Farnell Parish Church

Farnell Church, exterior, from north east

Summary description

Rebuilt on or near the site of the medieval church in 1806, and augmented in 1929.

Historical outline

Despite their status as the source of revenue for the prebend of the dean of Brechin and the presence of the bishop of Brechin’s rural ‘palace’ there in the later Middle Ages, the church and parish of Farnell have left almost no trace in surviving pre-Reformation records.  The 1372 constitution of the diocesan chapter does not indicate the basis of the dean’s prebend but in 1581 the link is made specific in the provision of Dougal Campbell to the benefice and the statement that his predecessor had also held the parsonage and vicarage of Farnell.(1

That the parish is not mentioned in Bagimond’s Roll probably indicates that the union with the deanery had been effected before 1274 and, since a dean is first mentioned in the early 1180s, possibly by the third quarter of the twelfth century.(2) Priests who appear to have been vicars of Farnell are recorded in the fifteenth century, presumably vicars pensionary since both parsonage and vicarage were appropriated to the deanery.(3)

Notes

1. Registrum Epsicopatus Brechinensis, i, no.15; ii, no.226.

2. Cowan, Parishes, 64; Arbroath Liber, i, no.193.

3. CPL, ix, 247; StAUL, Burgh Charters and Miscellaneous Writs, B65/23/67c.  

Summary of relevant documentation

Medieval

Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Both parsonage and vicarage prebend of the dean of Brechin at Reformation. Not listed in Bagimond's Roll so it was perhaps a prebend from c1180.(1)

Mackinley states that the church was probably dedicated to St Ninian.(2)

1442 Sir William Hernwart, vicar of Fernell mentioned briefly.(3)

1476 (4 Apr) Charter by Elizabeth Reid in St Andrews witnessed by Peter Mason, vicar of ‘Fernwell’. [perhaps Farnell? Same charter has another Brechin diocese vicar (Lethnot) as a witness].(4)

Post-medieval

Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church prebend of Brechin Cathedral, benefice no cash value, teinds in produce.(5)

1573 Thomas Sewan presented to vicarage on death of last vicar John Meldrum.(6)

1581 Dougall Campbell presented to deanery of Brechin, parsonage and vicarage of Farnell described as pertaining to the deanery.(7)

1641 (3 June) Visitation of Farnell by the Presbytery of Brechin.(8) [no details]

1657 (9 July) Visitation of the church by the Presbytery of Brechin finds the minister to be competent; when asked how the fabric of the church was maintained the minister and elders replied ‘by the heritors’.(9)

#1752 No references in presbytery or kirk session records to repairs in that year noted in the Statistical Account of Scotland.

OSA, Rev David Fergusson, 1791

‘The manse and church were repaired in the year 1752’.(10)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Henry Brewster, 1833): ‘The church is a gothic building, oblong in form with a vaulted roof… It was built in the year 1806’.(11) [no reference to earlier building]

Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches: (George Hay):1806; refurnished, 1662 Burgerhuys bell, c. 1600 mort bell, 1681 poor’ box. Church (of lateral rectangular plan) is a rather fine revival essay with large gothic windows inspired by the nearby kirk of Craig. Gothic revival belfry early 19th century.(12)

Notes

1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 64.

2. Mackinley, Non-Scriptural Dedications, p. 30.

3. CPL, ix, 247.

4. StAUL, Burgh Charters and Miscellaneous Writs, B65/23/67c.

5. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 358.

6. Registrum Brechinensis, ii, no. 249.

7. Registrum Brechinensis, ii no. 226.

8. NRS Presbytery of Brechin, Minutes, 1639-1661, CH2/40/1, fol. 24.

9. NRS Presbytery of Brechin, Minutes, 1639-1661, CH2/40/1, fol. 383.

10. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1791), iii, 228.

11. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1833), xi, 112.

12. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, pp. 116, 117, 170 & 245.

Bibliography

StAUL, Burgh Charters and Miscellaneous Writs, B65/23/67c.

NRS Presbytery of Brechin, Minutes, 1639-1661, CH2/40/1.

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

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.

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

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

Registrum Episcopatus Brechinensis, 1856, ed. C. Innes (Bannatyne Club), Edinburgh, i.

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

Architectural description

If the finding of a fine grave slab in the churchyard in 1849 can be taken as evidence, Farnell has a long association with the history of Christian worship. The slab, which is now in Pictavia in Brechin, has an interlace-decorated cross flanked by interlace and beasts; and there are an angel, a small cross and a depiction of the temptation of Adam and Eve on the reverse.(1)

The parsonage and vicarage of the medieval church formed the prebend of the dean of Brechin Cathedral.(2)

There were evidently some repairs to the church in 1752.(3) It was completely rebuilt in 1806,(4) as a posthumous work of the architect James Playfair; his diary records that he was preparing the working drawings in 1788 and the specifications in 1789.(5) A session house was added by D. Wishart Galloway in 1929.(6)

The church is aligned approximately from east-south-east to west-south-west. It is a four-bay buttressed rectangle of 8.55 by 17.15 metres, apart from the buttresses, and is built of red coursed rubble with ashlar dressings. The buttresses rise above the crenellated parapet, those at the angles being capped by pinnacles, and those between having gabled caps. The roof profile is bowed, as if it were being suggested that the interior was covered by a pointed barrel vault, though in fact the plaster ceiling is in the form of a quadripartite vault of depressed four-centred profile.

The main face is directed towards the north (in fact west-north-west). The two central bays have large three-light windows with timber intersecting tracery, while each of the end bays has a pointed arched doorway beneath a cross-shaped arrow-loop-like recess. The only openings in the south face are single lancets in the two middle bays, while the east face has a large four-light window with intersecting tracery. The west wall has the most complex treatment. At the centre is a four-light traceried window flanked on each side by a smaller Y-traceried window, while within the gable is a recessed bellcote in the form of a tabernacle.

The relationship of the church with the graveyard to its south suggests that it is on or near the site of its predecessors. However, no identifiable medieval fabric appears to have survived within its walls.

Notes

1. J. Romilly Allen and Joseph Anderson, The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1903, pt. 3, pp. 219-21.

2. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 64.

3. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, vol. 3, p. 228.

4. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 11, p. 112.

5. Howard Colvin, Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 4th ed., New Haven and London, 2008, p. 812

6. John Gifford, The Buildings of Scotland, Dundee and Angus, New Haven and London, 2012, p. 461.

Map

Images

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

  • 1. Farnell Church, exterior, from north east

  • 2. Farnell Church, exterior, from north west

  • 3. Farnell Church, exterior, from south

  • 4. Farnell Church, exterior, from west

  • 5. Farnell Church, interior, looking east, 1

  • 6. Farnell Church, interior, looking east, 2

  • 7. Farnell Church, interior, looking west

  • 8. Farnell churchyard, gravestone, 1

  • 9. Farnell churchyard, gravestone, 2

  • 10. Farnell cross slab (Pictavia, Brechin)(Allen and Anderson)