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Cockburnspath Parish Church

Armorial Panel (Medieval), Burial Vault (17th Century), Church (Medieval), Sundial (16th Century), War Memorial (20th Century)

Site Name Cockburnspath Parish Church

Classification Armorial Panel (Medieval), Burial Vault (17th Century), Church (Medieval), Sundial (16th Century), War Memorial (20th Century)

Canmore ID 58855

Site Number NT77SE 16

NGR NT 77445 71053

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Scottish Borders, The
  • Parish Cockburnspath
  • Former Region Borders
  • Former District Berwickshire
  • Former County Berwickshire

Archaeology Notes

NT77SE 16.00 77445 71053

NT77SE 16.01 NT 77445 71028 Churchyard

(NT 7745 7105) Cockburnspath parish church is a simple oblong on plan, measuring some 80ft by 18ft 3 ins over walls averaging 3ft in thickness, and having a diagonal buttress at each angle. The details indicate that a church existed on the present site in the 14th and 15th centuries; this probably succeeded a still earlier building. A round tower, some 9ft internal diameter, is situated in the centre of the 14th century W gable; it was added in the late 16th or early 17th century. A small tomb-house, roofed with a pointed barrel vault, abuts against the E wall of the church, and is now used as a heating chamber. It is dated 1614. Before the Reformation, Cockburnspath was a chapelry of Oldhamstocks. The chaplain of 'Colbrundspath' is mentioned in 1255, but whether his chapel occupied the present site is not known.

RCAHMS 1915; D MacGibbon and T Ross 1897; H Scott (Fasti Eccles) 1915; G Hay 1957

As described and illustrated by the previous authorities. The church is still in use for public worship.

Visited by OS (WDJ), 5 April 1966.

The church was extensively restored in the 19th century and its original date of construction is uncertain; the building is unlikely to be later in date than the 16th century.

RCAHMS 1980, visited 1979.


Field Visit (November 1908 - April 1913)

45. Cockburnspath Church.

The village of Cockburnspath is situated some 7 miles to the south-east of Dunbar, and distant about 1 mile from the sea-coast. Originally the dwelling-houses appear to have been grouped around a market-square of which the old market cross still forms the central feature. The church, which stands near the south side of the square, has undergone several restorations. On plan it is a simple oblong measuring some 80 feet by 18 feet 3 inches over walls averaging 3 feet in thickness, and having a diagonal buttress with a single intake at each angle. There are also several indications of an early base-course. The interior of the church has been completely modernised, and the old walls have been pierced with new windows and doorways. Built into the wall immediately above the exterior of the south-eastern doorway is the pointed arch-head of a two-light window containing tracery of. the cusped geometrical type within a moulded label. The details indicate that a church existed on the present site in the 14th and 15th centuries, which in its turn probably succeeded a still earlier building. The tower (fig. 18 [SC1172956]), situated in the middle of the west gable, is the most interesting feature now remaining. It measures some 9 feet in diameter within walls averaging 1 foot 6 inches in thickness, and contains a wheel-staircase of stone. The total height measured from the level of the church floor to the upper coping is about 30 feet. It is divided into two unequal stages by a string-course a few feet above the apex level of the church roof. The lower stage is lighted by two narrow rectangular windows, while the upper part has several round-headed openings with semicircular depressions formed opposite each other in the centre of the jambs, thus recalling the cross-shaped loopholes of early castles. Unlike the masonry of the church, the tower walls have been built with rubble which has been covered with roughcast. The tower has been added to the 14th century west gable in the late 16th or early 17th century, and doubtless then terminated in a conical roof of timber and slates. Access is gained by a square-headed doorway entering from within the church to the wheel staircase, which is continued up to the level of the string-course. In the construction of the tower it is interesting to note that the binding effect of the stone steps has obviated the necessity of thick outer walls.

A small tomb-house, roofed with a pointed barrel vault, abuts against the east wall of the church, and is now used as a heating chamber. It is entered by a lintelled doorway formed in the centre of the east wall. The date 1614 is carved on the apex of the gable, surmounting which there is a stone, bearing a shield now much worn, charged with arms:-A chevron between two stars in chief and a crescent in base (for Arnot). On the dexter side of the shield the letter W is faintly discernible on the surface of the wall.*

Lying close to the north wall within the vault is a stone slab measuring 6 feet by 2 feet 6 inches, having a shield carved on the exposed surface charged with three escutcheons; above on a scroll is the motto SERVA JUGUM, and around, the letters D·I·H. (Hay).

A chapel and a hospital appear to have existed at Cockburnspath from early times. Robert chaplain of Colbrandspath is mentioned in 1255, but there seems to be some doubt as to the site of the church mentioned.


A sundial forming the terminal of the south-west buttress is of a remarkable type. The dial face slopes inwards and the sides are splayed towards a narrow necking where they join a chamfered base. The upper surface slopes in line with the pitch of the south half of the gable, having a semicircular hollow cut out of the centre. Below the west side a triangular-shaped arm juts out in a curious fashion. It has been suggested that the shadow cast from this projection on to the surface of the west gable may have been designed as a secondary sun-dial, but no indications of a dial face or figures now remain.

See Eccles. Arch., iii. p. 413 (plan and illus.); Cast. and Dom. Arch., v. p. 382 (illus.); Eccles. Soc., vol. ii. pt.. i. p. 178 (illus.); Ber. Nat. Club, 1890-91, p. 101 (illus.); ibid., 1896-98, p. 19; Antiquaries, xxiv. p. 181 (sun-dial illus.).

*‘Wil Arnote portionario de Coldbrandispeth’ witnessed a Charter at Edinburgh on 28th January 1607. Ber. Nat. Club, 1900, pp. 136- 162.

RCAHMS 1915, visited November 1908 and April 1913.

OS Map: Ber., i. SW.

Photographic Survey (June 1962)

Photographic survey of the exterior of Cockburnspath Parish Church, Berwickshire, by the Scottish National Buildings Record in 1962.

Project (February 2014 - July 2014)

A data upgrade project to record war memorials.

Sbc Note

Visibility: This is an upstanding building.

Information from Scottish Borders Council.


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