The Old Parish Church in Church Street Crieff
One of Crieff’s saddest sites is that of the old decaying parish church in Church Street in the heart of the old town .The location of the Church and its grave yard is why the town of Crieff expanded outwards from this particular locus . Close by was situated the old Cross of Crieff . The place where the drovers of old gathered for a “ blether “and perhaps a wee dram or two in the adjoining hostelry – the place where Rob Roy taunted the redcoats in the aftermath of Sheriffmuir and the ‘ 15 Uprising . This is old Crieff – the original Crieff !
The gradual demise of this old building is sad but perhaps inevitable. It has been badly neglected over the last few decades . The grounds surrounding the building functioned for centuries as the burial place of Crieff . The place where countless local worthies and their families were interred and recorded either by an elaborate stone or , more likely , by a simple wooden cross.
What is important to remember that this is in all probability the site of the first place to appear in maps and records as “ Crieff “.
Although one cannot be specific as to why this site is of such significance , authoritative opinion has come up with some pretty sound reasons .In days gone by, the Alligan Burn flowed from the Knock rapidly downwards along what is now Mitchell Street and its lower part known appropriately as Water Wynd . It would have flowed then in a south east direction to the rear of what is now Frank Thomson’s store . In or around the 7th Century AD the holy men – the priests of the old Culdees or Celtic Church would baptise people , young and old , as a sign of their new faith . The waters of the Alligan were pure and somewhat languid after their rapid descent from the Knock . An ideal spot for the traditional Christian baptism !
It is conjecture but probable that the first building erected on the site would have been a simple timber structure with a thatched roof . The Church of Crieff is an ancient establishment and one of the most important links with the past in Strathearn . There are, however, few early references to the church or its clergy. A parson of Crieff, Brice or Brucius , is recorded in the time of Bishop Abraham of Dunblane (c.1214-1223), but there is no further contemporary evidence for the status of the church until 1274-5 when it is listed in Bagimond’s Roll.
There were various charters granted to Inchaffray Abbey and signed at Crieff by the Celtic Earls of Strathearn . Nicholas was the second son of Earl Malise who was granted a charter to lands at Muthill . He acted as Chamberlain to his cousin Malise ll in 1257 – 1258 . He was involved as a witness to a charter involving a dispute regarding the patronage of the vicarage of Strageath . He was Rector in Crieff for at least 30 years .
In 1450 we find a signatory to another charter . One , Thomas de Builly who was at the time , Rector of Crieff and proprietor of the lands of Duchlage and Pittacher .
In 1501 , Andrew Graham , Vicar of Crieff witnessed a charter by James lV of the lands of Inchbrakie granted to William Graham .
The Rev John Broune or Brown succeeded him and ( says Porteous ) “ it is in great part owing to the latter’s determination a perseverance that the Church in Crieff maintained and still maintains its important position in the religious life of Strathearn “ Porteous was referring to the fact that King James had received a Papal Rescript from Pope Alexander lV endowing the Chapel Royal at Stirling Castle to be a collegiate church and the revenues of the Crieff Church and its lands were to be paid directly to it .
Porteous again : “ The Church in which John Brown and his predecessors and many of those succeeding him , laboured , was a Gothic building and dated from a remote antiquity . No records remain to show when or by whom it was originally erected . It may have been a gift of the Earls of Strathearn but it is not mentioned in the Charters of Inchaffray .
It is said that this Church was built on the site of an earlier church . The early churches were next to running water to facilitate baptism – the water of the Alligan Burn flowed by the site . Porteous goes on to say that the Church seemed capable of accommodating some 500 persons.
From this we can see that Crieff in its early days was tied to Stirling rather than its strongly influential neighbour – the Abbey of
Inchaffray at Madderty . It is clear however that Inchaffray did extend its influence into these parts . It is believed also that there was a religious house at Milnab known as St Thomas which belonged to Inchaffray . Milnab means Abbots Mill according to some sources . There is however no mention of Milnab in the list of possessions of the Abbey when it was erected into a temporal Lordship in 1609 . Local Crieff residents will know that there is a small cul de sac off Milnab Street called Abbot’s Walk .
Interestingly there was a holy well attached to the old Church which was dedicated to St Thomas . This is shown on Woods map of Crieff drawn in 1822 (http://maps.nls.uk/view/74400016) .If you look at this web site , click on the map and it will enlarge in graphic detail . You will note that Bank Street was then known as Pudding Lane and Ramsay Street as Brown’s Lane . The well was located in what is now the garden of the end terrace house in Bank Street , once the home of the Robertson family and now refurbished and extended . In pre Reformation Scotland it was quite usual for churches to have a “ holy well “ in close vicinity . These wells tended to provide remedies for a variety of ailments ranging from rheumatism to the curing of barren women. They were usually dedicated to a particular saint usually with some local connection. Locally we find St Patrick’s Well at nearby Strageath or St McKessog’ s in Auchterarder .
According to the author of the entry in the First Statistical Account of Crieff, the church then in use ( ie the one that was to be demolished ) was an antique Gothic pre Reformation building with an internal length of 95 feet’ (28.6 metres). It appears to have been a two-compartment structure, since the choir was said to have been internally 14 feet (4.27 metres) wide and the other part – presumably the nave – 18 feet (5.49 metres) wide. Assuming a wall thickness of perhaps 75 centimetres, that would indicate extreme overall dimensions of 30.46 by 6.99 metres.
Dr Cunningham , the parish minister speaking at a dinner in connection with the foundation stone of the Strathearn Terrace Church in 1882 made this interesting comment about former Churches :
“Previous to 1787 an older church stood here surrounded by the graves of former generations . How far back the Church goes I do not know . Probably to the time of the Reformation . Most of the churches of the Reformation were poor structures – some thatched with heather . Probably there was an edifice on this spot for 800 or 1000 years “.
( Heavenor )**
**When the old Church was being demolished the discovery was made in a niche in the wall six feet above the floor of forty gold pieces Of King Robert the Bruce inscribed Robertus Rex Scotorum and on the reverse St Andrew with his cross . Despite what Dr Cunningham stated , it is clear that the coins found during the demolition show that the building would have been functioning in the 14th Century and may indeed have been older.
The “ new “ church was erected to cater for a growing population but the religious climate prevailing at that time ( 1780s ) seemed to have been somewhat vitriolic and very petty . Squabbles over who should appoint the minister – the congregation or the lairds or landowners was the main source of discord This “ patronage “ disagreement saw the Kirk fragment and schisms prevail .
The building took over 40 years to be constructed and occupied – even being discussed at the Court of Session in 1781 . Services were held in a tent until it actually opened in 1827 . The people of Crieff were not allowed in unless they had bought a pew seat ( each measured 18inches !! ) and had to sit on stools in the aisles ! Seat rents prevailed in our old Kirk ! Its life span as an active church was remarkably short and ceased to function as the Parish Church when in 1882 its replacement was opened in Strathearn Terrace Crieff . It had functioned as the parish church for a mere 55 years ! Thereafter it became the Church Hall until warning bells began to ring as described in Part One
Did You Know ?
The Parish Clerk's house and the locus of Crieff's first school in 1593 . The building was demolished about 1900
Back in 1593 , Crieff was a very small settlement – not a town but a village. The importance of its Church and the new post Reformation drive against all things non Calvanistic was hard to swallow in Crieff. Here support for the old religion in its Episcopalian format was dominant for a long ,long time . One particular aspect of Knox’s evangelism was that each parish should have a school . By having a school the children , per se , would be likely adherents to the Reformed faith . As a result Crieff set up its first school in the Parish Clerk’s house nestling at the foot of the churchyard and the raised hump of ground that is still clearly visible in the sad “ jungle “ is significant .
NOTE : In Part Three of this “ Blog “ I will conclude by listing the known priests and ministers who played such an important part in the growth of our town . I will also list from my records the names of some of the people buried here but , in many cases , forgotten by the passage of time or physical memorial .