a brief history of humbie church
The Parish of Humbie lies in one of the furthest corners of East Lothian, and extends to some 20,000 acres. The South-Eastern boundary along the top of the Lammermuir Hills forms the march with Berwickshire; while the South-Western boundary marches with Midlothian.
The origin of the village name is somewhat obscure. In old records ir appears both as ‘Humby’ and ‘Hundeby’. It has been suggested that it may have referred to the place – ‘bie’ – where hounds or ‘hunds’ were kept. The name was later changed to ‘Humby’, and after about 1770 the spelling was Humbie, as it is today. Another suggestion is that it took its name from the ‘hum’ of the bees, for which it is supposed to have been famous. The name ‘Hondebray’, found in descriptions of Border raids, is thought to be yet another spelling of Humbie.
At the time of the Reformation, there were two parishes in the area now covered by Humbie, namely Keith Hundeby and Keith Marischal, with churches in both parishes. The latter was originally a Roman-Catholic Chapel, not far from Keith House, and, along with the adjoining land, came to be part of the Keith Estate when the Roman-Catholic Vicar, John Keynart, sold the living and the land to the Earl Marischal in 1595. It had been erected, in the first instance, as a private chapel by Harvie de Keith, King’s Marischal, in the reign of David I (1124-1153). In the reign of Alexander III (1214-1249), this chapel became the Parish Church of Keith Marischal. Burials took place both inside and outside of the walls, and grave slabs can still be seen today. Today, only the four walls of the old church remain, overgrown with ivy.
The church of Keith Hundeby stood on the site of the present Kirk of Humbie, ans on land once owned by one Symon Fraser, or Keith Symon, as he was also called. It is not known when the church of Keith Hundeby was first built, but it seems likely that it had been in existence for some years before 1560. Between the years 1560 and 1590, the Church of Humbie was under the charge of the minister of Pencaitland.
In 1589, when John Marshall, AM, St Andrews, resigned as minister of Keith Marischal, because he lived in Edinburgh and was no longer able to travel from there on foot, no minister was appointed to succeed him. The minister of Keith Hundeby took over the charge and, eventually, in 1618 the two parishes were united under the name of ‘The United Parishes of Keith and Humbie’.
The present church of Humbie was built in 1800 on the site of the former building, which had fallen into such a state of disrepair that, according to the then Parish Minister Mr Sangster, it would be better to build a new church ‘than be plagued with constant repairs to the old one’.
Competing plans and estimates were obtained, and on 1 May 1800, the Heritors, who were managing the parish affairs, accepted an estimate of £280 for building a new church similar to that of Cranstoun, a neighbouring parish, with the materials of the old church. Since then, various alterations have been made. For instance, in 1846 a porch or vestry was added and heating pipes put under the floor. Then in 1866, when a new roof was required, a porch was erected at the entrance to the church, and the former porch, on the North side, was enlarged to make a Session house. The box-pews with centre tables and creaking doors were also removed at that time, and the church re-seated. The traditional canopy over the pulpit was also removed, as the plastered ceiling.
In 1930, again there were extensive alterations. A chancel was built on the East end, and parts of the galleries removed, the whole being re-seated facing a new pulpit, situated at the side of the chancel. It is interesting to note that the stones which line the lower part of the chancel walls were obtained from the nesting boxes of the dovecot which stood outside the church-yard walls. It is thought that this dovecot had been built to rear pigeons which were then sold, and the money from these sales being used to pay part of the Minister’s stipend as well as the Beadle’s salary, and at other times to help the poor.
The bell in the church porch is that of the old church. It was cast by Charles Hog in 1620 and was used until 1846. At that time, Lord Hopetoun gave a new bell and removed the old one to Keith House, where it remained until 1952, when it was restored to the church. The bell presented by Lord Hopetoun remained in use until 1930, when it was gifted to the Church of Scotland Mission Station at Gantock, India. The bell presently rung each Sunday morning was presented in 1930 by the family of the late Lady Polwarth, as a memorial to her.
The churchyard has been enlarged through the years. There are some very old grave-stones, some wearing the symbols of skull and cross-bones, hour-glasses as well as scythe and ploughs – symbols for the trades of the deceased – can be seen on some. One particular stone carries the figure of a man sowing seed from a bag suspended from his neck. It is said that he was a farmer who went out to sow his fields on the Sabbath Day, when he was struck dead by lightning – and the carving was intended to commemorate this impious act!
There used to be a building near the top gate, used as a vestry. The Heritors’ minutes of 1842 refer to it as having been ‘useful in winter (there being a fireplace in it), not only to the minister but to the parishioners, particularly in the case of infants brought for baptism’. Another small building existed at the lower gate, used latterly as a toolhouse, which originally was a night-watch-house at a time when a regular trade was carried on in the sale of bodies to medical colleges.
At the Disruption of 1843, when some members of the Church of Scotland broke away to form the Free Church of Scotland, Mr Dodds, the Minister of Humbie at the time, joined the Seceders and consequently had to resign his charge. Having no church building to worship in, Mr Dodds and his followers met at Upper Keith in front of the school, and there he preached from a ‘wooden tent’. Being informed that the Heritors were hostile and intended to prevent him from preaching at Upper Keith a second time, he had to look elsewhere for a place to meet. ‘I was at a loss what to do’, he wrote, ‘when I heard that Mr Lawson, tenant at Humbie Mains, an elder of the Secession Church, was willing to allow us to meet on his farm in a deep wooded glen or ravine called Humbie Dean. By kind permission of Mr Lawson we continued to meet at that place during the whole summer until our new church was finished. […] It was a secluded and romantic place and most convenient for our purpose.’
A site was obtained from Sir John Buchan, proprietor of Upper Keith, on which to build the Free Church. It stood just off the road from Upper Keith to the Children’s Village, beside the burn, and continued to be used by the Free Church until 1900, after that date by the United Free Church and until the union of that church with the Church of Scotland in 1929. As it was no longer required, the building was then taken down.
Early in the present century, the Sunday morning service was held at 12noon. The congregation came on foot or drove in carriages. It was a common sight to see two carriages and pairs, as well as other horse-drawn vehicles drive up for the service, the horses being put up at the stables while waiting. Mr Skene-Tytler, Keith Marischal, was the first to drive a motor-car to church – quite an innovation!
As well as the morning service, on the first Sunday of the month an evening service was held in the church. On the other Sundays, evening services were held alternately at Humbie House, Windymains and Stobshiel.
In 1971, the original stables at the church were converted to meeting rooms, still in use today.
After the retirement of Dr Rogan in 1974 as Parish Minister of Humbie, the parish was linked with Yester Parish in 1977, and with Bolton and Saltoun Parish in 1979, appointing Rev Alan Scott as Minister for the linked charges.
In 1987, the organ, so generously donated in memory of the Rev RJ Bain, a former Minister of Humbie, having served the parish well for many years, was replaced by a pipe organ from the Norwegian Church in Granton.
Of Humbie Dean and their experiences there, Mr Dodds wrote the following verses:
In that sweet spot, the summer long,
we met each Sabbath Day.
There oft the father gave his child
in covenant to God,
and vowed to rear it in the paths
his faithful fathers trod.
God’s grace be with the little babes
who thus in faith have been
baptised with water from the brook
in lovely Humbie Dean.
And there one lovely Sabbath Day,
the blest Communion Board
we spread in reverence and love –
the Table of the Lord.
We brake the bread and drank the wine,
and oh! what things unseen
we saw so clear and felt so near
in lovely Humbie Dean.
Oh! never let from me depart
the memory of that place,
where on the worn and weary heart
fell such sweet showers of grace.
And may we meet before the Throne
our robes washed white and clean,
who met as followers of the Lamb
in lovely Humbie Dean.