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Church of St. Serf, Dunning

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The church of St. Serf, Dunning was first mentioned in 1219. It came under the Abbey of Inchaffrey (near Madderty) which was founded by Earl Gilbert of Strathearn and witnessed by Anechal, Thane of Dunning and founder of the surname 'Dunning'. There is no mention of the church in the 1200 document, but a Charter of Confirmation dated 1219 includes St. Serf at Dunning (Ecclesiam Sancti Servani de Dunnyne). It can therefore be established that the church was finished and running by 1219.

The present tower was probably started in the mid 12th century, and a single storey medieval church with nave and chancel built on to it. There was probably an older church or chapel on the site because of the remains of an older doorway (Saxon style) on the North wall. The medieval church had a high pitched, open beamed roof (see outline visible on tower) with arches between tower/nave and nave/chancel (see plan on session house door). The altar would be at the East end of the chancel - all churches were built on an East-West orientation with the altar in the East.

The church remained in that form until some time after the Reformation. In 1687 a gallery was placed over what had been the chancel and altar (the laird's gallery). The date can be seen above the doorway at the head of the stairs on the East wall. The initials are of Lord Andrew Rollo and Lady Margaret Balfour, his wife and daughter of the 3rd. Lord Burleigh. The altar or pulpit would have been moved to the West beside the tower.

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In the early 1700's the minister complained that the church was too small and estimates were produced to enlarge the church by 'building an aisle at the back of it 33 ft long, 18 ft broad and 18 ft high'. The complaint continued into the 1800's. In the 1780/90's Lord Rollo had a John Bell, Land Surveyor in Edinburgh, lay out plans for a new village as Dunning had been burnt to the ground by the Jacobites in 1716. There were, therefore, many masons working in the village rebuilding houses and the opportunity was taken to enlarge the church.

The South wall was taken down and re-erected 3 feet further out. The result can be seen by looking at the gable on the East wall which shows that the South roof is much longer than the North roof, and the doorway at the head of the stairs is no longer in the centre of the wall. At the same time a new aisle was made in the North wall and the single storey building converted to two storeys although the new roof was not as steeply pitched as the old roof. Galleries were made on the West and North sides. On the East wall can be seen the line of the original gable, about 3 feet in from the roof line. On the North wall, to the East of the extension, the roof corbels can be seen and the new stonework added to raise the roof.

On the extension itself it is possible to pick out the stones that had been taken out of the old wall and re-used on the new part. The North wall, to the West of the extension, has not been altered.

The tower is of Norman architecture. The archway between the tower/nave and the one which was removed during alterations and which had been between the nave/chancel are Norman-Early English (some may say Gothic which a term covering the 12th to 16th centuries). The massive pillars are of Norman style, while the pointed arch with its toothed and scalloped ornamentation is Early English. The transition period between the two styles is from 1190 onwards, depending on the area. This ties in with the date of the church.

An entry in the Gazetteer of Scotland 1883 states 'In course of recent repairs a fine Norman arch between the tower and the interior of the church, which had been barbarously bricked up and disfigured, was reopened and restored'

Repairs were carried out in the mid 1800's and the stone floors taken up. This led to the discovery of the Pictish Stone which can be seen at the base of the tower, an indication of the presence of early Christian settlement on the site. This is an unusual stone having a typical Pictish/Celtic cross on the upper part and half a cross at the bottom. Examination of the entwined rope sculpture on the edge shows that the stone has been split at some time during its history. The stone dates from around 900 A.D.

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The tower contains a chime of two bells, but there have been three bells during its history.

  1. The oldest bell, with a diameter of 22" was cast in the Mechlin foundry in Belgium and is inscribed in Dutch 'I was born in the year of our Lord 1526'. There is a beautiful border and below casts of the Madonna crowned with a crucifix, and St. James of Compostella with pilgrim's hat, staff, rosary and two children in a scallop shell.
  2. The second and larger bell was Dutch with the inscription 'To the One God be glory - John Ouderogge made me in Rotterdam 1681'. On the body a Latin inscription 'This bell calls sinners to the Gospel, it to Christ, He to Heaven.' This bell was believed to have been in a vessel captured in the American War and brought back to Dunning by Andrew, 5th Lord Rollo. It came to a sudden end in 1773 when the Master of Rollo, hearing that a son and heir had been born after four daughters instructed 'make the bell ring till it crack'. This was done literally. The fragments were taken to Duncrub and recast in 1860 by T. Mears of London. It was rehung in the chapel at Duncrub House. The bell was lost when the house was demolished and its present whereabouts are unknown.
  3. The present large bell, 38" in diameter, has the inscription 'T. Mears of London fecit' and 'This bell was presented to the Parish Church of Dunning by Mark Howard Drummond, Esq., of Kelty, Major of the 72nd Regiment or Albany Highlanders, in token of his attachment to his native parish, and of his zeal to promote religious, industrious, and early habits among the parishioneers - August 3rd 1825'.

The small bell announces the half hour on the steeple clock, and in earlier days was used as a toll bell, while the large bell announces the hour and was the call bell. This was also formerly rung morning and night as a curfew.

The present clock was purchased by public subscription in 1890 replacing earlier clocks which had been on the steeple since the early 1800s. The present clock was completely repaired and refurbished in 1993.

The small bell which strikes the half hour and was the toll bell, has an inscription in Dutch 'John of Rotterdam made me in 1526'. The larger bell was presented in 1825 by Major Mark Howard Drummond of Keltie in token of his attachment to his native parish and of his zeal to promote 'religious, industrious and early habits amongst the parishioners'. This replaced an earlier bell rung to destruction in 1773 on the production of a son for Lord Rollo. This bell was also Dutch of 1681 with a Latin inscription 'This bell calls sinners to the Gospel, it to Christ and He to Heaven'.

Wall plaques

1612Ninian Graememotto Non oublie (Do Not Forget)
1615Drummondmotto Ga Varly (Go Warily)
3 shellspart of the Graeme family crest
Rollo family

Stained glass windows on south wall from east to west -

'An offering by Peter WHYTE 1899 Proverbs III - 6' Window by A. Ballantine and Gardiner.

'Placed here in the year of our Lord 1910 by the sons of JOHN WHYTE of Muirhead to commerate the Centenary of the rebuilding of the Church of St. Serf, Dunning, founded circa 1210 and as a memorial of its ministers during the century JAMES RUSSELL, D.D. 1818-1860'. Window by A. Ballantine and Son.

'Placed here in the year of our Lord 1910 by the sons of JOHN WHYTE of Muirhead to commemorate the Centenary of the rebuilding of the Church of St. Serf, Dunning, founded circa 1210 and as a memorial of its ministers during the century JOHN WILSON, D.D., 1861-1878 PETER THOMSON, D.D. 1878 - Window by A. Ballantine and Son.

Dedicated to the glory of God and in memory of JOHN WHYTE and MAY his wife 1899'. Window by Ballantine and Gardiner.

Stained glass windows upstairs -

'Placed in Dunning Church by PETER WHYTE 1907'. Window by A. Ballantine and Son.
'Placed in Dunning Church by PETER WHYTE 1907'. Window by A. Ballantine and Son.

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