"A town and parish in the county of Berwick. The town stands in a retired dry valley, having a small rivulet of excellent water running upon each side of it, and is about a mile distant from the sea. It appears to have been of considerable antiquity, for its monastery was one of the most ancient and flourishing on the east of Scotland ... The town appears long ago to have been much larger than at present; but, of late, it has assumed a more lively and cheerful appearance; and the wealth and population are visibly increasing. It contains about 720 inhabitants. The parish is of an irregular square figure, of 7 or 8 miles. The general appearance is flat; but there is a considerable portion of rising grounds, of easy ascent and gentle declivity ... About a mile W. of St Abb's Head is a beautiful piece of water, called Coldingham loch, which is about a mile in circumference, and of considerable depth. There are, besides the town of Coldingham, 3 or 4 small villages in the parish, the inhabitants of which are chiefly farmers or weavers ... Population in 1801, 2391." from Gazetteer of Scotland published 1806, Edinburgh.
View a Map of the Area.
The Borders Family History Society has published a CD of Coldingham gravestones.
Pre-1855 inscriptions for the parish are contained in the Scottish Genealogy Society's volume of Berwickshire Monumental Inscriptions (Pre-1855).
See also under Church Records for details of a mortcloth (i.e. burial) indexing project.
Graham and Emma Maxwell have transcribed and indexed the 1841, 1851 and 1861 census returns for this parish.
The following quotation comes from the Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland, edited by John Marius Wilson and published in 1868. This reference was found in volume I, p.290:
"The district of Laverock, or Leveret-Law, which was returned as a separate parish in 1821 and 1831, and was returned as part of the parish of Ayton in 1841, has been decided by the Court of Session to belong to the parish of Coldingham."
A Relief Church was built in Coldingham in 1793 and this went under various names in the next century, known variously as the Associate (Burgher) Congregation of Coldingham, the United Presbyterian Church of Coldingham, and the United Free Church in Coldingham. In 1837 this church had 540 communicants, i.e. a significant proportion of the population in the local area.
In 1794 a chapel-of-ease was built at Renton, but it was replaced in 1831 by Renton Chapel and this in turn became Houndwood Parish Church. After the Free Church broke off in 1843 a Free Church was built at Houndwood in 1847 and used until 1887 when the Free Church congregation agreed to move to Grantshouse and the new Free Church opened there in 1888.
The parish church (Church of Scotland) has parish registers dating from 1690. Old Parish Registers (before 1855) are held in the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh, and copies on microfilm may be consulted in local libraries and in LDS Family History Centres around the world. Later parish registers (after 1855) are often held in the National Records of Scotland as are any records of non-conformist churches in the area (often unfilmed and unindexed, and only available there).
An index to Coldingham's mortcloth records (essentially burial records) between the years 1694 and 1759 has been compiled.
The parish registers available worldwide on microfilm include some kirk session records:
More information on kirk sessions and their records can be found in the Church Records section of the Berwickshire page. Most of Coldingham's kirk session records are held at the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh (NRS reference CH2/69). Published articles about Coldingham's kirk session records include:
Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths began in Scotland on 1st January 1855. For further details of this see the National Records of Scotland website.
The St Abbs Community Website has a lot of information about the history of St Abbs village (originally called Coldingham Shore). As well as articles about different kinds of fishing, the website includes a photographic archive of over 100 old postcards showing images from the village and surrounding area.
Coldingham's entry in Pigot and Co's National Commercial Directory of the whole of Scotland of 1837 can be read online. It describes the parish but lists only a fraction of the population at the time.
The Coldingham One-Place Study is an ongoing project aiming to piece together references to people in the parish in the past, particularly before civil registration started in 1855.
Ordnance Survey maps covering Coldingham include:
Coldingham is also covered by an old Victorian one-inch to the mile Ordnance Survey map published by Caledonian Maps. The relevant sheet is sheet number 34 "Eyemouth" which also includes Burnmouth, Chirnside, Cockburnspath, Coldingham, Edrom, Foulden, Grantshouse, Preston and St Abb's Head.
The National Records of Scotland holds the following as part of its collection of maps and plans:
The parish registers available worldwide (see Church Records) include some of the kirk session minutes. Among these are occasional references to people receiving or handing in testimonials or testificates, essentially certificates of good conduct needed by people moving from one parish to another. I have noted down the names of most of the people mentioned in this way between the years 1710 and 1744. The results are now online.
Here are some figures showing the parish's population through time:
For an account of life in the parish in the mid-18th century see G.B.Millican's article on "The Division of Coldingham Common", published in the transactions of the Berwickshire Naturalists' Club, Volume 42 (part 3 - 1983) pages 109-117. In the early 1760's a number of Coldingham landowners petitioned the Court of Session in Edinburgh to have the Common land, used by all farmers etc. in the parish, divided. Many of the small landowners (feuars) contested this and there was bitter division in the parish. This article describes the events which occurred and gives a valuable insight into parish life at this time. For details of maps drawn up at this time, see the Maps section above.
Another article published a few years earlier in the same transactions describes life at a slightly later period in the parish, and something a bit more notorious: body snatching! In December 1820 Dr George Lawrie, surgeon in Coldingham, was arrested and charged with the crime of exhuming a recently-deceased body from Coldingham churchyard. Together with a number of accomplices he was charged with the crime and tried in the High Court in Edinburgh. A detailed account of the trial (including depositions of many witnesses from the Coldingham area) is given in the article by G.E. Davidson in Volume 41 (part 4 - 1980) pages 227-233.
See also under Church Records for details of "Scandal at Auchencraw", an article revealing much about parish life at the start of the 18th century.
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