Mapping Parishes, c.1560-1689

Mapping the Scottish Reformation is all about tracing clerical careers. Central to this project is the parish as a node: a place where ministers can travel to and depart from over the course of a career. While one of our early blog posts discussed ministers’ moves from university upon graduation to their first parish, I want to discuss some of the spatial aspects of parishes: how we plot them, what digital representations of them can tell us, and where we go from here.

Detail from Aaron Arrowsmith’s Ecclesiastical map of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1825)

As you may have seen from some of our recent posts on Twitter, one of the earliest maps that shows the ecclesiastical structure of Lothian and Tweeddale (indeed, all of Scotland) is Aaron Arrowsmith’s map of Scotland from 1825 housed in the National Library of Scotland. As you can see from the image above, Arrowsmith visually represented the boundaries of presbyteries and synods in which they sat. The coloured outlines are very helpful here. Unfortunately, while individual parishes are recorded here, they are largely ephemeral to Arrowsmith’s project: a map of this scale can never show the tightly-packed intramural parishes of Edinburgh, for example.

 
From our initial work with Hew Scott’s Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae and from our use of relevant presbytery manuscripts housed in the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh, we have created parish lists for each parish in all of the seven presbyteries that made up the 2,500 square kilometres of the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale. Lists like the one found in the November 1659 meeting of the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale list the names of parishes, as well as giving us a useful note of their minister (or if they sat vacant). The final list consists of 119 parishes of differing size, density and settlement type.

Extract from the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale record book, housed in the National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh

To allow us to locate these parishes for some form of spatial analysis, we need to create a point for them using latitude and longitude coordinates (‘lat,long’ in the table below). One can easily find such data using a free-to-use online resource like this one. Some parishes, however, are easier to locate or ‘pin’ than others. For example, Greyfriars kirk in Edinburgh, remains, unsurprisingly, in situ today. A handful of other parishes (like Keith-Marischal in Haddington Presbytery) no longer exist and require more generalised coordinates. After a lot of searching, we were able to provide approximations for all 119 parishes.

Detail of location data for some parishes of Edinburgh Presbytery

Running these coordinates through mapping applications (like Palladio, shown below) allows the ‘lat,long’ coordinates to be plotted onto a modern two-dimensional map.

119 parishes of the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale, 1560-1689

It is only with this kind of basic visualisation that we are able to see the dispersal of parishes in the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale. First, while the map shows great similarity in overall shape of the region presented in Arrowsmith’s 1825 map, it shows where parish density is greatest and, perhaps more interestingly, the locations of more sparsely populated areas. Second, we can see how topography affects parish distribution. So, the Pentland Hills (and the modern A702) form a natural boundary that separates the Synod from the neighbouring Synod of Glasgow and Ayr (in the shape of Lanark Presbytery). The amount of coastal parishes in the region is also quite striking (especially the clustering in West Lothian).

The distribution of parishes also reflects how the presbyteries of Peebles (and then Biggar in 1643) were remarkably remote. In many ways these parishes, while under the same synodal umbrella as the rest, would have had a very different experience of ecclesiastical authority. I’m struck that the distance between the northernmost parish in Biggar Presbytery (West Linton) and the southernmost in Dalkeith Presbytery (Penicuik) was over thirteen kilometres. The gap between the two parishes is highly visible on the map. We have already seen how this geographical distance could affect the types of graduates who would work in these areas. It is curious to consider what impact this might have had on journeys to Synod meetings that took place in Mid- or East Lothian (spare a thought for the minister of Glenholm on the southernmost tip of Peebles Presbytery having to journey seventy kilometers or so to Dunbar on the East Lothian coast for the Synod meeting in May 1657!). It begs the question if, to the early modern mind, these distances even mattered if they had no effect on day-to-day business (in May 1657, for example, all of the ministers from Peebles Presbytery were present at the Synod meeting in Dunbar!!). Such findings may also allow us to consider ideas of clerical and godly sociability.

Basic mapping like this also allows us to see more densely populated areas in greater detail. Edinburgh Presbytery, for example, shows this remarkable clustering of parishes around its medieval centre but one can see how the parishes in Leith would have drawn parishioners well into areas like modern-day Newhaven and Granton. The placement of these parishes tells us a great deal about the growth of Edinburgh since the end of the seventeenth century and opens the way for further studies of ecclesiastical discipline in the capital.

Geographic distribution of the parishes of Edinburgh Presbytery (and the west of Dalkeith Presbytery), 1560-1689

These visualisations pose more questions than Mapping the Scottish Reformation intends to answer. It is quite clear that: 1. GIS mapping of Scottish parishes over time is an urgent project. 2. Our understanding of how parish and regional finances created such an ecclesiastical landscape is very much lacking. 3. How did these parish density patterns compare with population density? Were these parishes more a reflection of Scottish life in the late-medieval period than the seventeenth century? 4. How did contemporaries think about space and how parishes related to one another?

Above all, however, having these points located in space for us in this manner allows us to develop the first stage of Mapping the Scottish Reformation. With universities already mapped in an earlier phase, we can now go about tracing clerical careers through time and space. And while much of the attention on our project will focus on these journeys, let’s spare a minute to consider the parishes that form the backbone of MSR.

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