Scotland on Sunday letters: Bringing an end to tradition

I share the concern expressed by Archibald Lawrie (Scotsman letters, April 26). The list of churches listed for possible closure in East Lothian includes a number of pre-Reformation parish churches. These buildings are not just places of worship, but are important, historic listed buildings which are of huge local interest.

Oldhamstocks Church is one of the East Lothian churches under threat of closure.
Oldhamstocks Church is one of the East Lothian churches under threat of closure.

They are the most important buildings in their parishes, and the centres of their communities. In many cases they have important historical features and in many cases, the bodies of the dead lie beneath their floors.

These parish churches were built and maintained by the Heritors’ or Landowners’ of the parish by a levy based on the valuation of their land, which had to be paid, whether they supported that church or not.

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This obligation continued until 1925, when the Heritors were relieved of the duty to maintain the churches and the churches were vested in the Church of Scotland. No one of course expected it to abandon them. Fortunately they were only given the solum on which the churches stood and an access. The graveyards were made the responsibility of the Local Authorities.

Some examples of threatened churches in East Lothian include;

Whitekirk, an important church, which though rebuilt after a serious fire in 1914, dates back to David I, has already closed. It had an important Holy Well, which disappeared in the 18th century. It has a diverse history, but one of the most notable facts was that Aeneas Silvius, Pope Pius II came on pilgrimage on his bare feet from Dunbar.

Spott is a pleasing simple church, now typical of the 18th century, but in fact much older. It had a difficult time in the 16th century, Robert Galbraith, the parson was murdered in 1544. He was succeeded by John Hamilton until 1547. He was very successful for a time. He became an Archbishop, but was hanged in 1571 for complicity in the murder of the Regent Moray. He was succeeded at Spott by the Rev. John Kello, the first reformed minister, who murdered his wife on the 24th September 1570; he then preached a good sermon and tried to claim she had committed suicide. Confessing to the Minister of Dunbar, Kello was hanged in Edinburgh on 4th October 1570.

The Oldhamstock present building is post Reformation, built on the site of an earlier structure. It is of considerable interest and sits in an interesting burial ground.

It seems surprising that Gladsmuir church is threatenend, considering the huge influx of population expected at Blindwells. Its most noted minister was William Robertson (1721-93), historian and Principal of Edinburgh University from 1762.

A similar case could be made for other churches on the list. It seems to me that their closure and selloff, leading to house conversion, already proposed for Whittinghame, despite a wall memorial to a Prime Minister, would be a disaster.

Hopefully some community use, as is proposed for Whitekirk, would be more acceptable. Closing and selling the churches will take the heart out of our communities. I understand that small towns are sometimes overprovided with kirks and that there is a case for closure and demolition. We have already lost the Abbey church in Dunbar, but hope to keep its facade.

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The best answer must be that they should continue to be used for worship, even if some other use can be found to make it viable. It cannot be desirable to remove the opportunity to worship God in our rural villages, bringing to an end a tradition which has lasted for centuries. It is almost certainly a mistaken idea to believe that worshippers will go to another place.

Stephen Bunyan MBE, President, East Lothian Antiquarian Society

Compare or contrast

At a time of international crisis the most important attributes that a political leader should have are honesty, integrity and intellectual ability. The continuing posturing by people who wish to make political capital over the Partygate saga misses the essential point about Boris Johnson’s involvement in it.

In his letter of May 1, Martin Redfern dismisses that involvement with the words, “Boris Johnson broke his own rules and has, rightly, been punished”; his point being that the PM’s actions were wrong, but not dangerous in terms of spreading Covid. He goes on to compare Mr Johnson’s actions with those of the First Minister in her post-lockdown visit to a barber’s shop.

It is possible that Mr Redfern did not read Sorin Baiasu’s article in The Scotsman (April 22) which analysed the PM’s statements in Parliament with the discernment of a philosopher. Professor Baiasu’s judgement of the PM was that "either he engaged in immoral behaviour by lying, misrepresented the truth or he didn’t understand his own rules – and would have to at least admit to incompetence." We know that Oxford University conferred a degree on Mr Johnson, so there is evidence he has the intellectual ability to understand his own rules and to ensure that his words do not misrepresent the truth. We also know that, as a journalist, he was given the sack for making up a story.

Given that Nicola Sturgeon admitted that she made a mistake in not wearing a mask in a post-lockdown environment; can we really compare the PM’s deceit with her gaffe? And should Mr Johnson, with such a track record of blindness to moral codes, be in charge of a government?

Francis Roberts, via email

Climate claims

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Over the last two decades we have been bombarded with claims about how we have to save the planet by reducing CO2. Meanwhile the possibility of nuclear war has been ignored almost completely. But nuclear war could really end all human and animal life and leave the planet a frozen, uninhabitable, irradiated horror.

There are 12,700 nuclear weapons in nine nuclear states, most of these in US and Russian arsenals. The International Atomic Energy Agency has modelled what would happen in a nuclear war between Russia (population 146 million) and the NATO alliance (population 944m) in the 10 months after a nuclear exchange. In the first 24 hours, 86m Russians would die, and 92m in NATO countries. In 30 days, 548m would have died. The fallout would condemn hundreds of millions more to die a lingering painful death until the nuclear winter set in. The fallout dust would block the sun and temperatures would plunge to Antarctic levels even in The Tropics. It would be -76C in Britain.

This is not scaremongering. It's what nuclear scientists have demonstrated will happen should the use of a ‘tactical’ nuclear bomb escalate to all out nuclear war. This could happen if the unhinged President of the Russian Federation thinks he is losing in Ukraine.

Meanwhile Greenpeace and the rest of the Net Zero Industry continue to alarm us about the temperature possibly rising by 1.5C.

William Loneskie, Lauder, Berwickshire

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