Monday, 5 February 2018

A Look at Earlston Churches

In 1866 Earlston had three churches Ercildoune Parish Church, West United Presbyterian Church and East United Presbyterian Church.   Rutherfurd's Southern Counties Directory of 1866  noted that the three churches offered seating for 1400 worshipers - in a village with a population of 1825.  Religion was an integral  part of community life.

In the 12th century, the foundation charter for Melrose Abbey was signed by King David I at Ercildoune (the old name for Earlston),   It is known that a chapel was built in Earlston at the end of the 11th century  and in 1242 a new church was built and consecrated.  After the Reformation in 1560,  it became the Church of Scotland.

The  medieval church was replaced in 1736, enlarged in 1834 which in turn was replaced  on the same site in 1892 by the present building of red sandstone from Cowdenknowes Quarry, with seating for 700 people.   It was known as Ercildoune Church until its union with St. John's Church under the minister Rev. John Duncan in  1946 after 200 years of division.

The Old Parish Church, demolished in 1891

Men from Rodger Builders working on the  church, 1891.
One of the oldest photographs in the Auld Earlston collection 

A charming tinted image of the rebuilt  church,
early 20th century

In 1991 renovation work took place on the church  building, largely thanks to a generous bequest  from the late Miss Ella Newton of Edinburgh, whose father had been works manager at  Simpson & Fairbairn Mill in Earlston.   Again men from Rodgers Builders undertook much of the work. 

Some of the team working on the 1991 refurbishment

Records go back to James Ker in 1549  up to the present day. One of the longest serving was William Mair (1869-1903), who served as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1897.  The Rev. John Duncan also served 30 years 1946-76. 

Communion Plate
The pewter communion plate mostly came from the Relief and  Associate Churches in Earlston, 1750 and 1780 respectively, with the  earliest chalice dated 1760. The Associate and Relief bodies came together in the early nineteenth century to form the United Presbyterian Church.   All the communion plate is kept in the bank and only brought out four times a year for  a  formal sacrament.

Church Records
  • The Church of Scotland Registers go back to  the late 17th century, recording baptisms, marriages and burials, but with some gaps. You can search them online at or consult them on microfilm at the Heritage Hub in Hawick.
  • Earlston Kirk Session Records  give us a unique  social commentary on life in the village at the time - with the emphasis on chastisement and charity, as the church provided help to the poor and needy, but censure to those involved in what was regarded as moral turpitude. As late as 1901, a woman was brought before the Kirk Session  to be questioned on her "sin of fornication and having a child out of wedlock". 

"Having confessed  in sorrow for her sins and resolution to walk through grace in newness of life, the Moderator after solemn admonition did in the name of the Kirk Session absolve her from the scandal of her sin  and restore her to the privileges of the church.

Scottish Kirk Session Records are not available online,  but you can view them   in a digitized format at the Heritage Hub at Hawick, which serves  the whole of the Scottish Borders 
Following disputes over the appointment of  the Rev.  Lawrence Johnston to be minister of Ercildoune Parish Church,  a Relief congregation was formed in 1778 and a church built at the West End of the village with seating for 500.  

In 1887 it joined with the East Church (see below) to form one congregation with one minister, as the Earlston United Presbyterian Church. With some irony  the West Church was sold to the Parish Church (Church of Scotland) and used as a church hall until 1956.    The property was later demolished  and replaced eventually by the modern flats we see on the site  today. 

Dissatisfied members of the congregation at Ercildoune Church joined the Secession movement in 1738.  A church was built and later enlarged to seat 500 worshippers  and became the East United Presbyterian Church.  1887 saw it join with the West United Presbyterian Church  and the name of St. John's was adopted in 1929.  

In 1946 the congregation  reunited  with the  Parish Church of Scotland  under the ministry of Rev. John Duncan.   The old St. John's Church Hall became the parish church hall, with the church itself later demolished.
 United Presbyterian Church (East), later St. John's Church 
The building on the left became the Parish Church Hall, 
when the two congregation united  in 1946. 

There was a congregation for a few years in the mid 19th century.  Worship in Earlston resumed in 1949 in a chapel hall, dedicated to St. Cuthbert, on Westfield Road  which closed  c.2012.  


Earlston Parish Church and Churchyard, 2016

  • The Church in Earlston 600AD-1982, by Rev. John H. Duncan, 1992 - with a copy in the Auld Earlston Archives.
  • The Churches and Graveyards of Berwickshire, by Dr. G. A. C. Binnie, 1985. Available from Scottish Borders Library Service.
  • Earlston Monumental Inscriptions, published by Borders Family History Society, 2005 - available through  BFHS and Scottish Borders Library Service.
  • Website of Earlston Parish Church -


    Future posts will look at other aspects of church life. 
    In Case You Missed: 
    For a fuller picture of the information in the Kirk Sessions Records,   see an earlier blog post  HERE. 

    The Auld Earlston Group  is grateful for the photographs and postcards featured here. It will be pleased  to receive  donations or loans of further material which can be scanned and returned to you.    E-mail:




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