The Tower is all that remains of the pre-Reformation church and was probably built in the mid or late 15th century.
An architectural description states that it is of middle or second pointed period, of rough ashlar sandstone blocks divided in two stages by a slight string course, rectangular in shape, measuring 28 feet by 24 feet, the lower walls being five feet thick.
A plan shows the height to the top of the parapet wall as 55 feet, and the overall height to the roof of the bell tower as 66 feet.
Inside the tower a stone stair leads from the ground floor to a room on the first floor, which was formerly the Magistrates’ robing room, with a door which gave access to their special pews in the post-1807 church.
This door gives access to the small balcony over the entrance vestibule. It is from this first floor level that the church bell is tolled by means of a bell rope.
A wooden stair leads to a second floor level and the start of a stone newel stair, built within the south-west corner of the church tower, leading up to the parapet walkway which surrounds the bell tower.
It is from this walkway that the church choir have traditionally ‘sung in’ the May morning over very many years.
The original church bell which was made in 1553 and weighed 28 stone 11 pounds (403 pounds or 183kg), is our oldest church possession.
In May 1706 the elders reported that the kirk bell was broken, so it was taken down and transported over to Edinburgh by William Baxter who had arranged with Patrick Kilgour, watchmaker and founder at the Abbey of Holyrood House, to recast the bell to a weight not exceeding 500 pounds.
Eventually, after Kilgour had to be threatened with a fine of £100 Scots, the bell was returned and rehung in May 1707 and Kilgour was paid £402.10s.8d Scots for his labours, which on the basis of the price agreement would mean the bell now weighed some 620 pounds (281kg).
The tongue of the bell had been hung in leather, and to make it ring better William Baxter was instructed to have a new tongue made of iron. At last, in December 1707, a new six-pound (3kg) iron tongue was fitted to the bell.
This bell continued to give good service until the occasion of the King’s birthday in November 1754 when the bell met with an accident which was never adequately explained by the beadle. Mr John Milne, founder in Edinburgh, was recommended to the Session and it was agreed with Milne to recast a considerably larger bell of between 950 pounds and 1,000 pounds in weight.
In May 1755, when the Kirk Session representative returned with the new bell weighing only 887 pounds (403kg), the Session was disposed to reject it as being too small to be heard throughout the parish. The founder maintained he had fulfilled his contract, as the suggested weight of 1,000 pounds had been conveyed to him only as an afterthought, after the recasting work had made considerable progress. He discussed with the Session the possibility of a new contract to make a bell of between 1,200 and 1,400 pounds but agreement could not be reached on the allowance to be made for the bell which had been received. Finally it was decided to keep this bell and, in order to make it effective, to heighten the bell-tower by adding on the present box-like structure.
This structure was described by Rev Thomas Fleming, a former minister, in the Statistical Account of Scotland of 1799, as being raised above the original height of the tower by the addition of a smaller and very disproportionate tower terminating in a pyramid.
One has to go to the Heritors’ records following the collapse of the gallery to find any further reference to the condition of the church tower. In 1831 the belfry roof was reported to be dangerous, and a temporary repair with sarking and new slates was carried out. An architect was instructed to provide a plan and specification for a permanent improvement.
In January 1833, a plan was submitted for a two-floor addition built of Cullalo stone on top of the existing tower with a lead-covered turret. The building contractors, on examining the foundations of the tower, considered them to be too shallow and narrow to bear this additional weight. It was decided then to build a completely new tower; a plan was produced and a public meeting approved the plans subject to whether the necessary funds could be raised by public subscription, to which the Town Council were prepared to contribute £150. Unfortunately the response to the public subscription fell short of the sum required and the matter seems to have been dropped until 1836 when it was reported that the temporary roof on the tower was unsafe.
In September 1836, Mr Angus, architect, submitted a modified plan which would cost more than the sum subscribed, and in October 1836 an estimate was submitted by William Leslie for repairing the spire and heightening it by 30 feet so as to put it in a state similar to what it formerly was, at a cost of £333 if covered in lead or £230 if covered in slates. This apparently proved too costly for the Heritors and eventually in May 1838 Provost Ferrier reported that the steeple had been put in a state of safety. Further repairs were reported in 1843 and 1861, and it is assumed that at this stage the belfry roof was flat, as a painting exists in the art gallery dated approximately 1860 of the Old Kirk Tower with a flat roof.
In 1857 there was a report of the clock falling off the tower, and it is estimated that the clock dates back to 1833, although there is a Session minute of 3 August 1708 agreeing to pay Francis Henderson £20 Scots to paint the ‘dyall of the kirk clock’.
On 20 December 1900, a severe storm caused serious damage to the parish church. The roof of the tower, consisting of joisting and flooring covered with zinc estimated to weigh about five tons, was lifted off by the wind and blown along the roof of the church, displacing 40 square yards of slates, destroying one of the east stone pinnacles and about 20 linear feet of crow-stepped cornice, which fell into the graveyard, damaging a number of stones.
It is recorded that this is the second occasion within 40 years that the roof of the tower had been carried away by the wind. Because the roof was considered to be too light to resist the pressure of wind blowing up through the belfry, it was recommended that the tower should be roofed with four iron beams 6 inches by four and covered with concrete 9 inches thick. After some discussion at a Heritors’ meeting in March 1901, it was agreed to carry out this work. They had to bear the full cost as a letter to the Session in October 1902 evoked a response that ‘the Session regret they cannot see their way to contribute’.
In December 1915, the church bell was found to have a crack at the point where the hammer strikes the bell, and Messrs J C Wilson, Gorbals Bell Foundry, Glasgow, reported that the bell would need to be recast.The bell was duly taken down and dispatched to Glasgow, but because this firm was heavily engaged in war work it was not until January 1917 that the bell was recast and rehung at a cost of £30.19s.
Late in 1949 there was a report of deterioration in the belfry timbers, and it was decided to remove all existing timber, struts, supporting beams and flooring and replace them with steel girders and a concrete servicing platform.
In March 1950, having consulted Messrs Taylor & Co, bell-founders, Loughborough, it was found that the bell required to be fitted with new swinging mechanism and decided to recast the bell at its present weight would improve the tone. In December 1950 when the bell was returned and rehung, it was found to be ringing a tone higher and could not be heard over the same distance as previously. However, after some consultation and adjustments to the height at which the bell was hung, the bell-founders’ account of £135.10s was paid. Mr Lewis Grant, convener of the works committee, had at his own expense arranged for all the construction work and the takingdown, transportation and rehanging of the bell.