Wemyss Parish Church

Wemyss Church, from north east

Summary description

A rectangular core may be of the 1520s, to which an eastern aisle was added in 1644. Lateral aisles creating a cruciform plan were also added in the seventeenth century, and later works were carried out in 1792 and 1810-11. Closed in 1976, and now partly derelict and partly adapted as a house.

Historical outline

Dedication: St Mary

There appears to be no surviving reference to the church of St Mary of Wemyss before its grant in c.1230 to the Hospital of Soutra by John of Methkil.(1)  John surrendered all rights which he held in the church, granting it in pure and perpetual alms along with all of its liberties, easements and pertinents.  Amongst the witnesses to his charter was Gilbert, rector of Wemyss.  In the confirmation of John’s grant by Bishop David de Bernham (1239-53), it emerges that Soutra had received only the patronage of the church.(2)  Full possession came by grant of Bishop Gamelin in 1261, the parsonage being annexed to the uses of the hospital and a suitable portion being reserved for a vicar, with also a pension which had been paid out of the church of Wemyss to the church of Dysart being reserved.(3)  This pension suggests an origin as a pendicle of Dysart, much in the way that Kirkcaldy (qv) had been a dependency of that church.  Although the vicarage had been established in the 1260s, the church does not appear in any form in the papal tax-rolls of the 1270s.

Named vicars are recorded only from the fifteenth century, the first, Nicholas Greenlaw, occurring in 1425.(4)  It emerges in a papal supplication dated 18 December 1433 that the perpetual vicarage of ‘Kirkwemyss’ was normally held by brothers of the hospital of Soutra and was in the presentation of the master of the Hospital.(5)  In 1460, Wemyss passed into the hands of the Collegiate Church and Hospital of the Holy Trinity in Edinburgh along with all of the other properties and rights of the Hospital of Soutra.(6)  Bishop James Kennedy of St Andrews, in 1462, identified the parsonage revenues of Wemyss as the source of funding to sustain the thirteen bedesmen in the Trinity Hospital.(7)

From 1460 the cure was served by a secular priest as perpetual vicar.  In 1475, the then vicar, Michael Livingston, became embroiled in a dispute with John Wemyss of that Ilk concerning the teinds of the church, a dispute which dragged on for several decades subsequently.(8)  In 1502 the vicarage revenues were annexed to the provostry of Trinity College and thereafter, Wemyss was served by a vicar pensioner.(9)  In 1527-1528 a dispute arose between David Wemyss, laird of Wemyss, and Sir John Dingwall, provost of Trinity College, Edinburgh, who was vicar of Wemyss following the 1502 annexation), over the vicarage teinds. Dingwall lost the suit and was excommunicated on 19 Oct 1527 but the dispute was eventually settled by arbitration which provided for the return of three years’ worth of teind sheaves (1526-28) to the vicar.  The arbiters, however, advised the vicar to yield up the offerings due to him from the chapel of Our Lady at Wemyss, because the parish church was being built or repaired by Sir Patrick Jackson, the chaplain there. The Decreet Arbitral notes that Jackson was ‘biggand’ and proposed to ‘big’ and to continue with the work on the parish church.(10

On the eve of the Reformation the vicarage remained annexed to the provostry.  A feuferme charter of 29 April 1553 records the set by Sir George Clapperton, provost of Trinity College, to James Wemyss and his wife Janet Murray, their heirs and assignees, of the vicarage of East Wemyss, with manse, barns and yards etc, for nine years, for which they paid 120 merks 2s 10d, and were to pay the vicar pensioner his stipend of 20 merks and to maintain the manse and houses.(11)

A chapel of St Katherine appears to have existed within the church prior to the Reformation but what appear to be the only surviving references to it by name occur in two late sixteenth-century documents.  This appears to be the chaplaincy which in 1508 was recorded as being in the gift of Sir Robert Livingston of Drumry, but with no altar to which it was attached referenced in the document.(12) The connection between Livingston of Drumry and the later charters is the lands of Lochoreshire, to which the chaplaincy seems to have had a link, probably as a source of rental income.  The first named reference to St Katherine’s aisle or chapel is a charter of 1595 by Robert Colville, younger son of James Colville of East Wemyss, who was described in it as ‘prebendary and chaplain of St Catherine's aisle in the church of Eist Wemys’.(13)  The second is an instrument of sasine of 6 January 1597 in favour of Sir John Boswell of Balmuto, of a fourth part of the lands of Spittall, in the lordship of Lochoreshire and sheriffdom of Fife, together with the coal of half of the lands of Dundonald, arising from a precept of sasine in charter dated 3 December 1596, by Robert Colville, son of James Colville of East Wemyss.  In it, Robert is described as ‘chaplain of St Katharene's Chapel’, in the church of Wemyss, and his father James is named as patron of the chapel.(14)

Notes

1. Charters of the Hospital of Soltre, of Trinity College, Edinburgh, and other Collegiate Churches in Midlothian (Bannatyne Club, 1861), no.14 [hereafter Midlothian Charters].

2. Midlothian Charters, no.30.

3. Midlothian Charters, no.40.

4. Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, vii, 1417-1431, ed J A Twemlow (London, 1906), 380-381.

5. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, iv, 1433-1447, eds A I Dunlop and D MacLauchlan (Glasgow, 1983), no.112.

6. Midlothian Charters, Holy Trinity, no.1; I B Cowan and D E Easson, Medieval Religious Houses: Scotland, 2nd edition (London, 1976), 221.

7. Midlothian Charters, Holy Trinity, no.2 (p.67).

8. Midlothian Charters, Holy Trinity, no.3.

9. Midlothian Charters, Holy Trinity, no.28 for sir Cuthbert Brady, vicar pensioner, 31 July 1526.

10. W Fraser, Memorials of the Family of Wemyss of Wemyss (Edinburgh, 1888), vol i, 111-113; vol ii, 274-8.

11. Midlothian Charters, Holy Trinity, no.53.

12. Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, ii, 1424-1513, ed J B Paul (Edinburgh, 1882), no.3229.

13. NRS Boswell of Balmuto Papers, GD66/1/102.

14. NRS Boswell of Balmuto Papers, GD66/1/110.

Summary of relevant documentation

Medieval

Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: The church was granted to Soutra by John de Methkill, son of Michael of Wemyss, c.1239, with provision for a perpetual vicarage. Annexed to Trinity College in 1460, the parsonage revenues of Wemyss were allotted to the upkeep of the Bedesman in 1462. A vicarage perpetual served by secular priests rather than canons, by 1502 it had become a vicarage pensionary.(1)

1425 Nicholas de Greenlaw (son of a priest) resigned church of Wemyss on being collated to Aldbar.(2)

1433 Donald Kennedy (canon of Soutra) presented to church on death of Robert de Kirkcaldy (also canon) perpetual vicarage of Kirk Wemyss, described as ‘wont to be ruled by brothers of the hospital of Soutra’.

1438 Donald accused by Thomas Lauder, the master of Soutra, of detaining a certain proportion of the church. Donald complains that the Master takes so much yearly from the fruits that from the residue the vicar cannot be maintained.(3)

1506 John Spendlusc (monk of Dunfermline) given a pension of 20 marks from the fruits of the perpetual vicarage of Wemyss, agreed by incumbent John Brady.(4)

1527-1528 Dispute between the David, laird of Wemyss, and Sir John Dingwall, provost of Trinity College, Edinburgh (vicar of the church of Wemyss), respecting the teinds belonging to the provost as vicar. The vicar lost and was excommunicated on 19 Oct 1527. However, the dispute was eventually settled by arbitration. Three years worth of teind sheaves for 1526-28 were to be restored to the vicar.  The arbiters advised the vicar to yield up the offerings due to him from the Lady chapel of Wemyss, because the parish church of Wemyss was being built or repaired by Sir Patrick Jackson, the chaplain there. The Decree Arbitral notes that Jackson was ‘biggand’ and proposed to ‘big’ and continue.(5)

Post-medieval

Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: [Surprisingly, does not feature, or the entry has not survived]

Altars and chaplaincies

Mackinlay suggests there was a chapel dedicated to St Catherine in the parish kirk of Wemyss. He cites William Fraser’s family history.(6)

St Katherine

1595 Charter by Robert Colvyll, second lawful son of James Colvill of Eist Wemys [Colville of East Wemyss], prebendary and chaplain of St Catherine's aisle in the church of Eist Wemys, with consent of his said father, and James Colvill, his brother, fiar of Eist Wemys, to Andrew Boisuill of Wastmylne [Boswell of Westmiln] and Margaret Boisuill, his spouse, of half of the town and lands of Danedonald [Dundonald], in lordship of Lochoreschyre and sheriffdom of Fife.(7)

1597 (6 Jan) Instrument of Sasine in favour of Sir John Bosuall of Balmouto [Boswell of Balmuto], knight, of a fourth part of the lands of Spittell [Spittal], in lordship of Lochtquhoirschyre [Lochoreshire] and sheriffdom of Fife, together with the coal of half of the lands of Dondonald [Dundonald], lying as above; on precept of sasine in charter dated 3 December 1596, by Robert Colvill, son and apparent heir of James Colvill of Eist Wemys [Colville of East Wemyss], chaplain of St Katharene's Chapel, in parish church of Wemys, and said James, patron of said chapel, in favour of said Sir John Bosuall.(8)

1630 (15 Apr) Record of the stipends of ministers in the Presbytery of Kirkcaldy; the minister gets 871 marks pa.(9)

1636 (8 Sept) Visitation of the church by the Presbytery of Kirkcaldy found the minister (Patrick Mearns) to be competent; the earl of Wemyss and lord of Elcho ordered to arrange the 300 marks pa for the new schoolmaster.(10)

1644 (21 Aug) Anent kirk burial in Wemyss, the earl of Wemyss agrees to build a place for burial outside the kirk.(11)

1658 (26 Sept) The kirk session considering the condition of the kirk yard dykes which are altogether ruinous. The session orders a collection for the repair.(12)

1659 (27 Mar) Session meet regarding repair of the west loft.(13)

1659 (12 June) It was the mind of the session to strike through a window besouth the little kirk door that leads to the pulpit for making greater light in the church.(14)

1682 (6 May) The minister and session order a collection to be made for the repair of the church.(15)

[1687 No references in the kirk session to the new belfry mentioned in Hay]

1688 Margaret, Dowager Countess of Wemyss, requests in her will that she be buried ‘In our isle at the church of Weymss’.(16)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev George Grib, 1793):‘The church is an old gothic building in the form of a cross; there are evident marks of considerable additions to it; but no date that can fix its age…. It was repaired and much improved in 1792’.(17) (located in Easter Wemyss)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev John Maclachan, 1838): ‘The parish church… is an old building in the form of a cross. The date of its erection cannot be ascertained’.(18)

Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches (George Hay): 17th century with 1693 belfry; much reconstructed 1813, further alterations 1921. Chancel used as private burial plot for local lords.(19)

Notes

1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 207-8.

2. CPL, vii, 380-81.

3. CSSR, iv, no. 112, CPL, ix, 21.

4. CPL, xviii, no. 105.

5. Fraser, Memorials of the family of Wemyss of Wemyss, i, 111-113 & ii, 274-278.

6. Mackinlay, Non-Scriptural Dedications, p. 419.

7. NRS Boswell of Balmuto Papers, GD66/1/102.

8. NRS Boswell of Balmuto Papers, GD66/1/110.

9. NRS Presbytery of Kirkcaldy, Minutes, 1630-1653, CH2/224/1, fol. 8.

10. NRS Presbytery of Kirkcaldy, Minutes, 1630-1653, CH2/224/1, fols. 191-192.

11. NRS Presbytery of Kirkcaldy, Minutes, 1630-1653, CH2/224/1, fol. 464.

12. NRS Wemyss Kirk Session, 1655-1668, CH2/365/2, fol. 100.

13. NRS Wemyss Kirk Session, 1655-1668, CH2/365/2, fol. 123.

14. NRS Wemyss Kirk Session, 1655-1668, CH2/365/2, fol. 141.

15. NRS Wemyss Kirk Session, 1668-1701, CH2/365/3, fol. 134.

16. Fraser, Memorials of the family of Wemyss of Wemyss, ii, 258.

17. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1793), xvi, 526.

18. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1838), ix, 399.

19. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, pp. 20 & 258.

Bibliography

NRS Boswell of Balmuto Papers, GD66/1.

NRS Presbytery of Kirkcaldy, Minutes, 1630-1653, CH2/224/1.

NRS Wemyss Kirk Session, 1655-1668, CH2/365/2.

NRS Wemyss Kirk Session, 1668-1701, CH2/365/3.

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.

Cowan, I.B., 1967, The parishes of medieval Scotland, (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh.

Fraser, W., 1888, Memorials of the family of Wemyss of Wemyss, Edinburgh.

Hay, G., 1957, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, 1560-1843, 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 parish was granted to the hospital of Soutra in about 1239 by John of Methkill, son of Michael de Weemys; in 1261 Bishop Gamelin granted it to the uses of that hospital, with provision for the erection of a vicarage. In 1460, however, it was annexed to Trinity College in Edinburgh, and two years later the parsonage revenues were specifically allocated to the upkeep of bedesmen. Provision was made for a perpetual vicarage, though in 1502 that vicarage was annexed to the provostship of Trinity College.(1)

The author of the parish entry in the Statistical Account of Scotland offered his assessment of the church in saying that it was ‘an old Gothic building in the form of a cross; there are evident marks of considerable addition to it, but no date that can fix its age’.(2) Any more systematic analysis of the structure is now made difficult by the thick cement render that covers the walls, and by the fact that parts of the southern and eastern ends of the building are occupied as a dwelling, while much of the rest is in a state of dereliction with the interior inaccessible.

So far as can now be judged, the core of the building is a narrow oriented rectangular structure. In its final form this core possibly dates at least partly from 1527-8, when it was stated in the course of a dispute over teinds that it was being built or repaired by Sir Patrick Jackson, the chaplain.(3) However, the chaplain’s interests were presumably concentrated on the chancel area, and an area of the west wall of the nave that has been exposed through the loss of the cement render is of large blocks of pink coursed rubble that could be earlier than the sixteenth century.

The next documented phase of works was in 1644, when the earl of Wemyss undertook to build a burial place outside the church.(4) The result of this is presumably the eastward extension of the building, the wall-head of which is slightly lower than that of the chancel. A loft in the upper part is approached by a forestair against the north flank, and the burial chamber was presumably entered through the broad round arch in the east face that is now blocked.

The rectangular three-light mullioned and transomed upper window in the east face of the aisle is presumably of the nineteenth century. At the lower level of the aisle’s south face is a blocked and badly damaged two-light window with ogee light heads and a circlet between. It may be wondered if this originated in the chancel and was relocated here when the Wemyss Aisle was added.

The next significant phase of works involved the addition of a pair of broad lateral aisles that rose to the same height as the main body of the church, and that gave the building its cruciform plan. In making this addition the dominant axis became that from south to north, with the principal entrance in the gable wall of the south aisle. It has been suggested that this was done in 1659,(5) and certainly some works are known to have been in progress at that time.(6) However, those works appear to have been of a relatively minor order, it may also be a possibility that the aisles were added in 1693, when the square birdcage bellcote was placed over the west gable.

In 1792 it was said that the church ‘was repaired and much improved’,(7) and there were also works by Robert Burn in 1810-11.(8) The rectangular two-, three- and four-light transomed windows, which light much of the church, together with the crowstepped gables, probably date from these operations.

The church passed out of ecclesiastical use after a union with St Michael’s Church in 1976. It has since been partly adapted as a house, with the rest falling into dereliction.

Notes

1. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, pp. 207-08.

2. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, vol. 16, p. 526.

3. William Fraser, Memorials of the family of Wemyss of Wemyss, Edinburgh, 1888, vol. 1, pp. 111-13 and vol. 2, pp. 274-78.

4. National Records of Scotland, presbytery of Kirkcaldy, Minutes, 1630-53, CH2/224/1, fol. 464.

5. John Gifford, The Buildings of Scotland, Fife, London, 1988, p. 203.

6. National Records of Scotland, Wemyss Kirk Session, 1655-68, CH2/365/2, fols 123-4.

7. Statistical Account, vol. 16, p. 526.

8. Gifford, The Buildings of Scotland, Fife, p. 203.

Map

Images

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

  • 1. Wemyss Church, from north east

  • 2. Wemyss Church, from east

  • 3. Wemyss Church, from south

  • 4. Wemyss Church, from south east

  • 5. Wemyss Church, from south west

  • 6. Wemyss Church, west wall, exposed masonry

  • 7. Wemyss Church, window on south flank Wemyss Aisle

  • 8. Wemyss graveyard, gravestones