Airth Parish Church

TIMELINE
Airth Parish Church                        1929

St. Peter’s Church

1929   Airth North Church                          1956

1956   Airth Old Parish Church                 present

1120s: Bishop Robert of St Andrews consecrates a new stone church.

1128: Church granted to Holyrood Abbey by David I.

1146: “church of Hereth along with the land pertaining to the same church and with all the land which I added and gave to it as my officers and worthy men perambulated it and handed it over to abbot Alwin along with a saltpan in Hereth and 26 acres; which church and fore-named land I wish that the regulars of Holy Cross should have and possess for all time freely and peacefully, and I sternly prohibit anyone from unjustly molesting or disturbing the monks or the men belonging to them who remain on that same land or from unjustly  exacting from them services,  aids or customs.   I wish also that the monks should have the liberty of making a mill on that land and that they should have in Hereth all the customary privileges…

 Interior looking East

Interior of the Church looking east.

12th century: The remains of three arcades in the Transitional style can be attributed to the late twelfth century.   These stand in the west part of the body of the existing church and would have formed part of a nave aisle.   The eastern respond of the arcade survives intact with its moulded base, keel-shaped pillar, and capital, and the western one remains in part.  A later round arch of two plain orders connects the eastern respond with the first pier of the nave arcade, and centrally between this and the western respond there is a fragment of what appears to be the base slab of the other free-standing pier.  This completes the three-bay system.   The responds and the circular pier show an early form of water-holding base, the profile of the lower roll being flat and semi-elliptical.   The capitals have square abaci, but whereas the pier capital is formed with plain concave sides which are crudely carved with simple foliage the one belonging to the eastern respond is an accomplished piece of masoncraft, wrought from a harder stone, with a waterleaf design.

1450-1487: Airth aisle added by Alexander Bruce of Stenhouse and Airth, possibly as a chaplainry.   The east and west walls contain, respectively, an aumbry recess in the south-east corner and a small but deeply moulded square-headed window, divided into two lights by a mullion.   In the south gable wall there was originally a large traceried window, but only the form of its equilateral arch and chamfered surround survives, together with a fragment of the tracery, as it was contracted – presumably in the seventeenth century, to judge by its hollow chamfered surround – in order to match the other work of that date.   Beneath the south window there is a segmental-arched tomb-recess, with a hollow chamfered surround, in which now lies a mutilated female effigy.

The outside of the aisle gable is provided with a splayed plinth, cut off square with the two side walls and also interrupted, just west of the equilateral window, by an inserted doorway, now blocked up.  A recess for the door in its opened position can be seen in the inner face of the west wall of the aisle.   The plinth continues along the west wall at a lower level.   The equilateral window retains its external hood-mould, with carved, foliated stops.   On the east jamb-stone of its contracted opening is incised an early form of sundial or mass-clock.   Beneath the gable coping there occurs a series of carved flowers, very irregular in their size and disposition, and at the apex a wasted finial.   The skewputs bear shields charged for Bruce:  A saltire and chief.  On the exterior of the east wall there is a niche for a statue with an ornamental canopy and bracket.  The bracket is carved with a shield charged, for Bruce: A saltire, on a chief two mullets.  At two points near the south end of the east wall there can be seen, respectively, the initials RB and a crudely scratched cross; both are very indistinct as a result of weathering.

1593: Elphinstone aisle built by Alexander Elphinstone.   It lies just west of the Airth Aisle, separated from the nave by a semicircular arch of two orders, the inner one being chamfered.  The aisle contains several fine tombstones, the earliest of which is dated 1593, which appears to be the date when the aisle was built.   The gable is crow-stepped and has cavetto-moulded skewputs.   The side walls are finished with a moulded eaves-course of similar section, and at the base there is a splayed plinth similar to that on the Airth Aisle.  Centrally placed in the gable wall is a plain square-headed window with rounded arises, which has been contracted on its east side by the insertion of a chamfered jamb.   The lintelled doorway, at the south-west corner, also has rounded arrises.   An armorial panel set in the gable above the window is now virtually illegible through weathering, but a drawing published in 1896 shows it to have been parted per pale and charged for Elphinstone and Livingstone: Dexter, a chevron between three boars’ heads erased; sinister, quarterly, 1st and 4th, three gillyflowers, 2nd and 3rd a bend between six billets.   It is flanked by the initials M/AE for Master Alexander Elphinstone, who became the fourth Lord Elphinstone in 1602, and IL/ME for his wife Jane Livingstone, Mistress Elphinstone, daughter of William sixth Lord Livingstone.   The date 1593, which appears below the shield, is presumably the building-date of the aisle.

1614: Bruce aisle added by Sir James Bruce of Powfoulis on the north side of the nave, opposite the Airth Aisle.   It is a plain structure with a crow-stepped north gable.   A splayed base-course extends along the gable wall and part of the east wall, where it ends at the north-east re-entrant angle overlapping the splayed base of the early buttress.   On the lintel of the door in the north gable are the initials S/IB and D/MR for Sir James Bruce of Powfoulis and his wife, Dame Margaret Rollox of Duncrub, with the raised inscription THE LORD IS MY TRUST.   Above the doorway is a moulded panel containing the Bruce arms with the letters SIB over it; the moulded surround appears to be old but the shield and letters seem to be of comparatively recent date.   On the west skewput of the gable the letters SIB and DMR occur again and the east one bears the date 1614.

1630: Work on the east end of the church.

East End looking South

The East end of the Church looking South

1647: Tower erected, and part of east end of church.   The tower stands in the angle between the Airth Aisle and the south wall of an eastern extension of the church.   It is a lofty square structure, divided into four diminishing stages by cavetto-moulded string-courses, and terminates one course above the topmost string in a moulded eaves-course and a pyramidal slated roof with a small dormer light on each side.   Each wall at the top stage is lighted by a round-headed window which, in common with all the other openings of this later work, is treated with a hollow-chamfered and backset margin.   The ground-floor compartment serves as an entrance porch and contains a stone bench on either side of the passageway formed by the doorways set respectively in the south and north walls.  Over the lintel of the outer doorway appears the inscription IULY THE 15 1647.  On the first floor there are two further doorways, one central in the north wall and the other near the north end of the east wall.   The second must have been reached by an external flight of wooden steps, and no doubt they jointly provided access for the minister to a pulpit set well above the congregation.   On this showing the first floor room in the tower might have served as a vestry.  One jamb of a small window, perhaps only a slit, which can be seen by the north-west corner of the tower, suggests that there was an access here to the Airth Aisle, for which lighting was needed.   Also at first floor level, on the south-east corner of the tower, there is a badly weathered sundial which still retains its gnomon.

The south wall of the church, extending eastwards from the tower, contains two square-headed windows now blocked up.   Built externally into   the westernmost one is a carved panel with the date 1630 and the initials PH and KM cut boldly in raised letters.   Between the windows at ground level occurs a segmental-arched tomb-recess, which is open to the exterior, and has the initials PH IC roughly incised on its keystone.   Both these inscriptions refer to the Higgins family of Neuck.

The east wall of the church, which still stands to gable height, has at its base a splayed plinth and a stone ledge or bench slightly above it.   It originally contained, in the centre, two windows vertically disposed, the upper one having a round head.   The latter remains intact, but the former has been cut down to form a doorway, and a stone transom has been inserted.   This wall continues northward to form the east end of the north aisle, and this is lighted by a window also having a semicircular head.   The north aisle consists of three bays, spanned by semicircular arches with splayed arrises, supported on square piers, having moulded capitals and splayed and stopped arrises.

East Gable looking NW

The East Gable of the Church looking NW.

1661: Loft inserted into east end of church up to the first pillar.

1663: The west wall of the nave, which is approximately of the same date as the eastern extension, has a central square-headed doorway with rounded arrises extended above as a tall, rectangular window.  To the north of the doorway is a small square window, while on the opposite side, and situated at a higher level, is a window converted into a doorway which must formerly have given external access to a gallery, by means of a short flight of stone steps which survive in part.  Both these latter openings have chamfered arrises.  There are the remains of a similar gallery-door in the north wall of the nave close to the north-west angle, and at the south-east corner of the church stands an external stair giving access to another gallery or Laird’s loft.   These accesses, combined with a scarcement on the face of the east gable and holes for timbers within the openings of the north aisle-arcade, indicate that gallery accommodation was provided at both ends of the church and in the north aisle.   The upper floors of the burial aisles were no doubt also used by the families to whom they belonged.

1682: Barrel vault under the Airth Aisle constructed for Richard Elphinstone.  This burial-vault was formerly reached from the nave by a flight of stone steps; but it became dangerous and was filled in at some time during the later nineteenth century.   The initials of Richard Elphinstone and his wife Jean Bruce, with the date 1682 are said to have been carved at the entrance to the vault.

1806: A survey of the church by Alexander Easton, mason of Carronshore, showed that the estimated coast of repairs would be £501.  A new building for 950 sitters with a spire would only cost £1,600 if the stone was taken from Airth (NLS 10892/163).  A dispute followed over the site for a new church.

1817: Work started on a new church building to the north of the village at a site convenient for Lord Dunmore as well as Graham of Airth.  Graham Stirling of Airth provided some monetary incentives and encouraged the move by active participation.

1820: Church abandoned in favour of the North Church.   A proposal for the erection of a new church had been put forward as early as 1806, but nothing was done until 1816 when David Hamilton of Glasgow and William Stirling of Dunblane were invited to submit plans.   The following year the old church was condemned after a survey by Hamilton and William Burn.   Consequently, William Stirling’s plans and specifications were approved.

New Church looking NE

The new Church looking NE.

The new church stands at the north-west end of the village, close beside the Stirling Road.  Its orientation is from north-west to south-east, parallel with the road.   It is built in the Perpendicular style using pale greyish-yellow freestone ashlar obtained from a quarry west of the village.   The church measures 65 ft by 40 ft externally (excluding buttresses) with a tower 16 ft 6 ins wide projecting 14 ft from the north-west end.  At the south-east end there is an apsidal projection one storey high.   The body of the church, which is seated for 800, consists of three bays subdivided by buttresses offset in two stages and terminating in crocketed finials; similar buttresses, with gablets at the lower stage, are set obliquely at the corners.   Each bay contains a high, pointed three-light window with a transom and Gothic tracery, splayed jambs and a hood mould finishing in moulded steps.   Above a projecting eaves-course there rises a high, pierced parapet; this runs up to the tower on the north-west gable and over the whole of the south-east gable, the south-east gable head being topped by an ornate cross.   The roof is slated.   The south-east end contains a single large window, similar to the side windows except that it contains five lights.   The projection at the south-east end, which is a semi-octagon on plan, is provided with an entrance door on south-west and north-east, and a pointed two-light window facing south-east, but the doors are now permanently closed; it has four buttresses and a pierced parapet like that on the body of the church.   The north-west end shows a two-light window, similar to those on the side walls on either side of the tower.

The tower comprises three stages, defined by string-courses, and is intaken slightly at the top of the lowermost stage.   Buttresses with crocketed finials are set obliquely at its corners.   The lowermost stage contains three similar entrances; one in each face; each has a Tudor arch with a flat hood-mould above it and tracery in the spandrels.   The second stage shows three two-light windows, similar to those in the west gable; and the third stage two pairs of louvered lancets, each with its own hood-mould and each flanked by slender nook-shafts.   The uppermost part of the tower is decorated with an ogival headed arcade, rising from corbels, above which is a moulded eaves-course enriched at regular intervals with floral ornament.   The wall-head bore the same high, pierced parapet seen on the body of the church, and removed after gales in the 1970s.

The church is entered through a vestibule at the bottom of the tower, in which a geometric stair gives access to a gallery and to a small room, originally the session house.   The seating faces a pulpit at the south-east end.   A door to the right of the pulpit opens into the apsidal projection at the south-east end, which now serves as a vestry.   A second door into it, on the left of the pulpit, has been blocked by an inserted organ.  The gallery, which is supported on iron columns and has a front decorated with arcading, runs along both sides and across the north-west end.   It retains its original enclosed pews, while those on the ground floor, which have open ends, appear to be replacements.

1890: Renovations carried out, including the replacement of the roof and raising the ceiling thus exposing the collar beams.

1956: With the dissolution of Airth South Church the Old Parish Church became the only church in the village.

MANSE

The early manse was on the site of Airth Mains Farm.

1814: New manse built on the north side of Airth.

FITTINGS

1890: New oil lamps.

BELL

The bell of the old church was recast in 1824 for the new building.

WINDOW

1890: The base of the east window bears the inscription”In memoriam, Rev. William Park., D.D.  1890″.   The top centre light contains an angel with a harp and the text “Oh, come let us walk in the light of the Lord”; to right and left are ecclesiastical plants such as the rose and lily; the tracery contains cherubs and doves and the letters alpha and omega.   The whole composition was designed by Stephen Adam and Co, St. Vincent Street, Glasgow

SEATING

17th century: The galleries in the old church are thought to have been added in the seventeenth century.

1820: New church sat 800.

CHURCHYARD

A burial ground would have lain around the church from an early date.   The Elphinstone Aisle has a fragment of a medieval tombstone built into it.

17th century: Roll mouldings on the graveyard entrances suggest a seventeenth century date for this boundary wall.   At the same time the level of the graveyard was probably raised (the Elphinstone Aisle of 1593 was constructed before this event).

1830s: Three mortsafes lie in the graveyard.   They all take the form of massive iron coffins and on each appears the word AIRTH followed by a date 1831, 1832 and 1837 respectively.   A fourth mortsafe now lies outside the North Church.

MINISTERS OF AIRTH PARISH CHURCH

1574 Christison, David 1580
Dec 1582 Fethie, Arthur 1587
Dec 1587 Laing, Henry May 1616
Jul 1618 Spittal, Thomas Jan 1626
Jan 1626 Hally, Robert
1650 Simson, James  
Oct 1660 Forsyth, James Apr 1665
May 1666 Pigott, Alexander Mar 1679
Sep 1679 Gellie, Paul  
Apr 1700 Hamilton, Alexander Feb 1726
Jan 1729 Bruce, John Sep 1741
Aug 1743 Forbes Jun 1762
Feb 1763 Ure, Robert Feb 1813
Sep 1794 Ure, Robert Dec 1803
Oct 1812 McGachan, John May 1843
Jan 1845 Park, William Mar 1888
Sep 1888 Simpson, George Aug 1899
Feb 1900 Hendry, Frederick 1928
1928 Donaldson, Thomas Sep 1963
Jun 1964 McGeachie, Samuel Nov 1968
Apr 1969 Gillon, George Apr  2001
Sep 1981 Ballentine, Anne 1994
1994 Fairful, John  
Apr 2002 Hammond, Richard  
Jun 2012 Todd, James Present