Whitsome Parish Church

Whitsome old churchyard, 1

Summary description

The medieval church was abandoned in 1803, when a new church was built on a different site, and no more than faint traces survive. The later church, which was augmented and re-ordered in 1912, is no longer in ecclesiastical use.

Historical outline

Dedication: unknown

The earliest surviving reference to the church of Whitsome appears to be the accounts of the papal tax-collector in Scotland for 1274-5, where the rector of Chirnside and Whitsome paid 12 merks in tax for his two churches.(1)  It was still an independent parsonage in the 1290s, when the church of Whitsome was valued at £30 14s annually, paying tax of 60s 1½d.(2)  The next surviving record appears to be that of the presentation to the church in 1439 of Adam Montgomery.(3)  The papal letter noted that the church was in lay patronage but did not identify the patron.  In 1447, a supplication from Gilbert Herring, incumbent rector, identified the patrons as the Hepburns of Hailes.(4)

In 1555-6, the church of Whitsome was one of twenty-two churches in the deanery of the Merse identified by the Dean of Christianity as in dilapidated physical condition and lacking in suitable furnishings and equipment.  This state of neglect was identified as the result of inaction by both parishioners and lay patrons and, where relevant, appropriators.  Archbishop John Hamilton of St Andrews instructed the Dean to undertake an investigation into the state of the teinds of the parishes in question and to take appropriate steps.(5)

Whitsome remained an independent parsonage within the patronage of the Earls of Bothwell at the Reformation, passing with the rest of the forfeited Hepburn lands in 1581 to Francis Stewart.(6)  At the Reformation it was recorded that the parsonage of the church pertained to Mr James Seton, the revenues of the parish being set in assedation to the laird of Wedderburn.(7)


1. A I Dunlop (ed), ‘Bagimond’s Roll: Statement of the Tenths of the Kingdom of Scotland’, Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, vi (1939), 35.

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

3. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, iv, 1433-1447, eds A I Dunlop and D MacLauchlan (Glasgow, 1983), no.524.

4. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, v, 1447-1471, eds J Kirk, R J Tanner and A I Dunlop (Glasgow, 1997), no.20.

5. NRS Miscellaneous Ecclesiastical Records, CH8/16.

6. Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, v, 1580-1593, ed J M Thomson (Edinburgh, 1888), no.218.

7. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 195-6.

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Listed as a parsonage in Bagimond’s Roll, the church remained unappropriated at the Reformation, within the patronage of the lords of Hailes, later earls of Bothwell (see Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum,, v, no. 218, Registrum Secreti Sigilli Regum Scotorum, iv, no. 193).(1)

1439 Adam de Montgomery (illegitimate) obtained church which is in lay patronage, held along with Stewarton (Glasgow).(2)

1447 Gilbert Herring (MA) provided to the vicarage on presentation of the lord of Hailes, described as rightful lay patron (£20); also holds Innerwick.(3)

1463 (4 Oct) Reference to the vicar in; Act by Robert of ‘Menteth’ [Menteith], priest of Glasgow, notary public, sealed by the official of St Andrews, in presence of Thomas de ‘Luperdale’, doctor in law from the college of Abernethy in Dumblane, canon and official of St Andrews, of Mr William ‘Knollis’, rector of ‘Quhitsum’ and David Ramsay, procurators of North Berwick Nunnery, and Mr Alexander de Penicuik, vicar of Kilconquhar on the other hand. The vicar was condemned to pay an annual rent of 18 marks for the vicarage and 3£ 6d for the expenses. He then appealed to the official, and the final sentence was 12 marks of annual rent to be paid at the Pentecost and on St Martin's day. He does not have to pay the expenses.(4)

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.(5)


Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage held by James Seton, set for £100.(6)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of parsonage £33 6s 8d.(7)

[Parishes of Whitsome and Hilton united in 1735; parish church at Whitsome]

1718 (28 Nov) John Veitch, minister at Whitsome, requests a visitation of his church and manse which stands in ‘great need of reparation’.(8) Visitation on 22 July by the presbytery notes that the heritors have viewed the church and manse and taken advice of James Crosby, mason and Samuel Hone, wright, who report that it would take 3 days of a mason to heighten the western door of the southside, and to hew the stone of new for the checks. 6 days work will be required for building the top of the easter gavel and 20 days to raise the side walls of the kirk and make them as high as the side walls of the choir. They also note that the timber roof of the kirk appears to be ruinous - this is to be replaced by a combination of old and new timber. The pulpit is old and ruinous and needs to be replaced. The total costs amounting to £523 3s 8d.(9)

1727 (29 Aug) Visitation of the church by the presbytery of Chirnside includes a report by tradesmen into repairs required to the church, manse and office houses. Ultimately they decide that only the manse and office houses need repairs at a cost of £322.(10)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev George Cupples, of Swinton, 1791): ‘The church was, in my remembrance, a miserable thatched building which, though now slated, is still very ill situated, narrow and incommodious’.(11)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Adam Landels, 1834): ‘New church built in 1803’.(12) [no reference to any survival of the old church buildings, new one is on a fresh site]

Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches (George Hay): 1803; alterations and additions 1912, 1650 Monteith bell.(13)


1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 209.

2. CSSR, iv, no. 524.

3. CSSR, v, no. 20.

4. NRS Papers of the Maule Family, Earls of Dalhousie, GD45/13/290.

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

6. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 195-6.

7. Donaldson, Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices, 24.

8. NRS Presbytery of Chirnside, Minutes, 1702-1721, CH2/516/2, fols. 273-274.

9. NRS Presbytery of Chirnside, Minutes, 1702-1721, CH2/516/2, fols. 274-80.

10. NRS Presbytery of Chirnside, Minutes, 1721-1732, CH2/516/3, fols. 170-171.

11. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1791), xvi, 355.

12. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1834), ii, 177.

13. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches,


NRS Miscellaneous Ecclesiastical Records, CH8/16.

NRS Papers of the Maule Family, Earls of Dalhousie, GD45/13/290.

NRS Presbytery of Chirnside, Minutes, 1702-1721, CH2/516/2.

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.

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.

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.

Architectural description

The church of Whitsome remained unappropriated throughout the middle ages, and from the mid-fifteenth century was in the patronage of the lords of Hailes, and later of the earls of Bothwell.(1) It may have suffered in the sixteenth century in the course of the wars with England, because a letter of 9 April 1556 from Archbishop John Hamilton said it was one of 22 churches in the Merse that was in a poor structural state.(2)

Its condition after the Reformation seems to have been a frequent cause of concern. On 28 November 1718 the minister complained it was in great need of repair, and major works were itemised as necessary by the mason John Crosby and the wright Samuel Hone, at a cost of £523.3s.8d.(3) These included heightening a door on the east side, rebuilding the top of the east gable and replacing the roof, using both old and new timber. Of possible significance is the suggestion that the walls of the church should be raised to the same height as those of the choir, suggesting that the building could have been a two-cell structure, though it would be unusual for the choir to be higher than the rest of the building.

In 1735 the parish of Hilton was annexed to that of Whitsome.(4) The author of the parish entry of 1791 in the Statistical Account complained that the church was a miserable thatched building, though it was now slated, and he suggested that an earlier proposal to build a new church on Hardie’s Hill should be revived.(5) By the time of the New Statistical Account, in 1834, it was said that this had been put into effect in 1803.(6)

The materials of the old church were perhaps recycled for the new building, since there are no more than very faint traces of that building within its churchyard, which is located about 200 metres to the north of its replacement.

The present building was initially a basically rectangular building from which projected a small bell turret at the centre of the south wall and a vestry on the opposite side. The entrances were through the two end walls.(7)

The south face is of pink stugged ashlar, and the other faces of rubble. There are raised block quoins, and the windows are pointed with intersecting timber glazing. The bell turret is solid up to wall-head level above which is a spired bellcote with pointed openings. In the original arrangement a horse-shoe arrangement of galleries faced towards the pulpit at the centre of the south wall.

In 1912 the church was rendered more ecclesiologically ‘correct’ when a chancel was built at the east end, with a vestry to its south. The original vestry on the north side was then modified as a lateral north aisle and the galleries were suppressed.

The church has been abandoned for worship, and is currently (in 2014) being offered for sale.


1. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, 209-10.

2. National Records of Scotland, Miscellaneous Ecclesiastical Records, CH8/16.

3. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Chirnside, Minutes, 1702-21, CH2/516/2, fols 274-80.

4. James Robson, Churches and Churchyards of Berwickshire, Kelso, 1896, p. 222.

5. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-99, vol. 16, p. 355.

6. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 2, p. 177.

7. This account is based on that in Kitty Cruft, John Dunbar and Richard Fawcett, The Buildings of Scotland, Borders, New Haven and London, 2006, p. 760.



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

  • 1. Whitsome old churchyard, 1

  • 2. Whitsome old churchyard, 2

  • 3. Whitsome old churchyard, monument, 1

  • 4. Whitsome old churchyard, monument, 2

  • 5. Whitsome later church, exterior, from south

  • 6. Whitsome later church, exterior, from north

  • 7. Whitsome Church, exterior

  • 8. Whitsome later church, interior