History of the church

The original place of worship was situated at the east end of the parish and was established by a Norman Lord around 1170. The land was gifted to the Abbey of Holywood by the Monks of Melrose so there has, therefore, been a Christian presence in the parish for over 800 years. Monks played an important part in developing the area by improving the drainage, growing crops and by promoting animal husbandry.

Old Dunscore Kirk was originally close to Old Dunscore Kirkyard, near Merkland. In 1649, James Grierson of Dalgonar and James Kirko of Sundaywell presented a petition to the Scots Parliament, seeking to move it to its present site. They stated that the old Kirk was so ruinous that ‘they daere not for hazard of their life repaire thearto for Godis worship’. So James Grierson granted a feu, and the Kirk was built on its present site, in the village which was then called Cottack. The copper baptismal font was brought from the old Kirk, and secreted in one of the walls. The manse at Throughgate was built in 1657.

The Revd. Robt. Archibald was the first minister in the new Kirk; he, like 300 other ministers in Dumfries and Galloway , when the Rescissory Act was passed in 1663, left his new manse and his Kirk, took to the hills, and preached at conventicles. Both James Grierson and James Kirko supported him strongly; Grierson was fined, and then imprisoned at Ayr; Kirko in the Tolbooth in Edinburgh . Kirko, after his release, organised and attended, as did Grierson, the great conventicle on Skeoch in 1678.

In 1823, the then Kirk, which had by then also become ruinous, was demolished and the present Kirk was built, with room for 850 worshippers, despite the then James Grierson of Dalgonar’s stipulation that it should have room for a thousand. The old baptismal font was again built into the wall. The architect was James Thomson of Dumfries , and the cost was £1,072. At about this time, the village is no longer described on the maps as Cottack, but Dunscore (which was always the name of the Parish). In 1923, Mrs Hamilton Walker of Dalgonar, at the suggestion of the Session, had the baptismal font taken out of the wall, and set up in its present stand.

Apart from the font, the only other connection with the original Dunscore Kirk is the carved sandstone plaque on the outside east gable-end inscribed ‘How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts to me’..

In 1955, the rooms at the rear of the church were installed, reducing the seating capacity and, at about this time, the exterior sandstone was painted white. In about 1960, Moniaive and Glencairn, and Dunscore were combined into a single parish, but all three churches were retained, and are still in use to-day.

In about 1990, the East Kirk at Merkland was finally abandoned as a place of worship.  Those who sought to retain it, put up a gallant fight but, finally, its congregation moved to Dunscore.

The interior of the Church has a large panel on its east wall naming the priests and ministers who have served the parish over many centuries.  Dunscore is in the heart of Covenanting country and its one-time minister, Rev. Archibald, was ousted from his charge during this period.

On the west wall of the church, in an area now known as the Craig Corner, there is a plaque and medal to the memory of Jane Haining.  Jane Haining was born in Dunscore and worshipped in the Craig Free Church.  She was the only Scots woman to die in Auschwitz. As Matron of the Girls Home in the Budapest Mission of the Church of Scotland, she refused to leave her charges when war broke out and paid the ultimate price. Non-Jews who gave or risked their lives to aid Jews in the Holocaust may be added to the list of ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ – the Memorial of the Jewish people located in Jerusalem. Jane Haining was honoured in this way in 1998.

Hungarian children visiting the Jane Haining memorial at Dunscore church

The church retains a strong link with Hungary and every year a group of Hungarian children visit Dunscore.

Recent History

Several changes have been made to the church in more recent years.

The pews were removed from the central section to make the church into a more flexible space for meetings and small gatherings.

Projectors and screens were installed in 2010 so that the words of hymns could be displayed.  The screens are also used for talks and meetings and allow photographs and other visual aids to be displayed during the service.

In 2011 the paint that had been applied to details around doors and windows in around 1900 was removed.  The last time the church exterior had been repainted was in the 1970s and it either needed repainting or removed and the latter course was decided.