History of the Bowden Kirk

Bowden Kirk is one of the oldest, most picturesque and interesting of Scottish Parish Churches.  Founded in 1128 A.D. by the monks of Kelso and therefore older than Melrose and Dryburgh abbeys, it has been, for nearly 900 years, a centre of religious life.

The fabric of the church has experienced many changes during the long period of its existence.  The original 1128 portion consists of the west gable and the north wall and was rectangular, without transepts or chancel.  In the 15th century, transepts were added and the church became cruciform.  About 1660, the north transept ceased to be used as part of the church; the lower part became the burial place of the Cavers Carre family – the north transept arch being walled up and a private pew built across it for the family.  The south transept remained until 1794 when the south wall was rebuilt and the church reroofed.  This transept disappeared entirely, the ancient stone vaulted roof was removed and a roof of timber and slate with a flat plaster ceiling was substituted.  In 1644, a burial vault was added to the east end of the church by the 1st Duke of Roxburghe. 

The story of the Ingram pipe organ really starts with the major restoration of the church in 1909 although the organ itself was not installed until 1912.  The architect was P. MacGregor Chalmers and the total cost of the restoration works amounted to £1,929.  The chancel was restored leaving a burial vault below.  The Cavers Carre private pew was removed to its present position, which allowed the opening of the transept arch and the inclusion of the retiring room behind, which then formed the present organ and choir gallery.  The solid oak furnishings and fittings, together with the barrel roof were installed.  The walls of the church were heightened to create the present well-proportioned appearance.

Up until 1892, music had consisted mostly of the psalms and paraphrases led by a precentor using a pitch pipe to set the key.  The Church of Scotland General Assembly decided to allow the introduction of the “kist o’ whistles” in 1864 and the first pipe organ to be installed in Scotland post reformation was in Greyfriars Church in Edinburgh in April 1865.  Twenty-seven years later, Bowden Session decided to install a harmonium reed organ and to purchase copies of the authorised hymn book (CH1).  The organ was first used on the 21stJuly 1892.  Services subsequently took the present form with voluntaries, hymns and anthems by the newly formed choir.  The precentor however, was not pleases with the increased workload, given that there was no reciprocal increase in remuneration and resigned.  Thereafter and organist and choirmaster was appointed.

Bowden Kirk : The Ingram Pipe Organ

After much debate, it was decided to place the contract for the new pipe organ with Arthur Ingram & Co. of Edinburgh.  The cost of the instrument was £400 and the specification agreed upon and installed was as follows:


Great Organ Compass     CC to C 61 notes

1. Open Diapason (large)     8ft.

2. Open Diapason (small)    8ft.

3. Clarabella                           8ft.

4. Dulciana                             8ft.

5.Harminic Flute                   4ft.

6. Principal                             4ft.*


Swell Organ Compass     CC to C 61 notes

7.  Voilin Diapason                 8ft.

8.  Lieblich Gedacht             8ft.

9.  Echo Gamba                     8ft.

10.  Vox Celeste                     8ft.

11. Genshorn                          4ft.

12. Oboe                                  8ft.

13. Tremulant

14. Clarionet                          8ft.*


*indicates stops prepared for only.  It is interesting to note that although a spare

 slide existed on the great soundboard, there is no spare slide on the swell

 soundboard although the drawstop mechanism is prepared for both stops.


Pedal Organ Compass    CCC to F  30 notes

15 Bourdon                          16ft.                   16 Bass Flute           8ft.


17 Great to Pedals                                22 Swell Octave

18 Swell to Pedals                                23 Swell to Great Melody

19 Swell to great                                   24 Pedal effect coupler from great

20 Swell octave to great

21 Swell sub octave to great

Balanced crescendo pedal to swell

Two double acting composition pedals to swell

Two double acting composition pedals to great and pedal


An extract from the builder’s order book of 1912 states:

The organ is to be erected in the small chapel on the north side of the church and enclosed in a neat case of waxed oak, designed in harmony with the handsome finishings of the restored church.

Great care has been exercised in specifying an organ suitable to the requirements of the services of the church and also the capacity (sic) of the organist likely to be available.  The whole work is of the highest degree of excellence and forms a worthy completion of the restoration scheme of this notable pre-Reformation church.

Tubular pneumatic action throughout.  Blowing by hand levers and feeders.”

The inauguration of the new organ was on Saturday 25th May, 1912.  The Rev. John Burr M.A. dedicated the organ and Mr. G.R. Colledge LLCM, organist and choirmaster of Selkirk Parish Church, presided at the organ assisted by choristers from his own choir.  The soloists were: Miss Fanny Scott; Miss Maggie Simpson; Miss Lizzie Johnstone and Mr. George Hume.

A very full programme of organ and choral music was presented and apparently much enjoyed by a very large congregation.  On the following day, there were two services; the Rev. John Burr M.A. officiating at the 12 noon service and the Rev. George Lawson M.A. of Selkirk at the 6.00p.m.  The organ was played on both occasions by the Bowden organist, Mr. Wilkinson.  An extensive musical programme was presented by the Bowden choir at the evening service.

There is an interesting aside in the Session minutes at this time:  the Kirk Session wished the choir and music to be as efficient as possible.  The organist was appointed for a trial period of two months to prove his ability.  By June, it was concluded that he had not succeeded in bringing out the best the organ was capable of, and he was encouraged to accept another post which had been offered to him.  Six applicants for the post of organist were received, including one from a woman but “it was deemed inadvisable to accept a lady for this position.”  The plans for congregational music were ambitious as they are revealed in the stated duties of the organist, who had to: play at all services, both Sundays and week days; conduct choir practice regularly; arrange for a juvenile singing practice; give occasional recitals; lead the choir and have charge of the musical programme at congregational meetings.

It had always been the intention that the organ be blown by mechanical means as hand blowing was not deemed the most satisfactory method.  The final chapter in the organ installation saga was the introduction of mechanical blowing in 1914.  Water was entirely out of the question as the pressure was insufficient and the cost of an electrical mechanism excluded it.  An elaborate arrangement was therefore decided upon.  An engine house was constructed 200 yards from the church (site of present toilets) and an 8” zinc wind trunk laid across the graveyard to under the choir gallery and thence up into the organ.  A twin cylinder petrol engine was installed to drive high speed “Discus” fans supplying a high pressure wind reservoir in the engine house.  The organ was first blown by this method on the 25th January 1914, the cost of the works being £96.  There was apparently some money left over and it is thought that the great open diapason (small) was transposed to become the principal 4ft.  The money did not however run to completing the “prepared for”


The petrol engine proved to be rather inefficient and subject to many breakdowns and in 1922 was replaced by another engine which proved just as inefficient and very noisy.  However, this method of blowing survived until 1938 when the present “Rockingham” electric blowing plant was installed.  Once again, it was hoped to complete the two “prepared for” stops but again, funds were insufficient.

At this point in the story, the source of information dries up and the following can only be surmised.  It is understood that the main soundboard pneumatic actions were re-leathered in the early 1950’s as the mechanism was becoming unreliable.  Further work became necessary in the 1970’s when the pedal pneumatics were also re-leathered.  A certain amount of mouse proofing was also carried out at this time.

By 2005 the actions (especially the pedal) were showing signs of wear and tear, mouse and insect damage; the pipework was choked with dirt and dust and the regulation and tuning were uneven; the blowing plant and winding had become increasingly noisy.  In short, renovation was necessary.  The Kirk Session took the decision to have the organ renovated and at the same time, complete that elusive “prepared for” stop and thus finish the work started in 1912.  The work was entrusted to a local organ builder, David Stark of Nenthorn.  The cost of renovation and new stop was £8,000.

Work was completed and the organ was rededicated on Sunday 25th March 2007 with the Rev. Alistair G. Bennett officiating.  Organists Jim Marshall (Melrose Parish Church) and John Wilson (Bowden Kirk) and a joint choir led the praise.

Great Organ

1. Open diapason 8ft

2. Dulciana             8ft

3. Clarabella          8ft

4. Harmonic Flute 4ft

5. Principal4ft

6. Fifteenth             2ft (NEW)

7. Swell to Great

8. Swell octave to Great

9. Swell sub octave to Great

10. Pedal help to Great

Swell Organ

11. Violin Diapason 8ft

12. Lieblich Gedackt 8ft

13. Echo Gamba 8ft

14. Voix Celestes 8ft

15. Gemshorn 4ft

16. Oboe 8ft

17. Swell octave

18. Tremulant


Pedal Organ

19. Bourdon 16ft

20. Bass flute      8ft

21. Great to Pedal

22. Swell to Pedal



Balanced swell pedal, two composition pedals to both Swell and Great/pedal, vestry warning signal and wind telltale.      


  • Bowden Kirk 1128-1978 History by J.S.M. Macdonald
  • Bowden Kirk Restoration 1909 by Rev. John Burr
  • Bowden Parish Supplements 1900-1939

This history compiled and researched by

Mrs. M. Inglis and Mr. J.H. Wilson