Art and Residences



View of Abercorn from Blaeu's Atlas, 1654.
The estate from Blaeu's Atlas c.1654.
© National Library of Scotland
Celtic Remains from Abercorn Church.
Celtic Remains from Abercorn Church.
Details from the remains of Abercorn Castle, 2005.
Details from the remains of Abercorn Castle, 2005.
The Seton Collection © 2005
Abercorn Church, 2000.
12th century Abercorn Church, 2000.
The Seton Collection © 2005

A History of Abercorn

The parish of Abercorn (or Aebercurnig) is mentioned by the Venerable Bede as early as 696 AD., being the site of a monastery and residence of a Bishop. An excavation close to the church in 1963 revealed evidence of the monastery.  Here stood most probably the monastery of Aebbercurnig or Eoriercorn, founded about 675 under St Wilfrid as a central point for the administration of the northern part of his diocese, which included the province of the Picts, held in subjection by the Angles of Northumbria. Trumuini made this monastery the seat of his bishopric, the earliest in Scotland, from 681 to 685, when the Picts' victory at Dunnichen forced him to flee to Whitby (Skene, Celt. Scot., i. 262-268, and ii. 224). And here still stands the ancient parish church, refitted in 1579, and thoroughly repaired in 1838, with a Norman doorway turned into a window, a broken cross, and a stone coffin lid, but minus a carved pew-back that found its way to the Edinburgh Antiquarian Museum in 1876.

The Medieval parish church at Abercorn was founded in the 11th century, echoing it's once great importance, and is in a small part 12th Century Norman, although it is mostly post-Reformation and was refurbished in 1893. A small museum in the kirkyard preserves the remains of an 8th century stone cross.  The Manor of Abercorn once belonged to the House of Avenel in the reign of King David I (1124-1153).  By 1160, the parish became part of the Barony of Aberlady. By then there was a castle and it passed to the Graemes and then, following the death of John the Graeme at Falkirk (1298), to the 'Black' Douglases.

The Anglo-Norman knight, Sir William de Graham, ancestor of the Dukes of Montrose, received from David I. (1124-53) the lands of Abercorn, which came by marriage to Sir Reginald Mure, chamberlain of Scotland in 1329. In 1454 the Castle was taken by James II. from the ninth and last Earl of Donglas, and its only vestige is a low green mound, fronting the church and manse: whereas Midhope Tower, bearing a coronet and the initials J. L[ivingstone], stands almost perfect.

There still remains a fine 12th-century south door with chevron stonework; and ferociously imitative west door 1893 with grimacing gargoyles. Two-storeyed Hopetoun Aisle harled with stone dressings, designed by Sir William Bruce, complete with pyramid roof.  The Hopetoun Loft occupies the chancel, facing down the Kirk: magnificent panelling and fretwork scheme by Alexander Eizat, armorial achievement painted by Richard Waitt. Adjacent Hopetoun Aisle has wonderfully panelled retiring room above burial enclosure.  The Church was later altered by Peter MacGregor Chalmers, 1893, and the width of the nave and choir probably original.

The parish contains also the hamlets of Philipston, 2Ĺ miles SW of Abercorn village, and Society, on the coast, 1ľ mile E by N. It is bounded N for 3ĺ miles by the Firth of Forth (here 2Ĺ miles wide), E by Dalmeny, SE by Kirkliston, S by the Auldcathie portion of Dalmeny and by Ecclesmachan, SW by Linlithgow, and W by Carriden, from which it is parted by the Black Burn.

The castle of Abercorn was besieged and destroyed by King James II (1430-60) in 1455, never to be fully rebuilt afterwards. In the 16th century the crown bestowed Abercorn on Claud Hamilton, who's marriage to the daughter of George 7th Lord Seton was celebrated at the nearby castle of Niddry. Despite being forfeited because the Hamiltons had remained loyal to Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87), the estate was restored to them by King James VI (1566 - 1625), who created Claud Hamilton the 1st Baron Paisley and his son the 1st Earl of Abercorn.

The Barony of Abercorn, like that of Gargunnock, was sometime in the interest of Sir Ninian Seton 3rd baron of Touch and his grandson, James Seton 5th baron of Touch.  The line of the Setonís of Abercorn, then, was established by Sir Alexander Seton of Gargunnock, Lord Kilcreuch, who was the second son of James Seton of Touch from his second wife, Eline-Jane Edmonstone, daughter of Edmonstone of that Ilk and Ednam, County Roxburgh, who were descended from the early Setonís.

Sir Alexander Seton of Gargunnock acquired that estate near the family lands of Touch, both in Stirlingshire, before he acquired the barony and estate of Culcreuch in addition, in 1624.  The Culcreuch acquisition was in settlement of monies owed him by his brother-in-law, Robert Galbraith, 17th Chief of that Clan who was forced to flee to Ireland, bankrupt, to escape his debts. Later the same year, Sir Alexander, noted for being ďa man of parts and learningĒ, was appointed a judge and admitted an ordinary Lord of Session, on the 4th of February, 1626, and took the title Lord Kilcreuch. Soon his successful career necessitated the selling of Culcreuch to be nearer Edinburgh and in 1632, 8 years after purchasing it, he sold Culcreuch to Robert Napier. 

Sir Alexander was twice married: first on the 30th of August, 1598, to Marion Maule of Glaster by whom he had a son and heir called Alexander, and second; to the daughter of the 16th Chief of Galbraith.  Sir Alexander had several children and kept an exceptional house, noted for itís order and high standard of education.  As a man of unscrupulous honesty in a very unscrupulous age, as well as for his unswerving loyalty and service to the Crown, Alexander was Knighted by King Charles I at Holyrood on the 12 of July, 1633.  And finally, on account of his infirmity of sight and many years of service, he resigned his seat on the Bench, with itís honor and emoluments, on the 6th of June, 1637.

The village and estate was later acquired by Royal Charter by Alexander's grandson, Sir Walter Seton, 1st Baronet of Abercorn an Officer of the Revenue Service under King Charles II, in 1662.

In 1678, Abercorn was sold to John Hope, whose widow Margaret, and son Charles (later the 1st Earl of Hopetoun), in 1699 began the construction of Hopetoun House, just to the east of the village.

The castellated mansion of Hopetoun enjoys a commanding prospect, having on one side the blue sea, and on the other green fields, with the Pentland Hills in the background. The soil in this quarter is variable but fertile: the substratum is still more changeable, consisting of patches of till, gravel, sand, limestone, and sandstone. So early as the 17th century wheat was grown, rents being paid in considerable part by this commodity. What draining was required was mainly accomplished before 1800, and a large extent of land was planted and ornamented with clumps and belts of trees ' (Trans. Highl. and Ag. Soc., 1877). To this need only be added that sandstone, whinstone, and limestone are extensively worked, but that a small colliery is now disused.

There have been titularly connected with this parish Sir Bruce Maxwell Seton of Abercorn, eighth baronet since 1663, and the Duke's of Abercorn, eldest surviving male heir of the Hamilton line, who takes from it his title of Baron (1603) and Earl (1606) in the peerage of Scotland, of Marques (1790) in that of Great Britain, and of Duke (1868) in that of Ireland. The mansions are Hopetoun House, Ĺ mile E of the village, and Binns House, 2 miles WSW: the property is divided between the Earl of Hopetoun and Sir Robert-Alexander-Osborne Dalyell.

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