Kirk Yetholm

History & Heritage
Built of black whinstone, its dark exterior belies its light and airy interior. A local gypsy turned schoolmaster gave its beautiful east windows
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About Kirk Yetholm

Fragments of carved stone, displayed in the church tower, show that there was a stone church here in the mid-1100s. In the 1540s, Yetholm kirk may have suffered badly during the ‘Rough Wooing’ when English troops wrecked vengeance on the Scots by burning villages, churches and abbeys throughout the Borders. Yetholm is named with other settlements in the Bowmont valley as villages put to the torch. In 1643, the kirk recovered enough to commission a new bell from Holland. It still rings before services.
The present kirk was built in 1836 and replaced a low damp cramped building, said to have been the last thatched church in Scotland. The minister responsible, the Rev. John Baird, not only ensured the new building was large enough for his congregation, but made sure those from Town Yetholm could reach the kirk by constructing the first stone bridge across the Bowmont. Baird was a very active minister, encouraging his Romany parishioners to board their children in the village while they travelled so that they could attend school. In 1846, Baird constructed a new school, now the Friends of Nature House (Grid Ref: NT826282) to accommodate them.
The kirk was refurbished in 2014, the pews removed and the interior redecorated. This has increased the sense of space and light in the welcoming interior of the building. Coffee and tea are set ready in the kitchen for visitors or pilgrims on St Cuthbert’s Way to help themselves. One of the glories of Yetholm kirk is its stained glass windows. Those on the wall behind the communion table are particularly fine and have an interesting history. They are the bequest of Andrew Blythe who was born into a gypsy family but had one arm shot off in an accident when a child. He attended Baird’s school where he thrived. He became an itinerant schoolteacher in the Cheviot hills and, ultimately, headteacher at Windyhaugh School in the Coquet valley. Blythe often returned to Yetholm. He was Session Clerk and left money in 1931 for the four east windows and for a chiming clock which tolls the hours and quarter hours over the village. The stained glass designs are the work of William Wilson, acknowledged as one of the great stained glass artists in Scotland.
The kirkyard has many interesting stones. Some of the dead from the Battle of Flodden in 1513 may be buried here. It was said in the 1890s that a pit with bones showing signs of cuts and splinters was found when the foundations of the 1836 kirk were being built. Flodden is over six miles away, but Yetholm would have been the nearest Scottish parish. A number of surviving gravestones in the kirkyard, from the 1700s, are carved with symbols. Another gravestone is inscribed in Latin by George Story, Yetholm’s schoolmaster for 50 years. It commemorates his son who drowned in Yetholm Loch in 1805 at the age of 27. There is a Commonwealth War Grave marking the death in the First World War of John Dumma. Other war casualties from Yetholm are commemorated on a memorial at the foot of Kirk Brae. Unfortunately no gravestones for the gypsy kings and queens of Kirk Yetholm survive, though there is a stone for six of King Charles Blythe I’s children. Two of his daughters, aged 21 and 23, died within days of each other in 1835. Queen Esther Faa Blythe was buried before a crowd of over 1,500 people in 1883, but her gravestone was stolen.

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