KIRKBRIDE by Alastair Hendry
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Permission to display this history of Kirkbride has been generously given by Alastair Hendry. You may download and view these pages for personal research purposes only. No further use or distribution is authorized.

The crumbling ruins of the ancient church of Kirkbride and its surrounding graveyard are situated on the high ground 750m east of the village of Dunure and 250m south-west of Dunduff Farm and command a panoramic view of the Firth of Clyde.  The adjacent field has been traditionally known as the Priest’s Land.  The remains are those of a simple rectangular structure, erected on an east - west alignment and measuring 16.3m by 7.5m externally.  The rubble and mortar walls, 0.9m thick, rise to some 1.3m except at the north-east end which is 2.2m high.  A hawthorn tree crowns a 1.5m high section of the south wall.  The interior, completely overgrown with all manner of weeds, exhibits a haphazard array of debris and fallen grave stones.  The doorway, 0.9m wide and now blocked, is in the north wall, 4.4m from the north-west corner.  The structural remains give little clue as to the building’s long history. Sparse references to it exist in charters and in other pre- and post-Reformation sources but the amount of detail provided is disappointing.


Kirkbride, as its name indicates, was dedicated to St Brigid, the Irish Saint from Kildare, who lived c.453 - 525 A.D.  Her name is also found in the forms ‘Bride’, ‘Bridget’ and, in Wales, ‘Ffraith’.  Outside Ireland she was much honoured in the early Middle Ages in the West of England, Wales and Scotland. Ayrshire dedications included chapels of St Bride at Giffen and Irvine, the chapel of St Brigid at Sundrum and the parish churches of St Bridget at Ardrossan and St Bride at (West) Kilbride.


In 1928, “among a pile of stones within the ruins [of Kirkbride] was found a fragment of grey sandstone bearing incised markings on what little remained of a sound surface”.  The dimensions of the stone were 36.8cm by 31.8cm by 5.1cm thick at the upper end.  Only about 22.9cm of the original surface remained in respect to length;  below that, several flakes had broken away leaving a 1.3cm thickness at what was the lower part.  Round the top and preserved sides the small slab bore a 5cm chamfer.  The figure carved on the stone was a cross of arcs, rendered asymmetrical through the sculptor’s use of radii of differing lengths in the opposing arcs.  The lozenge shape cut out in the centre is an uncommon feature.  This cross-slab (unfinished?) could date from the 12th century and may well have been prepared to mark the consecration of the church.  The present location of the cross has not yet been traced.


The dates of Kirkbride’s foundation and consecration are not known but it is interesting that at its first mention in a documentary source, it was already a parish church in the diocese of Glasgow, part of the system of church organisation being developed in Scotland from the 12th century onwards.


Kirkbride church and parish lay within the great estate of Roger de Scalebroc, one of a large number of Anglo-Norman knights who had come north to settle in Scotland in the late 12th century.  His  family’s immediate place of origin was the area around modern Skelbrooke in South Yorkshire, between Pontefract and Doncaster.  In Carrick, he was a vassal, probably of Gilbert, son of Fergus of Galloway, and certainly of Duncan, Gilbert’s son.  The caput or centre of authority of his extensive lands was Greenan.


On 1 January 1185 Gilbert died and in an agreement reached between William, King of Scotland, and Henry II of England, with whom Duncan, Gilbert’s son, had spent more than ten years as a hostage for his Galloway relatives’ good behaviour, Duncan was allowed to succeed to the Carrick portion of his father’s possessions.  In 1186, as the new lord of Carrick, Duncan granted the lands of Southblane and Crossragmol, together with the patronage of the parish churches of Straiton, Dailly and Kirkoswald, to the Cluniac monks of Paisley to provide funds for the erection of an abbey in Carrick.  [A small oratory was built but it was almost sixty years later and after disputes with Paisley that construction work on Crossraguel Abbey began in earnest.]  Generous grants of lands and revenues to other religious orders followed.  In 1193, Duncan gave the extensive lands of Maybothelbeg and Bethoc to Melrose Abbey.  These lands, which formed a large part of Maybole parish, lay to the north and west of modern Maybole and for centuries were known as the Monkland of Carrick.  Roger de Scalebroc was one of the witnesses of Duncan’s charter. 


Perhaps two years after that, Jocelyn, Bishop of Glasgow, on the petition of Roger de Scalebroc, granted to God, to the Cistercian foundation of St Mary of North Berwick and to the nuns serving God there, the church of ‘Kirkebride of Larges’ in Carrick.  Included in this gift were half a carucate (about 50 acres) of land, a salt pan, two acres for a croft, the teinds, offerings and everything else rightly pertaining to that church.  Witnesses to the grant included Radulph, abbot of Melrose, Simon, archdeacon of Glasgow, Herbert, dean of Glasgow, Cristinus, dean of Carrick, Helyas and William, Glasgow canons, Richard, clerk of Dundonald, John, Walter and Ger[...], Glasgow clerks, and Alexander of Cunningham, chaplain.  The name of ‘Larges’, by which the Melrose records designated all or a substantial part of Kirkbride parish,  survives in the name of Largs Farm, 3.5km north east of Kirkbride.


Roger also added to Duncan’s generosity to Melrose with grants of his own, which included parts of his estate, the fishings at the mouth of the River Doon and a saltpan and land beside his castle of Greenan.


Not long afterwards, Duncan was created Earl of Carrick and, perhaps in celebration of this event, granted to the nuns of North Berwick the patronage of the church of St Cuthbert of Maybole, its lands, chapels and revenues.  Thus from this time both the parish churches of Kirkbride and Maybole were appropriated to the nuns of North Berwick.  It could also be that here began the process whereby the status of Kirkbride parish diminished until it became subordinate to and part of Maybole.  It was inevitable perhaps that problems would arise because in the two parishes various lands and the patronage of the churches had been granted to different bodies.  Thus G (the rest of his name is unknown), the parson of Maybole, complained to Pope Innocent III in Rome that the abbot and monks of Melrose, as well as others in the Glasgow diocese, were being disadvantaged on a number of counts, in particular their revenues. Innocent III, on 25 February 1214 and after ensuring the agreement of the nuns of North Berwick, decreed that Melrose would pay annually to the church of Maybole ten shillings silver at the Feast of St James for all the teinds of both Maybothel(Maybole) and Largs (Kirkbride).  This decision was confirmed not long afterwards on 5 July 1221 by Pope Honorius III.


On 8 March 1409 Pope Benedict XIII at Perpignan in France granted to the prioress and convent of the Cistercian nunnery of North Berwick confirmation of a large variety of their established rights, in particular their possession of the chapel of St Brigid, situated within the limits of the parish church of Maybole.  It is clear from this that by the fifteenth century, while Kirkbride still remained the focal point for religious observance within its former boundaries, it had already lost its status as a parish church.  The parish had been subsumed within the neighbouring parish of Maybole and the church had become a chapel dependent on Maybole parish church.  Its chaplains would have been supplied from Maybole. 


To resolve some problem or confusion, verification of Duncan of Carrick’s letters of confirmation of Roger’s grant of Kirkbride appears to have been sought in 1418.  John de Janua, a clerk of the Glasgow diocese and a notary public with imperial authority, therefore provided the legal instrument requested.  He had inspected the relevant document thoroughly and recorded the tenor of its contents.  Interestingly the words he used “capella de kylbryde in karrig” show further the church’s reduced status.


In the years following the Reformation, one critical problem facing the new Church was that of finding sufficient ministers to man the parishes.  As a temporary measure, gaps in ministerial provision were covered by ‘exhorters’, who were permitted to preach, conduct marriage ceremonies and even the sacrament of baptism, but not to administer the sacrament of Holy Communion, or ‘readers’, who were allowed to read prayers and passages of Scripture, but not to preach or administer the sacraments.  Both exhorters and readers were encouraged by the Church authorities to engage in further study with a view to their becoming ministers.  Thus we find Kirkbride without a minister at this time and in the care of readers.  In 1569 Thomas Falconer was appointed reader at Kirkbride with a stipend of £20.  He came there after serving a year in a similar capacity at Colmonell.  After two years, however, he moved on to Girvan (1571 - 4), and later to Dailly (1574 - 6), St Quivox (1576 - 80) and Alloway (1585 - 90).  In November 1571 he was followed, also as reader, by Alexander Davidson, probably a member of the Davidson family of Greenan.  His successor the following year was Matthew Hamilton.  During his tenure Hamilton became a student at St Mary’s College in the University of St Andrews and graduated M.A. in 1575.  In that year we find him described ‘reidare at Mayboill and Kirkbryde’ with a stipend of £27 6s. 8d.  He continued in the post until 1590.


In 1574, to ensure that congregations were being adequately served, groups of parishes were created under the care of a single minister assisted by one or more readers.  Thus John McQuorne who had served as an exhorter at Straiton and was admitted minister there in 1568, was charged with the oversight of the combined parishes of Straiton, Kirkmichael, Maybole and Kirkbride.  In this work he was assisted by  readers, Mr Matthew Hamilton at Maybole and Kirkbride, William Hunter at Kirkmichael (from 1576) and John Anderson at Straiton.   His son, Mr John McQuorne, a graduate of Glasgow University (1589), who began his ministerial career at Dalmellington, was translated to the charge at Maybole and Kirkbride in 1595, while his father continued at Straiton.  In 1597, by Act of Parliament, the connections of Kirkbride and Maybole with the nunnery of North Berwick ended with its suppression.  On his father’s death, Mr McQuorne was presented to Straiton by King James VI on 30 May 1598.


Kirkbride is included on the map, published by W. and J. Blaeu of Amsterdam (1654) and based on the information collected by Rev Timothy Pont as he travelled in Ayrshire c.1600.  How long into the seventeenth century the little church continued to serve its religious functions is not known.  No mention is made of it in the records of the Presbytery of Ayr, which begin in 1642, especially when they detail visits paid by Presbytery to the parish of Maybole.  Mr William Abercrombie, the Episcopal minister of Maybole who was deprived of his charge in 1690, retired to Edinburgh and wrote a description of Carrick in 1696.  In it there was only the bald reference to “Kirkbryde on the coast syde, whose walls and yaird be yet extant”.  With the ancient church abandoned and in ruins, the parochial centre was Maybole.  The old graveyard alone continued to serve the inhabitants of the surrounding area for a further three hundred years.


June, 2000



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                                    Vol. IV, 157, eds.T.Thomson and C.Innes (1814 - 75)


Barrow, Era                 The Anglo-Norman Era in ScottishHistory,

G.W.S.Barrow (Oxford, 1980)


Calderwood                 History of the Kirk of Scotland,

David Calderwood, Vol.IV, 570 (Wodrow Society, 1843)


Chalmers, Caled.            Caledonia,

George Chalmers, Vol.VI, (New Edn. Paisley, 1890)


Chron. Melr.                Chronica de Mailros (Bannatyne Club, 1835)


Cowan, Parishes            The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society,1967)


Descr.Carrick               “A Description of Carrict by Mr Abercrummie, Minister at Minibole”,

In W. MacFarlane, Geographical Collections Relating to Scotland,                 Vol. II  (Scottish History Society, 1907)


Dillon                           Catholic Ayrshire (Catholic Truth Society of Scotland,1958)


Fasti                             Fasti Ecclesiae Scotticanae, Hew Scott, Vol. III (1868)


Haws                           Scottish Parish Clergy at the Reformation,

Charles H.Haws (Scottish Record Society, 1972)


Lacaille                         “Ecclesiastical Remains in the Neighbourhood of Luss, with Notes on Some Unrecorded Crosses and Hog-backed Stones”,

A.D.Lacaille, in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Vol. LXII.


Letters, Benedict            Calendar of Papal Letters to Scotland of Benedict XIII of Avignon

(Scottish History Society, 1976) p.196


Lib.Melr.                      Liber de S. Marie de Mailros, ed. Cosmo Innes, 2 vols. (Bannatyne Club, 1837)


Mackinlay                    Ancient Church Dedications in Scotland,

                                    J.M.Mackinlay, 2 vols. (Edinburgh,1910)


M.A.U.G.                    Munimenta Alme Universitatis Glasguensis, Vol. III (Maitland Club, 1654)


N.B.Chrs.                    Carte Monialium de Northberwic (Bannatyne Club, 1847)


N.S.A.                         The New Statistical Account of Scotland, Vol. V, 364 (Edinburgh, 1845)


Paterson, Hist.              History of the County of Ayr,

James Paterson, 2 vols. (Ayr, 1847)


Pont                             Atlas Novus, Vol. V (W. and J. Blaeu, Amsterdam, 1654),

based on information collected by Rev Timothy Pont, c.1600.


Recs.St.Andr.               Early Records of the University of St Andrews,

ed. J.M.Anderson (Scottish History Society, 1926)


Reg.Minist.                   “The Register of Ministers and Readers in the Year MDLXXIV”

in the Miscellany of the Wodrow Society, Vol. I, 387 (Edinburgh, 1845)


Saints                           Butler’s Lives of the Saints,

eds. H.Thurston and D.Attwater (Burns and Oates, 1956)


Sanderson                    Ayrshire and the Reformation:  People and Change, 1490 - 1600,                                                                         M.H.B.Sanderson (Tuckwell Press, 1997)


Thirds                           Accounts of the Collectors of Thirds of Benefices, 1561 - 1572,

ed. G.Donaldson (Scottish History Society, 1949)


Watt, Fasti                   Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae Medii Aevi,

D.E.R.Watt (Scottish Record Society,1969)