Tranent Parish Church

Tranent Church, exterior, from south east, 1

Summary description

In its final medieval state this was a complex building that was partly vaulted and had a central tower. It was largely rebuilt in 1800, incorporating parts of the medieval fabric. Re-ordered in 1953.

Historical outline

Dedication: St German(1)

In around 1153, Thor, son of Swain, the sheriff of Lothian, granted the whole of his inherited interest in the church of Tranent to the canons of Holyrood.(2)  The main subject-matter of his gift appears to have been the right of patronage and presentation, but he granted away also all right which he had in the lands, pasturage rights and teinds.  Thor’s grant was confirmed by King Malcolm IV in 1153 x 1159, with reservation of a life interest in the church for the incumbent ‘chaplain’ Waleran, the Chronicle of Holyrood also recording that the king ‘gave’ the church of Tranent to the canons.(3)  Before 1159, Bishop Robert of St Andrews confirmed King Malcolm’s grant of the church, ruling that after Waleran’s death the canons would hold it free and quit of any obligation.(4)  Possession was further confirmed by papal bull of Alexander III in 1164 and general confirmation of the abbey’s lands and rights by Bishop Richard of St Andrews in 1165 x 1166.(5)  Probably around the same date and certainly before 1171, King William confirmed the canons’ possession of Tranent, first as part of a general confirmation of Holyrood’s possessions but more specifically in a separate charter which noted that his elder brother’s gift of the church had been to provide a source of revenue to pay for the clothing of the canons.(6)

Possession of the lordship of Tranent passed in the last quarter of the twelfth century into the hands of the de Quincy family.  The first de Quincy lord, Robert, confirmed the canons’ possession of the church and all things justly pertaining to it, renouncing for himself and his heirs any future interest or claim.(7)  Robert’s son, Saher de Quincy, earl of Winchester, confirmed this renunciation, which also received King William’s confirmation probably in 1208.(8)  The last of the de Quincy male line, Earl Roger, gave a further confirmation in 1250.(9)

Bishop David de Bernham reconfirmed his predecessors’ charters in favour of the canons in 1240.(10)  Four years later, on 11 April 1244, Bishop de Bernham also dedicated the church.(11)  After a further reconfirmation of the canons’ possession by Pope Innocent IV in 1247, in 1251 Bishop de Bernham instituted a vicarage settlement which confirmed the annexation of the parsonage to the abbey and the establishment of a vicarage with a stipend of £12 annually.(12)  It is as a vicarage that Tranent was recorded in the accounts of the papal tax-collector in Scotland for 1275-6.(13)  Probably from the thirteenth century but only recorded explicitly from the 1390s, the vicarage was regularly but not continuously being held by a canon of Holyrood.(14)  There were challenges to that arrangement here and others of Holyrood’s churches, which led ultimately to the canons securing King James III’s support for petitions to the pope in 1470 to end the intrusion of secular priests or regulars from other monasteries and to confirm Holyrood’s rights in Tranent and those other churches.(15)  Despite these confirmations of the canons’ interest in the vicarage perpetual it is unlikely that individual canons were often resident in their charge; in 1558 the church appears to have been served by a curate.(16)  At the Reformation the parsonage continued with Holyrood, set for £246 8s, with the vicarage held by John Rae valued at £38.(17)

The identification of the dedication of the church is provided in an indulgence granted in 1291 which gave remission of one year and 40 days for all those who visited the church of St German of Tranent on the feast of St German and the dedication of the church (11 April).(18)   There were additional altars in the parish church, perhaps indicating a significant level of local patronage from lay benefactors.  A chaplaincy of St Peter at Tranent is recorded in 1446 but it is unclear if this was located within the parish church or in an outlying chapel.(19)  Two subsidiary altars were certainly located in the church, both only appearing on record in the sixteenth century but clearly of earlier origin.  The first, recorded in 1521 was the altar of St Thomas, to which a gift of 15s was made by George Gibson to Nicholas Davidson, chaplain of the altar.(20)  The second altar, that of St Kentigern, is referred to in a testament drawn up before 2 July 1532, whereby Andrew Heriot of Trabroun specified that he was to be buried in the parish church before that altar, leaving 40s for the chaplain of the church to say masses.(21)  None of these chaplaincy or altars in mentioned at the time of the Reformation.

Notes

1. Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, i, 1198-1304, ed W H Bliss (London, 1893), 538 [hereafter CPL, i].

2. Liber Cartarum Sancte Crucis (Bannatyne Club, 1840), no.11 [hereafter Holyrood Liber].

3. Regesta Regum Scottorum, i, The Acts of Malcolm IV, ed G W S Barrow (Edinburgh, 1960), no.127; A Scottish Chronicle Known as the Chronicle of Holyrood, ed M O Anderson (Scottish History Society, 1938), 32.

4. Holyrood Liber, no.19.

5. Scotia Pontificia: Papal Letters to Scotland before the Pontificate of Innocent III, ed R Somerville (Oxford, 1982), no.53; Holyrood Liber, no.13.

6. Regesta Regum Scottorum, ii, The Acts of William I, ed G W S Barrow (Edinburgh, 1971), nos 39, 40 [hereafter RRS, ii].

7. Holyrood Liber, no.36.

8. Holyrood Liber, no.37; RRS, ii, no.479.

9. Holyrood Liber, no.79.

10. Holyrood Liber, no.76.

11. A O Anderson (ed), Early Sources of Scottish History, ii (Edinburgh, 1922), 525.

12. Holyrood Liber, no.75; Appendix, no.8.

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

14. See, for example, Calendar of Papal Letters to Scotland of Clement VII of Avignon 1378-1394, ed C Burns (Scottish History Society, 1976), 155-6; Calendar of Papal Letters to Scotland of Benedict XIII of Avignon 1394-1419, ed F McGurk (Scottish History Society, 1976), 198; Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Petitions to the Pope, ed W H Bliss (London, 1896), 618; Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, xi, 1455-1464, ed J A Twemlow (London, 1921), 566-567; Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, iv, 1433-1447, ed A I Dunlop and D MacLauchlan (Glasgow, 1983), no.1306 [hereafter CSSR, iv].

15. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, v, 1447-1471, eds J Kirk, R J Tanner and A I Dunlop (Glasgow, 1997), no.1454; Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, xii, 1458-1471, ed J A Twemlow (London, 1933), 735.

16. NRS Material relating to the parish: Tranent, Seton, Whitekirk, GD1/413/13.

17. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 91, 144.

18. CPL, i, 538.

19.CSSR, iv, no.1324.

20. Protocol Book of John Foular, 1514-28, iii, ed M Wood (Scottish Record Society, 1944), no.58.

21. NRS Edinburgh Commissary Court. Register of Testaments, 1515-1532, CC8/8/1A, fols 34-35.

Summary of relevant documentation

Medieval

Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: The church was granted to  Holyrood by Thor son of Swain c.1150. A vicarage settlement took place in 1251, but the vicaragewas frequently served by canons.(1)

1153x54 Church given to the abbey by Thor of Tranent, sheriff of Lothian, advowson and all other rights including teinds, lands and easements. (no mention of the rights of the incumbent priest Waleran).(2)

1154 Malcolm IV gives the church to the abbey, preserving a life rent for Waleran.(3)

1164 Chapel confirmed with 2 tofts by Alexander III.(4)

1165x66 Church included in confirmation by Richard, bishop of St Andrews of all the churches given to the abbey by David I, Malcolm IV and bishops Aernald and Robert of St Andrews.(5)

1165x71 Church confirmed to the abbey by William I as a gift by Malcolm IV for the canons clothing.(6)

1248 Church included in confirmation of possessions of the abbey by David de Bernham, bishop of St Andrews.(7)

1250 Charter by Roger de Quincy confirming the grant of the church to the abbey by a previous lord of Tranent.(8)

1251 Vicarage settlement by David de Bernham, bishop of St Andrews, parsonage with abbey, perpetual vicarage valued at £12.(9)

1268 Church included in confirmation of the possessions of the abbey in the diocese of St Andrews by Gameline, bishop of St Andrews.(10)

1291 Indulgence - 1 year and 40 days for those who visit the church of St German of Travenent on the feast of St Germain and the dedication of the church.(11)

1390-1409 John de Ballantyne (canon of Holyrood) holds perpetual vicarage.(12)

1409 On death of Ballantyne , John Bullock (canon of priory of St Andrews) provided to vicarage, value 60 marks; noted that cure was dependant on Holyrood and wont to be governed by a monk of that monastery.(13)

1446 Complaint by John Ker (canon of Holyrood) that a certain John Wedderspoon, perpetual vicar of Tranent caused him, when carrying certain papal letters in order that they might be executed, to be assaulted by certain laymen and imprisoned. Later when under sentence of excommunication Wedderspoon had continued to celebrate mass etc. A complaint by Ker accused Wedderspoon of being illiterate.(14)

1446 Supplication by Patrick de Bryemuth for the chaplaincy of St Peter, Tranent, value £20, vacant by the death of Thomas Penven.(15)

1470 James III petitions for a confirmation that no secular or regulars of any order should be allowed to obtain the parishes churches of Falkirk, Tranent, St Cuthbert’s, Kinghorn Easter, Kinniel and others which are wont to be held by the canons of Holyrood.(16)

1558 John Congilton described as curate of Tranent.(17)

Altars and chaplaincies

St Kentigern

b.1532 (2 Jul) Testament of Andrew Heriot of Traboun specifies that he is to be buried in the parish church of Tranent before the altar of St Kentigern , leaving 40s for the chaplain of the church to say masses.(18)

St Thomas

1521 15s gift by George Gibson to Nicholas Davidson, chaplain of the altar of St Thomas in the parish church of Tranent.(19)

Post-medieval

Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage with Holyrood set for £246 8s (+ £4 13s 4d and 33s 4d). Vicarage held by John Ra, valued at £38.(20)

[The parish of Seton was annexed to Tranent after the reformation, with the parish church located in Tranent]

1591 (7 Apr) Synod of Lothian and Tweedale orders the presbytery of Haddington to call to account persons keeping ‘supersitious days, playing on timbrellis and wechtis on the Saboth day, using commounlie playis at pasche and yool’ in the parishes of Aberlady, Tranent, Athelstaneford and Samilstoun (?).(21)

1593 (14 Feb) Visitation of the church by the Presbytery of Haddington finds that Lord Seton has yet to resort to the kirk. A visitation on the 14 March finds a further complaint from the minister that numerous houses within the parish still do not attend the church.(22)

1670 (1 Feb) Compt presented to the kirk session for the money paid by Sir Walter Seton for casting the bell of Tranent. The old bell weighed 553 pounds, the new one 502 pounds. The total cost for the new bell [initially in gilders, later in Scots pounds] was 203 marks. Letter from Archibald Wilson, merchant from Queensferry, confirms receipt of the money for the bell brought from Rotterdam.(23)

1671 (7 Feb) Noted in the kirk session that 3 lofts that are in the steeple, commonly called the bell lofts, are in need of reparation.(24)

1675 (24 June) Visitation of the church the Presbytery of Haddington, finds that a great deal of the poor money has been expended on the church, it is likeways found that the roof of the steeple stands in need of repair, also the church yard dykes [are in need of repair] and that the church bell is rent (meeting of the heritors appointed).(25)

1675  (19 Sept) Noted in session that Archibald Kilgour, the church wright, is dead; he is to be replaced by David Kello who will be paid the usual pension of 4 marks pa.(26)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Hugh Cunninghame, 1791): ‘the church is a very ancient, incommodious, and unhealthy fabric. The outward form resembles 3 oblong buildings, placed sideways, the middle being considerably larger at each end…..A square tower rises from the whole, supported by the side walls of the middle building and by two cross arches’.(27)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev John Henderson, 1839):‘The parish church has been rebuilt since the last statistical account, a new one having been erected in 1800’.(28) [no remains of the old one]

Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches (George Hay): 1800, incorporating medieval fragments; altered 1954.(29)

Notes

1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 200

2. Holyrood Liber, no. 11.

3. RRS, i, no. 127. (also recorded in the Holyrood Chronicle, p. 32.)

4. Scotia Pontifica, no. 53.

5. Holyrood Liber, no. 13.

6. RRS, ii, no. 39 & 40.

7. Holyrood Liber, no. 76.

8. Holyrood Liber, no. 79.

9. Holyrood Liber, no. 75.

10. Holyrood Liber, no. 77.

11. CPL, i,538.

12. CPL, Clem, 155-56.

13. CPL, Ben, 198, CPP, 618.

14. CPL, xi, 566-67, CSSR, iv, no. 1306

15. CSSR, iv, no. 1324.

16. CSSR, v, no1454, CPL, xii, 735.

17. NRS Material relating to the parish: Tranent, Seton, Whitekirk, GD1/413/13.

18. NRS Edinburgh Commissary Court. Register of Testaments, 1515-1532, CC8/8/1A, fols 34-35.

19. Prot Bk of John Foular, 1514-28, iii, no. 58.

20. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices,  91 & 144.

21. Synod Records of Lothian and Tweeddale, p. 27.

22. NRS Presbytery of Haddington, Minutes, 1587-96, CH2/185/1, fol. 74-75.

23. NRS Tranent Kirk Session, 1670-1680, CH2/357/2, fols. 5, 11 & 12.

24. NRS Tranent Kirk Session, 1670-1680, CH2/357/2, fol. 38.

25. NRS Presbytery of Haddington, Minutes, 1662-1686, CH2/185/7, fol. 197.

26. NRS Tranent Kirk Session, 1670-1680, CH2/357/2, fol. 135.

27. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1791), x, 88.

28. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1839), ii, 300.

29. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, p. 255.

Bibliography

NRS Edinburgh Commissary Court. Register of Testaments, 1515-1532, CC8/8/1A.

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

NRS Presbytery of Haddington, Minutes, 1662-1686, CH2/185/7.

NRS Tranent Kirk Session, 1670-1680, CH2/357/2.

Calendar of entries in the Papal registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland; Papal letters, 1893-, ed. W.H. Bliss, London.

Calendar of Papal letters to Scotland of Benedict XIII of Avignon, 1976, ed. F. McGurk, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh.

Calendar of Papal letters to Scotland of Clement VII of Avignon, 1976, ed. C. Burns, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh.

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., 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.

Liber Cartarum Sancte Crucis, 1840, ed. C. Innes, (Bannatyne Club), Edinburgh.

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

Protocol Book of John Foular, 1514-28, 1944, ed. M. Wood (Scottish record Society), Edinburgh.

Regesta Regum Scottorum, Acts of Malcolm IV (1153-65), 1960, Edinburgh, (RRS, I)

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

Scotia pontificia papal letters to Scotland before the Pontificate of Innocent III, 1982, ed. R. Somerville, Oxford.

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

Synod Records of Lothian and Tweeddale, 1589-1596, 1640-1649, 1977, ed. J. Kirk (Stair Society), Edinburgh.

Architectural description

In about 1150 the church of Tranent was granted to the Augustinian abbey of Holyrood by Thor, son of Swan. In 1251 there was a vicarage settlement, though it appears that the cure was frequently served by one of Holyrood’s canons,(1) one of whose grave slabs was found in the churchyard. Bishop David de Bernham carried out a dedication here on 11 April 1244.(2)

The church had a tower, within which there were eventually a number of post-Reformation lofts, because three of those, known as the ‘bell lofts’, required repair on 7 February 1671,(3) while on 24 June 1675 the steeple roof was in need of repair.(4) The tower was at the centre of the building according to the description in the Statistical Account.

That description, which is unusually full, describes the church in the following terms:

The church is a very ancient, incommodious and unhealthy fabric. No account of the antiquity is any where to be found; but most people skilled in architecture have little hesitation in pronouncing it 500 or 600 years old. The outward form resembles 3 oblong buildings, placed sideways, the middle being considerably longer at each end than the other two. The communication within is by arches of different forms and sizes. A square tower rises from the centre of the whole, supported by the side walls of the middle of the building, and by two cross arches. The roof is vaulted, and covered with stone. The windows are few and ill constructed; and, in a dark and gloomy day, serve only to make “darkness visible.” Either the church has originally been sunk below the surface of the ground, or the surrounding burying-ground has been much heightened by the immense number of bodies interred in it; for the access to the pulpit is by a descent of 4 steps from the churchyard.(5

This suggests that the church was an unusually ambitious building with a central tower, which was at least partly stone-vaulted.

Views of the church that claim to show it before rebuilding vary considerably, with some probably being largely unreliable. One view from the south east that accords relatively closely with the description in the Statistical Account shows a chancel and nave of similar lengths on each side of a central tower, and with a parallel south aisle running alongside the eastern part of the nave, the tower and the western part of the chancel. The exposed parts of the nave and chancel are depicted as being supported by buttresses, and there appear to be stone-flagged roofs over nave, chancel and south aisle, suggesting that there were barrel vaults internally.

The church in that form did not long survive the entry in the Statistical Account, because it was largely rebuilt in 1800 in the form of a wide rectangle with a slender eastern tower;(6) the new building was the work of John Simpson. Close inspection makes clear that the new church was built at least partly on the footprint of the medieval building, and that it incorporated portions of the medieval fabric. Later medieval masonry in the lower wall along the south side was exposed in 1911;(7) it incorporates the three lowest courses of a narrow medieval door, with jambs that are moulded with a filleted roll flanked by a segmental hollow on the wall face.

At the western end on the north side there is a pair of buttresses likely to be of medieval date, which were perhaps required to support the vaulting, and which are similar to those shown on early views on the south side. To the east of those buttresses is what appears to be the lower courses of a chamfered door jamb.  The roofless shell of the aisle of the Cadells of Cockenzie is towards the eastern end on the north side of the church, and is presumably part of the lateral projection referred to in the Statistical Account. It has a blocked two-light window with arched heads within a segmental rear-arch, which could be late medieval, though an early post-Reformation date is perhaps more likely. The aisle has been doubled in length towards the west at some stage.  

On balance, what appears likely to have happened in 1800 is that the new church embodied the lower courses of the south wall of the south aisle, and part of the north wall of the nave, which together gave the new church the required width for reformed worship. Much of the rest of the north wall also appears to have been retained from the previous church, though it was evidently largely the result of post medieval rebuilding. A number of blocked openings, including rectangular windows, remain visible. The blocked windows to the east of the buttressed section are at two levels, indicating that they were associated with an internal gallery.

If this interpretation of the evidence is correct, it therefore appears likely that the west end of the nave and the east end of the chancel were truncated, and the central tower replaced by a new tower at the east end of the remodelled building. The greatest architectural emphasis in the new building is on the newly formed south face, which has raised quoins and four arched windows framed by margins with block keystones and imposts.

A ledger slab for Alexander Crawford, who died in 1489, was found in the churchyard to the south of the church in 1911.(8) He was a priest of Tranent and clerk of the Chapel Royal, which was housed in Holyrood Abbey. There is also a broken cross-incised ledger slab, with the cross rising from a triangular base rather than the more usual stepped base. 

The church was remodelled and internally re-ordered by Leslie Graham Thomson in 1953.(9) A porch and vestry have been added in the re-entrant angles against the south and north sides of the tower respectively. Above the porch door is a panel with the arms of Fawside, which in 1912 was said to be built into the north wall of the church.(10)

Notes

1. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 200.

2. Alan Orr Anderson, Early Sources of Scottish History, Edinburgh, 1922, vol. 2, p. 525

3. National Records of Scotland, Tranent Kirk Session, 1670-80, CH2/357/2, fol. 38.

4. National Records of Scotland, Tranent Kirk Session, 1670-80, CH2/357/2, fol. 197.

5. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, vol. 10, p. 88.

6. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 2, p. 300.

7. Alan Reid, ‘Recent Discoveries in Tranent Churchyard’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 46, 1911-12, pp. 139-50, at pp. 139-40.

8. Reid, 1911-12, pp. 141-42; Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Inventory of East Lothian, Edinburgh, 1924, p. 114.

9. Colin McWilliam, The Buildings of Scotland, Lothian, Harmondsworth, 1978, pp. 451-52.

10. Alan Reid, ‘Tranent Churchyard’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 45, 1910-1, pp. 117-52, at pp. 119-20.

Map

Images

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  • 1. Tranent Church, exterior, from south east, 1

  • 2. Tranent Church, exterior, from south east, 2

  • 3. Tranent Church, exterior, from south west

  • 4. Tranent Church, exterior, south wall, early work in lower courses

  • 5. Tranent Church, exterior, south wall, blocked door

  • 6. Tranent churchyard, table tomb, 1

  • 7. Tranent churchyard, table tomb, 2

  • 8. Tranent churchyard, memorial, 1

  • 9. Tranent churchyard, memorial, 2

  • 10. Tranent churchyard, memorial, 3

  • 11. Tranent Church, exterior, north wall, west part

  • 12. Tranent Church, interior, north aisle

  • 13. Tranent Church, exterior, north wall, buttresses at west end

  • 14. Tranent Church, exterior, north wall, blocked door, 1

  • 15. Tranent Church, exterior, north wall, blocked door, 2

  • 16. Tranent Church, exterior, north aisle, blocked windows

  • 17. Tranent Church, exterior, north aisle, from north east

  • 18. Tranent Church, exterior, armorial plaque on south-east porch

  • 19. Tranent churchyard, cross-incised ledger slab

  • 20. Tranent Church, rubbing of details of grave slab of Alexander Crawford (Proc. Soc. Antiq. Scot.)

  • 21. Tranent Church, pre 1800