A Brief History of Cruden Parish Church

From a leaflet written by Rev Rodger Neilson Published April 2000 (Reprinted May 2006)

Cruden Old Church

All churches have a history and Cruden Church is no exception. Whoever enters the church is entering a place where previous generations have come both to worship and also to feel part of the fellowship of the people of God.
Anyone who attempts to tell the story of Cruden Church would want to acknowledge the debt owed to the Rev Adam Mackay who published a history of the church and parish in 1912 called "Cruden and its Ministers". This has been the basic source for the material in this leaflet

Christianity Comes to Cruden
The ancient Kirk of Cruden dates back to 1012 A.D. when there took place a battle between the Danes and the Scots under King Malcolm II. It may well be that the name Cruden comes from Croch Dain - the slaughter of the Danes. After the battle a pact was made and the Kirk of Cruden (dedicated to St Olaf, the patron saint of Norway and Denmark) was founded by the Scottish King to mark the spot where the fallen warriors on both sides were buried.
The Church was mentioned in a Papal Bull by Pope Adrian IV in the year 1157; and in 1256 it appears as one of the prebends of the Cathedral of St Machar in Aberdeen, with the right to appoint a Deacon to serve as Vicar in the Cathedral.

Early Chapels
The first church was built on a sandy plain near the sea - now part of Cruden Bay golf course. It was overblown by sand and another church was built on a slightly higher piece of ground. Whereas it is no longer possible to locate precisely the site of the first church, Adam Mackay in 1912 wrote - "The position of the second church, however, is well known. It stood on a rising knoll about fifty yards to the south of the Burn of Cruden, and near to the bridge which leads over it at the village of Port Erroll."
A relic remains from this period of time. It is an old Baptismal font said to have been dug out of the sands near the old church when the Episcopalians were ejected from the Parish Church and used by them all the while they worshipped at Sandend. It is now to be seen at St James' Episcopal Church.

The Present Site
Probably a third church was built upon the site now occupied by the Parish church sometime prior to the Reformation (1560) or immediately subsequent to it. Presbytery records begin in 1597 and mention an existing church, which was taken down in 1776 to build n new one. Unfortunately we know nothing of this pre-1776 building, although it is suggested that parts of its walls may have been built into the window arches of the east side of the present building. In contrast to the rest of the building which is of granite, these stones are of limestone and show sculptural traces.

The 1776 Building
The Kirk Session record of July 14th, 1776 reads "This day the minister intimated to the congregation that there would be no more public worship in this church till it be repaired (it being to be pulled down this week) but that there would be one diet of public worship at the Manse next Sabbath, about the ordinary time, and every Sabbath thereafter (if the weather be good) till the church be repaired."
So in the summer of that year the church was pulled down and rebuilt in the open air. It was a simple but substantial building built entirely out of one huge block of granite. The granite - known as The Grey Stone of Ardendraught" - rested in n field belonging to Aulton Farm and was a landmark to the fishermen at sea, being on the top of a small hill.
The workmen must have worked hard that summer for the church was opened at the beginning of November that same year. The Kirk Session record of November 3rd, 1776 reads "Being the first time that public worship was performed in the church since it was rebuilt, the minister preached from Psalm 84, v 1." How amicable are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts.

The 1834 Alteration
In 1834 the north wall - facing across to the manse - was removed and a new wing added. Pillars were inserted to carry the old roof. Round towers, similar to those built about the same time at Slains Castle just over n mile away - were added to give access to the galleries. Six years later a Session House was built; this is now the vestry. A new pulpit was erected and the seating was renewed.
A Peterhead mason and an Aberdeen builder were paid respectively £142 and £375 and the pulpit cost an additional £20.

20th Century Alterations
In 1915 a major renovation involved the renovating of the chancel area and the building out from the south wall of an extension so that an organ might be installed.
In 1972 the back pews were removed to make it possible to enlarge the vestibule.
In 1974 the chancel was carpeted and three years later, just after celebrating its bicentenary, the church was redecorated.
In 2002, to celebrate the New Millennium, an extensive downstairs renovation took place bringing the church in line with the requirements of the 1995 Disability Act. A ramp was installed at the vestry door and a disabled toilet and an induction loop system installed inside. Also created were a small meeting room and a new welcome area which combined to reduce the seating capacity downstairs. The meeting room is called The Mary Garden Room in memory of a principal benefactor of Cruden Church
All these changes have helped give Cruden Parish Church a distinctive look and have helped create a fine setting for the worship of God.

What to look for

As with most churches, Cruden Parish Church has several relics historical interest.


Between the two doors into the church building, on the outside wall there is a plaque which gives the dates of the building's erection and the two subsequent major alterations in 1834 and 1915.


Danish Stone
This large flat slab of marble lies inside the east gate and is said to have been sent over from Denmark to mark the grave of a Danish prince slain in the battle of Cruden in the year 1012. The marble is grooved and it is thought that at some time a plate of copper had been inserted into it with some inscription.


East Wall

Bishops' Memorial Tablet
This was erected in 1911 in memory of Bishop Drummond and Bishop Dunbar. Not many Parish Churches will have memorials of Episcopalian Bishops but Cruden can be proud of its connection with these two.

Bishop Drummond
was Bishop of Brechin from 1684 to 1689. He was ejected by the victory of Presbyterianism and retired to stay in Slains Castle until he died in 1695. By his generosity the church was enriched with two silver communion cups, and he initiated the building of the bridge leading to the church which is still known as "The Bishop's Bridge."

Bishop William Dunbar
was minister of Cruden from 1691 until 1716. He was very diligent and well liked and nearly all the congregation joined him when he was forced to leave Cruden because of his Episcopalianism. He became Bishop of Moray and Ross (1727 - 1733) and then Bishop of Aberdeen (1733 - 1745). He died in 1746.

West Wall
On the wall opposite this Bishops tablet, there are two smaller memorial tablets commemorating two long ministries in Cruden, those of the Rev Robert Ross and the Rev John McQueen. The Scroll of Appreciation presented to Mr Ross to commemorate the 60th anniversary of his becoming Cruden minister can be seen in the vestry. Also in the vestry there hangs a portrait of a former parish schoolmaster.

The Old Bell, used to peal as worshippers walked from miles around to attend church, was taken down at the beginning of this century. One of the oldest bells in Aberdeenshire, the date inscribed on it is 1519.

This ancient font was in use in Cruden Kirk from the 12th century until Covenanting times when a large piece was knocked out of the side.

Passageway to the east (left) of the chancel

There are two pieces of stone which were discovered in 1912 when the south wall was partly taken down to build the extension for the organ. These stones must have formed part of the church previously built on this site. One is carved in a design which suggests the top of an archway or perhaps part of a tombstone, the other has letters carved on it. It is impossible to be sure what the letters stand for although it has been conjectured that they might be the initials of "men of God". These stones had been used in the building of the present church and were only rediscovered when the 1912 renovation got underway. Perhaps more of these very old and decorative stones were used in 1776 and now lie buried in the masonry or some other part of the church.

To the east of the chancel (and in front of the stones mentioned above) there is a flat tombstone with the inscription

"Heir lyes waiting for a blessed resurrection Patrick Cruickshank, Lawier in Abd., who departed 22 July 1656."

Patrick Cruickshank was known to have been a tenant in Ardifferie from at last 1604 to 1617. It is known that Bishop Drummond's grave was inside the church and the Rev Adam Mackay was convinced that the Episcopalians used Cruickshank's stone to cover Drummond's tomb and so save it from desecration at the hands of the Presbyterians.

Cruden West Church

The Disruption of 1843
To understand why a church came to be built in the village of Hatton, we have to look at one of the most significant events to happen in Scotland in the 19th century - the event that has become known as the Disruption of 1843.

Since the Reformation, which occurred in Scotland in 1560, the Church of Scotland had been Presbyterian, governing, itself through a series of courts starting with the Kirk Session at local level and culminating in the General Assembly of the Church where ultimate authority lay for the directing of its affairs.

Over subsequent years there were various schisms when congregations left the Church and set up their own separate denominations. As often as not, these disagreements centred on the thorny question of the relationship between Church and State. This was the reason for the Disruption.

To what extent can the Church be influenced from without and in particular can the State, by means of law enacted through Parliament, direct the Church's affairs? In particular, was it right for the local landowner to insist on his choice of minister which was the prevalent practice? Should a congregation be given the opportunity to choose whom they want?

In 1843, the debate in the Church came to a head and led by Dr Thomas Chalmers, one third of the ministers walked out of the General Assembly believing that, the way things stood, their conscience dictated that they must give up their parishes, stipends and manses and start afresh, "free from certain laws and practices which were hampering the work and independence of the church".

The Church in Cruden in 1843
At the beginning of the 19th century, in the Parish of Cruden there were two main denominations, the Church of Scotland with its church built in 1776 and the Episcopal Church whose present building was erected in 1843.
In that year, Cruden Church was one of seven churches belonging to the Presbytery of Ellon. The others were Methlick, Tarves, Udny, Logie Buchan, Foveran and Slains.
In 1838 the Rev Alexander Philip has been inducted to Cruden Church. Interestingly enough in the light of the events of the following years, Mr Philip was elected as the choice of the congregation when the Earl of Erroll waived his right to make an appointment.
Mr Philip was led by his conscience to follow those who were fearful for the independence of the church, and on May 18th, 1843, he was one of many ministers who left the national church to form the new Free church - the only one in Ellon Presbytery to do so – leaving the Parish Church to find a new minister.
What was the result on the congregation of the Disruption? Of just over 800 members in the Parish Church, it seems that almost 500 of them followed the example of Mr Philip and became members of the Free Church which decided to meet in Hatton, then hardly even a village. Three of the eight elders also decided to join the Free Church - and so a sizeable nucleus of leadership and membership saw to a solid establishing of the Free Church.

So was started the Free Church in Cruden

Church Buildings in Hatton
The new congregation was first led in worship by the Rev Alexander Philip in a stable at Stones Farm near Hatton on 23rd May 1843. By the following Sunday, a wooden church had been built near Hatton Mill - the work taking only one day.

On the same site, on October 3rd, 1843 the congregation worshipped in a new stone built church which was able to accommodate 800.

Within 40 years it was decided to build a new church and in 1884, Mrs Murdoch, wife of the minister, daughter of a prominent and wealthy parishioner and grandmother of 20th century media magnate, Rupert Murdoch, laid the foundation stone of the new building which was opened for worship on August 19th, 1885.

The Kirk Session decided in August 2007 that, because of the vast amount of money required to upgrade the West Church building and the little use made of it, it would be no longer used after December 2007.

1900 - Reunions- 1929
During the ministry of the Rev Donald Stewart, there were two national events of significance for the church locally. Towards the end of the 19th century there were two denominations of some size beside the Church of Scotland. There was the Free Church and also, especially in the towns and cities, the United Presbyterian Church. These two united in 1900 to form the United Free Church. Then in 1929 there took place the union of the United Free Church with the Church of Scotland. This meant that Mr Stewart was inducted to Cruden Free Church spent most of his ministry in Cruden United Free Church and retired from Cruden West Church.

Note that, contrary to what many people think, the title of the congregation and church has never contained the name of the village.

In 1959, guided by the Presbytery of Aberdeen's Union and Readjustment Committee, the congregations of Cruden West and Cruden Old agreed to unite and so after 116 years, the two parts of the Presbyterian Church were back together again.

In one sense the Union brought the history of the congregation to a close. In another sense, we can say a new chapter opened in their history as those born and brought up in the old Free Church traditions continued to make a most significant contribution to the work and witness of the newly formed congregation. And so, in a very real sense, the story of the congregation continues with yet another name change - Cruden Parish Church .

Recent History
In the two years prior to the Centenary celebration in 1985, the West Church was extensively altered. The back pews were removed creating an open space area, particularly to meet the needs of what was then a growing Sunday School in an ever growing community. The church was redecorated and carpeted. The chancel was extended on both sides in time to receive a new electronic organ - a wonderfully generous and anonymous gift. Then in 1997, as a result of a magnificent anonymous donation, the remaining pews were removed, the church was recarpeted, new chairs bought and a heating system installed making the building more suited for the multi-purpose use that the congregation argued justified its continuing use alongside the Old Parish Church.

Many people have commented on how the church seems to be filled with warmth and light and is more attractive now than it has ever been. However, there remains a burden on the congregation in meeting the costs of maintaining all its buildings, a fact that close inspection cannot hide.

The Kirk Session decided in August 2007 that, because of the vast amount of money required to upgrade the West Church building and the little use made of it, it would be no longer used after December 2007.

The last service in the Church was held on the evening of 30 December 2007 when the guest preacher was the Rev James Wishart, minister of Old Deer.

Fire Destroys the West Church

A fire broke out in the discused West Church building on 18 February 2015, resulting in the building being completeley destroyed

Photograph: Jenny Radford

[More about erh West Churfch fire.]


For those engaged in ancestor research, it should be noted that Cruden Church has no records going back to the early 20th century. We have fulfilled the requirement to hand over all records over 50 year old to the Scottish Records Office.

More information about old records can be found on the Scotland's People Website.


Cruden Parish Church still has a large quantity of communion tokens and is currently selling them to raise funds for a project to replace the windows in the church. [More]