The partial remains of St Bride's Church stand in the village of Douglas close to the Douglas Water. Also sometimes known as Old St Bride's Church (to avoid confusion with the current parish church, also dedicated to St Bride) or St Bridgit's, the church is closely associated with the Black Douglas family and the restored chancel of the church stands as their mausoleum.
It is at first a little difficult to understand the remains you see today. The only complete part of the church is the chancel, which originally stood at the east end of a much larger building.
Diagonally offset to the south-west of the chancel are the standing ruins of what was originally the south aisle, with a striking pencil shaped tower at its east end. Very little trace now remains of the nave of the church, which would have stood to the north of the aisle and to the west of the chancel.
St Bride's Church was built in the late 1300s, possibly on the site of a church built a century earlier. It seems to have grown in size and importance with the increase in power of the local landowners, the Black Douglas family, a branch of the House of Douglas or Clan Douglas. By 1400 the Black Douglases were the most powerful family in lowland Scotland except the ruling Stewarts. This inevitably led to conflict, and between 1452 and 1455 King James II virtually wiped the family out and seized most of their estates.
The chancel was restored by Lord Home in the late 1800s, but not before it had stood derelict for a considerable period since the church fell out of use. It is home to three exceptional and relatively well preserved wall tombs, complete with effigies of their occupants. One commemorates James, 7th Earl of Douglas, who died in 1443, and his wife Beatrice de Sinclair. Another remembers Sir James Douglas, who died in Spain in 1330 while taking Robert the Bruce's heart on Crusade. The date suggests that his tomb must have first formed part of the church that preceded the one whose remains you see today.
A sign in the churchyard tells you where you can obtain the key to the chancel: an arrangement which permits access, but which inevitably means you take pot luck on the keyholder being available when you arrive (and explains the lack of interior images on this page).
The small tower at the east end of the south aisle is though to have been built in the 1560s, probably specifically to house a clock whose face dates it to 1565. The clock is said to have been a gift from Mary, Queen of Scots, and may be the oldest working clock in Scotland. It is noted for chiming three minutes before the hour rather than on the hour itself: a reference to the Douglas family motto of Jamais Arriere, or "never behind". A visit in May 2007 found the clock absent: presumably for restoration.