Uphall / Strathbrock Parish Church

Uphall Church, exterior, from south east

Summary description

A modified mid-twelfth-century three-compartment church, with a west tower; the chancel was extended in about 1200. Aisles were added in about 1620 (on the south side of the nave) and in the eighteenth century (on the north side of the nave). The latter was replaced by a larger aisle in 1878. Restored in 1937.

Historical outline

Dedication: St Nicholas

There appear to be no surviving references to the church of Strathbrock or Uphall, dedicated to St Nicholas,(1) before the thirteenth century.  It occurs in the accounts of the papal tax-collector in Scotland in the 1270s as a free parsonage, yielding taxation of 2 merks 8s.(2)  Rectors are recorded by name from 1325 onwards.(3)  Strathbrock’s independence was first threatened in 1430 when King James I proposed that it should be annexed to his planned collegiate church at Linlithgow, but this scheme came to nothing on account of the king’s assassination in 1437.(4)

Even before James I’s death the independence of the church had been lost.  In 1435/6 Bishop Henry Wardlaw of St Andrews annexed the church, then described as vacant, to a prebend in the collegiate church of St Mary on the Rock at St Andrews, the annexation allegedly having been made with the consent of the lay patron. Papal confirmation of the annexation,which was described as having been made ‘lately’, was received on 25 March 1437, the provision to the prebend of John Borthwick being confirmed at the same time.(5)  Patronage of the church was, however, in dispute at this time between the Sutherlands of Duffus and the Keiths of Inverugie, who were portioners of the inheritance of the Murrays of Duffus, which probably indicates that the patronage rights had been held by the heirs of Freskin of Moray, who had held the lordship of Strathbrock in the second quarter of the twelfth century.  In 1448 Alexander Sutherland claimed the right of presentation and advanced one George of Brechin to the benefice.(6

The benefice had again fallen vacant by 1462 and on 3 June 1462 a supplication for confirmation of provision was made to the pope by James Lindsay, precentor of Moray.  In this supplication, Lindsay stated that he had been presented by Gilbert Keith, ‘lord of Inverugie, knight, patron of the prebend and in peaceable possession, or nearly so, of the right of patronage’, to the bishop of St Andrews for confirmation and institution.  The bishop, however, had refused to do so for unstated reasons, whereupon James supplicated the pope to recognise Keith’s right of patronage and provide him to the canonry and prebend, which were valued at £24 sterling.(7)  It is clear that Lindsay was being economical with the truth, for a second supplication dated 27 July 1462 reveals that the Keith-Sutherland dispute was still unresolved.(8)  This appeal stated that on the vacancy of the canonry and prebend which had arisen, Gilbert Keith, who was described as lay patron of the same, had presented James Lindsay to the bishop of St Andrews.  A question over the right of patronage had immediately arisen between Keith and Alexander Sutherland of Duffus, ‘alleged patron of the canonry and prebend’, who made a rival presentation of the benefice to one William Gordon.  This had resulted in litigation, as a result of which the bishop pronounced Gilbert to be true patron, which triggered an immediate appeal by Sutherland.  Probably because of that appeal, the bishop refused to institute Lindsay, which had led to Lindsay’s suit in Rome.  Lindsay’s appeal succeeded and he was provided to the canonry and prebend, which he then held for over twenty-five years.

On Lindsay’s death in 1489 it was made clear immediately that the conflict over patronage had not been resolved in 1462.  William Sutherland, presumably a kinsman of the Keiths’ rival for the right of patronage, complained to the pope that he had been rightfully presented by Alexander Sutherland as the prebend was in the alternating patronage of the Sutherland and Keith families, but that one Alexander Keith, presumably a member of that kin, had been intruded by the other patron.  A counter-complaint was made the same year by Alexander Keith, who disputed Sutherland’s rights in the patronage of the church.(9)  There is no evidence that the issue was brought to a definitive conclusion following these two appeals.

The Sutherlands appear to have been successful in securing their right to present in a subsequent vacancy, for in 1524 the rector of the church was named as Master John Dingwall, archdeacon of Caithness and also sub-chanter of Moray, that benefice possibly linking him to the Sutherland lords of Duffus.  Dingwall was a significant patron of his nominal parish church, a Great Seal charter of 19 November 1524 confirming at mortmain a charter of 10 November by him, made for the soul’s weal of Andrew, bishop of Caithness and commendator of Kelso and Fearn,in which he granted in pure alms to the rector of Strathbrock and his successors, his manse, orchard and garden, called the principal messuage and manse of Wester Strathbrock.  This property was to be held for suffrages in the church of Strathbrock and the nearby chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Kirkhill.(10)

At the Reformation, the annexation to St Mary on the Rock remained in force with both parsonage and vicarage united to the prebend there and the cure at Strathbrock served by a vicar pensioner.  The parsonage, which pertained to Robert Pitcairn, was valued at £200 annually.  The vicarage, held by Patrick Ogstoun, was valued at only £20.(11)


1. J M Mackinlay, Ancient Church Dedications in Scotland. Non-Scriptural Dedications (Edinburgh, 1914), 435.  The building bore an inscription confirming that dedication.

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), 34.

3. Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, ii, 1305-1342, ed W H Bliss (London, 1895), 243, 363; Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Petitions to the Pope, ed W H Bliss (London, 1896), 300, 574, 627.

4. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, iii, 1428-32, 1970, eds A I Dunlop; and I B Cowan (Scottish History Society, 1970), 140.

5. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, iv, 1433-1447, eds A I Dunlop and D MacLauchlan (Glasgow, 1983), no.361.

6. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, v, 1447-1471, eds J Kirk, R J Tanner and A I Dunlop (Glasgow, 1997), no. 914 [hereafter CSSR, v]; Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, x, 1447-1455, ed J A Twemlow (London, 1915), 406.

7.CSSR, v, 1447-1471, no.914.

8.CSSR, v, 1447-1471, no.919.

9. Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, xiv, 1484-1492, ed J A Twemlow (London, 1960), 264-5, 272.

10. Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, iii, 1513-1546, eds J B Paul and J M Thomson (Edinburgh, 1883), no.281.

11. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 152, 153.

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: The church was erected into a prebend of St Mary on the Rock in 1435/6, with the consent of the lay patron, Lord of Inverugie (modern day St Fergus, Aberdeen?). The cure was served by a vicar pensioner.(1)

Mackinlay notes that the church was dedicated to St Nicholas and bears a description noting the dedication.(2)

1325 Richard de Eglisham, who has lost half his index finger of his right hand in defending a fellow student at Paris, dispensed to retain his rectory of Strathbrock. Succeeded in 1331 by Malcolm of Innerpeffry (MA).(3)

1389-1414 John Forrester (MA form Paris and envoy to the curia for Robert III) holds the rectory.(4)

1430 Proposed annexation of the church to Linlithgow college; falls through with death of James I.(5)

1432-36 Litigation between John Benning (rector of Linlithgow), William Middleton and Gilbert Forrester over church; Gilbert in possession.(6)

1437 Church, described as currently vacant and in lay patronage, erected into a prebend of the Chapel Royal at St Andrews with John Borthwick (MA) provided to the church.(7)

1448 Borthwick dead, George Brechin provided; presented by Alexander de Sutherland who claims right.(8)

1462 On death of rector George Crichton (same as above?) Gilbert Keith, lord of Inverugie and patron of the prebend, presented James Lindsay, but the bishop of St Andrews refused to institute him. Further litigation the same year between Keith and Alexander Sutherland of Duffus who also claimed to be patron and presented William Gordon to the church (bishop also refused to institute him). Bishop of St Andrews ruled in favour of Keith; Lindsay holds prebend until his death in1489.(9)

1489 Conflict over patronage continues on death of Lindsay; complaint by William Sutherland that he had been rightfully presented by Alexander Sutherland, the prebend being in the alternate patronage of Sutherland and Keith, but that Alexander Keith had intruded having been presented by the other patron. Further complaint the same year by Alexander who disputed Sutherland’s claim to patronage of the church.(10) [not clearly resolved in 1489]

1508 & 1513 Vicar is Walter Gudland; deals done in parish church.(11)

1522-23 Discharges (3) by Mr Andrew Keicht, canon of Aberdeen and parson of Strabrok, to Mr Gilbert Strauhauchin, canon of Aberdeen and farmer of the said parsonage, of payment of the fruits thereof.(12) [possibly not the same church; Aberdeen connection dubious]

1537 William Meldrum, vicar of Strabrock made clerk of the Sovereign Lord’s closet , £40 pa pension (see Registrum Secreti Sigilli Regum Scotorum,1, 2236).(13)

1553 David Bonar, rector of Strathbrok, appears in a charter with Perth Carthusians.(14)


Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage set for £200, held by Robert Pitcarrie. Vicarage held by Patrick Ogstoun, valued at £20.(15)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of vicarage £6 13s 4d. Third of parsonage £66 13s 4d.(16)

1611 (1 July) Visitation of the church orders the Goodmen of Uphall and James Rennal to remove’ their deskis’ that stands before the Goodman of Houston’s Aisle.(17)

1630 (6 May) Visitation of the church by the Presbytery of Linlithgow finds the minister (Alex Keith) to be competent, but the choir is found not to be watertight; the kirk dykes are also found to be in disrepair. The visitors also found that burial sometimes takes place in the church (the kirk session are ordained to organise the repairs).(18)

Statistical Account of Scotland : [No reference to church fabric]

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev George Boag, 1843): ‘The church bears all the marks of being erected before the Reformation. It is far from being commodious and is too small… The bell still in use is that brought from the steeple of the old church [presumably knocked down but not mentioned] and bears the date 1441 (inscription reads Campanum Sancti Nicholai de Strathbroke).(19)

Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches (George Hay): Small kirk adapted for Protestant use, pulpit against south wall, baptism basin bracketed to side of pulpit, aisle adapted to accommodate heritor’s loft, resulted in a ‘T’ plan church.(20)


1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 191.

2. Mackinlay, Non-Scriptural Dedications, p. 435.

3. CPL, ii, 243 & 363.

4. CPP, 300, 574 & 627.

5. CSSR, iii, 140.

6. CSSR, iii, 217 & 235, CSSR, iv, nos. 55, 149 & 258.

7. CSSR, iv, no .361.

8. CSSR, v, no. 914, CPL, x, 406.

9. CSSR, v, nos.  914 & 919, CPL, xi, 453.

10. CPL, xiv, 264-5 & 272.

11. Prot Bk of James Young, 1485-1515, nos. 1798 & 1945.

12. NRS Papers of the Maule Family, Earls of Dalhousie, GD45/13/307.

13. NRS Papers of James Beveridge, M.A., Linlithgow, `Religious houses in Burgh [of Linlithgow] and parish', GD215/1856.

14. NRS Protocol Books: Henry Elder, B59/1/1 fol. 122v.

15. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 152-53.

16. Donaldson, Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices, 26.

17. Selections  from the minutes of the Synod of Fife, pp. 21-22.

18. NRS Presbytery of Linlithgow, Minutes, 1618-1632, CH2/242/2, fols. 283-284.

19. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1843), ii, 88.

20. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, pp. 20 22, 23 214.


NRS Papers of James Beveridge, M.A., Linlithgow, `Religious houses in Burgh [of Linlithgow] and parish', GD215/1856.

NRS Papers of the Maule Family, Earls of Dalhousie, GD45/13/307.

NRS Protocol Books: Henry Elder, B59/1/1.

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

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

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1428-32, 1970, ed. A.I. Dunlop; and I.B. Cowan, (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.

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

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

Protocol Book of James Young, 1485-1515, 1952, ed. G. Donaldson (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh.

Architectural description

The church of Uphall, or Strathbrock, was erected into a prebend of the College of St Mary on the Rock in St Andrews by Bishop Henry, in 1435/6, following a previous unsuccessful attempt to unite it to a proposed college in Linlithgow. It was subsequently served by a vicar pensioner.(1) The architectural evidence, however, leaves no doubt that it was first built in the twelfth century, probably around the central decades, and that much of that first church survives within the church as now seen.(2)

In its first form the church was of at least three parts: a square chancel, a rectangular nave, and a west tower. The buff sandstone walls rise from a narrow chamfered plinth, and are chiefly built of roughly squared blocks. The tower is now of two storeys and is capped by a saddle-back roof with a bellcote rising above its west gable, though it may be suspected that it has been truncated, perhaps during the time that it was adapted as a burial place for the earls of Buchan. The arch towards the nave is of simple rectangular profile with imposts relieved by a bottom chamfer, though it is uncertain how far that still reflects its medieval form.

The best preserved primary feature is the round-arched door towards the west end of the south wall. Its outer order is carried on restored nook shafts with scalloped caps beneath a deep abacus, which support an arch with a quirked angle roll and cavetto moulding; a quirked hood mould runs around the arch. The inner order is plain, and now frames a tympanum of coursed masonry that appears to be of secondary construction. There is a corresponding doorway on the north side of the church, which may also be of the mid-twelfth century, though it is far simpler in form and difficult to date.

The chancel has been almost doubled in length, and it may be wondered if this extension could have replaced an earlier apse in order to create a larger area for the celebration of mass at the principal altar. The rubble-built walls rest on a chamfered base course of a slightly different form from that beneath the first building; the walls are internally of slightly less width than those of the first building. There are simple aumbries in the east and north walls.

A date in the years around 1200 for this eastward extension is suggested by the form of the pair of windows in the east wall, which externally have pointed arches, while internally they have widely splayed round-headed rear arches. Some caution should be exercised in considering these windows, since they appear to have been re-opened in the course of modern restoration, though their basic form appears to be acceptable. There has also been a single window in the south wall; this has been replaced by a later rectangular window, but part of its rear arch has been exposed around the internal head of the later window. There is now also a single window in the north wall that is of relatively recent construction, though it is not clear if its recreation was based on any evidence.

A number of features of later medieval date may be noted. The window in the south side of the extended chancel referred to above is of two lights within a broadly chamfered rectangular reveal, and it is most likely to be of the early sixteenth century. It may be speculated that it was inserted at the time the east windows were blocked, perhaps to cast light on a newly installed altar retable. Within, and to the east of the south nave door is a holy water stoup, the recess of which is framed by a roughly-moulded pointed-arched recess.  

The bell has an inscription dating it to 1503, with the arms of Seton and Hay.(3) A font bowl was found beneath the floor of the church by the earl of Buchan in 1784, and after various vicissitudes it has found its way to the Catholic church in Broxburn. Its faces are inscribed with the monograms of Jesus and Mary and ‘sta ecclesia nicolai’.

Although the core of the building is still essentially medieval, what is now seen around it is of post-Reformation date. The first significant addition was a laterally projecting aisle for Shairp of Houston family, off the east end of the south side of the nave, which is assumed to date from around 1620. It is built of ashlar and has a pair of round-headed windows framed by a quirked roll moulding, above which is a blank tablet; there is a door in the west wall. Internally an ashlar barrel vault rises above rubble walls, and there is an arched tomb recess below the south window. It opens into the church through its full width.

In 1630 it was found that the chancel was letting in water,(4) though this was presumably addressed when a loft was constructed in the chancel, possibly provided for Sir Lewis Stewart of Kirkhill. Although the loft itself has been removed, the external forestair remains, on which there is a framed tablet inscribed ‘AN.DO 1644’. The loft was later used by the earls of Buchan, who at some stage also took over the tower as their burial place; the latter was then walled off from the rest of the church, with a separate entrance through the west wall.

Another aisle was built off the middle of the north side of the church, probably in the eighteenth century, for the family of Middleton Hall. That aisle has been replaced by a later structure, but its form is illustrated on a plan of December 1847 by the Rev’d John Sime.(5) That plan shows it as a rectangular structure with two doors on its north side, one opening into the aisle and one onto a stair that presumably led up to a loft. Amongst other features of interest, that plan also shows a small porch against the east wall of the medieval chancel.

The next, and most significant structural intervention was the addition in 1878 of a north aisle to the designs of Wardrop and Reid, who had earlier produced designs for a completely new building. The aisle, which necessitated the destruction of the Middleton Aisle, opens into the church through an arcade of three arches, and runs alongside the eastern two-thirds of the nave and the western half of the chancel. An organ chamber projects to the north of the western two bays, and there is a small vestry off its west side. As part of this operation, several features throughout the rest of the church were given Romanesque detailing, and the belfry on the west gable of the tower was rebuilt.

A further restoration was carried out by Lorne Campbell in 1937. In the course of this, galleries were removed, the west tower arch was re-opened, and the interior was re-ordered on ecclesiologially-acceptable principles. The walls were stripped of their plaster, which exposed a number of medieval features, but inevitably resulted in a rather austere appearance.


1. Ian B. Cowan, the Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 191.

2. Accounts of the church will be found in: David MacGibbon and Tomas Ross, The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1896-7, pp. 342-45; Ian G. Lindsay, St Nicholas’ Kirk Strathbrock, Uphall (Guide leaflet), Houston, 1948; Christopher Wilson, in Colin McWilliam, Buildings of Scotland, Lothian, Harmondsworth, 1978, p. 460.

3. Lindsay 1948, p. 10. This bell been stated by some authors to be inscribed with the date 1441.

4. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Linlithgow, Minutes, 1618-32, CH2/242/2 fols 283-4.

5. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, DP 028188.



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

  • 1. Uphall Church, exterior, from south east

  • 2. Uphall Church, exterior from north west

  • 3. Uphall Church, exterior, from south west

  • 4. Uphall Church, exterior, from north west

  • 5. Uphall Church, exterior, chancel and north aisle from north

  • 6. Uphall Church, exterior, chancel from south east

  • 7. Uphall Church, exterior, chancel, east gable

  • 8. Uphall Church, exterior, east gable from south east

  • 9. Uphall Church, exterior, tower from west

  • 10. Uphall Church, from south west

  • 11. Uphall Church, exterior, chancel base course

  • 12. Uphall Church, exterior, date stone on chancel forestair

  • 13. Uphall Church, exterior, south door

  • 14. Uphall Church, exterior, south-west door, east cap

  • 15. Uphall Church, exterior, south-west door, west cap

  • 16. Uphall Church, interior, chancel, north-east corner

  • 17. Uphall Church, interior, chancel, south wall window

  • 18. Uphall Church, interior, east wall, aumbry

  • 19. Uphall Church, interior, looking east, 1

  • 20. Uphall Church, interior, looking east, 2

  • 21. Uphall Church, interior, nave, holy water stoup by south-east door

  • 22. Uphall Church, interior, nave, south-west door, rear arch

  • 23. Uphall Church, interior, Shairp Aisle

  • 24. Uphall Church, interior, site of chancel arch south respond

  • 25. Uphall Church, interior, tower arch from east

  • 26. Uphall Church, font, now in Broxburn Catholic Church (MacGibbon and Ross)

  • 27. Uphall Church, plan (MacGibbon and Ross)