Haddington | Belief

St Mary’s | The West Church | Holy Trinity Church | St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church | Church of Christ | Jehovah’s Witnesses | Haddington Community Church | Haddington Family Church | The Religious Society of Friends | Rites of Passage

The parish of Haddington offers considerable variety in Christian beliefs and practices (no organised religious group with beliefs other than Christian was found). Compared with earlier times the long-established denominations seemed to suffer, here as elsewhere, from diminished congregations, a disinclination for formal commitment on the part of many attending services, and a shortage of candidates for the clergy. Relations between denominations, however, have become much more cordial and joint activities – most notably the Whitekirk-Haddington pilgrimage – are undertaken. The only noticeable objection to the pilgrimage is mounted by a fundamentalist group from Glasgow.

Church services have become less formal during this period. The laity, including women, plays a much larger part, and people no longer feel it necessary to dress in ‘Sunday best’ to attend services.

A number of new Christian groups sprang up in Haddington during the last decade of this account. Summaries of the following are presented below: St Mary’s Church of Scotland; The West Church; Holy Trinity Church; St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church; Church of Christ; Jehovah’s Witnesses; Haddington Community Church; Haddington Family Church; The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

St Mary’s Church of Scotland

St Mary’s Church of Scotland was built in the mid 14th century on the site of an earlier religious foundation, situated on the west bank of the river Tyne, outside the town walls. During the siege of Haddington (1547-48) the church was badly damaged and left roofless. The roof of the nave was later replaced, and the nave walled off, so that it could continue to be used as the parish church of Haddington. The choir, transepts and tower were left a ruin.

The minister occupies a large Georgian manse and extensive garden, entered from Sidegate. The church hall has been, throughout the period, a former church in Newton Port.

Various alterations and repairs to St Mary’s were carried out in the 19th century particularly in 1890-91 during the ministry of Dr Nimmo Smith. A plan for restoration in 1900 provoked letters of outrage from the south of England, supported by the then Earl of Wemyss, who had already replaced the tracery in one of the windows, but did not consider that to be ‘restoration’. Responsibility for the ruined part was transferred in 1906 to the Ministry of Works.

In 1945 St Mary’s had two galleries – one over the west door, containing pews, and one on the east barrier wall, accommodating organ and choir. In August 1948, the Tyne flooded, and the depth of water in the church was such that it was possible to row a boat down the aisle.


In 1963, the late Dr Nimmo Smith’s youngest daughter, Hilda, who had received a substantial legacy, proposed to fund a bell to be hung in the church tower in memory of her father. The Ministry of Works, however, stated that the tower was not strong enough, and the Kirk Session suggested the building of a hall, in the grounds of Haddington House. This was on the point of being undertaken when John McVie, a solicitor and town clerk of Haddington, saw an impressive photo in The Scotsman of St Michael’s Church, Linlithgow, reopened after restoration, and he realised that this was what St Mary’s could look like. As chairman of the Kirk Session’s hall committee, he proposed to his fellow elders that these plans be deferred indefinitely, and replaced by a project to restore the ruined parts of the church. Once this proposal had been accepted by the minister, the Rev James S. Thomson, and a majority of the Kirk Session, permissions and approvals had to be obtained from a wide range of church and conservation bodies, and fundraising undertaken. Miss Nimmo Smith was delighted with the new proposal, and increased the donation she had already promised. After initial encouragement, however, late objections and mounting estimates of cost led to the restoration attempt being formally abandoned by the Kirk Session in February 1968.

The Duchess of Hamilton had founded The Lamp of Lothian Collegiate Trust in 1967, with a programme for regenerating Haddington and its surrounding area. The trust had been fundraising successfully to restore Haddington House and the Poldrate Mill cottages. The trustees were ready to co-operate with the church in fundraising for restoration, and the project was reopened. The first fruit of this co-operation was a fundraising concert by Yehudi Menuhin in St Mary’s. The Friends of St Mary’s was founded in late 1968.

In May 1971 work began. The weather-beaten walls of the choir could not support a traditional stone vault, but the lighter weight roof required could be constructed from fibreglass, which had already been used acceptably for similar situations in England.

It was agreed to sell four silver communion cups, made in 1645, which had lain in a bank vault since 1902, being too valuable to use or insure. These realised at auction the sum of £41,000. On 17 March 1972 the first stone was removed from the barrier wall by Miss Nimmo Smith. A stained-glass window by Burne-Jones, from the demolished St Michael’s, Torquay, had lain in crates at the Victoria and Albert Museum for 30 years. Found to be an almost exact fit for the south window of the south transept of St Mary’s, the museum donated the glass and the Earl of Wemyss, whose great-grandfather had restored the window’s stonework, met the installation cost. Two tapestries, representing the coastline and the land of East Lothian, were presented by anonymous donors. The circular dais at the crossing was constructed by the joiners and cabinetmakers in the congregation. A circular communion table was made to stand at the centre of the dais, and a wooden pulpit was placed at the north-east side. Choir and transepts were completely restored by the end of March 1973.

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh visited St Mary’s in summer 1973. The Queen Mother had already been patron of The Friends of St Mary’s for some years. The restored St Mary’s was granted a Heritage Year Award by the assessors of the European Architectural Heritage Year 1975.

Within St Mary’s is a small chapel, known as the Lauderdale Aisle, built for the Maitland of Lethington family, whose burial vault lies beneath it. The Maitlands, Earls and in one case, Duke, of Lauderdale, sold Lethington estate in the 17th century. The Lauderdale Aisle was restored by the present Earl of Lauderdale, and reconsecrated in 1978 by the Bishop of Edinburgh.

During the early part of the period, the conventional morning and evening services were held, and Sunday school, Woman’s Guild and other organisations flourished. Marriages and baptisms might be celebrated in the church or elsewhere while funerals were usually conducted by the minister in the home of the deceased, and in the churchyard.

Sunday services at St Mary’s in 2000 are a family service at 9.30am, held informally in the choir, with groups for the many young children afterwards, while their parents have an opportunity to chat over coffee; and a more traditional service at 11am, after which tea and coffee are also served. Towards the end of the millennium a group of child choristers was formed, trained by Isobel Stretton. The choristers take part in church services on a monthly basis, and also sing elsewhere in the county.

A new organ, built by Lammermuir Pipe Organs of Oldhamstocks, was installed in the north transept in 1990.

The original bells, carried off by the English in 1548, could not be found, but in 1996 the Dunecht estate in Aberdeenshire decided to sell a set of eight bells, cast in 1911. There are not many peals of bells in Scotland, and the Scottish Society of Change Ringers was anxious that these should not leave the country. Thanks to a variety of grants and donations, including a grant from the National Heritage Lottery Fund, the bells, with a suitable steel framework, were finally placed in the tower by a huge crane on 19 April 1999. The Haddington Society of Change Ringers was formed later that same month.

In 1974 the Guardians of St Mary’s were formed. They are a group of people who welcome visitors to the church, and staff a small refectory and shop in the new vestibule inside the west door. This continues to the present time, the group being made up of volunteers from St Mary’s and elsewhere. The church is open to visitors from Easter to the end of September on weekday mornings and afternoons, and on Sunday afternoons.

The Haddington Pilgrimage was begun in 1970, at the instigation of the Earl of Lauderdale, and takes place annually on the second Saturday in May. On the first occasion 13 people took part, but numbers have since risen to around 1300. The first service of the day is held at St Mary’s, Whitekirk, followed by Mass, and now a joint service for Presbyterians and Episcopalians, and also a service of healing, at St Mary’s, Haddington. Pilgrims can then proceed to the private chapel at Lennoxlove.

The church is in considerable demand as a venue for concerts, including a summer season arranged by the Lamp of Lothian, and less frequently for lectures, and so on. On the first Saturday of February, the Friends of St Mary’s hold a Candlemas Fair there.

St Mary’s Church Hall is also used for a range of functions – from Boys’ Brigade to dance classes – and for the annual congregational Christmas lunch (previously held in the church itself). Kitchen and toilet facilities have recently been modernised, and the small hall now accommodates mother and toddler groups, which began as Happy Mondays, and have had to alter the name to Happy Days, now that meetings take place on Tuesdays and Wednesdays also to meet demand. On Thursdays there is a popular coffee morning for more elderly participants.

The Woman’s Guild at St Mary’s was discontinued during the 1990s, but members can attend the guild at the West Church. A new club has been formed at St Mary’s, with meetings open to both men and women. A number of house groups also meet in connection with the church.

West Church

The West Church, formerly the United Free Church, is a red sandstone building in Court Street, built in 1890. The large Church of Scotland parish in Haddington was divided between the minister at St Mary’s (a double charge until 1938) and the minister of the West Church. In 1945 a meeting was held at the West Church to consider the desirability of women being eligible for the eldership, but the decision was against the idea. Electric lighting replaced gas in 1946, and an afternoon communion service was introduced in 1948.

Joint evening services were held by the West Church and St Mary’s in the summer of 1959, and in that autumn a Youth Fellowship was begun at the West Church. In 1960 a surplus font was given to Garvald Parish Church. The following year it was decided to sell the glebe.

A Girls’ Guildry Company – now Girls’ Brigade – was formed in 1963, and in 1967 a Parish Development Programme was undertaken, with the minister visiting the new houses in Clerkington. On 12 January 1975 a programme of hymn singing was broadcast worldwide on Radios 1 and 2. In 1980 Haddington West was linked with Garvald and Morham parishes, the recently appointed minister at Garvald moving to the West Church manse. A small stewardship committee was set up in 1986, and later that year a fortnightly meeting for elderly people – The Friendship Hour – was started. The bicentenary of the Rev John Brown of Haddington, best known as the author of the self-interpreting Bible, was celebrated in 1987. A playgroup was formed in 1989.

Proposals to extend the church were drawn up, but did not receive planning permission; however an alternative scheme to form a new entrance on the east side of the church was accepted, and the work completed in 1991, with Hilton Lodge Nursing Home allowing access from Court Street through their grounds.

In 1997 the youth club closed down due to difficulty in obtaining leaders and a disruptive element among those attending. In 1998 it was agreed to hold an Alpha course, and plans were developed to visit the new houses at Gateside.

Christmas 1999 and New Year 2000 saw a range of events to mark the Millennium, including a joint watch night service in St Mary’s. A new stained glass window was proposed overlooking Court Street, which was unusual in that it was designed to be seen from the outside of the building, sending a message to the wider community that Christ is alive. Sunday services are held morning and evening. Current organisations connected to the church are Sunday school, Wayfarers and Hi-lights for youngsters, and Young Women’s Group, Guild and Friendship Hour for adults. There is a crèche on Sunday mornings; a mother and toddler group meets one morning, and a playgroup on three mornings a week. There are also a prayer group meeting on two weekday mornings, and seven house groups.

Holy Trinity

Holy Trinity, the Episcopal Church in Haddington, is situated in Church Street, on the west bank of the river Tyne. Built in 1769-70, on the site of a Franciscan friary, the interior was altered, and a chancel added in 1930. The Rectory, adjacent to the church, was built in 1820, and a church hall nearby in 1892-3.

In August 1948 the church was flooded to a depth of several feet, and until it had dried out, services were held in the hall, which is up some steps. A 19th century arrangement for serving Episcopalians in Tranent was concluded in 1963, when this responsibility was transferred to St Andrew’s Church, Prestonpans. After the formation of the Haddington branch of the Scottish Council of Churches in 1966, some joint services were arranged between denominations. A link charge with St Anne’s Episcopal Church, Dunbar, in 1979, with the introduction of a team ministry, continued until 1998.

Considerable damage was caused in 1988 by a fire in the church, the cause of which was never discovered. If a young girl staying with her grandparents in Church Street had not seen smoke, and raised the alarm, the church might have been totally destroyed. During repairs, a weekly service was held in St Mary’s Church of Scotland.

Holy Trinity Handbells were formed in the 1980s, and in 1998 a small orchestra comprising members of the congregation. Both play a part in some services, and in other events in the town.

The regular services of the church are, on Sundays, Holy Communion at 8.30am; Family Eucharist at 10am, and evening prayer (Evensong on the 1st Sunday of the month) at 6pm. There is also on Wednesdays, morning prayer at 7am, and a communion service at 10am. A memorial service for the relatives and friends of those who have died in the past year is held annually. There is a small Sunday school, and a group for teenagers, while the church has a close relationship with the Church Street Day Centre for the elderly.

The minister alone conducted worship up to the 1960s, but now the laity, male and female, assists at communion, reads lessons and leads intercessions, and modern forms of liturgy are generally used. Church services have become much more relaxed and informal, and in recent years children have been admitted to communion.

The hall, in which a small room has now been converted into a church office, is used for coffee after Sunday services, and for coffee mornings and table sales. It has also provided a venue for local organisations, including a playgroup, karate club, keep fit group, cadet force, archery, badminton and various fund-raising activities.

Holy Trinity is a welcoming, inclusive church, with a wide range of ages among its members. The congregation has increased over the years, due, perhaps, to the increase in Haddington’s population, and the continuing movement of families.

St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church

St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church was built in 1861, to a design by E.W. Pugin, son of the better-known Augustus Pugin. The congregation, however, had formed in 1853, purchasing Poudret House at the north end of the Poldrate, which had enough land to accommodate the building of the church, and also a school. The house itself became the presbytery (the priest’s house), and the school ultimately the church hall. Around 1980 the sanctuary of the church was redesigned to accommodate the liturgical changes introduced by the Second Vatican Council. The original stone altar was replaced by a new marble altar, which was brought forward to enable the priest to face the faithful during the celebration of Holy Mass.

In 2000 a Vigil Mass is held on Saturday evenings, and Family Mass, with choir, on Sunday mornings. Services are also held at 9am on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, at 7.15pm on Tuesdays, and 10am on Saturdays. Extra afternoon services are held during Advent and Lent; Stations of the Cross on Friday evenings in Lent; and extra services on the Thursday and Friday of Holy Week.

The church maintains good relations with St Mary’s Roman Catholic Primary School, and during term time there is a Children’s Liturgy Group on Sunday mornings. The Union of Catholic Mothers (which despite its name is open to all ladies in the parish) meets monthly from September to June, and a parish social group organises social evenings, especially for older members. In all these activities lay members, of both sexes, play an active part. The church is involved in the Council of Churches, and takes part in the Whitekirk Pilgrimage, and joint activities with other Haddington churches at Christmas. The nominal roll is 700 adherents, but a more realistic figure would be 400. The congregation includes a high proportion of older members.

Church of Christ

The Church of Christ congregation in Haddington began in 1955, with a small group meeting in a house in Haldane Avenue. In 1956 they moved to a room in the Town House till refurbishment in 1957 led to meetings being held with the church in Tranent for about half a year. In 1987 the church moved into its own premises off Newton Port, where the building had to be renovated and extended. The meeting room above the church is used also by some other organisations. By the 1960s there was a Sunday school of some 60 children, who enjoyed a summer picnic and an end of year party. Numbers declined, and in 1985 the Sunday school was replaced by a midweek Bible Study, attended also by older people.

Missions to surrounding districts have been held, especially in the late 1960s and the 1970s, but the response was poor. On one occasion some young girls were attracted to the meeting – they had mistakenly supposed that ‘Paul Jones, Evangelist’ was Paul Jones, lead singer with pop group Manfred Mann! Less formal gospel meetings have been held on Saturday evenings, with support from sister congregations in Tranent and Newtongrange. A once-a-month morning meeting for coffee and chat, open to all, has proved very popular. A Bible thought is inserted in the East Lothian Courier every week.

The Church of Christ is a non-denominational body of believers, part of the worldwide Christian church as established on the day of Pentecost in New Testament times. The church has no clergy, some of the male elders administering the weekly communion, organising preaching and so on, while the women members share in all other activities. Baptism is by immersion. Each congregation is autonomous, the church being regarded as a family – the members, brothers and sisters; the father, God.

Jehovah’s Witnesses

A congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses was founded in Haddington in 1958, and included members from Dunbar and from a former congregation in North Berwick. Meetings were held in a joiner’s shop in Knox Place, and on Sundays in the Town House.

In 1971 the congregation bought two houses, part of the stable block for Holme House, by the West Mill, and a Kingdom Hall seating 50-60 was constructed. The congregation grew in size and larger premises being needed, the derelict part of the stable block was acquired in 1989. Renovation produced an auditorium for about 120, with extra meeting rooms and better facilities.

During the 1990s there were about 60 members, and a regular attendance of about 70 at meetings. For the main event of the year, the Memorial Celebration of Christ’s Death, held in March/April, attendance is usually well over 100. Members also attend some larger gatherings outwith Haddington. Meetings in the Kingdom Hall are held on Sunday mornings, and members of the public are especially invited to a 45-minute discussion of a Bible subject. A Thursday evening meeting is partly a training school for public speaking and teaching, and new members, and children in particular, are encouraged to take part.

In their public ministry, Witnesses try to call on every home in the area to encourage more interest in the Bible. All members share in this activity, the Haddington congregation’s area stretching from Longniddry to Cockburnspath, and from North Berwick to the Lammermuirs. There is a particular focus on family life, and assistance to young people.

Haddington Community Church

In 1993 a group of people, some from Haddington, began attending Christian services in various venues in East Linton. Deciding to look for a more suitable location in Haddington, by autumn of that year they had moved to Haddington House for meetings. When the local authority moved into Haddington House, the Lamp of Lothian Trust (which owned both properties) offered the use of the Poldrate Mill. The group met there from autumn 1994, and the following year chose the name Haddington Community Church.

On Sundays services are held at 10.30am, with a Sunday school, and also at 6pm. During the school terms, Bible Clubs for primary children, and ‘Discovery’ for older children and teenagers, meet during the week, as do meetings for adults in members’ houses. Lay members help with all activities where their work commitments allow.

Haddington Community Church is independent, non-charismatic and evangelical. It believes that the Bible is the wholly inspired, inerrant, Word of God, and seeks to demonstrate that it is wholly relevant to every aspect of life today.

Hadington Family Church

The Haddington Family Church congregation belongs to the Salt and Light family of churches – one of many new ‘house churches’ (though many no longer meet in houses) that have begun across the country and around the world since the late 1960s. This congregation has only been formally established since January 2000.

The purpose of the Haddington Family Church is to live out the good news of the Bible and to help introduce others to that good news, in partnership with other churches in the area. It has a lay, but trained, leadership. There are special links with churches in Uganda and Gambia. Family gatherings are held in the Town House on Sunday mornings, and midweek meetings include a home group for prayer, Bible study, and fellowship; an Alpha course; a Children’s Hour for four to eleven year olds; a youth meeting for twelve to 15s and for the latter, a monthly youth club with snooker, video games, tuck shop and so on. Recent occasional activities have included a Millennium Ceilidh; carol singing at Tesco’s, local nursing homes and sheltered housing, and various social activities.

Religious Society of Friends

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) has, since the 17th century, played a distinctive part in the religious life of Scotland. It is best known for its meetings for worship based on silence and for its social concerns – particularly its peace testimony. Although numerically small and rather scattered, the society has a strongly structured arrangement for its business affairs. Each member belongs to a local meeting, which is linked to other meetings in its area through common membership of a monthly meeting. Monthly meetings are in turn linked to Britain yearly meeting (formerly called London yearly meeting), centred in London, which holds an annual meeting with attendance open to all members of its constituent meetings. East Lothian lies within the area of South East Scotland monthly meeting and Friends in Edinburgh have played an important supporting role in helping the small group of Friends in East Lothian.

A Quaker meeting for worship does not need to be held in a specially designated building so, when two Friends came to live in East Lothian in the 1960s and started a worshipping meeting, they gathered in each other’s homes. This meeting flourished for about three years, until the founder couple had to move from the area.

One member of this worshipping group was also involved in an ecumenical group in Haddington and, through her, Friends became one of the denominations represented at the ecumenical services held at Lennoxlove. Since then, worship after the manner of Friends has taken place there twice yearly with support from Edinburgh Friends. A similar worshipping group was formed in 1985 and survived until 1987. In 1988, a Quaker couple moved into the area and in July 1990 a meeting was held in their house to restart Quaker meetings for worship in East Lothian. Those involved were geographically widely spread and when, two years later, it was decided to meet in a public place, a suitable venue was found in Haddington in the Stables of St Mary’s Manse. This meeting, strengthened by Friends from Edinburgh, has continued; and in March 2000 it became a recognised meeting of Britain yearly meeting, which gives it an official status within the society.

Friends are also well known for their social concerns. Several individual Friends in East Lothian are actively involved in various kinds of social work but it has not so far proved practicable for such a scattered group to undertake a joint project in the area. In the mid 1990s, however, local Friends supported a Quaker international work camp set up to work with patients in the Hopetoun Unit in Haddington.

Rites of Passage – some recollections c1950-70 gathered by members of the Haddington Remembered Group.

On courtship and engagement

Couples met often accidentally on a bus, on the hockey field, or travelling together to work. Other ways of meeting included at local dances, through scouts and guides, or through some other group organisation. Or even at Jean King’s chip shop. There were not many private meetings. Engagements involved saving up for a ring. The couple went to Edinburgh to look round the jewellers for a nice ring. Some asked the father’s permission, some courted long enough so that everyone knew. Engagements sometimes were quite lengthy as the couple saved regularly for a house.

On marriage

Marriage could take place more or less anywhere – the vestry, tearooms, hall, hotel – but church and the registry office were the main choices. The bride wore a full white dress, veil and carried flowers as well as ‘something old, new, borrowed, blue’. The groom would be suit-clad (ordinary folk) and there would be two to six bridesmaids. All lady guests wore hats. An official photographer took photographs (there were no videos then) and would then bring the proofs to the reception.

The type of reception held depended on number of guests; often there were long tables at receptions held at a hotel or tearoom or at home. Food included soup, steak pie, trifle and sometimes salad; there was not much choice. The wedding cake would have several tiers. [A] toast to the groom & bride was given by a family friend, and the groom replied.

Afterwards there would be the traditional ‘Poor oot’ when the groom scattered coins to children waiting outside after [the] reception.

Divorce was unusual. Remarriage came about if a spouse was widowed. Unmarried couples were practically unknown – although the term ‘bidey in’ was used.

Pat Moncrieff, Alice Nisbet, Margaret Pringle

Weddings I have attended in Haddington saw groom and best man in either morning suits or kilts…I have seen grooms elsewhere [not Haddington] in suits at registry offices, but then the brides were not in flowing white either!

Caroline Lawrie

On death

Many people died at home, perhaps after a long illness, attended by the GP, and the family. The service was held by the minister in the house. It was only later that women went to the burial service. Cremation was not very popular. Mourners then came back to the house for a funeral tea.

There would be a funeral walking procession, with many floral tributes even from acquaintances, and all a great expense. Black was expected to be worn. The question of who was to ‘take a cord’ at the burial could cause problems – especially if some unexpected relatives turned up. Having a cord was considered a great compliment.

The funeral service was a straightforward one – hymns and prayers – and no ‘frills’. We have no recollections of the family hearing a will read by the solicitor after the funeral.

Pat Moncrieff, Alice Nisbet, Margaret Pringle