Built in 1546, Biggar Kirk is the oldest place of worship in the village of Biggar. Receiving its present name in 1977 due to the union of Gillespie Moat Park Church and St. Mary's Church, the building has stood in the centre of the village as beacon of Christian witness for over 500 years.
Early Years (12th to 14th C)
The history of the church site is traceable in documentation back to 1164 when one Parson Robert of Bigir is mentioned. However, the existing building was begun in 1545 and completed after 1547.
Practically nothing is known of the church building before 1531. The founder of the present building; Malcolm Lord Fleming, aspired to create a Collegiate Church for the greater glory of the Fleming family, and also as a means of ensuring their speedy passage through purgatory, as the office bearers of the new church were entrusted to pray for the souls of the departed Flemings.
The story of the foundation of the existing church is embedded in a tale of murder! In 1524, John Lord Fleming with his son Malcolm and friends were hunting on their own lands of Kilbucho. John Tweedie of nearby Drumelzier accosted the hunting party and after some argument Lord Fleming was slain and his son Malcolm taken prisoner back to Drumelzier Tower. The Law was set in motion and by all accounts Tweedie got off light for the murder. He agreed to pay the sum of £10 Scots, to be paid annually for a chaplain to pray for the soul of his victim in Biggar church, the chaplainry was set up for the recital of prayers and masses for the soul of John Fleming.
In 1547 Lord Malcolm Fleming died leaving provision in his will for the completion of his new church. Malcolm’s son James was left to finalise the work, but he became preoccupied with his services to the Queen (Mary) and as late as 1558 when he died in France his will stated that his brother John should finalise the work including the building of their father’s tomb. So even at this late period the church was not completed at least as far as internal arrangements were concerned. However, a provost, eight prebenderies, four singing boys and six bedesmen were appointed to serve in the new church of St Mary's in Biggar. In 1560, the Reformation was established, and Catholic doctrine and mass were made illegal by Act of Parliament.
In 1592 the Church in Scotland became Presbyterian. Then, in 1612, Bishops were re-introduced and in 1637 Charles I tried to enforce Archbishop Laud's Liturgy on the church in Scotland. In 1638 the National Covenant was signed in Edinburgh and, in Biggar Kirk 200 parishioners signed the Covenant and Lord Fleming took a troop of able men to join the Covenanting Army against the King.
During the Commonwealth, Cromwell's Army took Boghall Castle. The Assembly was dispersed and for the next 40 years Synods, Presbyteries, and Kirk Sessions were free to conduct their business in a period of relative peace and prosperity. The diary, preserved to this day, of one Andrew Hay, lawyer and elder of Biggar Kirk, gives a fascinating insight into Kirk life and regular diets of worship at this time. One service described by him is the licensing service in Biggar Kirk of Alexander Peden, the famous "Prophet" of the Covenant who preached at the Kirk on Colossians 2:12.
After the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 an act of parliament was passed bringing back Episcopacy. When the persecution of the Covenanters came, the local minister Alexander Livingstone was ejected for refusing to come under control of Charles II’s bishops. He preached in the fields and moors with many of the congregation following him. The Kirk than had one of the King’s curates forced upon it until he was removed by the locals at the Glorious Revolution in 1688.
The Kirk Session in Biggar resumed rule over the congregation and prepared for the discipline of sinners by obtaining a new stool of repentance! The stool, (left) on which is carved 16.B.K.94, is still to be seen in the glass case in the vestibule of the Church.
18th & 19th Centuries
In the 18th Century internal strife within the Church of Scotland, on subjects such as patronage, led to factions breaking away.
In Biggar, those who had seceeded from the Church, formed separate congregations and in time built their own places of worship.
Moat Park Church (Burgher Church) 1739-1946
In 1739, three elders and 23 private members of the parish of Symington presented a petition to the Associate Presbytery asking to be taken under their inspection, which was granted. Seceders from Covington and Skirling joined with these in worship at West Linton. The Breach of 1747 divided them. Those who adhered to the Associate Burgher Synod continued to worship at West Linton until 1756 when the Presbytery of Edinburgh formed them into a separate congregation at Biggar. The first Biggar Moat Park building was erected in 1760 with a new church built in 1865/66 by architect practice Peddie & Kinnear at the cost of £3,000 (£177K in today's prices). In 1831, about 360 persons attended this church and the congregation was said to draw from fifteen parishes. This congregation joined the United Presbyterian Church in 1847 and joined in the union of 1900 to form the United Free Church of Scotland. The congregation united with Biggar Gillespie Church in 1946 as Biggar Gillespie Moat Park.
Gillespie Church (South Relief Church) 1779-1977
Due to the unpopularity of the Rev. Robert Pearson to the parish in 1779, a great proportion of the parishioners left the St. Mary's Church and applied to the Relief Church of Edinburgh associated with Thomas Gillespie for supply of sermon. Despite opposition, they built a church in 1781 known as South Relief Church. In 1831, the congregation was said to draw from 15 parishes, and about 118 families from Biggar attended here.
A new church (pictured) was opened in 1878, which cost £4,200. Following the Union of the Church of Scotland in 1929, the Moat Park and South Church congregations eventually united in 1946 becoming the Gillespie Moat Park Church and, in 1977, were united with the congregation of St. Mary's to become Biggar Kirk.
The Moat Park Church were recently refurbished as flats and was previously the home of the Biggar Museum Trust for a large number of years. The Gillespie Church, now the Gillespie Centre, is run by Biggar Kirk as a Community Outreach providing Biggar and the surrounding rural area with a focus for a variety of activities and events. It has a popular Coffee Shop, staffed mainly by church volunteers, serving teas, coffees, snacks and home-baking and is open from 10:00am - 2:30pm, Monday to Saturday.
20th & 21st Centuries
The Biggar Kirk interior that you see today is the result of the restoration of 1935 when plaster was stripped away to reveal the rubble work below. This was done in the mistaken belief that this is how the church would have looked when it was built. Most of the furnishings, including the communion table, pews, pulpit, lectern, etc., date from this period. The architect was Latto Morrison who is commemorated in the west window.
In 2012 Biggar Kirk linked with a sister church - Black Mount Parish Church - in the nearby village of Dolphinton with whom we share a minister, various church resources and a desire to see Jesus glorified. Black Mount is an amalgamation of Dolphinton, Dunsyre, Walston and Elsrickle parishes which surround the Black Mount. A traditional stone building on the outside, the interior has been renovated to provide a modern, flexible space for worship and other activities. A Sunday 11am service is preached their every Sunday.
In 2020, after much prayer and discussion it was decided to begin work to renovate the sanctuary and church hall. During this time, the opportunity was taken to modernise the building, adding the following features:
Upgraded heating system
Rewiring and new lighting
Upgraded toilet facilities
Improved audio visual system.
The work was extensive, however thanks to the voluntary, financial and practical support from the congreagtion the project was completed on time. The project has created an accessible and welcoming church that allows us to be an open and flexible place of worship within the community.
Here is a link to a comprehensive report about the history of the church building from the Biggar Archaeological Group.
The spritual growth of Biggar Kirk was assisted by 45 ministers over our history. Below is a list of each minister for Biggar St. Mary and the Biggar Kirk.
12th & 16th Century
Church of St. Nicholas
1164-?: Parson Robert of Bigir
1174-1232: Peter of Biggar
1232-1270: Master Symon,
(Schoolmaster & Physician)
1270-1330: Philip De Keith
1330-1339: Master Symon,
(Chaplain to King David I)
1339-?: Thomas De Peebles
?-1468: William Schot
1468-1470: John Arous
1470-1507: John Marche
1507-1509: Master Adam Colquhoun
(Rector of Glasgow University and paid a chaplain)
1509-1531: Sir Bartholomew Blare,
(Chaplain to Master Adam)
1531-1542: Sir Andrew Brown
1542-?: Thomas Chappel
The Collegiate Period
Provost: Master John Stevenson,
(formerly precentor of Glasgow Cathedral)
Thomas Chappel, (Rector of Biggar)
Bartholomew Matheson, (Curate)
17th to 18th Century
Church of St. Mary
1567-74: William Millar,
William Hamilton, David Makkie (Readers)
1574-1576: Rev. Ninian Hall
1576-1586: Walter Halden
David Makkie (Reader)
1586-99: Alexander Spittal, A.M.
1599-1647: Thomas Campbell, A.M
1647-1665: Alexander Livingstone, A.M.
(Joined Protestors 1651, 'outed' 1661. Indulged at Carluke 1673)
The Episcopacy Period
1665-1685: Richard Brown, A.M.
1685-1692: John Reid, A.M.
(Curate from Walston 'rabbled' in 1688)
1692-1696: William Jaque
1696-1732: Robert Livingstone, A.M.
1732-1749: Robert Jack, A.M.
1749-1754: William Haig
1754-1780: John Johnston. A.M.
(Formerly Chaplain at Edinburgh Castle)
1780-1787: Robert Pearson
(Parishioners objected to his presentation but were forced to accept him)
1787-1823: William Watson
19th to 20th Century
St Mary's Church
1823-74: John Chrision, D.D.
1874-84: William Newbigging, M.A.
1884-1924: William Grant Duncan, B.D.
1928-68: David Sinclair Rutherford, M.A.
1968-77: D. Hugh Davidson, M.A.
Union of St. Mary's &
Gillespie-Moat Park Church
1977-95: A. Cameron Mackenzie, M.A.
1995- : Gavin J. Elliot, M.A. B.D.
Below is the list of minsiters who faithfully served the congregations of Moat Park (Burgher, United Presbyterian, United Free and Church of Scotland) and Gillespie (Relief Church, United Presbyterian, United Free and Church of Scotland)
18th to 19th Century
Moat Park Church
The First Secession, 1733
1761: John Low
1806: John Brown, D.D
1823: David Smith, D.D.
1868: Alexander Miles
1894: Millar Patrick, D.D.
1900: C. Ross Lowden, M.A.
20th to 21st Century
Moat Park Church
1909: William Rutherford
1916: C.W. Inglls Wardrop, M.A. PhD
1939: D. Noel Fisher, B.D.
Gillespie Moat Park Union
1946: John Warnock, B.D.
18th to 19th Century
The Second Secession, 1761
1780: James Cross
1783: John Reston
1794: Robert Paterson
1803: Hugh McFarlane
1807: Andrew Fyfe
1808: Daniel McNaught
1820: Hugh Gibson
1837: James Caldwell
1847: James Dunlop, M.A.
1867: David M. Connor, M.A. LLB
1880: John Scott, M.A.
20th to 21st Century
1906: Alfred Patman Muirhead, M.A.
1919: David Gray, M.A.
1928: Thomas M. Duncan, B.D.
1933: Alex S. Renton, M.A.
1938: D. Nairn McLeish, M.A.
Gillespie Moat Park Union
1946: John Warnock, B.D.