Welcome to the world of one-place studies! Twenty-six of our members are sharing something in their particular place for this year's A-Z Blogging Challenge. Today we're off to Earlston to learn more about Scottish Kirk Records from Susan Donaldson.

IN MY PLACE of Earlston, in Berwickshire in the Scottish Borders, the Kirk Session Records provide local historians with a unique commentary on society at the time, with the emphasis on charity to those in need, but censure to those involved in "moral turpitude".

The Kirk Session, made up of the Minister and the Elders of the parish, was the local court of the Church of Scotland, set up after the Reformation of 1560. Its duties were to maintain good order amongst the congregation, and supervise the religious condition of the parish.

The Earlston Minute Books, dating from 1691 record:

  • Detailed accounts of income (including legacies) and expenditure.
  • Appointments of church officials.
  • Reports on the parish relating to poor relief, and the parish school.
  • Cases of indiscipline e.g. drunkenness, swearing, fornication.
  • Proclamations of banns, communion rolls, seat rent books and the hire of the hearse and mortcloths used to cover a coffin prior to burial.

Below are some typical entries from Earlston Kirk Session Records 1820-1901:

  • 1st January 1843 - "The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper be dispensed on the second Sunday in February and that the Thursday preceding shall be observed a day of humiliation but likewise as a day of thanksgiving for the late abundant harvest".
  • 17th January 1843 - "Paid £3.13s.6d to William Scott, saddler, for harness, and £1.4s.7d for laying the gas pipe from the street to the church."
  • 1st May 1864 - reflecting concern for the poor, the young and the aged, 2/- was paid to a destitute family, 6/6 to a family for school fees, and 5/0 to Widow Watson.
  • Bags of coal were regularly distributed to the poor, many of whom were listed as widows.
  • November 1862 - the church's concern beyond the village itself is seen in the decision that "A collection be made in the church on Sunday, the 23rd instant in aid of the distressed cotton weavers in Lancashire." This was the time of the American Civil War when ports in the southern states were blockaded, and raw cotton supplies were not reaching Lancashire, with workers at the mills unemployed and facing hardship.
  • Moral issues featured regularly. As late as 14th October 1901, a woman was brought before the Kirk Session to be questioned on her "sin of fornication and having a child out of wedlock......... Having confessed in sorrow for her sins and resolution to walk through grace in newness of life, the Moderator after solemn admonition did in the name of the Kirk Session absolve her from the scandal of her sin and restore her to the privileges of the church." This meant her child could be baptised.
1901 entry from the Kirk Session Records

Scottish Kirk Session Records are not currently online, though it is hoped to add them to the Scotlands People website in 2017. They can be consulted in a digitised format at eleven key archive centres across Scotland.

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