioned the existing structure. At the east end is the burial enclosure of the Pringles of Stichill, which has the date 1783 on the semi-circular pediment above the entrance. Its east wall appears, however, to rest on an old foundation, and on that basis, it is a possibility that the enclosure is on the site of the medieval chancel.

As it now stands, the church consists of an elongated rectangular main body constructed of whinstone rubble with ashlar dressings. A small sanctuary at the west end, with a north vestry, was added in 1905 by J.P. Alison of Hawick. A forestair runs up the north side of the Pringle enclosure to a porch at the east end of the north wall which gives access to the east loft. The original access to that loft was evidently a doorway in the east wall athat can be seen from within the Pringle enclosure.

The south flank of the church has four evenly-spaced round-headed windows with impost and keystone blocks, and the entrance is at the east end of that wall. The north flank has only two widely spaced windows, which serves as a reminder of the earlier location of the pulpit against the centre of this wall. Above the west gable is a small ogee-capped birdcage bellcote. The sanctuary of 1905 has a Serlian window through its west wall.

Internally there is a marked contrast between the expansive openness of the main body and the more compressed space of the chancel, though what unifies the two spaces is the high quality fixtures and furnishings provided as part of the 1905 re-ordering by Alison, all in a carefully detailed classical Arts and Crafts idiom. The roof over the main body has two levels of collars connected by king and queen posts that are treated as Tuscan piers and surmounted by arches, with pendants below; the chancel roof is covered by a ciborium-like barrel ceiling.


1. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 188.

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

3. National Records of Scotland, Miscellaneous Ecclesiastical records, CH8/16.

4. Francis H. Groome, Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, Edinburgh, vol. 6., 1885.



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

  • 1. Stichill Church, exterior, from south east

  • 2. Stichill Church, exterior, from north east

  • 3. Stichill Church, exterior, Pringle enclosure, armorial tablet

  • 4. Stichill Church, exterior, Pringle enclosure and east wall of church

  • 5. Stichill Church, exterior, Pringle enclosure, armorial tablet

  • 6. Stichill Church, exterior, Pringle enclosure, pediment over entrance

  • 7. Stichill churchyard, monument, 1

  • 8. Stichill churchyard, monument, 2

  • 9. Stichill Church, interior, looking east

  • 10. Stichill Church, interior, looking west