Covenanters in Tweedsmuir
The ‘killing time’ in the 1680s was a period of brutal attempts to suppress congregations and covenanting minsters that refused to comply with the religious rules imposed by King Charles II. Covenanting was dangerous. John Graham, of Claverhouse, Sherriff of Dumfriesshire, (‘Bluidy Clavers’) led the suppression with dragoons, in the south and west of Scotland. Dragoons were sometimes billeted in the Bield Inn, Tweedsmuir. They targeted conventicles which were illegal gatherings. The largest was said to have 5000 attending Talla Linns, in 1682. A conventicle was described by Sir Walter Scott in “Heart of Midlothian”.
Entries in the Kirk records are revealing:
“No session kept by reason of all elders being at conventicles”.
“The collection this day to be given to a man for acting as watch during the time of the sermon” .
“No meeting this day, for fear of the enemy” .
“There was no sermon, the ministers not daring to stay at their charges” .
John Hunter was murdered near the Devil’s Beeftub in 1685 and his gravestone is in the Tweedsmuir Kirkyard.
Tweedsmuir Kirk stands in the small scattered community of Tweedsmuir, Just off the A701. To reach it from the main road, cross the river Tweed at Carlowse Brig, and then take a left at the crossroads, which takes you down the lane, through the village of Tweedsmuir past the kirk to the car park.
The current kirk is very attractive, due to the contrast of its grey rubble walks and the impressive red sandstone dressings, and also from the impressive tower.
The kirk sits on a small rocky outcrop, Quarter Knowe, a site that has been home to many earlier generations of churches and sites of worship.
In the Bronze age it is thought that Quarter Knowe was a significant religious site, and in the 3rd century BC it was a site of Druid workship, and there may even have been a druid temple here.
The Mound that the Kirk sits on is called Quarter Knowe. It is thought to have been a site of religious importance since the Bronze age.
Quarter Knowe is a Natural Knoll, probably formed during the last ice age when the glaciers were melting digging up and depositing loose debris.
It is unclear what type of religious site was built before 1644, but it seems that there was some religious building here, as in 1648 records show that Tweedsmuir NEW Kirk was built.
There was a ford across the River Tweed near the church known as Holyford
There were also stepping stones here.
Holyford was the only crossing across the Tweed allowing access to the Kirk until the original Carlowse Brig was built sometime after 1694.
A stone carving from this kirk still sits next to the door at the current Kirk. It is likely that this plaque was intended to be mounted at some site after the current kirk was built, but the builders forgot, or never got round to it.
First Minister of Tweedsmuir New Kirk
Rev. Alexander Trotter
Arrived in Tweedsmuir in 1644
He originally came from Barra and was married to a daughter of Mr. David Ogill, who was a minister in Barra, and they had at least one son called Thomas. However, his wife died while his son was still a child.
He held services in the manse until the Kirk was completed, 4 years after he arrived in Tweedsmuir.
Mr. Trotter was the minister for Tweedsmuir for 17 years and died in 1661 when he was 63 years old, in extreme poverty. He did not receive payment from his posting while he was in Tweedsmuir and when he died his house was in ruins.
In 1662 the Old Glebe (the manse) was built in the current car park, and you can see the date stone from this building inside the Kirk today.
At some point in the 18th or 19th centaury the graveyard was topped up with soil. As the graveyard became full, 2 feet of soil was added to allow a new raft of burials. This can be observed as the ground level inside the graveyard is much higher than on the other side of the wall.
Tweedsmuir New Kirk 1648 to 1874
The first custom built Presbyterian Kirk in Upper Tweed
It was very plain, and painted austere white inside
Known as a God Box
It could seat 160 people, plus 30 more in the Communion seats.
This Kirk had a Laird’s loft, a private gallery for family members of the Oliver Estate, with an entrance via an external staircase.
In winter the communion seats were removed to allow a stove to warm the Kirk.
The Shepherds’ dogs often got too close to the stove, and worshippers could smell the dogs’ hair singeing
The current Kirk was completed in 1874, although some major renovations were done on the deteriorating building in late 1900s
The graveyard was extended in 1952, and a few years later in 1957 the original manse was demolished.
Tweedsmuir Kirk still holds regular services every Sunday, and is host to a beautiful candlelit service on Christmas eve, when it hosts worshippers from the Upper Tweed congregations for a Family Carol Singing service.
Features to Look out for
· Two sculpted heads on either side of the front door
Thought to be from Greek Mythology and represent Zeus (the King of Gods) and his sister Hestia (Goddess of the Hearth and Home)
· The War memorial in the vestibule made from an Oak tree planted by Sir Walter Scott of Abbotsford
A memorial plaque to Rev David Welsh DD, who was moderator of the General Assembly in 1843 and famously formed the Free Church. His parents farmed nearby at Earlshaugh and Tweedshaws.
· The Symbolic Spyhole in the Kirk Door
This is probably a gesture to the 17th century covenanting era. It is to remind us that there was a period in history when residents of Tweedsmuir, including elders and the Minister were in danger of being raided by Government Dragoons led by John Graham of Claverhouse. A member of the congregation would keep watch during the sermons, and the Kirk at that time may have had a functioning spyhole.
Graves of Interest
· John Hunter (Covenanting Martyr) died in 1685.
The Inscription reads:-
The body of John Hunter
Martyr who was cruelly
Murdered at Corehead
by Col James Douglas and
his party for his adherence
To the Word of God and
Work of Reformation
Erected in the year 1726.
· Oldest Gravestone: This remembers John Welsh, who died in Over Menzion in 1711. He was the son of Black Welsh, a noted covenanter.
· Jeanie O’ The Crook: She was the Landlady of the Crook Inn who died in 1839. The Rev Hamilton Paul, minister in Broughton, proposed to her in a song, but she declined his offer.
· Several Ministers of Tweedsmuir New Kirk are buried along the East Gable of the current Kirk
· Tweedie Mcgrath: who was postmaster at the Bield from the 1830s is remembered with a headstone in the graveyard.
· There is a memorial to the 30+ men who died during the construction of Talla Reservoir from 1895 to 1905. Some died from industrial accidents, but many fell victim to the Smallpox epidemic in the village.