Abbey Church of Scotland

North Berwick

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Brief History of Dirleton Kirk

The original name of the parish was ‘Golyn’, and the ruins of the previous 12th-century church can still be seen in the village of Gullane. In 1600, Sir Thomas Erskine (who later became Earl of Kellie), a close friend of King James VI, received the title Baron of Dirleton for saving the life of the King. On 23rd October 1612, he obtained the permission of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh to build a new church at Dirleton. The reason given was that the old Kirk

"is sa incommodiouslie situat beside the sea sand that the same, with the kirk yard thereof, is continewallie overblawin with sand, that nather the Kirk servis commodiouslie for the convening of the parochiners, nor yet the kirk yard for their Burial".

In 1646, James Maxwell was created Earl of Dirleton for his services to the King. He was a man of enterprise and a staunch loyalist, and he had purchased the estate of Dirleton in 1631. He died at Holyrood just before Cromwell invaded Scotland in 1650, when Dirleton Castle (which had been used as a base for Royalist troops) was captured and dismantled; it is in ruins to this day. The Archerfield Aisle (or the Dirleton Aisle as it should properly be called) was probably built over the grave of James Maxwell.

The Kirk Session records date from 1655.

The Archerfield Aisle is said to be the first example of neo-classical architecture in Scotland. It was begun soon after the Earl's death by his widow Elizabeth Debousy, and was meant to have contained a marble monument to the Earl. It was imperfectly completed in 1660 when his grandson James, Earl of Salisbury, sold the estate to Sir John Nisbet.

A year after Sir John Nisbet (who was Scotland's Lord Advocate) purchased the estate of Dirleton, he was raised to the Bench with the title Lord Dirleton. The estate

"stood him a great sum of money and was looked on as a great bargaine and purchase at that time".

He had made his name defending James Graham, Marquess of Montrose, but he also incurred hatred for his harsh treatment of the Covenanters.

Nisbet bequeathed his Bible for use in the Kirk (it is still in the Kirk’s possession), and his estate to his cousin William Nisbet of Craigentinny who was Member of Parliament for the County of Haddington in the last Scottish and first British Parliament at the time of the Act of Union in 1707. Jean Bennet, the second wife of William Nisbet presented the Church with Communion Silver on the occasion of her marriage on the 24th of April, 1711; it is still in use today.

Mary Hamilton Nisbet (born 1778) married the Earl of Elgin who, as Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, brought the famous ‘Elgin Marbles’ from Athens to London. As Countess of Elgin, she had an interesting life but was often homesick and she returned to Archerfield in her later years, and died there in 1855.

She did much to improve the church and village of Dirleton. The Kirk tower was properly completed, a vestry added for the Minister and an imposing manse built in 1828 (it is now a private house on the Village Green). The castle wall, the inn, and the characteristic gables of the cottages are evidence of her good taste and interest in the village.

Early in the 20th century, the Kirk interior was remodeled in the style of the liturgical movement. A century later, much work was done to make the attractive and comfortable church that you see today.

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