Love your local church – Southwick Church, Dumfries & Galloway

In the latest of our occasional series, where bloggers share accounts of their favourite Scottish church buildings, Christine Milligan, founding director of Scotland’s Churches Scheme (one of our two parent charities), gives us a brief history of Southwick Church in Dumfries & Galloway.

The first church at Southwick (pronounced Suth-ick) dates back at least to the 13th century, founded by Gilbert de Suthayk, or by his son Patrick. In 1300 King Edward I marched into Scotland, and having taken Caerlaverock Castle, the records show that he gave an offering to the shrine of Our Lady of Suthayk. The ruins of a later church of 1567 can still be seen today in the graveyard in a nearby glen. In 1612 the parish was united with the neighbouring parish of Colvend by King James VI & I.

In 1891 the laird of Southwick estate, Sir Mark McTaggart Stewart, gifted land and the building of a new church, a Chapel of Ease, to accommodate the increasing population in this agricultural area living at the eastern end of the parish, to be served by an Assistant

Southwick Church, Dumfries & Galloway

All images in this blog are courtesy of Christine Milligan or the Parish of Colvend, Southwick and Kirkbean website

Southwick church sits against the backdrop of the wooded policies of the estate, nestling amongst green laurel which colours the background in winter, and in summer looks out at the great rhododendrons which splash their pinks and reds in welcome. The building was designed by architects Peddie & Kinnear in a mixture of Early Christian and Norman styles, using grey Galloway granite and Dumfriesshire red sandstone to fashion a country church which looks entirely at home in its surroundings. The design of the crossing tower was borrowed from the 14th century tower of St Monans Parish Church, Fife. 

But come in! Step over the threshold and  look up to see round the inner doorway the words ‘I will give Peace in this Place’, and over the little window ‘Serve the Lord with Gladness’. In the sanctuary the long Nave aisle, over which is thrown a wagon roof of dark timbers, leads down to the Crossing where stone vaulting supports the square tower, underlining a sense of solidity and peacefulness. The stone chancel arch with chevron decoration spans the entrance to the Apse.

The feel of the Arts and Crafts movement is alive in the wrought iron light fittings, once for oil lamps, and the fine craftsmanship in the neo-Jacobean pulpit and in the neo-Norman font, given by Sir Mark’s sister Miss Mary Stewart to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. A further generous gift, a bequest in her will, was a series of nine stained glass windows installed in 1904. These are the work of Baron Arild Rosenkranz, a relative of the Stewart family and a former student and designer for Tiffany, New York. They are of slab glass, a new technique in glass making at the time which gives them striking intensity of colour. They are considered to be of museum quality, jewels of colour in one of the jewels of church building in Scotland.

Watercolour of Southwick Church by the late Jane P. Syme (from author’s collection)

Today Southwick Church is the home of a thriving, loyal, Christian congregation who with visitors from all over the world seek out this place every Sunday. Here is the sense of the numinous, characteristic of a holy place, and here, in disbelief is pondered the real possibility ‘How can this sacred space be thrown on the scrap heap?’

I do not know the answer but I do know that Southwick Church provides for all who come a very powerful anchor and singular solace in this age of uncertainty and rapid change.

In 1998, after retiring as Director of Scotland’s Churches Scheme, my husband and I returned to our roots in Dumfries and Galloway and found a new church family at Southwick Church. Its atmosphere of welcome became very special to us and I am glad to worship there still.

‘Come and see’

Lofty granite makes for you
The sacred space.
Feel the soft branches of prayer
From every nook and cranny
Twine round your heart,
Carrying it in tender grasp
As you cross the earth red floor.
Feel the pull of the strings that caught you up,
And know that, when you come again,
You will hear the whispering quietness
That lies as treasure store
Here in a little Galloway Kirk
By the distant shore,
Solace for you.

Southwick Church
Caulkerbush, Dumfries & Galloway, DG2 8AJ

Our thanks to Christine Milligan for authoring this blog for us and for her continued welcome support for our activities promoting, protecting and preserving Scotland’s churches, work that would not be possible today without her many years at the helm of Scotland’s Churches Scheme.