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Information on the Parish of Mertoun near St. Boswells in Scotland.

A Brief History of Mertoun Kirk

Mertoun Kirk

(This article is taken from the leaflet produced for the Service of Thanksgiving held on 27th November 1991 to celebrate the 750th Anniversary of the Dedication of the church by David de Bernham, Bishop of St Andrews in 1241.)

Dryburgh Abbey, situated in the present parish of Mertoun, was founded by the Premonstratensians in 1150 AD. To this Abbey Hugo de Morville gave the church of Mertoun. That the church building existed before Bishop de Bernham's dedication is certain, but how long before can only be an inspired guess. The little church was built on high ground overlooking the river which, at that time, was the main highway linking the abbeys of Kelso, Dryburgh and Melrose.

It is no great feat to maintain a building for 300 years. During the Reformation period, about 1560, there was a consolidation of estates, the stone-robbing of churches and abbeys to build mansion-houses and a neglect of the fabric of many of the churches remaining. There was often a movement of the population too, so that churches were moved closer to the people. A terminal date at, or about, 1658 for the old church is quite appropriate. Equally appropriate is the relocation and building of the present parish church. The old and the new go together. All churches, like river crossings, have a strong and long location. Even when they are rebuilt they are not moved far, if at all. In the case of Mertoun, the old church appears to have been abandoned. It is shown in 1907 as roofless with extension or porch at the west end. It is ruinous in 1914, but later maps show it to be a vault, used by the Scotts of Harden, itself now in a state of disrepair.

One hundred years ago, James Robson of Kelso described the present building as 'long and narrow and exceedingly plain'. He went on, 'The bell bears the date 1762, and on the front wall still hangs the old chain, complete, and part of the collar, of the jougs. The east gable is completely covered with ivy, which, with the neat belfry at the opposite end, and the whole snugly embowered within the leafy shade, imparts to the little church a decidedly picturesque appearance'.

Another source, 1834, tells us that, 'there were five old-fashioned square pews belonging to the heritors, that belonging to Lord Polwarth enclosed with wood to the height of five feet and having a fire-place. Every tenant has a pew assigned to him and there is a gallery appropriated in common to cottagers and farm-servants. The glebe is 14acres, the average number of communicants about 240, the collections are from 16 to 18 per annum, the church will accommodate about 380 and is generally well attended'.

There have been a lot of changes. The bell was rehung in 1985, the oak stock and ironwork being renewed by local tradesmen. The bell, in fact, bears the date 1707. The church was enlarged in 1898, the gallery removed, the old box pews replaced, and it now seats about 180. The ivy has been removed from the church walls, the trees thinned - but the jougs are still there and the little church still offers 'a picturesque appearance'.

In 1896 there was an old grave slab, bearing an ornamental cross, standing near the south wall of the old church. Sadly, this has disappeared, though there is a drawing of it in "The Pre-Reformation Churches of Berwickshire" 1892 by J Ferguson.

An old stone which forms the outer step at the east doorway is inscribed "IVLIE 1658". A modern stone above the door has the same inscription. Another stone above the west door is inscribed "Repd 1820"

One of the ministers was well-known. Alexander Symsone, 'When preaching in Edinburgh in 1621 he spared neither king nor bishop'. He was apprehended the following day and imprisoned in Dumbarton, but was released and confined to his own parish. He died on 17th July 1639 and is buried at Dryburgh Abbey. 'He knew and cared little about earthly things, but was unwearied in prayer and constantly occupied with the Bible'.

Early in the 20th century Mertoun Kirk had a woman 'Bible Reader'. She lived in St Boswells and her task was to read the Bible to people. 'She was well-liked and popular'.

Also: The Jougs and the Loupin-on-Stane  |  Inside the Church

Back to: The Adjacent Parish of Mertoun