Dirleton Parish Church stands at the northern end of the attractive village of Dirleton, in effect at the head of a northern extension to the village green, which extends all the way south to the wall surrounding the gardens of Dirleton Castle.
The original name of the parish covering this part of what is now East Lothian was "Golyn" and from the second half of the 1100s it was served by St Andrews Kirk, whose ruins can still be seen at the west end of the neighbouring village of Gullane. On 23 October 1612, Lord Erskine of Dirleton received permission from the Scottish Parliament to build a replacement parish church on a new site in Dirleton. The stated reason for the relocation was that the existing church "is sa incommodiouslie situat beside the sea sand that the same, with the kirk yard thereof, is continewallie overblawin with sand, that nather the kirk servis commodiouslie for the convening of the parichiners, nor yet the kirk yard for their burial". In other words, it was prone to inundation by sand and was in the wrong place in the parish to serve the majority of parishioners.
Work appears to have started soon afterwards, presumably the following spring, and what emerged was the basis of the Dirleton Church you see today: though not everything now on view was built immediately. Dominating the south front of the church is the imposing Dirleton or, as it is more usually known, Archerfield Aisle. This was built to house the grave of James Maxwell, 1st Earl of Dirleton, who died in 1650, by his widow Elizabeth Debousy. The aisle was not quite completed when Maxwell's grandson James, Earl of Salisbury, sold the estate to Sir John Nisbet in 1663.
The Nisbets built nearby Archerfield House as their family residence, and seem to have finished the aisle, as the Archerfield Aisle, in 1664: it is said to be the earliest example of neo-classical architecture in Scotland. The roof of the aisle is of stone which over the centuries has become less than fully weathertight. When we last visited a temporary outer roof had been placed over the aisle, and the interior was clearly in a state of drying out.
The second most striking feature of the church is also a later addition. The tower was part of the original design though there are suggestions it may not have been fully completed. In the 1830s, Mrs Hamilton Nisbet Ferguson of Archerfield House paid for a manse and vestry to be built, and for the tower to be remodelled. The spiky Gothic topping dates back to work completed in 1838. Mrs Hamilton Nisbet Ferguson also paid for the building of the wall that now surrounds Dirleton Castle and for the establishment of the Castle Inn in the village.
Dirleton Parish Church has a beautiful setting and surroundings. The churchyard is home to the occasional early gravestone, though not perhaps as many as you might expect for a church dating back to the early 1600s. Entry to the kirk for visitors is via a door in the side of the Archerfield Aisle. Internally you find a surprisingly large and very broad space, with additional accommodation in a gallery at the west end. From the gallery the pulpit, towards the east end of the church, seems a very long way away. It is tempting to wonder whether the interior was originally set up the style of most Scottish Presbyterian churches at the time, with the pulpit mid way down the south wall and all seating facing inwards towards it.
The church has some very nice details, including two magnificent stained glass windows, one in the east wall, and the other in the end of the Archerfield Aisle. The latter was gifted to the kirk in 1935 by Mr Jackson Russell of Archerfield in memory of his wife. It depicts some ninety different types of creature and is meant to portray man's innate love of nature.
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Grid Ref: NT 515 843