No visitor to Peebles can fail to notice the Old Parish Church. Standing at the west end of the High Street and overlooking the Tweed Bridge, it occupies the site of Peebles' medieval castle and dominates the town.
Today's church was built between 1885 and 1887 at a cost of £9,500, and was dedicated on 29 March 1887. It includes some features from an earlier Parish Church built on the site in 1784.
Externally the Old Parish Church looks large, an impression confirmed once inside. Access is via the imposing east doorway standing at the top of a short flight of broad stone steps, within which is a lobby created by a beautiful wood and glass entrance screen gifted to the church in 1965.
Beyond the screen you are greeted by the large open space of the nave framed by galleries on three sides and capable of seating 1,300 people. In many ways the size of the Old Parish Church is best appreciated from the galleries. Here, too, you gain the best views of one of the church's most unusual features, the 22 paintings hung on the walls of the gallery and the aisles. These illustrate scenes from the Old Testament and are the work of the Reverend Roland Portchmouth.
But you have to be in the lower part of the church to appreciate another marvellous feature. All of the stained glass lancet windows in the aisles and galleries, and the windows at the west end of the chancel, were produced by Daniel Cottier in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The more modern windows either side of the entrance door are the work of stained glass artist Crear McCartney and were gifted to the church in 1992 and 1993.
High above the nave are hung the flags of the Peeblesshire Militia which served from 1801 to 1816: these are now faded almost to transparency. The pulpit at the west end of the nave is carved from Austrian Oak and dates back to 1913, while the eagle-shaped lectern marked Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897. The font table is a more recent addition, dedicated on Advent Sunday, 1998.
Peebles Parish Church has a long history. Although the 1887 structure was built on the site of its 1784 predecessor, it is unusual in having previously occupied two other sites in Peebles, both of which still carry remains of the earlier structures.
The first Parish Church, dedicated to St Mungo, was built some time in the 600s on a site on the west side of today's town. Its successor was built on the same site in 1195 and served until its destruction by an English army in 1548. The tower of this church, now known as St Andrew's Tower, was restored in 1858 and still stands.
After the Reformation an existing monastery church on the west side of the town, Cross Kirk, became the Parish Church. Originally known as the Church of the Holy Cross, this had been founded in the 1260s to house an ancient stone cross discovered in Peebles in 1261 and believed at the time to date back to AD296. In 1473 this church became the focus of the Monastery of the Order of Trinity Friars and cloisters and other domestic buildings were added. After 1560 it became known simply as Cross Kirk.
This varied heritage is reflected in the church bells. When today's church was dedicated in 1887 its tower housed one large bell, recast from two earlier bells: one from the 1784 church and one from Cross Kirk. The carillon of 13 bells for which Peebles is known today were presented to the church in 1931.