Duns History
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Edrom History

Duns History

Here is a brief history of our congregation and church. Beneath are features on our organ, war memorials, churchyard, and several former churches and buildings which form part of our rich heritage.

Duns Parish Church

Our church has a long and rich history - Christian witness has been maintained on this site for the best part of 1,000 years. Norman architecture was identified in the original place of worship, and the earliest written record is of a parson called Patrick in 1165. For its  first 400+ years Duns church was in Catholic use with the associated saying of masses and maintenance of altars, including one dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It is thought the original building had north and south ‘transepts’ and an eastern ‘chancel’, although these may simply have been later burial aisles, and was thatched. After the Reformation in 1560 the ‘nave’ was adapted for Protestant function, possibly in 1572 which was the date of the old burgess loft, and would have featured simple whitewashed walls, wooden benches and long communion tables. Originally the married men’s goal in the famous Ba Game of Duns was the parish church pulpit itself, and at some point a small western bell-tower must have been added. There was also an ancient chapel and medieval hospital near modern-day Chapel farm, dedicated to Mary Magdalene, and in 1611 an aborted proposal made this a separate parish of Birkenside.

In 1790 the old church was demolished, except the ‘chancel’ which survived until 1874, and a new church built immediately behind. It was a large, fairly plain box-type structure with a classical steeple, and may have sat around 1,200 in box pews. During the mid-1870s the congregation became the brief focus of national controversy. Although ideas of Christmas Day services, printed service sheets, displaying the Cross and Christogram lettering ‘IHS' may seem obvious today, ‘the Duns innovations’ were a source of much contemporary debate and press interest. Unfortunately the church itself was destroyed in a tremendous fire in the early hours of 18th February 1879, so ferocious it threw debris as far away as Newtown Street, leaving only the bare walls and steeple stonework intact.

Happily the church was rebuilt, raising the walls of the burnt-out shell by 2 feet. Slightly protruding stairwells were added to the northerly corners; porches to the south-west and north-east and the south doorways blocked-up; a substantial north wing; and a shallower, more complex roof than previously, carried by impressive hammer-beams and sporting a central skylight. A gallery on 3 sides included sections for each of the local country houses. It cost almost £4,000 and seated 920 in pleasant pitch-pine pews. Complete with tiled floor, a new bell, beautiful donated stained glass windows, and a magnificent organ, it reopened on 14th January 1881 and has provided the focal point of our activities and witness for the last 135 years. A renovation in the early 1970s breathed new life into the old building, removing some pews and opening-up the dais. More recent improvements have included audio-visual facilities and a hall refurbishment.

There have been some famous visitors and infamous events in the parish church over the years. In 1610 the Homes of Wedderburn burst into the morning service to confront the Cockburns of Langton: a swordfight ensued leaving various men wounded and 3 ringleaders were sentenced to a month in Edinburgh Castle. In 1739 the selection of Rev Roger Moodie as the new minister was so unpopular that his ordination had to be protected by a company of dragoons. Robert Burns came to Duns in 1787 and is said to have had the inspiration for “To a Louse” during the Sunday service. In 1970 the church hosted an episode of well-known BBC television programme ‘Songs of Praise’ which was broadcast on 27th September of that year.


Our Organ

Duns Parish Church was among the very first Church of Scotland congregations to introduce an organ, providing musical accompaniment to worship – some sources claim we were only the second in the entire Church, and the first with General Assembly approval. This was around 1865, apparently ‘to help induce young people to come to church’. Sadly this pioneering instrument was destroyed in the 1879 fire. As the rebuilt church was paid for by insurance and the heritors, the congregation themselves raised the money for a new organ, and the result was the beautiful and magnificent Peter Conacher which has now served us for well over a century. It was originally powered by a steam engine in the base of the steeple but now operates electrically. It was refurbished in 1912 and 1993 and restored with grant assistance in 2003. Our treasured and much-loved instrument recently received a prestigious Historic Organ Certificate.


War Memorials & Colours

Near the west door is a plaque to 42 members of Duns Parish Church who gave their lives in the First World War, unveiled on Sunday 27th March 1921. Near the east door are plaques from Duns Boston Memorial UF: the first in memory of 12 members who died and another 56 who served in the First World War, the second to 3 members who fell in the Second World War. There are no memorials from Duns East or South UF churches. There are also two identical handwritten rolls in the south-west porch, listing 83 men, headed ‘Church of Scotland - Parish of Duns - European War 1914’. It is likely these list members serving in the forces, compiled in the early months of the war and originally positioned in each porch so worshippers would see them entering and leaving each Sunday.

Hanging from the gallery are the Queen’s and Regimental colours of the 1st Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers. These were presented in Berlin in 1976 and ‘laid-up’ here on Sunday 20th October 1996.



Duns churchyard is a quiet and well-kept, if little visited, oasis in the heart of the bustling town centre. It is accessed by a small gate east of the church hall. It has been the resting place of ‘Dingers’ since pre-Reformation times, and contains many old headstones, some dating to the 1600s. Notable individuals include many local merchants, professionals, ministers and landowners, and even a veteran of Waterloo, as well as mentions of sons and daughters of the town who travelled to the four corners of the British Empire. Grave-robbers made an unsuccessful visit in 1826 and a watch-house for guarding against them was in place until 1877.

By 1850 the churchyard was becoming overcrowded and a few years later the New Burial Ground was opened on Preston Road, with the churchyard closed to all but next-of-kin. In the early 1960s the easternmost part of the churchyard was removed during the widening of Currie Street, remains being reinterred in the New Burial Ground. In 1925 responsibility for maintenance passed to the local authority. Borders Family History Society have produced a CD-ROM, available from their website, containing transcriptions and photographs of every headstone in the churchyard and Christ Church’s Episcopal churchyard.


School & Manse

What are now the church halls were originally the parish school and schoolmaster’s house. Here generations of ‘Dingers’ were educated. There was also a Free Church school, at the corner of Newtown Street and Willis Wynd, opened in 1846. After the state took-over responsibility for education in 1874 and Duns Primary School opened in 1880, the parish school building was converted for use as our Sunday School and halls, while the Free Church school became a house and masonic hall – it still carries carvings of the Burning Bush and headings for separate ‘Girls’ and ‘Boys’ doors.

In 1864 the parish church manse was rebuilt in grand baronial fashion. Sadly this bold if eclectic structure was demolished around 1992 to allow the construction of new housing. Many streets and homes in Duns have names with church connections, including Glebe Park, Teindhillgreen, Manse Gardens, Kirkfield, Boston Court, Trinity Park and Church Square.


Duns East Church

This congregation was established in 1739 by people unhappy with Rev Moodie’s appointment to the parish church. They joined the Secession Church, constructed a churchbuilding in Easter Street in 1742 seating nearly 600, and obtained their first minister in 1743 – the first dissenting congregation in Duns. At the great Breach of the Secession Church in 1747 they and their minister adhered to the ‘Anti-Burghers’. In 1843 the church was rebuilt seating 650. In 1932 the congregation was dissolved and the building became the Regal Cinema. This burnt down around 1960 and was demolished and replaced by a row of houses.

Names: Duns Secession (1739-47); Duns ‘Anti-Burgher’ (1747-1820); Duns East United Secession (1820-47); Duns East UP (1847-1900); Duns East UF (1900-29); Duns East (1929-32).


Duns South Church

Around 1762 a congregation of the Relief Church was commenced and in 1763 they erected a churchbuilding in Currie Street opposite the foot of Church Square, conspicuously close to the parish church itself, which apparently sat around 800. They obtained their first minister in 1767. In 1851 the church was rebuilt, apparently seating around 640. In 1895 the West congregation united with the South, and finally in 1976 the South united with the parish church, ending 237 years of division within Presbyterianism in Duns. At first the building was used as an antiques dealership, but is now ‘Carpet Mart’ showroom.

Names: Duns Relief (1762-1847); Duns South UP (1847-1900); Duns South UF (1900-29); Duns South (1929-76).


Duns West Church

Around 1763 the ‘Burghers’ began services in Duns riding school. In 1770 they built a church next door and obtained their first minister. An enormous church seating 1,008 replaced this in 1821 – the largest capacity of any dissenting church in Duns – and costing nearly £2,000. By 1881 capacity had reduced to 900. Early in 1895 the West and South congregations began combined services, alternating weekly between each building, and in April the congregations united and the West church closed. Only £170 was obtained for the building, which now forms two houses at the corner of Gourlay’s Wynd and the Clouds.

Names: Duns ‘Burgher’ (1763-1820); Duns West United Secession (1820-47); Duns West UP (1847-95).


Duns Boston Church

In 1838 a ‘chapel-of-ease’ of the parish church opened in Station Road. Sources disagree whether it was built to cope with an increasing population, or by evangelical members of the parish church against the wishes of the Kirk Session. It was called ‘the Boston Church’ after Rev Thomas Boston, the famous eighteenth century preacher born in Duns. At the great Disruption of the Church of Scotland in 1843 the congregation and their minister joined the Free Church of Scotland, although the parish church continued to assert its ultimate right of ownership. In 1881 the churchbuilding was refurbished, seating 650.

From 1927-32 the congregation was linked with Langton UF in Gavinton, during which time both re-entered the Church of Scotland at the great Reunion of 1929. In 1953 the congregation united with the parish church as ‘Duns Old & Boston’. Plans to turn the church into Duns fire station fell through, and after use as Boston Memorial Hall and a textile factory it was demolished in 1985 and replaced by Boston Court sheltered housing. Its bell – named ‘Auld Drumclog’ after a covenanting battle – was retained as an architectural feature while the 1911 organ was sold to Cowper Memorial Church, Olney, Buckinghamshire.

Names: Duns Boston Chapel-of-Ease (1838-43); Duns Boston Free Church (1843-1900); Duns Boston UF (1900-29); Duns Boston (1929-56).

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