Polwarth Kirk is one of the most significant buildings in Scotland

IF there is enough public support for Polwarth Kirk, which lies between Duns and Greenlaw, to be preserved then it may well be taken into the care of the Scottish Redundant Churches Trust (SRCT).

The kirk was built in 1703 but there is thought to have been a church on the site since 900 AD and the present building holds the burial vault of the Marchmont family below the tower.

In the 1950s it was linked to the parishes of Langton and Polwarth, with services alternating between the churches. Eventually the services became less frequent and by the 1980s they were down to once a month and in 2004 it finally closed.

The Church of Scotland General Trustees took a decision to approve the sale of the kirk but before marketing it they approached the Scottish Redundant Churches Trust to see if they would add it to their portfolio.

A Grade A building, Polwarth Kirk is described in the Historic Scotland list: "Polwarth Church remains one of the most significant buildings in the parish and, indeed, within Scotland as a whole", a description never seen before by Victoria Collison-Owen, executive director of SRCT.

Polwarth Kirk is important for both the building itself and the history connected to it and if SRCT can't take it over long term it may be for Historic Scotland to step in as they consider it a major part of Scottish history.

In 1684 the kirk vault famously served as the hiding place of Sir Patrick Hume of Marchmont, who had been implicated in the Rye House Plot, a conspiracy to assassinate King Charles II.

Hume managed to avoid capture and fled to Holland, later returning in 1688 with William of Orange, who rewarded him with land and with the title of Lord Polwarth. He became Lord Chancellor of Scotland and was created Earl of Marchmont in 1697.

The re-building of the kirk in 1703 was financed by Hume to honour his place of sanctuary and to commemorate the restoration of his fortunes.

Duns Presbytery have been debating renovation and restoration work required on the church since 1997.

Berwickshire Civic Society have also been concerned about the long term future of the kirk and in 1997 they felt that reinstating the finial at the top of the tower would be worthwhile doing. One of the kirk's unique features is the Latin texts inscribed on the exterior walls which are crumbling because of exposure to the elements.

The last major work on the building was done in 1928,which involved changes to the interior, and probably the installation of electricity which is now outdated and described as potentially hazardous.

The Scottish Civic Trust's Buildings at Risk officer is currently investigating whether the kirk should be added to the Buildings at Risk Register and before the building deteriorates further through lack of maintenance the Scottish Redundant Churches Trust want to find out what local people want to happen to it which is why they have organised a meeting in the kirk on Monday, September 5 to discuss its future.

SRCT is a charitable trust that identifies and takes into care architecturally or historically significant places of worship, of all faiths and denominations, in order to safeguard them for the benefit of their communities and the nation.

The trust has commissioned local architect Robin Kent to undertake a study of the building and assess its condition and the likely costs of repairs. The Church of Scotland General Trustees and the Architectural Heritage Fund are funding the study.

"Churches in SRCT ownership are repaired and conserved with a view to preserving and protecting their unique character and contents, enabling their continued use for occasional worship, and promoting their accessibility and enjoyment," explained Victoria Collison-Owen, executive director of the trust.

"In some cases it may be appropriate for sensitive adaptation of a building to be carried out in order for it to be best used, enjoyed and sustained. The most suitable approach for any church is dictated by heritage merit, and stems from a thorough understanding of the building and its significance."

At the meeting, which starts at 7.30pm on Monday, September 5, SRCT hope to establish the level of local support for, and interest in, the building and its future. They are also want to determine whether the building could be put to use and provide a facility in the area that would be useful to local people.

Polwarth Kirk could still be used for weddings because unlike English churches Church of Scotland buildings are not deconsecrated once surplus to requirements for a congregation.

"There are no restrictions on the ideas that can be proposed, even if they seem unlikely, since they will all be individually assessed for their compatibility," said Victoria.

"We want to keep it a working building and it has to earn its keep," explained Victoria. "Although we are a national trust we can't endlessly finance individual buildings and they need to generate income."

With the SRCT having charge of the kirk it would be necessary for a local committee to be established. The Friends of Polwarth Church would take care of the day to day care of the building and organise fund raising events.

If consideration was given to using the building for other purposes careful consideration would have to be given to any alterations made on the inside to make it a more flexible area.

"Do we take the view that the exterior and position in the landscape is most important and the interior is of no great significance, in which case the pews could come out to make the interior more flexible?" was the question posed by Victoria.

However, as a Grade A listed building there will be strict controls over what changes could be done and consultations with Scottish Borders Council's planning department would also be necessary.