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Ettrick Kirk

Ettrick Kirk

The Kirk building as it stands today dates from 1824, replacing no doubt earlier and simpler ones......for the parish is recorded for at least 800 years.

A vast tract of Ettrick Forest was conveyed to the monks of Melrose Abbey by Alexander II in 1235, taking in Cappercleuch, Tushielaw and the lands of the Tema and the Rankleburn. This was granted as free forest, no tree cutting or hunting without the permission of the Church, and all wool sold was free of export duty. Even though these lands were termed "the wastelands of Selkirk" we have the impression that this was a time of prosperity when the Forest remained fairly intact and when farming did well. There was also a considerable population. From one of the furthest outposts of the Abbey, the old church at Overkirkhope, a monk would perform his duties of spiritual care and moreover keep a sharp eye on the rents and services due.

The parish at this time incorporated the Parish of Rankleburn and Buccleuch and extended over to St. Mary's Loch. The church up Rankleburn fell into disuse in the mid 16th century after the Reformation and the New Kirk at Ettrick was established. Seemingly there was dearth of eligible ministers and it was a long time before the Valleys enjoyed the services of a preacher of the Reformed Faith. No doubt at that time people here all fell into lawless ways, both spiritually and politically. With a joint charge between Selkirk, Ashkirk and Yarrow, Ettrick then would have been remote. So little is known of the original primitive New Church except for one little glimpse of the reality of it...when the minister found it hard to obtain "heather thack and divots to mend the roofs of church and manse."

The early years of the 18th century were a time of harsh religious discipline and matching harsh punishments. We can read of the purchase of sackcloth..for a gown for penitents, of 12 elders always on the look out for those failing to observe the rules of the Sabbath, of a pew removed from the Kirk to make way for a bigger and better seat of repentance. The Kirk was overseer not only of the spirit but also of law and order.

Thomas Boston

And into this came Thomas Boston, a true child of his time. It might be difficult for us today to understand the extraordinary reputation Boston had for his powers and ability as a preacher of Scottish Covenanting Calvanism, a stern and often cruel creed. Boston was regarded with admiration and terror far beyond the confines of the Parish.

Born in Duns in 1676, he was the son of a fiercely covenanting father who had suffered imprisonment for his beliefs. It seems Boston had doubts about the challenges of his new parish, that life might have been easier in the East Borders at Simprin. The people in Ettrick were reported to be a contentious lot, many openly hostile to the complicated politics of Kirk and State. And difficult troubled years followed when Boston stuck to his principles against personal attack and non attendance. He decided to write his sermons and by the time they were published to great acclaim as The Fourfold State in 1721 Boston's stance in spiritual and political thinking was as strong as ever, but doubts were in his mind as to his suitability for Ettrick. When the local population got wind of this they realised the value of the man they had long tried to get rid of. We must have been a thrawn lot!
Before he died, one summer communion filled him with great joy as 800 people flocked to hear him from far and wide. He has been immortalised in the valley thereafter for his indomitable spirit. Too feeble to stand he would preach sitting down. Unable to walk to the Kirk he would preach from the bedroom window to the congregation standing outside. He was succeeded even before his death by his son, also Thomas. To quote Craig Brown's History, "All pervading piety was his characteristic, constancy in his faith and belief in the Almighty as a close incessant supervisor in every act and fact of life."

His reputation was immense. It is said that nearly every cottage in Scotland had a copy of the Fourfold State.

Today we remember Boston from his gravestone in this Kirkyard, from the naming of our local community hall. Today many others from much wider afield have a closer regard...

In the early summer, 2000, I met two visitors from the Netherlands standing outside the Boston Hall, looking up Boston and talking of him with the greatest respect. He is venerated by and is still read in the Dutch Reformed Church. You only need to look in our visitors book to see how many come to our Kirk to remember him today.

Due west from the middle gate into the Kirkyard you will find his memorial.

Valerie Barrie, June 2001

See also: Ettrick Kirk Historical Facts