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History of Pencaitland Parish Church

Title: History of Pencaitland Parish Church
Reviewed by Admin on Jul 3

It was left to the sons of the saintly Queen Margaret to reconstruct the organisation of the Church, and David I (1124-1153) was particularly active in this work. However, it was his brother and predecessor, Alexander I (reigned 1107-1124) who put English or Norman bishops into the Celtic Cathedral of St. Andrews. Before the Scottish Reformation Pencaitland Parish was in the Diocese of St. Andrews, the Archdeaconry of Lothian and the Deanery of Haddington. During the time of David a peaceful Norman invasion ofScotlandtook place, and settlers fromEnglandor further a field were granted tracts of land in return for keeping law and order in the area. In due course with the establishment of Episcopal dioceses, the baronial areas, in some of which new churches had been built by the barons, became natural subdivisions of the diocese, and became the parish. This division into parishes was not completed in David’s reign, however, and long after his death many districts remained without a Parish Church.

Pencaitland Church History

The story of Pencaitland Church then, is the story of the Church in Scotland as a whole. The setting up of the parochial system, and the various changes in the form of worship through the centuries are reflected in the building itself. Here we have a church building in which the various parts are of different ages, reflecting different architectural trends and religious needs, and which are still in regular use. This is quite common inScotland.

There has been a church at Pencaitland from the earliest times of the parochial system in Scotland, if not from its very inception. The earliest complete part of the present building at Pencaitland, which we shall discuss in more detail later on, is the Winton Aisle. It dates from the 13th century; but parts of an earlier building that was known to exist at Pencaitland in the l2th century are probably incorporated in the Nave, so there has been a Church here for a very long time. As far as the history of Pencaitland Parish is known, it would appear that William the Lion (1165-1214) probably granted the lands to Everard DE PENCAITHLAND, one of the Knights Templar. It is certain that Everard granted the Church of his manor of Pencaithland to the monks of Kelso along with its tithes and other rights, “in pure alms for the salvation of his lord, King William.”  Before Robert the Bruce had become King in 1306, theChurchofPencaithlanhad ceased to belong to the monks of Kelso nor is there a mention of the Church as one of the possessions of Kelso made after 1309.

However, during the War of Succession the manor was forfeited and was granted by Robert the Bruce to Robert DE LAWDER. Why he was dispossessed is not known, but Sir John MAXWELL is soon shown as the overlord, granting the advowson of the church to Dryburgh Abbey, along with an annuity from his Pencaitland lands. This was confirmed by William (LANDAL), the Bishop of St. Andrews by charter, in 1343 and a photograph of the charter granting the advowson hangs in the Winton Aisle. Mention is also made of a chapel at Payston and “All the Churchlands, tithes and profits.”. The monastery collected the teinds or tithes and in return provided a vicar or vicars to minister to the people. That Pencaitland was a valuable possession of Dryburgh is obvious from the reference made to it in old records. The hill above the river and behind the manse was still until recently referred to as the Vicar’s Brae or Biccker’s Brae.  In old documents the surrounding ground is called “The Vicar’s Faulds.”  The tithes from parish churches were a valuable source of income for the monasteries, some of which collected the dues from over thirty parishes.

It is interesting that Pencaitland Church was dedicated by Bishop David DE BERNHAM consecrated Bishop of Saint Andrews in 1240 and anointed King Alexander III at his coronation in 1249.  DE BERNHAM in less than ten years of his episcopate dedicated no fewer than one hundred and forty churches died in 1253 and was buried in Kelso.  In 1237, the Council of Lands enacted that all Churches not already consecrated were to be so within two years.  In 1239 Cardinal Otto held a Legatine Council inEdinburghand although the records of this Synod are lost it seems highly probable the neglect of the consecration of Churches was on the agenda.  Shortly before he promulgated an order dealing with this subject.  Dedication of existing as well as new churches was one of the practices of the good bishop during the tour of his diocese. The consecration service would have lasted several hours, because we know the service was an elaborate one as the order of service used by David de Bernham when consecrating churches has been preserved. The date of the consecration was 1242. Whether the building referred to as “Ecclesia de Pencaitland” was the Winton Aisle or a larger church on the foundation (of which the present nave is built) is not certain but simply implied that the Bishop was not satisfied that it had yet been properly consecrated, i.e. before 1st May 1242.

During all the period since its foundation the history of the building itself has been uneventful. There are no bullet marks on the walls, no cannon balls are lodged in the belfry, and it must be one of the few old churches which Cromwell neglected to use as a stable for his horses.

The records pertaining to Pencaitland in particular before the Reformation are scanty, and not until the regular keeping of Session Records begins does the history of the church become a little less clouded. Of the ministers of Pencaitland, there have been many worthy men. Two deserve special mention because of their place in history. David CALDERWOOD (1641-1650) author of the monumental “History of the Kirk of Scotland” was ordered to be banished by James VI for his opposition to, among other things, the King’s wish to introduce episcopacy.

The Rev. James GIBSON who was presented to the vicarage of Pencaitland in 1580 by the King, was exercising the right, formerly the prerogative, of Dryburgh Abbey. Gibson was brought before the Privy Council and imprisoned on a charge of High Treason for preaching a sermon in which he accused the king of persecuting the church, though this sermon was not preached at Pencaitland.

A Description of the Church

The building itself consists of a nave, with a gallery at the west end and with two Aisles on the north side: one, the older, called the Winton Aisle and the other the Saltoun Aisle. Whilst both these Aisles, and the tower at the West end of the church can be easily dated, the nave presents rather a different proposition. Although the furnishings are arranged in the manner of an early post-reformation church in Scotland, with the pulpit in the centre of the South wall, so far as the shape of the nave is concerned we must remember what Ian LINDSAY said: “There is no doubt that the basic plan of the small Scottish Parish Church for the next six hundred years was laid in the l3th Century.” The foundations are certainly medieval, so we know an early church existed on the present site of the nave. (Some of the masonry above the level of the foundation is probably incorporated into the walls.) The Royal Commission on Ancient andHistoricalMonuments(1924) said that the proportioning of the lower part of the walls suggests the much-altered remains of a 12thCenturyChurch. MACGIBBON and ROSS believed it is not unlikely from the narrowing of the east end on the north side that a chancel arch may have existed.

Most authorities, whilst not fully committing themselves, date the present nave as mainly l6th century. That it was early l6th Century is suggested by two facts. Firstly, after the Reformation in 1560 there was little church building inScotlandfor 50 or 60 years. Secondly at the East end of the south wall of the nave there is a blocked-up doorway, which was most probably a priest’s door opening into the church.

Entering the Church one finds two large tablets are fixed to one North wall.  The tablet to thenorth westis inscribed, “Sacred to the memory of John Hamilton of Pencaitland, Esq., who was born the 23rd December 1752 and departed this life 25th December 1804.” “The elevated endowments of his mind, and the amiable qualities of his heart rendered him highly interesting and valuable member of society, in all the relations of life.  He lived, sincerely beloved; and died deeply and universally lamented.” “Sacred also to the memory of his much lamented and honoured spouse, Janet Dundas.  She was born 1st July, 1764, and died 10th April 1810.  Her life was distinguished by piety and virtue, her death by fortitude and resignation.”

The north eastern tablet has the design of a woman’s head surmounting wings and has the ensuing inscription, “To the memory of Mary Hamilton Campbell who was born on the fourth day of August 1750 and died on the nineteenth day of November 1826.” “A rare combination of sweetness of manners, kindness of heart, sound discretion, and exalted piety rendered her the delight of her friends and imparted a nameless charm to all her intercourse in domestic and social life.  When the ear heard her, it blessed her, and when the eye saw her it gave witness to her, because she delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him.  The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon her and she caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.”

The Winton Aisle dates from the l3th Century, and is of first pointed (early English) architecture. It may have been the originalchurchofPencaitland, or may have served as the Sacristy to the main part of the early church. The practice inEnglandwas to suspend the reserved Eucharist above the altar in the hanging pyx. In the north and east ofScotlandthe pyx was placed in a richly adorned Sacrament House. It is possible that this building was used for such a purpose. At sometime after the Reformation the Winton Aisle housed a Laird’s Loft. Entrance was through the East Window by way of an outside flight of steps. A water colour of the interior of the church painted in 1880 shows that the interesting West Window was almost wholly obscured, and that the loft took the form of a gallery built into the Aisle, supported in the centre by a strong wooden post. The loft itself extended to the North Wall of the building, but the part under the loft does not appear to have extended so far back. There was probably a small room there. At any rate the Kirk session minute of July 29th 1707 refers to “the giving out of the elements at the little room under the loft stair appointed for that use.” Of course the present gallery may also have been referred to as the loft. The building was restored in 1882 when the memorial tablets in the Aisle were repositioned. At this time the seating on the North side of the present central aisle of the nave was at right angles to its present position, presumably facing the pulpit.

A Tour of the Present Building 

The Saltoun Aisle dates from the late l7th Century. In looking round the church let us begin at the outside of the building at the west door in the tower.

In deference to the old superstition that says that it is bad luck to walk widdershins(counter-clockwise) round a church, we shall proceed in a clockwise direction.

On the first buttress is the chain to which the jougs were attached reminding us of the days when people were pilloried when caught breaking the law. When the collar was lost is not known, but an illustration of the complete instrument of punishment was printed in a book published in 1898. Near the jougs there is a round-headed window and it is obvious there was once a doorway here. There was a corresponding one, now also converted to a window, on the opposite side of the church. These doorways are probably older than the tower. It is probable that they were separate entrances for the men and women, who in some places inScotland, as elsewhere, were segregated during worship. (The custom persisted in a few churches until the l9th Century.) If these were doorways used by the different sexes, the men’s door would have been on the south of the nave and the women’s on the north. It is not likely, however, that the custom existed here after the building of the tower when the new west doorway was constructed.

At this part of the church we can note the medieval foundations, which are found most of the way round the building. They disappear at the late 17th Century Saltoun Aisle, which we now reach, and which projects at right angles to the nave. The west side of the Saltoun Aisle contains a late Renaissance doorway, now blocked up. The initials over the pediment are those of Sir John SINCLAIR who was one of the family of Sinclair’s who owned the barony of Stevenson near Haddington.

Pencaitland was created a Burgh of Barony in 1695 in favour of Sir Robert Sinclair of STEVENSON. There is also an ogee-headed window, likewise built up. Note the much-weathered face on the northwest corbel. This was probably a piece of an earlier building incorporated in the new work either when it was built, or at a later date. At the top of the northeast corner of the east wall of the Saltoun Aisle is the date 1864 when repairs were presumably carried out.

Adjoining the Saltoun Aisle is the Winton Aisle, a venerable structure dating from the l3th century and which was originally roofed with stone slabs. The carved faces of devils, animals, men and angels on the corbels are worthy of notice. Two large windows have been filled in, although the doorway is obviously of earlier date than the stone used for blocking the windows. This is probably l7th century work, perhaps inserted when the aisle became a Laird’s Loft. It will be noticed that the original buttresses have been strengthened by later additions; the north wall of the Aisle is very much out of the perpendicular.

Proceeding to the east end of the nave, we can see that the east door has been clumsily knocked through the wall, obviously in post-reformation times. The south wall of the nave, where the early foundations again reappear, has five buttresses. Of these, the ones at each end are probably contemporary with the rest of the structure. The remaining ones were added probably as late as the 19th century, to prevent a bulging of the wall. At the east end of the south wall is a blocked-up priest’s door that led into the chancel – an indication that the nave, although of later date than the foundations, certainly pre-dates the Reformation. Features that can be observed from the south of the church are the three sundials, and the windows of the nave.

Returning to the tower we see that it bears the date 1631 and the initials of John OSWALD, the incumbent at that time. The tower houses a bell in the upper octagonal portion. The bell is dated 1656 and bears the legend “Pencaitland, fear ye the Lord.” The tower at one time served as a dovecot, and is lined with nesting boxes for the pigeons, a cause of much chagrin to the present Kirk Session, who are apt to forget the ancient law of sanctuary and wage a constant war, albeit largely a non-violent one, against the birds that still attempt to populate it, as in 1855, where the heritors ordered the pigeons to be shut out from the steeple of the Church as they were a great nuisance.  The date of the bell is a mystery in a way, because the following entry appears in the Session records, December 27th 1657 “William CAIRNES reported to the session that he and David RID—(?) had been atEdinburghand that the Laird of WOODHEAD and they had spoken to a merchant for a bell of 10 stone weight who promised to send toLondonfor one.” (Incidentally as the tower was built in 1631, does this mean that the Church had no bell for 26 years?)

When we go inside the church again the pulpit is worth a little attention. It is a fine example of 17th century work, although the base is modern, the carving is stylised. It is not certain whether a canopy (see Gifford Church, among others) was provided, but there may well have been one that was removed later. The baptismal bracket, although not an outstanding piece of workmanship is interesting, as comparatively few of these now remain. Originally the minister baptised from the pulpit, and sprinkled the water, with varying degrees of accuracy, onto the baby held below. The bracket is still in use on occasions, although now, of course, the minister descends from the pulpit during the ceremony. The old oak pew fronts, and pews at the front of the transept known as the Saltoun Aisle, are l6th or l7th Century and repay examination. Some old oak is also built into the front of the gallery, which dates from 1635.

The fine stained glass window in the Winton Aisle was erected by parishioners to the memory of Mary, Lady RUTHVEN (1789-1885) which replaced the outside stair which used to lead up to the Winton Gallery, abolished in 1886 when it was removed, the glass being amongst some of the finest in Scotland!  The one over the east door commemorates the Rev. James COULLIE, minister of the parish from 1872-1924.  The Rev. James COULLIE, B.D., was the last minister of Pencaitland to be presented to the Parish by means of patronage.  His induction in Pencaitland took place in 1872.  His ministry lasted until 1925.  He was deemed to be a first rate preacher and contributed articles to religious journals.  At his instance in 1877, the Western Offering House of the Church was rebuilt.  Between the years 1880 and 1886 he was instrumental in obtaining a better supply of water for the manse and many repairs to the manse and garden wall (taken from the Heritors Minutes.)  He resided in the village until his death and had a family of three, one son was in the ministry and his daughter was in the Mission Field.

Looking again at the Winton Aisle it is considered most probable that the present single arch separating the Aisle from the former chancel was at one time arcaded. Again the change was probably made at the time of the conversion to a Laird’s Loft. At least one authority considers that this change has hopelessly spoiled the Aisle. The West Window of the Winton Aisle is the original one.

There are records of burials in the church, notably under the gallery; in the Winton Aisle; and in the erstwhile chancel, where there is a memorial to the Rev. William DENUNE, minister (1685-1704) who was buried there and also a burial place of certain members of his family.  This stone is a lapidary record of an historical event in the history of Scottish Presbyterianism.  In the days of our Stuart rulers, Presbytery was set aside and Episcopacy established and it was not until the Stuart dynasty (1688) was overthrown and the House of Orange set up, that Presbytery was restored.  Then in 1695 an Act was passed which permitted Episcopal Ministers who refused to conform to Presbyterianism to keep their livings if they conformed to the Civil Order of things.  Rev. DENUNE conformed and in consequence, although an Episcopalian, he retained the living at Pencaitland.  He had been an Episcopalian Minister in Haddington before he was called to Pencaitland where he ministered for ten years.  He died very early in 1704 when he was in his 48th year.  The Church was declared vacant on 30th January 1704.

Other burials took place in the Church, an extract from the Church Session records under the date 26th May 1707, reads: “This day it was represented by my Lord Fountainhall that the burying place belonging to his predecessors and heritors of the lands within this Parish of Pencaitland, now possessed by the said Lord Fountainhall, was in the west end of this Church of Pencaitland below the loft and before the bell-steeple, and therefore craved the Session might give their concurrence to his having possession of the said burial place; which representation and desire being considered by the Session they did unanimously agree, as by their presents they do agree that so far as concerns them, the said Lord Fountainhall shall have free use and liberty of the said ground at the west end of the Church for him, his heirs and successors, as a burying place for the use of their families whenever they shall have occasion for the same in any time coming, and this, but prejudice allways (sic)  of the Session having full liberty and power to enclose the said piece of ground for one room to the Session to meet and hold Session in, when by the heritors and Session it shall be thought fit to be so enclosed and made use of for the ends foresaid: and it is hereby declared that the enclosing and using the foresaid piece of ground as one Session house, is but prejudice of his Lordship’s right to the same as a burying place and that these presents shall have the force of an Act of Session, and allows extracts hereof.”

The only other interments known to have taken place within the Church were those of Colonel HAMILTON of Pencaitland and of his wife (Uncle and Aunt of Lady Hamilton RUTHVEN) and of Mrs Hamilton CAMPBELL (Lady RUTHVEN’s mother) who succeeded her brother, Colonel HAMILTON in the estates of Pencaitland and Winton.  The marble slabs in the Winton Aisle commemorate them.

The Furniture 

The Communion table with the matching lectern and font; and the three Communion chairs are worthy of notice. The first three were gifted to our church when St. Margaret’s Church, Dumbiedykes, Edinburgh closed, and the chairs were generously donated by Mr. James MCGREGOR, in memory of the REIDS of Tyneholm.

Mason’s and Other Marks 

There are few of these, but the following may be seen.

On the inside of the west face of the tower: I. K

On the north east corner of the Saltoun Aisle: A Bench Mark

On thenorth westcorner of the Saltoun Aisle: DUNC JOHN

On the buttress on the east wall of the Nave: AIRIX

The Church Yard 

We have a valuable record of our local history in the headstones in the churchyard. It is most unfortunate that many years ago quite a few of the older ones were removed, but we must be grateful for those we have left. Although many are now worn and some unreadable, it is not too late to record the remaining inscriptions and this has recently been done by Mr. & Mrs. MURPHY.

On the south wall of the church there are some interesting inscriptions, one, near the old priest’s door dating from 1640. Below it is a skull set into the wall. Note also the inscription in which the letter ‘N’ is always reversed, and the one that says “These three died of a violent fea (fever) in the year 1736.” Epidemics were common in those days.

In 1864, a bulging of the South wall of the Church was said to be due to graves being dug deeper than the foundation of the wall.  Wherefore two more buttresses were built to secure the top foundation of the wall.  At the same time the tops of the walls were levelled to secure a new roof and crow-steps were substituted for skews though the skews remained and were restored.

One of the most interesting features is the number of stones bearing the tools of the trade followed by the deceased. There is a spoon, and quarry men or miner’s tools among others, and the finest is near the gate leading to the manse, the burial place of a tailor.

The old part of the churchyard must be very old, yet there is no tombstone visible with an earlier date than 1560.  This churchyard was one of the last places inScotlandwhere a “resurrection” was attempted.  A party of watchers once caught two “body-snatchers” in the very act and tied up one of them to the cross in Wester Pencaitland where he received very rough treatment from a very angry crowd among whom many were women.

In 1855, the churchyard was enlarged taking with it the old College, a building once suggested as being the old vicarage, the extra ground being given by Lady RUTHVEN free of charge.  The new part consisted of ground on which the college buildings stood and stretched as far as the old house called College Barns.

The tombstone of Lord RUTHVEN occupies a very prominent position in Pencaitland Churchyard.

Several extensions have been made on the Churchyard.  The last took place in 1902 when the Churchyard was found to be overcrowded.  A grant of land from the glebe having been refused by the Presbytery, Mr & Mrs H. Ogilvy offered to sell half an acre of ground which offer was accepted by the heritors and agreed to, by the Presbytery.  Not long after, in 1908, the new cemetery onSaltoun Roadcame into being the work being done by Mr. R. Baillie at the cost of £556, 4 shillings and 9 pence.

These are only a small number of the interesting stones to be seen.

The Offering Houses 

Two small pan-tiled buildings stand, one at each entrance to the churchyard. It is interesting to know that they were erected as collecting, or offering houses so that the elders would not have to stand outside in inclement weather. The houses were originally built in or about 1759, for there is a record in the old treasurer’s books that refer to the payment, in 1760, for their building. In 1759 two stools for collecting were purchased. Are these the ones we still use today? Possibly they are, as they are very old, and there is no subsequent similar reference in the account books. If they have, indeed, lasted for 200 years the Session of the time can be considered to have made a good buy.

The problem of providing shelter, however, arose long before the offering houses were built. An entry in the Session records for 1723 states: “The Session considering the great hardships the elders are put to in collecting for the poor on the Lords Day without any covert from the weather in the winter season, they appointed a Box of Dealls to be made for a covert unto them untill they be better provided.” (sic.)

The East Offering House, however, was rebuilt to the original design in 1911 at a cost of 312.18.6d. This was necessary because the heritors, in removing a tree, unfortunately mistook their aim and felled it on top of the building. An argument ensued about who was responsible for the rebuilding The Session or Heritors, and the Session lost the day. Although built as offering houses there is no doubt that the buildings were also used as watch-houses against body snatchers when occasion demanded.

Ministers at Pencaitland Parish Church

We have already said that for a long period before the Reformation the spiritual welfare of the parish was in the hands of the monks of Kelso. Until about 1309 and from 1343 to 1560 the parish was served by the monks of Dryburgh or by a substitute provided by them. There are, therefore comparatively few years in which other clergymen were in office, but the charter of 1343 refers to the parson of the time, who was Sir Gilbert DEL GLEN. (The title “Sir” would probably not imply knighthood. After the fashion of the Middle Ages it was given to a clerk in Holy Orders who was not a graduate. A graduate was called master, or doctor).

After the Reformation, there is a complete record of the incumbents. The charge was disjoined from the Presbytery of Dalkeith between 30th March 1583 and 11th October 1587. Keith MARISHALL was in the charge till 1588.

Ministers of Pencaitland since the Reformation (with dates of inductions) are as follows:

1567 Andrew BLACKHALL (Ormiston andCranstonbeing the charge.)

1576 John GRAY (Reader; that is not full pastor)

1580 James GIBSON

1598 Archibald OSWALD

1629 John OSWALD


1653 Alexander VERNON (George SHIELL, M.A., Minister of Durisdeer was presented by Charles II, 16th Apr. and coll. 14th May 1669 his installation was cancelled July, following.)

1669 RobertDOUGLAS

1674 James COCKBURN

1685 William DENUNE

1705 Matthew SIMSON

1757 GeorgeANDERSON

1793 David PYPER

1814 Angus MAKELLAR

1843 Maxwell NICHOLSON

1855 William Lyon RIACH

1872 James COULLIE

1925 George G. MORGAN, M.A.

1964 John M. WILSON, M.A.

1970 L. David LEVISON, M.A. B.D.




You have toured round this old church and I hope you have enjoyed your visit; but let us not forget that it is a place for meditation and prayer. If you are able to visit the Church and walk around, then before you leave, please spare a moment for prayer, and to remember the Minister, office-bearers and congregation who worship here continuing the tradition of past centuries as well as sparing a thought for those who have formed the village through life that they may be still remembered in death.


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One Response to “History of Pencaitland Parish Church”

  1. On October 23, 2015 at 4:30 pm