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" Rebuilding of Duns Parish Church "

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This article researched and written by Mr. Kenneth McLean to mark the 125th.
anniversary of the reopening and rededication of the Church January 2016.

 

 

 

Wedderburn Aisle Duns Churchyard 1874 - plate courtesy of Berwickshire Naturalists' Club

 

On 31st. August 1790 the foundation stone was laid for a new church on the current site, costing 900 and opened in 1792. Its walls and steeple still stand today.

Seating,1200 later reduced to 900-1000, in its day this would have been a typical 'toon kirk' a with simple box pews, 'lofts' above on three sides, cleared glazed windows, whitewashed walls and long tables for communion. Wall tablets, like in Edrom Church carried the Beatitudes and Creeds.

During the 19th. century it underwent adaption including stained glass and also an organ - among the first in the Church of Scotland - installed in May 1866 in the north lodge opposite the pulpit.

 

FIRE! FIRE!

 


Duns Fire Engine

Just before 2 a.m. on Monday 17th. February 1879 a servant girl cried from a house in Church Square.  Fire had broken out in the west gable heating system.  People spilled into the street and the fire bell rang out.

Efforts to combat the blaze should have been aided by the Duns Fire Engine of 1806. A rudimentary design; if attached to a tap, hydrant or steam or filled by hand, men could heave on parallel handles to pump water. A pressure vessel kept constant force, avoiding the jet spurting with each stroke and allowing short breaks to change exhausted crews.

Unfortunately it took half an hour to wake the man with the key to the engine house .... who took half an hour to find the key ... then a further half hour to get the engine across to Church Square only to discover that the hose was not long enough to reach from the nearest source on Castle Street! Runners with pails of water were pressed into action but the Church was too far gone. However the engine did good work saving adjacent houses, their slates so hot that snow and water turned to steam. The engine still exists - restored, it is the oldest appliance in Scotland's Museum of Fire, Lauriston Place Edinburgh. Debris was thrown as far away as Newtown Street - night was turned into day, the glow visible for miles around.

During the night the flames got into the spire, burnt the beams and sent the bell crashing down, People broke into the vestry - where the north aisle of the current Church stands - saving the communion silver and records. By first light the Church was reduced to a smoking ruin, just the bare walls and spire stonework standing; a tragic sight to behold.

 

'NEC TAMEN CONSUMEBATUR'

'Yet it was not Consumed" This has been the emblem of the Church of Scotland  since 1691 and refers to Moses encountering the Burning Bush - no matter how much it burned yet it was not consumed by the flames. Despite the physical devastation and the loss of so much that was beautiful and historic, the kirk session and congregation had to keep faith and move forward.

Clearly a temporary place of worship was needed and the congregation was able to hold afternoon services in the South United Presbyterian Church on the other side of Currie Street - now Carpet Mart Warehouse and whose own congregation later united with the Parish Church in 1976. This Church's Kirk Session had met the day after the fire and judicially doubled their fire insurance! Services were also held in Millbank School half way between Preston and Ellemford, including a rented harmonium. There was no organ in the South Church until the 1890s. Sunday School was held in the Town Hall in Market Square demolished in 1966 and in the Corn Exchange on Newtown Street, later the Swan Garage, now the site of the Co-operative.  Although the congregation had been among the first to move from two to four per year there was no communion between November 1879 and February 1881.

 

 


The South United Presbyterian Church

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The former Corn Exchange later Swan Garage

 

One most unfortunate victim of circumstances was Herr Johannes Albe, organist and choirmaster who was given his notice. Thankfully he was later retained to lead the psalmody, then returned to his old role once the church was re-opened. In 1902 he was commemorated by a small stained glass window, next to the main door, presented by the choir.

 

'THE CHURCH OF 1881

 

Despite inflation the Church was only insured for 1000 with cover for the organ matching its original 300 cost. 'Heritors ' - responsible for maintaining Parish Churches on behalf of the community - considered five plans  from well-known architects Wadrop and Reid ranging from 1850 to 4000 and seating 884 to 1000. After consultation with the session and congregation, an option was chosen costing 2,500 (plus any organ and ornamental fittings), seating 1000 and to take a year to construct.

In the end the Church sat 920, cost over 4000 and took almost a year and half! There were 127 numbered pitched pine pews, of varying size, 79 downstairs and 48 in the three sides gallery. Over the years 21 downstairs have been removed to free-up space or improve access..

After the current primary school opened on 1st.. February 1880  the old school was donated to form halls. These were linked to a new vestibule, and also added were external stairwells, rounded windowheads  and a substantial north aisle. All wall were raised two feet and a new bell fitted.

 

'THE GREAT ORGAN AND A GRAND REOPENING'

 

Many fine decorative features were installed, like most of the beautiful stained gall seen today, but undoubtedly the most spectacular is the organ. This was selected by the Kirk Session from a list of three options supplied by the famous Peter Conacher firm of Huddersfield who had also installed the original consumed in the flames, and which cost 600.

 

Conachers "Opus 528" the Duns organ fields no fewer than 1157 pipes, ranging in height from half an inch to twenty feet and in diameter from a quarter of an inch to one foot and capable of a full five octaves. Those in front glory in a delightful array of stencil shapes and lines applied by R.J. Hume, painter who operate in Berwickshire to this day. Originally powered by a hydraulic water engine in the base of the steeple, it was later turned to gas pneumatic and now electrical operation. Renovated several times in the intervening decades and still sounding with beauty power and grace, it can also boast of a prestigious National Organ Certificate listing

 

Duns Parish Church reopened at 8 p.m. on Friday 14th. January 1881 with a concert of sacred organ music played by Herbert Oakley, Professor of Music at Edinburgh University accompanied by the choir. Despite heavy snow the Church filled with between 12000 and 1300 people - many sitting on temporary benches or stools in the aisles. As a symbolic act, not a word was read out before during or after the concert leaving this significant act to the first Sunday service. On that occasion Herr Walter, organist of Edinburgh Morningside would sit at the keys

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After two years Divine Worship resumed at 11.15 a.m. on Sunday 16th. January 1881. It was led by the Rev. A.K.H. Boyd of St. Andrews, a writer and well known Church figure. He took Psalm 96 as his text and especially verse 9 - 'O Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness'. It was a fitting choice alluding to Church and Organ.

 

There was then a 6 p.m. evening service led by the Rev. Cornelius Giffen, Edinburgh St. Mary's and the attendance must have been over 1000 as all the pews and temporary benches were filled. In a strange twist of fate there was a serious fire in the South U.P. Church as the service was beginning.

 

 

 

Opus 528 The Duns Church Organ