The Church and the Parish of Careston, Angus County, Scotland

The following article was published in JFA newsletter no. 8, Summer 1993.

When Robert Jonking and his sister Agnes were born in Careston, 1621 and 1624, Careston was a part of Brechin Parish. This is why William and his wife, Elspit, brought their children to the Brechin Cathedral to be christened. Robert was christened on Christmas eve day in 1621.

The Church in 1636

In 1636, Sir Alexander Carnegy of Balnamoon built the church of Careston. Sir Alexander was concerned about the ignorance of the tenants on his Careston estate and had come to the conclusion that this was caused by the distance of their dwellings from the parish kirk of Brechin. He, therefore, decided to build a church at Careston and took steps to have the lands of his estate disjoined from the parish of Brechin. This was strenuously opposed by the town and parish of Brechin, and this occasioned a delay until 1641 when the parish was formally erected by the Estates of Parliament and endowed with funds formerly paid to "the pretended Bishop of Brechin."

The church is T-shaped. The main part is 50 feet by 21 feet, while the aisle on the north side measures 21 feet by 16 feet. The walls date from 1636 and this date is shown outside at the apex of the north gable of the aisle. The window in that gable and the square window in the east gable are probably original but the others are later. The baldachino (an ornamental structure resembling a canopy) surmounts the partition wall between the aisle and nave and is all that remains of the original laird's (landed proprietor's) loft.

The original pulpit stood against the middle of the south wall facing the laird's loft. This church like so many other churches of its period was designed for the celebration of the Lord's Supper. The central position of the pulpit, its size, and sometimes the quality of its carved woodwork all seemed to support this view. The minister would bow to the Laird as he entered the pulpit and the Laird would rise and bow back. The service would then proceed. On each side of the pulpit were two windows with a door between them. These were the main entrance to the church but the laird's loft had a separate entrance in its northwest corner. Above this doorway was placed a tablet bearing the arms of Carnegy of Balnamoon impaled with those of Blair. In those days there were no fixed pews or seats of any kind. People either stood or brought their own seats with them. The exception was the laird and his family who had seats in their loft. When the Lord's Supper was celebrated, long tables were brought into the church and the communicants literally sat down at the table. They did so in relays. Outside in the churchyard, worship was conducted for those waiting to come in to sit at the table and for those who came out. No-one would be admitted to sit at the table without giving to the elder at the door, a communion token such as those which hang in the frame in the chancel of the church now. This token would not be lightly given.

The actual Communion Service would have been preceded by a long series of preparatory services often extending over several weeks. The tokens were distributed in the course of the visiting round the parish by the minister during which he catechized the people to ascertain their grasp of the fundamentals of the Christian faith and the propriety of their coming to the Lord's Table. The Wednesday before the Sacrament Sunday was a fast day when there were two sermons and the final preparatory service was on the Saturday. Each group that sat down at the Table, received a separate exhortation so that the service would last several hours. The communion season ended on the Monday with the Thanksgiving at which there were usually two sermons. Underneath the aisle, which is elevated above the level of the nave, there is a burial vault. The other survival of 1636 is a simple rectangular belfry, which surmounts the west gable.

The Church in 1808

There were considerable alterations made in 1808. The two doors in the south wall were built up and a plain squareheaded door was formed in the west gable. The pulpit with a precentor's (leader of the choir or congregation's singing) desk in front of it was placed at the east end. The old window in the east gable was blocked and two lancet (narrow arched) windows, one on either side of the pulpit, were provided instead. The aisle was shut off from the nave (the main part of the interior of the church) by a lath and plaster partition and was used as a vestry. The church was ceiled and plastered at the roofties making it much lower as well as smaller. Inside the main door, a vestibule was formed by a partition across the whole width of the nave. At each end of this, a door led to a passage between which pews providing seating for 200 were arranged in one large block. The wooden front and canopy of the laird's loft were taken down to form a special pew for the laird at the back of the church. Outside, a cross was erected on the apex of the east gable and at the southwest corner, a sundial was built into the wall, with the inscription "This Church repaired 1808."

Renovation of 1905

The church was extensively renovated again at the expense of the sole inheritor of the parish and his lady, Mr. and Mrs. Shaw Adamson, as a memorial to Mrs. Adamson's mother, Mrs. Campbell of Stracathro. The architect was D. Wishart Galloway. Mr. Galloway decided against restoring the pulpit to its original position and arranging the interior accordingly. Instead, he formed a chancel in the east end of the church and placed the pulpit on the south side. No architect today would renovate the church in this way but would attempt to reproduce the original arrangement.

The Church Today

The church today is largely the product of the 1905 renovation, which is recorded in a tablet above the main entrance. Below is the crest and motto of the Adamson family. The north porch is the main addition to the fabric in 1905. The furnishings of the church are in pitch-pine with the exception of the minister's chair behind the Communion Table. This is in oak and bears the initials of the laird's children, Ann Peto Adamson and William Campbell Adamson. William Adamson was killed in the first World War and is commemorated in the right-hand stained glass window and in a plaque immediately to the right on the south wall. The left-hand stained glass is a memorial to Thomas Paisley, son of the parish minister, who was killed in the same war and within days of the laird's son. The center window is i memory of the Rt. Hon. James Campbell of Stracathro, husband of the lady in whose memory the renovation was carried out. He was also the donor of the candelabra, now converted to electricity, but intended for candles. In the chancel, are two Communion chalices bearing the date 1779 and a frame containing Communion tokens of the 18th and 19th centuries. These were given to those deemed worthy of admission to the Lord's Table by the Kirk Session. An unusual feature is the balancing of the pulpit by an elaborate reading desk. One of the pulpit Bibles was given to Mr. and Mrs. James A. Campbell on their wedding day and was presented to the church by their son-in-law.

The Churchyard

The churchyard contains few gravestones of any antiquity due to an astonishing act of barbarity last century when many stones were removed to repair the manse steading (service building), now again in very poor condition. However, there is some interest in the stones built into the churchyard wall giving the names of local families. These indicate the portions of the burying ground assigned to the tenants.

Immediately to the west of the church, is the burial ground of the Adamson family and to the south of that are the graves of three former ministers of the parish. The oldest gravestone is that of Mr. John Gillies, the first Presbyterian minister, who was ordained and inducted in 1716 and remained at Careston until his death in 1733. Like many 18th century tombstones, it is quite informative about the family of the deceased. One of his grandsons became Historiographer Royal, another a judge of the Court of Session and a third Provost of Brechin.

A grey granite stone commemorates the Rev. David Lyell and his wife the Hon. Catherine Arbuthnott. Her father, the 7th Viscount of Arbuthnott opposed the match and so she "oot the windie and awa' wi' the meenister" (out the window and away with the minister). Her father packed her belongings and sent them after her tied up in a black ribbon! Despite this uncompromising beginning, they were happily married for forty-eight years.

A pink granite gravestone is that of the Rev. William Linton Baxter. His father was a shoemaker in Brechin and he was educated at Brechin Grammar School and King's College, Aberdeen. He was licensed by the Presbytery of Brechin and spent the whole of his ministry at Careston. He died unmarried in 1885.

The Parish of Careston

Careston is the smalled parish in Angus County and is one of the smallest in all of Scotland. Its whole area amounts to little over 3-1/4 square miles. The highest recorded population was 271 in 1811. The earliest recorded form of the name is Caraldstone and the generally accepted derivation is from the stone of Carald, a Danish leader who was slain while fleeing from the Battle of Aberlemno in 1012. The first Statistial Account of the parish, written in 1792, speaks of the place of Carald's death being marked by "three large stones standing on end" in a field of the farm of Nether Careston. By the time of the second Statistical Account, written in 1839, the stones had disappeared. Possibly they had been removed in the interest of land improvement. (It may be interesting to note that some researchers in the Junkins Family Association believe that it is possible that Robert Junkins is buried between three trees, each over several hundred years old, on the southern edge of his property now (1993) owned by Jon D. Levy of York Maine.)

The parish has had quite a history. Some have suggested that the Roman army, on its way north in 81 A.D., had a camp at the meeting of the rivers Noran and South Esk (these two rivers meet on the south side of the parish). The army of the Marquis of Montrose camped in front of the Careston Castle in 1645 (see newsletter 7, p. 12). It was at the rarm of Nether Careston that "fanners" were first used in the country to winnow the chaff from the grain. The story goes that the farmer Mr. Mitchell had difficulty in persuading his men to work the machine for it was thought impious to use the "Devil's Wind."

The Estate of Careston

The estate of Careston, which included the whole parish and some lands beyond its boundaries, is notable for the number of different families that have owned it. The first of whom records survive, is that of Dempster1 whose name refers to the office of Doomster to the Estates of Parliament. In 1379, King Robert II confirmed Andres Dempster of Careston the office of hereditary Doomster or Dempster to the Estates of Parliament. From the Dempsters, the estate passed to the Linsays whose most notable member was Earl Beardie, the 4th Earl of Crawford, also known as the Tiger Earl. Another Earl of Crawford fell foul of James VI and was extricated from his predicament only by the skill of an eminent lawyer called Mungo Carnegy. Unfortunately, the fee was rather high, no less than the estate of Careston, which passed into the hands of the Carnegies of Balnamoon. It was Mungo Carnegy's son, Sir Alexander Carnegy, who built the church in 1636.

At the beginning of the 18th century, the estate was sold to Sir John Stewart of Grandtully, whose coat of arms is to be seen on the main frontage of the castle. The lands were later sold to the Skenes from whom they were inherited by the Duke of Fife. The Adamsons arrived in 1871, when John Adamson purchased the estate from the Duke. It was John's son, William Shaw Adamson, and his wife, Norah Jane Campbell, who paid for the renovation of the church in 1905.


The majority of the material in the above article comes, with permission, from an address given at the Annual Festival of the Society of Friends of Brechin Cathedral, Trinity 1986, by the Rev. Henry Sefton, M.A., B.D.,S.T.M., Ph.D., Master of Christ's College, Aberdeen. This was reprinted in The Society of Friends of Brechin Cathedral book No., 35, 1986 and provided to the Junkins Family Association by The Rev. Robert MacKenzie, Ph.D.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License