A separate congregation was established in Carlops in 1844 as part of a 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 separate organisation named the Free Church (not to be confused with the present-day Free Church of Scotland)

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 retained its church buildings and manses, as well as the funds to pay clergy stipends.  The new Free Church had to rely entirely on the voluntary support of its members.

Until that time, Carlops folk had 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 the restored Patie’s Mill, at the north end of Carlops) 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 moved into a newly built manse (now named The Old Manse!) at the south end of Carlops 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 parish being extended northwards to take in Silverburn.  The next minister, the Rev Alexander Caseby, a former missionary in Africa, stayed only six years (1959-65), but pushed through much-needed repairs 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.  His period of office saw a major refurbishment of Carlops Church, in 2008-09, when the building was given its present layout and furnishings.

Tom Burt retired in 2013 and in the same year, the Rev Dr Linda Dunbar was appointed in his stead.  Dr Dunbar’s ministry was short, as issues originating outwith Carlops resulted in her departure in 2016.  Carlops’ current interim minister, the Rev Stewart McPherson, was appointed to the linkage in 2018 and has devoted considerable skill and energy to improving communication and understanding between the three congregations.

As well as offering its members a focus for Christian worship, Carlops Church has always tried to make a positive contribution to the wider 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, 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.  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 Carlops village hall (2002) and the refurbished church (2009) standing alongside each another – in both senses of that phrase – we are making sure that close collaboration between church and hall, congregation and community, flourishes.

John G Dunbar, 2014 (updated, 2020)