Christianity in this part of Perthshire has a long history. It is recorded that a church was established in the 700s by St Fergus at Strageath, on the south bank of the River Earn some six miles north of modern Blackford. An abbey was then established on the site in the early 1200s. By the 1400s there were already complaints that Strageath Parish Church, which stood at the northern extremity of a very large parish, was simply in the wrong place to meet the needs of most of its parishioners.
This problem had not been resolved by the time of the Reformation of 1560. It seems that parishioners then took matters into their own hands, and in 1574 a new church was opened on a hill immediately to the north east of the village of Blackford. This is the start of the development of Blackford Old Parish Church. The new church proved much more convenient for the majority of parishioners, and in 1617 an Act of Parliament redesignated the Parish of Strageath as the Parish of Blackford, and the parish church formally moved six miles to the south. The old kirk of Strageath was abandoned, and very little of it now remains.
In 1738 the church was being used during the week as the parish school. Heating was provided by a peat fire, and it seems that during an absence by the schoolmaster the pupils amused themselves by throwing lighted pieces of peat at one another. The conclusion was fairly predictable, and the church was severely damaged in the resulting fire. The church was rebuilt the following year, complete with galleries at its east and west ends. Further alterations were made in 1821 that included the insertion of a north gallery connecting the existing galleries, external stairs to serve it, and changes to the session house, whose ruins now stand immediately to the south of the church.
It seems that despite the increase in accommodation resulting from the 1821 changes, by the 1850s the Old Parish Church was simply not large enough to accommodate all those wishing to worship here. As a result it was in 1859 replaced by the current Parish Church, which stands within the village. The first edition of the detailed Ordnance Survey map of the area published in 1866 shows the old church as roofed, but it seems unlikely that it remained so for long.
Today the church is a fairly complete, if roofless, ruin, with walls standing to their original height. The bellcote which tops off the west gable has been restored in fairly recent times. The bell that once hung there was taken for safekeeping at the time the church was replaced. It carries a pre-Reformation inscription and must have served at Strageath Parish Church before being moved to Blackford in 1617.
You approach the Old Parish Church up a track that climbs from the far side of the level crossing at the north east end of the village. Part of the way up the climb is a bench that commemorates George Keir, the village blacksmith, who died in 2003. The churchyard wall is fairly complete, and you enter through a lych gate, said to be one of the oldest in Scotland.
There are a number of old grave markers in the churchyard, some dating back to the 1600s. In some ways, though, of even more interest are some iron grave markers from the very early 1900s, which are devoid of any identifying marks. These were presumably marketed as the "next great thing", but have not lasted nearly as well as the stone markers around them. It was only a chance encounter in the churchyard of St Serfs, Dunning, with a marker that still (just about) had an enamelled plate attached which identified the deceased, that revealed how these markers originally looked.
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Grid Ref: NN 901 094