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Canisbay Parish Church

Broch (Iron Age)(Possible), Church (Medieval)

Site Name Canisbay Parish Church

Classification Broch (Iron Age)(Possible), Church (Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Kirkstyle; St. Drostan's Church Of Scotland

Canmore ID 9415

Site Number ND37SW 4

NGR ND 34349 72853

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2024.

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Highland
  • Parish Canisbay
  • Former Region Highland
  • Former District Caithness
  • Former County Caithness

Archaeology Notes

ND37SW 4.00 34349 72853

ND37SW 4.01 Centred ND 34360 72859 Churchyard

ND37SW 4.02 3436 7285 Memorial

(ND 3434 7285) The church of Canisbay, mentioned between 1223 and 1245, is built on the mound covering the ruins of a broch. There are indications that the present church dates from the 15th century, but the fact that it was dedicated to St Drostan and that a rock immediately off- shore retains the name Papel (ND 3420 7308) might suggest a pre-Norse, Celtic origin.

Finds from the graveyard include red deer antler and hammerstones presented to the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland (NMAS) by Rev James MacPherson in 1871.

The church is oblong with probably 17th century N and S transepts and pre-Reformation tower in the centre of the W front. It is a plain, harled structure which underwent alterations in the 18th and 19th centuries. The openings in the side walls are square lintelled and those in the gables pointed. The monuments date back to the 16th century and include those of the Groat family.

Proc Soc Antiq Scot 1873; RCAHMS 1911, visited 1910; G Hay 1957; Orig Paroch Scot 1855.

No change; church and graveyard are in regular use.

Visited by OS (N K B) 11 August 1982.

Architecture Notes

EXTERNAL REFERENCE - Scottish Record Office

Statement of cost of repairing the Church (excluding Freswicke loft

& May and Brabster aisles and of building office houses, garden and

cornyard dykes for the Manse.

1791 GD96/680/3

Account for work done at Church.

It includes glazing, plasterwork and the making of a pulpit and desk.

Alexander MacKenzie - wright.

Work done 1789 Paid 1792 GD96/680/3

Repairs to the steeple of Church.

1807 GD96/680/3

Repair to Church and Manse. James Ross, mason.

1886-1887 GD96/684/3

Repair of the Church and Manse. (porch, Causewaying.) Account

of work done by John Levach, mason; it includes work on "Sir James's

aisle", "Lady Brabster's aisle" and the steeple. Paid 1792

1788-1789 GD96/680/3

Repair of the Church.

Receipt of money received from Patrick Dunbar a heritor.

1729 GD96/680/3

Building of the Church.

Details of sums discharged for the rebuilding of the church and a note

of claims on heritors. The account which amounts to ?1325.8.7 kept by

George Sutherland.

1736 GD96/680/3

Repairs necessary to windows & roof of Church

1742 GD96/680/3

Note of timber required for repair of Church roof.

1706 GD96/680/3

Information transcribed from Architecture Catalogue slip:

Architect - Hippolyte J. Blanc - alterations

Plans - Mr. Hay, 29 Moray Place states that he has recorded this to some extent


Publication Account (1995)

This white-harled parish church has a history spanning many centuries, starting as a long narrow medieval church perhaps with a western tower. As usual, considerable alterations were made after the Reformation. The north aisle with its crow stepped gable may have been added in the 17th century, while the south aisle, used as a porch, is dated 1724. The lower part of the tower may be medieval though details are hidden by harling, but the saddleback roof with ball finials on the gables is dated 1720. Further renovations took place in 1833 and in 1891 when long windows were inserted in the south wall. The interior is laid out on a T-pIan with seats in three aisles facing a later 19th-century pulpit on the south wall, and galleries at the east and west ends. The former Sinclair of Mey gallery in the north aisle has been removed, though the reeded pilasters and corniced lintel that framed it remain. At the back of this aisle is a worn stone mural monument of the 17th century with fluted Corinthian columns.

In the porch is a tombstone commemorating various members of the Grot or Groat family. Part of the inscription (unfortunately recut late last century) reads 'Donald Grot sone to Johne Grot laid me heir April XIII Day 1568'. A Dutchman call Jan de Grot is said to have settled in Caithness,where in 1496 John Grot held one pennyland in Duncansby from the Earl of Caithness. His descendants in the 16th and 17th century ran the ferry from Huna to Orkney, and John o'Groats is called after him. There are a number of interesting tombstones from the 17th to the 20th century in the walled graveyard (some recut by the local sculptor John Nicolson).

There are two other attractive harled churches with belfry towers on the north coast of Caithness. That at Reay (NC 967648) is a post-Reformation church dating from 1739 with its original pulpit, while Dunnet (ND 219711) has a similar history to Canisbay with a med ieval west tower.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: The Highlands’, (1995).

Publication Account (2007)

ND37 1 CANISBAY ND/3434 7285

Possible broch in Canisbay, Caithness, supposed to be under the ruins of a 13th century church [3, 4]. A hammerstone and some fragments of red deer antler were found in the churchyard and presented to the National Museum in 1871 [2].

Sources: 1. NMRS site no. ND 37 SW 4: 2. Proc Soc Antiq Scot 9 (1870-72), 248: 3. Anderson 1890, 184: 4. RCAHMS 1911b, 7-9 (‘broch’ finds not mentioned).

E W MacKie 2007

Photographic Survey (17 September 2009)

The church was recorded as part of the Threatened Buildings Survey prior to proposed alterations including disabled access.

Information RCAHMS (STG) February 2012.

Note (9 February 2012)

This cruciform church probably retains in the nave part of the pre-reformation church dedicated to St Drostan. The west tower was added in 1704 and in the 18th century there were at least three phases of repair and addition creating the present plan. In 1831-2 the east and west galleries were installed. During a scheme of repair in 1891 a new pulpit and pews were installed and the south aisle was converted into a porch. In the graveyard the sculptor John Nicolson of Nybster created a memorial to his mother dated 1868.

Information RCAHMS (STG) February 2012


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