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Reminiscences of the Royal Burgh of Haddington
Old Ecclesiastical Buildings in Haddington


IN looking into the old ecclesiastical history of Haddington, one is struck with the numerous monkish establishments which existed in it, and the extent of lands, mills, and granges that belonged to them.

First.—There was the Collegiate or Parish Church of Haddington, called St Mary’s. It, in its day, from its magnificence, was called Lucema Laudonice, or Lamp of Lothian. The patronage of it belonged to the Prior of St Andrews.

Second.—The Dominican Monastery of the Blackfriars, which stood where the Episcopal Chapel and Elm House are built

Third.—There was the famous Abbey of Haddington, founded by Ada, Countess of Northumberland, and richly endowed by her. Not a stone of it remains.

Fourth.—St Martin’s Church, in the Nungate, which belonged to the Abbacy of Haddington, and whose ruins still remain.

Fifth.—At St Lawrence House there was a chapel dedicated to St Lawrence; also a lepers’ house in connection with it, described in old Scottish history as “ be-wast” the town of Haddington.

Sixth.—A chapel dedicated to St John, which belonged to the Knights Templar. It stood at the Custom Stone, opposite John Hume’s tenement.

Seventh.—A chapel, dedicated to St Catherine, was on the west side of Hardgate Street. It was taken down and rebuilt as a dwelling-house by the late Mr Andrew Pringle, and is now the property of Mrs Jamieson.

Eighth. —The chapel of St Ann’s, at the Custom Stone, in St John Street. The ruins of it were taken down in 1814.

Numerous old houses connected with these monastic establishments were in existence not more than eighty or ninety years ago.

The Collegiate Church of Haddington, sometimes miscalled Haddington Cathedral, is the oldest and grandest ecclesiastical building remaining in Haddington, and may be termed the “chief lion” of the town, ranking in importance in its day with the celebrated Abbeys of Melrose, Kelso, Jedburgh, &c., although not so highly finished in its carving and ornamental decorations. It was granted as an appendage to the Priory of St Andrews by David I. in 1134, along with its lands, chapels, and tithes, which were considerable, including the lands of Clerkington and others. It is an object of interest to strangers who visit Haddington.

It is a common remark that strangers observe beauties of carving, and beautiful architectural proportions in it, which dwellers in Haddington, who see it daily or weekly, do not discern. The western entrance is particularly fine, being very richly chiselled. The capital of the pillar which divides the porch exhibits the “Crown of thorns of our Saviour.” The noble ranges of pillars afford fine specimens of the elaborate work which had been bestowed on them by their builders.

It was sadly damaged by Edward I. and Edward III. in their Scottish raids, and the clergy were rudely molested. In it, during the flourishing days of the Roman Catholic religion, there were no fewer than ' fifteen altars dedicated to numerous saints, such as St Duthacus, St Peter, St John the Baptist, and Our Lady, St Crispin and Crispianus, the Holy Cross, &c. All these altars had been originally erected, endowed, and consecrated by pious persons, and they no doubt tended to add to the magnificence of the establishment. At the time of the Reformation they were all swept away, and the eastern part of the church was destroyed. The western part was retained as the Reformed Parish Church.

Owing to long and continued complaints of the damp, cold, and uncomfortable state of the church, an agitation commenced as early as 1806 by the Magistrates and Town Council to have it thoroughly repaired; but owing to the strong opposition of some of the principal heritors, it was not until 1812 that the present church was repaired and improved, in the style in which it remains to this day. The sum which the town had to pay as its share of the expense was upwards of ^1200. The Earl of Hopetoun, as patron of the parish, was entitled to the chief and best seat in the gallery, but Earl James handsomely gave it up, and presented it personally to Provost Martine, to be kept by the magistrates of the burgh in all time coming. The magistrates’ seat, in the old church, was formerly in the body of it, and where the seat belonging to the Alderston estate now is. Mr John Martine was provost during the time of the repairs, and on their completion the Town Council unanimously voted thanks to him for the great perseverance and attention he had uniformly paid in getting the measure accomplished. It is believed that few burghs have such a commodious and elegant church as the parish of Haddington possesses. In the gallery seats at the back of the pulpit, the minister, although well heard, cannot be seen. Dr Cook used to tell a good story about Mrs Johnstone, an old woman in the town. On calling on her during one of his usual visitations, he remarked that he never saw her in church. She replied that she was there almost every Sunday when she was able, and never saw him either, although she heard him well. On the Doctor asking her where she sat, she said—“ Oh, Doctor, I sit in the ‘ believers’ loft/ at the back of the pulpit” Some years ago, an indecisive controversy was carried on in the columns of the Haddingtonshire Courier betwixt a celebrated London physician, a native of the burgh, and a Haddington schoolmaster, as to whether the old Collegiate Church—the present St Mary’s—or the Dominican Monastery was the real “ Lamp of Lothian.”

It is perhaps worth while to notice that the old church remains to this day a line specimen of ancient mason-work—with carved pillars, windows, doors, and all other requisites of ornamental decorations—entitling it to hold a place in the list of the line old cathedral churches in Scotland; and we also know that the Dominican Monastery was a plain, coarse, though extensive building, and the stones of it, after it became a ruin, were used in building the walls which enclose the present Episcopal Chapel and Elm House, both in front and in Tyne Close, and round the Skinners Knowes, and on the side of Tyne, and also in the erection of the late Grammar and English schools. Not one carved or well-dressed stone of any description can be seen in the walls as at present existing. The stones are all rough rubble, and are from Garvald, Seggarsdean, or Quarry-pits quarries—a mixed lot. If the Dominican Monastery had been a grand ornamental building, worthy of being called the “Lamp of Lothian,” surely some remains of its carved and ornamental stones should have been found somewhere in the locality. The Dominican Monastery seems to have been a building of the same rude and coarse kind as St Martin’s, still in existence, or old St Ann’s, the stones of which were used in building the present tenements there. The idea that the Dominican Monastery was the real “Lamp of Lothian” is contrary to historical and traditional facts.


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