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History of the Kirk of Calder

Church of Scotland Emblem

A church has believed to have existed on the present site of the Church since around 1150. In these medieval times it was under the control of the great diocese of St Andrews. The 'Romanesque' church at that time was not however consecrated till about 90 years later on 14th March 1241 by the Bishop David de Berntham who dedicated the Church to St Cuthbert. Originally it was The Abbot of Dunfermline who controlled the church and appointed a vicar, but this did not last long and Mid Calder soon after became a rectory of its own.

Records also show that in 1296 the Rector at the time Nicola de Balmyle swore allegiance to Edward I of England, however it was one of his successors, Rector Peter Sandilands, that is responsible for building the older part of the present Church started in 1541. Peter Sandilands was the younger son of the 5th Knight of Calder from the Sandilands family who had been passed 'the Lands of Calder' in 1348. The Sandilands family (Lord Torphichen) still in fact live in Calder House adjacent to the church to this day.

Peter Sandilands had become Rector in 1526 and it was he who started work on a new church on the old site. After the work had started and due to his advancing age a deed was drawn up in 1542 detailing how the church should be finished and funds were provided for its completion. He died in 1546/7 when only the choir had been completed.


This drawing shows the Church as it was originally planned in 1542 - Only the section from the steeple to the right (East) was completed at that time and a wall built on the line of steeple closed the West end.

The West extension was not added till 1863 and to a different layout (see later drawing)


The next Rector was John Spottiswood who in 1560, at the time of the Reformation, joined the Reformers and became Superintendent of the Lothians, Merse and Teviotdale. John Knox is known to have been a visitor at Calder House at that time to take communion*. (The son of John Spottiswood, also John, went on to become the Archbishop of St Andrews, the primate of Scotland and it was he who crowned Charles I at Holyrood in 1633.)

* In September 2010 The Moderator of the Church of Scotland, (Right Reverend John Christie) celebrated Communion in the Kirk as the 450th anniversary of what is thought to be the very first reformed celebration of Holy Communion in Scotland. - see C of S press release


A few years after this Mid Calder was troubled with the activities of witches. The Minister at the time Hew Kennedy was most zealous in hunting out and persecuting witches and in spite of several having been burnt about 1644, suspicious goings on were still being investigated 80 years later! - (see separate page on the Calder Witches)

The Original Church

In the original building the pulpit was positioned on the South wall (beside the present main door) with galleries on three sides and the pews capable of accommodating 438 worshipers. The Vestry at the East end was part of the original building and the original parish school was added later at the West end.



This is a drawing of the original church showing the small school at the West end (left).



The population of Mid Calder had grown from 760 in 1755 to 1489 by 1831 and an extension was therefore planned to accommodate the extra worshipers.

The original 1542 deed which had anticipated a nave running Westwards (lengthwise) was ignored and a North/South addition was planned forming a 'typical' Scottish 'T' plan. The new pulpit and organ were sited on the West wall and a gallery was added to the East end as the present arrangement. This extension was completed in 1863 to a design by Brown and Wardrop, a large Edinburgh Architectural practice at that time.



The plan of the present Church as fully completed in 1863.






There are numerous family shields and armorial bearings carved in the stone, inscriptions, memorials and large stained glass windows throughout. Much fuller architectural information is available from booklets obtainable at modest prices by visiting the church (open to visitors Sundays 2-4pm in the Summer) or e-mailing the address below.

The Church has two war memorials commemorating the 51 who fell in the First World War (1914-18) and the 24 who died from the Parish in the Second World War (1939-45) including a woman and child killed in an air raid on the village. The churchyard and extension across the road (still in use) has memorials dating from 1636. The church bell was made in 1663 (and recast in 1876) is still rung on Sundays before the morning service

Mid Calder in the Present Day

Mid Calder is now a 'Conservation Village' that grew out of all recognition in the 10 years between 1980 and 1990  years with a huge residential growth. The 1981 Census had 1,500 inhabitants which had increased to 3,500 by 1991 and which is still around its present population

Its larger neighbour Livingston (which directly bounds Mid Calder on two sides North & East) is one of Scotland's five 'New Towns' started in the 60's. It is a modern thriving residential and retail town with an industrial and manufacturing base mainly in electronics and computing,  - It is the very 'heart' of 'Silicon Glen'.

Being only 12 miles from Edinburgh and 40 miles from Glasgow, Mid Calder is within easy striking distance of both of Scotland's two major cities.

The Church is a Historic Scotland Grade A listed building Nr 14144 (Click for full listing)

Extract from listing  - 

Date of Listing 22-JAN-1971
c.1530-c.1550. Gothic. Ashlar. Slated roofs. CHANCEL AND
APSE: Moulded eaves course; string course. Massive buttresses. VESTRY at E. end: Lean-to roof. Ornamented pinnacles. W. end. Bell dated 1663; re-cast 1876. INTERIOR of Chancel and Apse much altered by plaster 'vaults'. Carved wooden pew-back dated 1595.


Extract on the Church from 
The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical 
Monuments of Scotland - 

NATIONAL Monuments Record of Scotland
John Sinclair House, 16 Bernard Terrace, Edinburgh EH8 9NX
Tel: +44 (0)131 662 1456 | Fax: +44 (0)131 662 1499
Email: nmrs@Rcahms.gov.uk | Website: www.Rcahms.gov.uk 

Link to full Kirk of Calder Entry 

Mid Calder, Main Street, Mid Calder Parish Church
Alternative Names: Kirk Of Calder; Midcalder; Parish Church Of St John; St John's Church; 
Sandilands Burial Vault 
Type of Site: Burial Ground, Church, Cross 
NMRS Number: NT06NE 3 
Map reference: NT 0737 6732 
Parish: Mid Calder 
Council: West Lothian 
Former District: West Lothian 
Former Region: Lothian 


St John's Parish Church, Main Street, from 1541
Stunning evidence of the 16th-century ambitions of the Sandilands. Commissioned, 
designed and paid for by Magister Peter Sandilands who, as the younger son of the 
sixth Knight of Calder, went into the church to become rector of Mid Calder. 
The long seven-bay church, three in the choir and four in the nave (with a lower 
roof and rectangular windows) with cloister opening from the choir, had progressed 
beyond the vestry and foundations of the choir on Sandilands┐ death. He left minute 
instructions to his nephew, Sir James Sandilands of Calder, future Lord Torphichen, 
as to what was to be built. The nave was never begun. In 1863, Brown & Wardrop added 
the transepts and belfry (replacing the site of the village school). Pleasant 1595 
wooden bench pew with the initials JS and IL inscribed The Lord is my shepherd I 
shall not want; with a tympanum of thistles. Stained glass, 1895, by Hardman in an 
1883 memorial window to James Paraffin Young. Outstandingly rich carved finials 
rising from the sacristy. Conservation work by Stewart Tod & Partners (taking 
care to protect the bat colonies) 

Taken from "West Lothian: An Illustrated Architectural Guide", by Stuart Eydmann, 
2008. Published by the Rutland Press 


Archaeology Notes
NT06NE 3 07372 67323.

(NT 07372 67323). Midcalder parish church, dedicated to St John, was built between 
c.1530-1550, on the site of an earlier church. The transepts, which stand on the site 
of an old schoolhouse, were added in 1876. 
The oldest grav estone in the churchyard is dated 1636. 
A sandstone block, the head of a cross-shaft, found in the churchyard, measuring 
15" x 12 1/2" x 4", was donated to the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland 
(NMAS) in 1883 (Accession no No: IB 129). It is o rnamented on each face with a cross 
design within a circle, all in relief. 
RCAHMS 1929, visited 1915; NMAS 1892; SDD List 1963 

The church is as described and in normal use. No further information. 
Visited by OS (DWR) 28 March 1974.


The Kirk Photo Album has many interior and exterior photos. There is also a separate page on the Kirk's Stained Glass windows



Kirk of Calder Parish (Church of Scotland) is registered Scottish Charity No SCO13461

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