Carlops Church History
(With acknowledgements to the late John G Dunbar, supporter of Carlops Church)

A congregation has met in Carlops since 1844 and the church building dates from 1850. Carlops Church appointed its first full-time minister in 1860 and has had nine ministers since that time.

1860-95            Rev W Aitken
1896-1903        Dr George Taylor
1904-58            Rev Francis Bruce
1958-65            Rev Alexander Caseby
1965-84            Rev Tom Phillips
1985-2013         Rev Tom Burt
2013-16             Rev Dr Linda Dunbar
2018-20             Rev Stewart McPherson
2021-date          Rev Dr Tony Foley

A separate congregation was established in Carlops in 1844 as part of a significant breakaway from the Church of Scotland.  In a Scotland-wide movement known as the Disruption, 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 they felt was an unacceptable degree of state control.  These objectives evidently appealed to the then 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.

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 Carlops residents decided to go ahead on their own.

Such 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. Undaunted, the new Carlops congregation raised funds to build their own church. The result of their efforts is the present Carlops Church, which opened in 1850.

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 long enough only 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 was the reunion of the Free Church with the Church of Scotland in 1929.

The next minister, the Rev Alexander Caseby, a former missionary in Africa, stayed only six years (1958-65), but pushed through much-needed repairs to both church and manse, and was instrumental in acquiring the organ which still adorns Carlops Church and adds a valuable dimension to worship and cultural events.

By the mid-1960s, as church-going and other social habits changed, financial pressures within the Church of Scotland and in individual parish churches dictated that the then separate charge of Carlops be linked (essentially, share a minister, but remain independent in all other aspects) with St Andrew’s West Linton.  The then Carlops minister, the Rev Tom Phillips (1965-84), became minister of both parishes. This led to some reorganisation of parish boundaries between Carlops, West Linton and Penicuik, with Carlops parish being extended northwards to take in Silverburn.  

This linkage was extended to include Kirkurd and Newlands Church when the Rev Tom Burt was appointed in 1985.  His period of office (1985-2013) saw a major refurbishment of Carlops Church in 2008-09, when the building was given its present layout and furnishings. It is noteworthy that this refurbishment was funded by public subscription and that 65% of the money was donated by members of the Carlops community who are not members of the Church in the formal sense – testimony to the standing of the church in the community.

Carlops Church was designated a Category C listed building of architectural and historical interest in 2010.  This bestows both responsibilities and advantages upon owners and users of the building.  The listing description for Carlops Church can be read at Carlops Parish Church, Carlops, West Linton, Scottish Borders 

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 brief, as issues originating outwith Carlops resulted in her departure in 2016.  The Rev Stewart McPherson served Carlops as interim minister, 2018-2020; he devoted considerable skill and energy to improving communication and understanding between the three linked congregations.

In March 2021, a new and extended linkage of West Tweeddale was formed.  It consists of the churches of Carlops, Kirkurd & Newlands, St Andrew’s West Linton, and three of the parishes of Upper Tweeddale: Broughton Glenholm and Kilbucho, Skirling, and Tweedsmuir.  This re-organisation took place in the context of the Radical action plan for operations that the Church of Scotland adopted in 2019 in response to a grave and persistent shortage of ministers.  In October of the same year, the present minister, the Rev Dr Tony Foley, came to Carlops and accepted the challenge of leading and developing the extended linkage.

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. Parish churches exist to serve communities, not merely enrolled members, and Carlops has tried consistently to engage and interest all members of its 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. More recently, evening talks, debates on current affairs, recitals and concerts have flourished, as have coffee and lunch gatherings.  Together, these form an important feature of Carlops life.

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.

Carlops Church was affected but not halted by the coronavirus pandemic of the early 2020s, but its vitality ensured that key activities were preserved.  Zoom was adopted quickly and proved a successful substitute for face-to-face meeting for church services and some talks and concerts.  Interestingly, this medium attracted new participants to church events, many of whom maintained their involvement after in-person meetings were reinstated.  Zoom also makes worship and other activities available to supporters no longer physically able to visit the church building.  In addition, the church’s audiovisual and information technology facilities have been enhanced significantly; it is now equipped to an excellent standard and is a local venue of choice for several groups arranging meetings and music-related events.  Clouds and silver linings!

With the recently rebuilt Carlops village hall (2002) and the refurbished church (2009 and 2021) 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.