Our Local History

Here is some historical information on the congregation that will hopefully be of interest and use to you.

There are some lectures here which were given by Keith Stewart that say more.

These were part of our 200th Celebrations of our present location.

Early Church History

Tombstone
Tombstone

Long before Christianity first reached the Mearns, there were ring cairns, or small temples to Sky Gods, in what is now Fetteresso Parish, but we know little about these Bronze Age peoples and the rituals they followed.

The Patron Saint of Fetteresso is St. Kieran, who was born in Ireland in 515AD and was, therefore, a contemporary of St. Columba. His missionary zeal is thought to have taken him as far as The Mearns, and St. Kieran’s Well, below the Glenury railway viaduct, might indicate a local link.

He led an ascetic life, never looking upon a woman and never telling a lie. Indeed he has been likened to Christ, being the son of a carpenter and dying a bachelor at the age of 33.

The reference to a soothsayer in the nether Auquhollie Ogham Stone inscription suggests that paganism and superstitions did not disappear overnight, but very little is known about the progress of Christianity locally during the 700 years between the early missionaries of the 6th century and the spate of church dedications in the 13th century.

13th Century onwards

Alexander II and Alexander III (1214-1286) were capable rulers who gave Scotland one of its few periods of peace and prosperity. This coincided with the mendicant religious movement associated with people like St. Francis and St. Dominic, and an upsurge in religious fervour. With timely reorganisations, the Roman Catholic church in Scotland was determined to channel some of this energy into a great expansion of parish-church building activity.

In the mid-thirteenth century the Mearns area came within the Diocese of St. Andrews, whose Bishop was an able and energetic administrator called David de Bernham. He dedicated no less than 1fo churches in his Diocese, including Arbuthnott (1242) and Fetteresso (1246). Thirty years later, his successor, William Wishart, dedicated Dunnottar and Cowie, the latter church being a subordinate church of Fetteresso, and never a parish church in its own right. It was unroofed before the Reformation because of certain scandals there. William Raitt of Redcloak is supposed to have built a house with material from it, and the house then rained drops of blood, perhaps due to the vein of iron in the stone! Fortunately the East gable of the church, with its 3 lovely lancet windows was not demolished.

Of course, there was no town of Stonehaven in 1246, and the church which David Bernham dedicated on Friday 25th May 1246 to serve the parish north of the Carron Burn was located on a small hillock in what became Kirktown of Fetteresso.

The North-west doorway of the old church with its small gothic arch formed two abutting stones, is a precious remnant of the early church, but little else remains. As now, it was a long narrow building but most of the present walls represent late rebuilding or additions. Part of the recess for the holy-water stoup can still be seen beside the South-west doorway. Another relic from the earliest days of the old church is the four-foot long baptismal stone in the present Fetteresso Church. The stone is thought to have been a ‘hogsback’ or ancient burial marker from around 980 AD, and probably became the original baptismal font for the old church in 1246.

For its first 300 years, Fetteresso was of course, a Roman Catholic church, the apparently peaceful transition to being a Protestant church taking place in the 1560s, in Mary Queen of Scots’ reign. However, on several occasions during the period 1650-1750 there were prolonged disputes between local Presbyterians and Episcopalians, particularly about the appointment of ministers. Events included the imprisonment of covenanters in Dunnottar Castle (1683) and Episcopalian ministers in the Stonehaven Tolbooth (1748/9). Feelings ran high and there was little toleration.

18th Century onwards

Following the death of John Milne, the last Episcopalian minister of Fetteresso Church, local Episcopalian women seem to have made efforts to prevent Presbyterian ministers being ordained. On one occasion (1705) the Presbytery was forced to retreat to “ane old dunghill” where an exceedingly hasty ordination took place. The minister (1707) fared little better, and “by reason of a rabble of women he could get no access to either Kirk or Kirkyaird”. Perhaps our minister should breathe a sigh of relief that he doesn’t have such hazards to contend with, though some of the religious commitment of these earlier times would, no doubt, still be welcome.

The situation at Fetteresso was complicated further for a time by the fact that HQ of the North-east of Scotland Society of Friends (Quakers) was at Ury House, within Fetteresso Parish. In particular, Christian Mollison, the widow of Barclay, the famous Quaker apologist, had the habit of interrupting sermons to argue various points, sorely “trying the patience” of the poor minister of the time.

However, as the eighteenth century progressed and the Stonehaven area gradually reaped the economic benefits of ore settled times, we find the old church being renovated and a belfry (1737) and bell being added. The bell now sits in the porch of the present Fetteresso Church and its inscription tells us it was cast in Whitechapel in 1736; it cost £25. Despite the improvements to the old church, it was clear by the end of the century that a new church was needed.

The Old Statistical Account of 1794 describes Fetteresso Church at Kirktown as being old and unfit to contain the congregation. There was no plaster on the walls and roof, and pools of water remained on the floor for several days after heavy rain.

Moreover, the old Fetteresso Church was inconveniently placed for most of the growing population of Fetteresso Parish. Kirktown was small and remote from the newer part of Stonehaven that was developing on the Links of Arduthie (the Allardice, Barclay, Cameron Streets area). The new church was eventually built between 1810 and 1812; 26th March 1810 being the likely start date and 16th January 1812 a possible completion date.

Present day church

The frontage of the new church appears to be modelled on Fetteresso Castle, which also has a large square castellated central tower and smaller castellated side towers. The central tower is surmounted with an embrasured parapet, having at the corners four corbelled octagonal turrets with pyramidal tops.

An interesting link between the old and new churches is provided by the carved wooden panel on the present Communion chair. It is dated 1682 and commemorates Mr John Milne, the last Episcopalian minister of the old Fetteresso Church. The panel was one of two on the pulpit of the old church. The other panel depicted a pig standing on its hind legs and playing bagpipes for some dancing pigs; the world, the devil and the flesh.

St Johns Chapel in Evan Street (now the library) was built (1859) to provide a more convenient winter meeting place for evening services. It later became a church hall and was sold off when new Fetteresso Church hall was opened in 1970.

The Organ, a Willis, with more than 1,100 pipes was installed in 1876, a gift from the Bairds of Ury House. It is interesting to note that some members of the congregation were opposed to having an organ in the church!

The late nineteenth century was another period of prosperity and expansion for Stonehaven and a number of large houses (The Heugh, Maxieburn, Lilies, Fetteresso Lodge) were built close to Fetteresso Church. The Wood family at the Lilies donated the memorial window with its lilies and roses. The lady of the house painted such flowers. Pews replaced old square seats in the middle of the church and a new pulpit and supports for the gallery were installed in the 1870s.

In physical terms the last half-century has also seen some major changes, the new hall (1970) and enlarged chancel being the most noteworthy. From the tiny gothic doorway of 1246 to the large new oak door o today suggests perhaps how Fetteresso Church has grown in 750 years, not just physically, but hopefully in spiritual terms, tolerance and service as well.

Sources:

The 1794 Statistical Account of Fetteresso Parish

The Kirks of Cowie and Fetteresso, by Rev. J B Burnett.

Fetteresso Parish Church, Year after Year, by D J T Walker

Websites:

www.stonehaven-heritage.org

www.ahss.org.uk

Thanks to George Swapp for the above information.