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Preston Church, church and burial ground

A Scheduled Monument in Mid Berwickshire, Scottish Borders

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Latitude: 55.8064 / 55°48'23"N

Longitude: -2.3415 / 2°20'29"W

OS Eastings: 378690

OS Northings: 657067

OS Grid: NT786570

Mapcode National: GBR D129.VD

Mapcode Global: WH8X2.0B82

Entry Name: Preston Church, church and burial ground

Scheduled Date: 3 March 1993

Last Amended: 31 March 2011

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM5655

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Ecclesiastical: burial ground, cemetery, graveyard

Location: Bunkle and Preston

County: Scottish Borders

Electoral Ward: Mid Berwickshire

Traditional County: Berwickshire


The monument comprises the former parish church of Preston and the associated burial ground. It is visible as a ruined building containing a number of burials vaults and carved memorial stones and surrounded by a burial ground with upstanding gravemarkers. The church was probably initially constructed in the 12th century, although it has undergone a great deal of rebuilding and alteration since. The church went out of use in 1718 when Bunkle Church became the parish church and Preston was subsequently converted to use as burial aisles The church occupies a site on a plateau at around 100m above sea level and overlooking the level ground to the east and the village of Preston around 600m north-east of the church. The Whiteadder Water runs to the south of the church and graveyard at a distance of around 300m. The monument was first scheduled in 1993 but an inadequate area was included to protect all of the archaeological remains; the present scheduling rectifies this.

Preserved as a standing ruin, the remains of Preston Church lie within a burial ground enclosed by a stone wall. The church is aligned approximately E-W and measures 23m E-W by around 5m transversely. Of the original structure, the gables and parts of the S wall appear to survive largely unaltered, although the roof line of the W gable has been reshaped to some degree. The other surviving parts of the church have been remodelled and reconstructed in various ways. As part of its later reuse as burial aisles (when the church was split into four chambers) the second chamber from the west is wider, measuring around 8m N-S. All of the partition walls between the chambers appear to be later additions to the structure.

The westernmost chamber measures around 6m E-W. No memorial stones are visible within this section, which contains a large quantity of rubble, some of which shows clear evidence of being dressed masonry. The doorway into this section, through the S wall, appears to be one of the original entrances to the church.

The second chamber from the west is the wider section. It is the burial aisle of the Wilson Smiths of Cumledge. This chamber is around 4.5m E-W and has no S wall, in its place being iron railings. Ferguson noted in 1892 a gap in the walls of the church here, suggesting the N wall of this section was constructed after this time. Two upright memorials stand either side of this section. The W example dates from 1779 and the E example from 1827.

The third chamber from the west is the most overgrown example. It contains a doorway in the S wall similar in form to the W chamber's doorway, suggesting this was also one the original entrances to the church. This doorway is set at an oblique angle in the SE corner of the chamber, and is currently blocked by an iron gate. No memorials are visible in this section. In the E wall of the chamber is a low arch leading into the next chamber, and although this is unlikely to be a feature of the medieval church it is probable that this wall lies on or near the line of the original chancel arch of the church. In the SW corner of the church are the remains of a fireplace, suggesting that this chamber was not reused as a burial aisle, instead being a small watchhouse to protect the graveyard and its occupants, and may well be directly related to the activities of the 'Resurrectionists', or bodysnatchers, in the area.

The E chamber measures about 5.5m E-W internally, and appears to represent the whole or majority of the original chancel of the church. This chamber appears to be the burial aisle of the Lumsdaines of Blanerne. The doorway into this section is again in the S wall, leading into the SW corner of the chamber, but in this case appears to be a later addition to the structure. In the SE corner of this chamber a piscina stands around 30cm from the ground. It measures around 40cm by 40cm, tapering to a point as it projects into the chamber. This appears to be another addition related to the later use as a burial aisle. Memorial stones are found on the floor of his section, and a cross around 1m high stands on the W side of the chamber, in front of the low arch leading to the next chamber.

Additional remains to the north of the church, believed to be the remains of a sacristy, were previously noted by MacGibbon and Ross in the late 1800s but are no longer visible at the site. In addition, the immediate area of the graveyard surrounding the structure contains a number of gravestones of relatively early date, including examples of the 'Memento Mori' type. Symbolism on these stones of winged skulls and crossed bones fits into the typology of 17th century stones, as these symbols fall out of use by the following century. The graveyard around the church appears out of use, with the active burial ground now located at the base of the slope to the south.

The area to be scheduled is sub-rectangular on plan, to include the remains described above and an area around within which related remains may be expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The above-ground elements of all gravestones, with the exception of the older 'Memento Mori' examples and those attached to and within the church, are specifically excluded from the scheduling.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

Rural church sites of the later medieval period rarely survive in an upstanding form and Preston Church is a relatively well-preserved example of its type. Although the building has undergone renovation and alteration in the past it is likely that the present structure retains much of its original fabric, form and dimensions. It is likely that reuse as burial enclosures has ensured the survival of Preston Church. There is excellent potential for the preservation of buried deposits around the church that could reveal earlier places of worship on this site as well as illustrating the construction and subsequent development of the present building and its conversion for use as a pair of burial enclosures. The burial ground is likely to contain interments associated with one or more of the phases of use of the church. In addition, buried deposits may reveal valuable information about the later medieval period in the area and the people living there at the time. Such deposits could also reveal the presence of other associated remains related to the church but since removed.

Contextual characteristics

This church was part of a network of parish churches covering Scotland and served as a central place of worship, prayer, baptism and burial for the local community. Preston parish belonged to the Bishopric of Dunkeld and was part of the wider organisation of religion in later medieval Scotland. Comparison of the local ecclesiastical architectural features in this area with those on other Scottish churches may enhance our understanding of regional variation in ecclesiastical architecture in the later medieval period.

Associative characteristics

Preston church was likely first built around the 12th century, and remained in use until 1718, when the church at nearby Bunkle became the parish church.

In 1524 William Douglas, the Prior of Coldingham and Abbot of Holyrood and the brother-in-law of Queen Margaret, the widow of James IV, was buried at Preston

Preston parish was an independent parish until 1621, when Parliament ordered the Presbytery to merge the parishes of Bunkle and Preston, and Preston Church became the parish church of the new parish. Accounts suggest that relations between the two former parishes were strained, and remained so throughout the 17th century.

Records from 1671 state that the Presbytery was attempting to speed up repairs to the fabric of Preston Church and the windows were glazed in 1683. In 1688 a breach in the N wall of the church of around 4.5m in length had to be repaired and in 1689 a riot against the episcopalian minister led to the church bell being cast into the nearby river, a reaction to the accession of William and Mary to the throne in the Revolution of 1688.

National Importance

The monument is of national importance because it has inherent potential to make a significant addition to our understanding of the past, in particular later medieval church organisation and religious practices in SE Scotland. This potential is enhanced by the relative rarity of this type of monument as later medieval churches in rural locations are not common. Preston Church possesses significant historical importance and is well-supported by documentary sources. In particular, the site has associations with Scottish royalty through the burial of Queen Margaret's brother-in-law in 1524, and the riots in 1689 are a demonstration of the turmoil and upheaval that resulted from the Revolution of 1688. The loss of this monument would impede our understanding of later medieval parish churches in SE Scotland and our ability to understand the later medieval and Reformation periods in Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



The RCAHMS record the site as NT75NE 9.


Binnie, G A C 1995, The Churches and Graveyards of Berwickshire, Berwick-upon-Tweed: Binnie.

Cowan, I B 1967, 'The parishes of medieval Scotland', Scottish Record Society 93, 126-7.

Dent, J & MacDonald, R 1998, Christian Heritage in the Borders, Hawick: Scottish Borders Council.

RCAHMS 1915, Sixth Report and Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the County of Berwickshire, Edinburgh: HMSO, 152, No. 267.

MacGibbon, D and Ross, T 1896-7, The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Scotland from the Earliest Christian Times to the Seventeenth Century, Edinburgh, v3, 416-18.

Willsher, B 2005, Understanding Scottish Graveyards, Council for Scottish Archaeology: Edinburgh and National Museums of Scotland: Edinburgh.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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