A separate congregation was first established in Carlops in 1844 as part of a much wider breakaway movement from the mainstream Church of Scotland.  During the course of this “Disruption”, as it was called, about one third of its clergy and members left the established church to set up a parallel organisation known as the Free Church.  They aimed to free the church from what was seen as an unacceptable degree of state control and their objectives evidently appealed to the artisan workers of Carlops – mainly handloom weavers and labourers – who seem to have been well versed in contemporary political and religious affairs, often holding fairly radical views.

Independence came at a price, however, for the Church of Scotland held on to its churches and manses as well as the funds to pay clergy stipends, and the new Free Church had to rely entirely on the voluntary support of its members.

Up to that time Carlops folk had generally worshipped either in West Linton or Penicuik, but in neither place did the established minister and his flock “come out” at the Disruption, so local residents decided to go ahead on their own.

As a first step a pastor was appointed to teach in a Sabbath school and preach each Sunday, the congregation meeting initially in the mill loft (now Patie’s Mill) and subsequently in one of the village cottages, fitted out to serve as a combined church and school.  By 1850 the congregation felt confident enough to build its own church and ten years later Carlops became a fully fledged Free Church charge with its own minister, the Rev W Aitken, a graduate of Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities.  He and his family were able to move into a newly built manse at the south end of the village in 1862.  

Mr Aitken was succeeded in 1896 by Dr George Taylor, who stayed only long enough to refurbish the interior of the church.  His successor, however, the Rev Francis Bruce, held sway for more than half a century (1904-58), the principal event  during his ministry being the reunion of the Free Church with the Church of Scotland in 1929.


This led to some reorganisation of parish boundaries between Carlops, West Linton and Penicuik, with Carlops being extended  northwards to take in Silverburn.  The next minister, the Rev Alexander Caseby, a former agricultural missionary in Africa, stayed only six years (1959-65), but managed to push through a much needed programme of repair to both church and manse.

By this time it was clear that social and financial changes within the Church of Scotland would make it difficult for Carlops to continue as a separate charge. Accordingly, a linkage was formed with St Andrew's, West Linton, and the next minister, the Rev Tom Phillips (1965-84) became minister of both parishes.  This linkage was extended to include Kirkurd and Newlands when the Rev Tom Burt was appointed in 1985.  He retired in his turn in 2013 and in the same year, our present minister, the Rev Dr Linda Dunbar, was appointed.

As well as offering its own members a focus for Christian worship, Carlops church has always tried to make a positive contribution to the wider local community.  Before the days of universal state education the Carlops congregation founded and maintained a village school, making a special effort to encourage the attendance of children from further afield, such as those of the colliery workers on Harlawmuir. Later on the main effort went into support for a Sunday school which also provided some basic education, as also the organisation of evening lectures and debates on current affairs, an activity which still flourishes today.

Another feature of the church which brought wider benefits was a continuing interest in choral and instrumental music.  As early as 1846 a weekly class “in the delightful exercise of sacred music” was held for the improvement of congregational singing, while thirty years later an Edinburgh music teacher gave lessons in psalmody – then the main form of congregational singing – during the winter months.  Unusually, for a rural Free Church an organ was introduced before the First World War,while the splendid pipe organ now at the centre of the community’s musical activities was rescued from a Congregational church in Arbroath in the 1960s.  

With the new village hall and the refurbished church today standing alongside each another – in both senses of that phrase – we are making sure that this meeting of minds continues.

Church history