Like many of the churches in the Clydesdale area, Symington was established in the early 12th century.King David I as part of his control structure had given large areas of land to his Norman knight supporters who were encouraged to establish fortified settlements
which became known as ‘touns’.
A toun was an agricultural community whose inhabitants were
given military protection in return for a share of the food that they
produced. The touns were often named after their protectors.
One of the key Norman nobles who settled in this area was Simon
de Lockard (or Loccard) – thus ‘Simon’s toun’.
His name was also given to Symington, in Ayrshire where he also
King David had founded an abbey at Kelso around 1128 and the
Tironesian monks based there gradually extended the Christian
faith through south Scotland. A priory was established at
Lesmahagow in 1144 and it is thought that monks from there established the original churches in this area.
There is of course no record or evidence of the original church but the present church is believed to occupy its position. It is on a slightly raised hillock above the surrounding lower, and potentially boggier, land.
The present building has been extensively altered over the last 300 years. The only discernible date on the building is 1734 on the belfry. The building is T shaped with the pulpit in the centre of the cross of the ‘T’.
During renovations some years ago, the roughcast was temporarily removed and revealed the original door at a point in the wall now occupied by the pulpit. The rear porch, vestry and front vestibule are clearly later additions. Interestingly, the bell is older than the belfry. Inside the church there is a very fine timber beamed roof.
The modern village extends far beyond the bounds of the original
Symington which like many Scottish villages ran from ‘Townhead’ to
‘Townfoot’. The church is situated at the end of a lane called Kirk Bauk
near the head of the original village. A ‘bauk’ was an untilled strip of
land along the end of a field which allowed comfortable walking.
Older maps indicate a historic site alongside Kirk Bauk called ‘The Place’,
allegedly the site of Simon de Lockard’s castle but there is no visible
evidence of this.
Castlehill to the south east of the present village has on it, remnants of a hill fort with ring shaped fortifications. This is a more likely site for a defensive settlement as it sits in a gap between the lower slopes of Tinto and the River Clyde. As it sits above the lower river flood plain, it commands a view along the Clyde valley - a valuable tactical advantage. This pre-dates the church of course, but may mark the site of an original settlement.
The old church in Symington was
dedicated to St. Ninian but in 1946, the parish church was united with
the nearby St. John’s United Free Church. In recognition of the great
sensitivity surrounding the union and with a desire to be seen to be
even handed, the new congregation was designated ‘Symington
The church is surrounded by a graveyard and the oldest decipherable
stone is dated 1629. The graveyard also contains a watch house
erected in the late 19th century as a protection against ‘resurrectionists’
- grave robbers who moved in after funerals to remove bodies which could be sold for medical research in Edinburgh or Glasgow.
Symington is one of the very few churches in Scotland which still rings a ‘dressing bell’ each Sunday morning about an hour before the service begins. This was originally meant to alert the farmers and agricultural workers to the impending church service. The need has perhaps passed, but the tradition continues.
Symington is situated in southern Scotland, approximately 29 miles southwest of Edinburgh and 31 miles southeast of Glasgow as the crow flies.
The parish has a population of 861 persons and Symington Kirk has 183 members.