Eccles Parish Church was constructed in 1774 to accommodate up to 1000 people in boxed pews and replaced an earlier building which was considered too small. In 1930 major reordering was undertaken to the interior leaving one gallery at the east end with a hall at first floor level incorporated in what was part of the west gallery. The reordering involved the moving of the pulpit from the centre of the north wall to the west end of the sanctuary.
'A NOTABLE WORK OF RURAL CLASSICISM'
John R Hume uncovers an unusually large church in a Borders village.
ECCLES is a small village in the Borders. It is about six miles north east of Kelso, in the rich grain growing area know as the Merse, in what was formerly Berwickshire.
The area was wealthy enough in the 12th centrury to support a Priory of Cistercian nuns, probably founded by Gospatrickk, Earl of Dunbar and his wife Derdere. Part of the buildings of the priory survive, including walls built of the cubical masonry characteristic of 12th century construction and two vaulted chambers which formed part of the living quarters of the nuns.
A small town seems to have grown up round the Priory but in 1545 an English army burned both town and Priory. By the mid 19th century only a row of single storey cottages carried the name Eccles (itself derived from the Latin ecclesia church).
Given the samll size of the village at the time it may seem remarkable that it should have such a large and fine parish church descibed in The Buildings of Scotland: the Borders as 'a notalbe work of rural classicism'.
The building was constructed in 1774, and originally had seats for 1000. It should be remembered that this was not just a village church, and that Eccles was a 'Kirton' for a rich rural parish.
At that time the growing of grain (the principle crop) was very labour intensive, so that each farm would have a significant number of farm servents, all of whom would be expected to attend Sunday worship.
Externally the building is unlike any other in Scotland. Its nearest relation is probably Yester, at Gifford in East Lothian, though the upper part of the tower resembles that of Bothkennar, near Falkirk. The combination of round headed and circular windows, giving a light and airy feel to the building is unique.
The disposition of the windows clearly indicates that the pulpit was originally on the centre of the south wall, a common feature of 18th and early 19th century Scottish churches. Below the central window on the south side is a blocked doorway which originally allowed the minister direct access to the pulpit.
There was a 'horse-shoe' gallery round the west, north and east sides of the church. This layout was admirable for preaching as it allowed the preacher to maintain eye contact with everyone in the church.
After the Disruption in the church of Scotland in 1843 a Free Church was quickly built in the village, opeing in 1844. This became a United Free church in 1900 and part of the Church of Scotland in 1929. There was clearly no need for two places of worship for the Chursh of Scotland in the village, and the former Free Church was closed, becoming the village hall in 1939.
The parish church was remodelled in 1930 to reflect changing ideas about worship. The pulpit was moved to the west end of the building and a new Communion table and chairs were placed in front of it. Most of the gallery was removed, leaving only the east gallery. The space occupied by the former west gallery was enclosed, and now houses a hall of vestries. After the Second World War a stained glass window was installed as a memorial in the central window on the south front. This was designed by Douglas McLundie of the Abbey Studios. There is also stained glass in the round window above the pulpit.
This is a delightful church in a lovely rural setting which is well worth a visit. A day out in this part of the Borders is a delightful experience.