Stow / Wedale Parish Church

Stow Church, exterior, from south west

Summary description

The modified shell of a two-compartment medieval church to which a post-Reformation lateral south aisle was added. Abandoned after a new church was built on a different site in 1873-76.

Historical outline

Dedication: St Mary(1)

When the church of Stow, or Wedale as it was originally known, comes fully into the historical record early in the reign of King William, it appears that it possessed an extraordinary status beyond that of a mere parish church.(2)  Perhaps from as early as the end of the tenth century, there appears to have been an association between a religious establishment at Stow and the kindred of the MacDuff earls of Fife, an association possibly reflected in the styling of the incumbent of the church in later centuries as ‘the Black Priest of Wedale’, where the ‘Black’ is an Anglicisation of the Gaelic Dubh, the patronym in MacDuff.(3)  The nature of the establishment over which this man presided is unknown but twelfth-century evidence suggests that it was more than simply a parish church.  In 1165 x 1171, King William prohibited ‘the officers of the church of Wedale and those who guard the peace there’ from detaining the men of the abbot of Kelso who came into the church’s district with their cattle to seek sanctuary.(4)  It is possible that Stow had some monstic or minster-like status, possibly originating in the Northumbrian period, and possessed a protected sanctuary area or ‘girth’ policed by the ‘officers’ referred to in the royal prohibition.  The existence of such a sanctuary is supported by the naming of an ancient roadway that ran north-south through the royal forest between Lauderdale and Wedale in the direction of Soutra, north-east of Stow, as the ‘Girthgait’ or ‘Girthgate’.(5)  One priest, Gillis of Wedale (Gille-Iosa = ‘Servant of Jesus’) is named in 1170 and appears to have held possession down to the early thirteenth century, when Bishop William Malveisin of St Andrews (1202-1238) took control of the church.(6)

There seems to have been a close relationship with the church of St Andrews long pre-dating Malveisin’s takeover, reflected in the thirteenth-century reference in the Laws of the Marches to a probably tenth- or eleventh-century arrangement whereby the priest of Wedale was nominated to swear oaths on behalf of the the bishops of St Andrews.(7)  By at least the middle decades of the thirteenth century, perhaps as a result of Bishop Malveisin’s takeover of the church of wedale and its associated properties, the bishops of St Andrews possessed a substantial landed estate around Stow.(8) The bishops may also have taken over the former residence of the ‘Black Priest of Wedale’ but it was recorded that Bishop William Lamberton (1298-1328) was the builder of a manor house at Stow.(9)

Thirteenth-century records relating to the church rather than the lands are sparse.  It is listed in the Pontifical Offices of St Andrews as having been dedicated on 3 November 1242 by Bishop David de Bernham.(10)  The church appears as ‘the vicarage of Wedale’ in the accounts of the papal tax-collector in Scotland in 1275-6, when the vicar paid 40s in taxation and was noted as having two merks of arrears from the previous year of the tax-levy.(11)  In the surviving tax roll for the archdeaconry of Lothian from the early to mid 1290s it was noted that the church of Wedale pertained to the bishop of St Andrews, the parsonage presumably having been annexed to the episcopal mensa for some considerable period of time before 1275.(12)  In the same tax-roll the verus valor of the vicarage was given as £9 13s 4d, with the taxation set at 19s 4d.  The relative lowness of this figure suggests that the vicarage was pensionary.

There are sporadic surviving references to vicars in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. (13)  In the rental book of the archbishopric of St Andrews, the church of Stow was recorded in 1539 with a value of £133 6s 8d.(14)  This was the same figure recorded at the Reformation, when it was noted that the parsonage and vicarage were set at lease and that both pertained to the spirituality of the archbishopric, while the vicarage was recorded specifically as pensionary and valued at £10 plus lands to the value of £12 annually.(15)

Through most of these accounts the church itself is largely invisible.  It is only in the last twenty or so years before the Reformation that it emerges briefly as a target of investment, illustrating the continued commitment of the appropriator to his responsibilities as nominal parson.  In 1539 in the archiepiscopal rental book a disbursement of 20s was noted for ‘repairing the tiles of the choir of the church’, i.e. roof repairs.(16)  This may have been only an interim repair job, for in 1542 the same accounts record expenditure of £20 on roofing and tiles for the choir.(17)


1. The dedication is given in Chronicle of Melrose (facsimile edition), eds A O Anderson and M O Anderson et al (London, 1936), s.a.1184.

2. G W S Barrow, Kingdom of the Scots, 2nd edition (Edinburgh, 2003), 128.

3. A Woolf, From Pictland to Alba 789-1070 (Edinburgh, 2007), 234 and note 16.

4. Regesta Regum Scottorum, ii, The Acts of William I, ed G W S Barrow (Edinburgh, 1971), no.68.


6. Liber Sancte Marie de Melros (Bannatyne Club, 1837), nos 51, 52.  Geoffrey Barrow drew attention to the Latin marginal comment in the second facsimile reproduced in the preface to the Bannatyne Club edition which translates as ‘and it is known that Wedale at that time was not the bishop’s but Gillis of Wedale’s, to whom Bishop William Malveisin somehow succeeded’, Barrow, Kingdom of the Scots, 123 note 37.

7. Barrow, Kingdom of the Scots, 128.

8. For this estate and conflict with the monks of Melrose concerning its associated grazing rights, see Walter Bower, Scotichronicon, ed D E R Watt and others, v (Aberdeen, 1990), 371.  This dispute was certainly already active in the 1180s.  See Chronicle of Melrose, s.a.1184.

9. Walter Bower, Scotichronicon, ed D E R Watt and others, iii (Aberdeen, 1995), 401.  Excavations in 1984-5 at the so-called ‘Bishop’s House’ at Stow suggested that none of the upstanding fabric is earlier than the sixteenth century, A Cox, P Dixon, M Parker and others, ‘An excavation at the Bishop’s House, Stow, Scottish Borders’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 130 (2000), 677-704.

10. A O Anderson (ed), Early Sources of Scottish History, ii (Edinburgh, 1922), 523.

11. 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, 60.

12. The Correspondence, Inventories, Account Rolls and Law Proceedings of the Priory of Coldingham, ed J Raine (Surtees Society, 1841), cx.

13. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, iv, 1433-1447, eds A I Dunlop and D MacLauchlan (Glasgow, 1983), no.555; Protocol Book of Robert Wedderop, Lauder 1543-1553, eds T Maley and W Elliot (Selkirk, 1993), no.34.

14. Rentale Sancti Andree (Scottish History Society, 1913), 39-40 [hereafter St Andrews Rentale].

15. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 3, 120.

16. St Andrews Rentale, 71-2.

17. St Andrews Rentale, 139.

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: The church was annexed to the bishop of St Andrews by 1298. A vicarage had been erected by 1275. Parsonage and vicarage revenues were with the episcopal mensa of St Andrews and a vicar pensioner served the cure.(1)

1419 Case regarding the Bow House, certain piece of land in Stow parish, belonging to Melrose, who were in litigation with the bishops of St Andrews.(2)

1439 Robert Brechin resigned vicarage in favour of Alan Irvin (value £10).(3)

1539 The value of the vicarage of Stow in Weddall recorded as £133 6s 8d in the St Andrews rental book. The same account records 20s paid for mending the tiles of the choir of the church of Stow.(4)

1552 Vicarage held by David Hoppringall.(5)


Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage and vicarage with archbishops of St Andrews, set for £133 6s 8d. Vicar pensionary held by Thomas Godrell, £10 + land to the value of £12.(6)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of vicarage £7 6s 8d.(7)

1691 (19 Mar) Visitation of the church by the Presbytery of Lauder notes the ruinous condition of the church and manse. George Paterson and George Hard, wrights, Hugh Wilson, mason and wright, Thomas Murray, slater, report that the reparation of the church with its roof, windows, bellhouse, insufficient pulpit and outlying defects will cost 1200 marks. The heritors agree to be stented proportionally.(8)

1694 (16 May) Further note that a stent of £157 is required for works on the church and manse on top of the £800 already expended.(9)

1708 (4 Mar) Visitation of the church includes a report from Robert Lowry and Pringle, masons, James Donaldson and Clapperton, wrights, and Patrick Thomson, slater, on repairs required at the church. The slates for the roof cost £120 with £140 required for wright work.(10) 17 Jun 1708; the heritors sent a letter to the presbytery of Earlston who noted that beside the defects found in the recent visitation the heritors are of the opinion that ‘a great part of the south wall will be found so insufficient that it will be not prudent to hazard a new roof. Also considering the size of the church which is 24 foot wide, a great roof is thereby occasioned which shakes the walls and in a short time destroys the slatings, as is evident from experience from the many reparations of the last 30 years. They suggest a new modelling and building of the church may be best.(11)

1708 (15 July) Visitation of the church by the heritors and Presbytery to consider the previous discussion. A decision was taken to carry out an extensive remodelling of the church.(12)

1716 (21 Jun) Visitation of the church includes a report by Mungo Martin, slater, for repairing the roof of the choir. The heritors approve their report (no details).(13)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Robert Dawson, 1791): ‘The kirk, two years before that [1780] was repaired, plastered on the roof and walls, and everyway rendered decent and commodious’.(14)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev David Weddell, 1839 rev 1843): ‘The church must have been built at a very remote period, and long before the reformation of religion in the country. It has undergone various alteration as well as repairs’.(15)


1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 189.

2. CSSR, i, 23.

3. CSSR, iv, no. 555.

4. Rentale Sancti Andree, pp.39-40 & 71-72.

5. Protocol Book of Robert Wedderop, no. 34.

6. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 3 & 120.

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

8. NRS Presbytery of Lauder/Earlston, Minutes, 1691-1704, CH2/118/1, fol. 4.

9. NRS Presbytery of Lauder/Earlston, Minutes, 1691-1704, CH2/118/1, fols. 55-56.

10. NRS Presbytery of Lauder/Earlston, Minutes, 1704-1716, CH2/118/2, fols. 122-123.

11. NRS Presbytery of Lauder/Earlston, Minutes, 1704-1716, CH2/118/2, fol. 131.

12. NRS Presbytery of Lauder/Earlston, Minutes, 1704-1716, CH2/118/2, fols. 133-134.

13. NRS Presbytery of Lauder/Earlston, Minutes, 1704-1716, CH2/118/2, fols. 361-362.

14. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1791), vii, 134.

15. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1839 rev 1843), i, 424.


NRS Presbytery of Lauder/Earlston, Minutes, 1691-1704, CH2/118/1.

NRS Presbytery of Lauder/Earlston, Minutes, 1704-1716, CH2/118/2.

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1418-22, 1934, ed. E.R. Lindsay and A.I. Cameron, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh.

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1433-47, 1983, ed. A.I. Dunlop and D MacLauchlan, Glasgow.

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.

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

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

Protocol Book of Robert Wedderop, Lauder 1543-1553, 1993, eds. T. Maley & W. Elliot, Selkirk.

Rentale Sancti Andree, 1913, ed. R. Hannay (Scottish History Society), Edinburgh.

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

Architectural description

The church of this parish, which was earlier known as Wedale, may have been an early minster with a cult focused on an image of the Virgin that was believed to have been brought from Jerusalem by King Arthur.(1) The later name of Stow is said to mean ‘holy place’.

By at least the early thirteenth century the church was a possession of the bishops of St Andrews, who one of their residences to its south-east.(2) Although a vicarage had been erected before 1275, by the Reformation both the parsonage and vicarage were united to the archiepiscopal mensa.(3) Bishop David de Bernham carried out one of his dedications on 3 November 1242.(4)

Despite the fact that it is virtually complete to the wall head, because it has been modified on so many occasions, and is now in a derelict state following its abandonment in 1876, it is difficult to be certain of the sequence and nature of all the modifications the church has undergone. What is certain is that in its final state it was an oriented T-plan structure, with a rectangular lateral aisle projecting off its south face; but it seems likely that in its medieval state it was composed of two rectangular compartments, a nave and a chancel.

Amongst significant structural interventions that can be dated are the following. In 1539 the archbishop paid 20s for tiling the roof, presumably of the chancel.(5) Major works costed at 1200 marks were required in 1691, with a further £151 required three years later.(6) Several campaigns of repairs and changes were undertaken in the course of the eighteenth century.

It seems that extensive remodelling was called for in 1708, when it was said that the south wall was insufficiently strong to support a new roof, and this was agreed to in July of that year.(7)  The blocked round-arched north nave doorway has an inscription around its head of probably secondary insertion, which includes what appears to be the date 1714. There were repairs in 1780, when the walls and ceiling were plastered.(8) The weathervane on the square bellcote above the west gable was dated 1794,(9) though the belfry itself may be earlier than that, and the doorway to the east gallery is dated 1799.

The main areas of surviving medieval fabric appear to be in the western two-thirds of the north and south walls, which have large extents of cubical red sandstone masonry that could point to a date as early as the twelfth or thirteenth centuries. In addition, there are relics of what could be pilaster buttresses at the south-west corner of the nave and at what may have been the north-east corner of the nave.

The earlier post-Reformation modifications appear to have been consciously medievalising in spirit, perhaps in an attempt to ensure that they sat sympathetically with existing work that has since been lost. At the centre of the west front, the two-light upper window, which has unscusped loop tracery, and the round-arched south nave doorway with moulded imposts, could both on first sight be thought to be of around 1500 if it were not for their raised margins. Unfortunately, there is no record of the date of their insertion.

The most significant structural addition to the building is the rectangular two-storeyed laird’s aisle on the south side. The heavy roll moulding of the door in the east wall could on first sight point to a date in the later sixteenth century, and early views show that the west windows at its upper level were mullioned like the lower windows of the nave west wall. However, as with the south door and upper west window of the nave, the raised margin around the edge of the door probably indicates a rather later date. The loft at the upper level of the aisle was warmed by a fireplace in the south wall; this may have been recycled from elsewhere, since the jambs are inset from the returns of a roll moulding to the the lintel.

At some stage it seems that the eastern part of the building has been reconstructed. What appear to be vertical strips of pared-back masonry on each side, about one third of the way down the church from the east, suggest that a cross wall and chancel arch have been removed, while the thinner walls of the eastern part, together with the polished margins of the quoins and windows of that part, raise the likelihood that a medieval chancel has been completely replaced, presumably in order to create an expanded space more in keeping with the church’s reformed function as a preaching hall.

In the process of rebuilding the eastern limb some medieval masonry has been reutilised, and a small arch that could have been from the head of a piscina has been re-set within the lobby below the external stair to the east loft. The date of the chancel’s rebuilding is unknown. The date 1799 on the east door is unlikely to relate to the main operation, and it is perhaps more likely to have been part of the works documented in 1691-4 or 1708.

In its final state there were lofts at the east and west ends of the church, as well as in the laird’s aisle. There may also have been a south loft to the east of the laird’s aisle on the evidence of an elevated round-arched and roll-moulded doorway. The provision of an elevated door near the mid-point of the north aisle could also point to there having been a north loft, though the location of the laird’s aisle on the south side suggests it is perhaps more likely that the pulpit was on the north side and that the door gave access to it.

The church was replaced in 1873-6 by a fine new building designed by Wardrop and Reid at the south end of the village, on a terrace elevated above the A7 road.(10) With walls of pink coursed rock-faced stone and buff ashlar dressings, its planning and detailing show many similarities with the same architects’ earlier church at Ayton in its attempt to reconcile mid-thirteenth-century architectural style with Presbyterian needs.

Although this is not externally obvious, it is a T-plan structure, having an apsidal ‘chancel’ at the south end, a ‘transept’ on the west side, to which a gable and lower vestry block corresponds on the east side. To the north is a ‘nave’ with a single west aisle and an imposing steeple at its north end.

The tall three-storeyed tower is capped by a broached spire with pinnacles and gargoyles at the angles, and lucarnes on the cardinal faces; the second floor of the tower and the north gallery are reached by a circular stair turret on its west side. The tower houses a vestibule within its lowest storey, and there are further porches against the west side of the nave, the east side of the chancel, and in the angle between chancel and west transept, the last with an angled face.

Further incidental interest is provided by gabled windows at the north end of the nave to light the gallery. There are ambitious displays of geometric tracery in the chancel, transept and tower, and a rose window in the east gable.

As originally planned, the pulpit, communion table and organ were all against the east gable, with the three arms directed towards them, and with pews for the major families in the south apse and the west nave aisle. The pulpit and organ are still against the gable, but the communion table has been re-located on a platform below the ‘crossing’ to face down into the nave, and the chancel is now largely empty.

The spaces are covered by a ceiling of polygonal section with arched braces. The chief architectural detailing is in the two-arch arcade of the W nave aisle, carried on a cylindrical pier and responds with highly enriched crocket caps.


1. Geoffrey Barrow, The Kingdom of the Scots, London, 1973, p. 154.

2. Archaeological investigation of that residence in 1984 is discussed in: Adrian Cox, Piers Dixon and Michael Parker, ‘An Excavation at the Bishop’s House, Stow, Scottish Borders, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 130, 2000, pp. 677-704.

3. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 189.

4. Alan Orr Anderson, Early Sources of Scottish History, Edinburgh, 1922, vol. 2, p. 523.

5. Rentale Sancti Andree, ed. R. Hannay (Scottish History Society), 1913, pp. 71-72, 93, 96, 123; see also Margaret H.B. Sanderson, Cardinal of Scotland, David Beaton c1494-1546, Edinburgh, 1986, p. 125.

6. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Lauder/Earlston, Minutes, 1691-74, CH2/118/1 fols 4, 55-56.

7. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Lauder/Earlston, Minutes, 1691-74, CH2/118/1 fols 131-134..

8. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-99, vol. 7, p. 134.

9. David MacGibbon and Thomas Ross, The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Scotland, Edinburgh, vol. 3, 1897, pp. 611-13.

10. The account of the new church is based on that in Kitty Cruft, John Dunbar and Richard Fawcett, The Buildings of Scotland, Borders, New Haven and London, 2006, p. 708.



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

  • 1. Stow Church, exterior, from south west

  • 2. Stow Church, exterior, from north west

  • 3. Stow Church, exterior, west wall, from south west

  • 4. Stow Church, exterior, nave, from south west

  • 5. Stow Church, exterior, chancel and south aisle from south east

  • 6. Stow Church, exterior, chancel, south wall

  • 7. Stow Church, exterior, masonry at junction of chancel and south aisle

  • 8. Stow Church, exterior, nave, blocked north door

  • 9. Stow Church, exterior, nave, masonry at west end of south wall

  • 10. Stow Church, exterior, nave, south door

  • 11. Stow Church, exterior, north wall

  • 12. Stow Church, exterior, north wall, change of masonry at junction of nave and chancel

  • 13. Stow Church, exterior, west wall masonry

  • 14. Stow Church, exterior, west wall, upper window

  • 15. Stow Church, interior, east wall

  • 16. Stow Church, interior, looking east

  • 17. Stow Church, interior, looking into south aisle

  • 18. Stow Church, interior, looking west

  • 19. Stow Church, interior, masonry to east of south aisle

  • 20. Stow Church, interior, north wall, masonry scar at junction of nave and chancel

  • 21. Stow Church, interior, re-set aumbry below east stair

  • 22. Stow Church, plan (MacGibbon and Ross)

  • 23. Stow Church, view when in use

  • 24. Stow, later church, exterior, 1

  • 25. Stow, later church, exterior, 2

  • 26. Stow, later church, interior