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Cross Kirk, the Parish Church of Dunrossness

The following description of the church is transcribed from www.shetlopedia.com13

The earliest known Parish Church in Dunrossness was the Cross Kirk, located to the north of the Bay of Quendale and Quendale Sand, and generally to the east of the present day Quendale Farm buildings. Cruciform in structure, from which it's name is believed to have derived, it is also believed to have lent it's name to one of the, later cleared, crofting townships a little way to the south-west, Corston (Township of the Cross), which was located just to the east of Garth.

A stone walled building, it is known to have existed before 1506, as in that year in his Will Sir David Sinclair of Sumburgh bequeathed 1/3 of his black velvet cloak to the Cross Kirk, and 2/3 to the Tingwall Kirk. The Cross Kirk was the church for the whole parish of Dunrossness, which included Sandwick and Cunningsburgh, Fair Isle becoming part of the parish in 1700.


George Low was also to record a comment during his visit in 1774. This was during the period that the problems of blowing sand, which was to prove the demise of the estate belonging to the Sinclair of Brew family, were at their height. Therefore unsurprisingly his commentary deals almost exclusively with the problems caused, including the undermining of the foundations of the Cross Kirk, the exposure of human remains in the adjoining kirkyard, and the penetration of sand in to the building, it is said covering any flat surface, and making holding services difficult on particularly windy days.


Picture from ca 1880 of the site of the Cross Kirk on the Quendale  Estate, the church long since gone. The gravestone is to Katherine Stout. Quendale farm and mill in the background.  Photo from Shetland Museum and Archives

The Sinclair family who owned the Quendale Estate, were really opposed to the Presbyterian church and made life difficult for the ministers of the Cross Kirk.  The Rev John Mill commenced as minister in 1742 and was still there at his death in 1803.

During the  early years he had  a running battle with the major landowner, Robert Sinclair of Quendale.     Sinclair and most of the major landowners were of the Episcopalian Church whilst the Rev. Mill was a Presbyterian.  At one time, from 1745 to about 1750, Rev. Mill was prevented from using the old and dilapidated Cross Kirk Church at Quendale. This was because Robert Sinclair was a Jacobite and stated that Mill would be praying against his (Sinclair's) King. 

At the commencement of Rev. John Mill's ministry in 1742 the Cross Kirk was without any form of seating, the congregation probably simply stood during services. However, a large timber laden Norwegian ship in passage to Ireland drove from anchor and wrecked in the Bay of Quendale.  The Rev Mill saw this as a kindly act of God, and part of the salvage was promptly put to use in providing pews for the Kirk, and a Manse for himself, which is recorded as having been built in 1751 and furnished out the following year. .

Later, in 1752, Rev. Mill's newly built house was mysteriously burnt down.  During this period Sinclair, who collected the tithes, refused to pay Mill a regular stipend.

However, Mill built a replacement Manse costing some 200 at his own expense. The exact site at Skelberry of Mill's Manse, and whether it still exists is not known. A new Manse was erected at Skelberry early in the 19th Century sometime shortly after Mill's death, which was refurbished and extended in 1862-63 and remained in use until the 1980's when it was sold to become the private dwelling it is today. The Manse was replaced by a much smaller modern house, also at Skelberry, which remained in use for around ten years before it too was sold to become a private dwelling, when reorganisation of local kirk staff saw a greater amalgamation of duties with those for the Sandwick district, and the Minister covering both areas residing there.

The estate belonging to the Sinclair of Quendale family was placed in sequestration in 1749, and was finally sold in 1766.  John Bruce (1) of the Bruce of Sumburgh family, and Andrew John Grierson purchased most of the bankrupt Sinclair of Quendale family estate in 1766.

By 1789 the Cross Kirk had deteriorated in to a very poor state of repair and had been condemned twice. John Mill was very keen to see a new Kirk built, but initially John Bruce (2) and Andrew Grierson, were only willing to patch up the old building, citing John Bruce (2)'s financial state as the reason.

However, agreement was finally reached, and the present day Dunrossness Kirk (popularly known as Da Muckle Kirk) was completed in 1791. The building, it is said, was completed in a three month period between "voar and hairst" (June to August) entirely by the labour of the parishioners. It is believed a number of gravestones from the Kirkyard at the Cross Kirk were subsequently removed and re-erected in the Kirkyard at the present day Dunrossness Kirk. Whether any of these still remain there is unknown, as a number of older un-inscribed, illegible and broken gravestones are known to have been removed and disposed of over the years.

The Cross Kirk also had a bell, however during John Mill's tenure, in 1765, it was removed and sent to be melted down to raise funds.


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