Old St Peter's Church, Thurso

National Grid Reference (NGR): ND 12040 68610, map


Wilson Lane, Thurso, Thurso


Old St Peter's Church, Thurso

Construction materials: Stone - Used for walls;

The roofless remains of this rough cruciform church are enclosed within a rubble-slab wall. It was constructed in thin slabs of local rubble stone. Its dedication to St Peter suggests an early date, thought to be around the 12th century. The only part of the church likely to date to this early period is the Forss Vault, a simple block-shaped chancel projecting from the east end, measuring 5. 03m by 4. 35m. The chancel is externally very plain, with only thin slit-windows in the north and east walls. The interior is tunnel-vaulted and constructed to form a D-shaped interior space (apsidal-ended). The small scale of this internal layout is only known elsewhere at the 12th century St Margaret's Chapel in Edinburgh Castle. The nave of the church was rebuilt in around 1500 (measuring 15. 65m by 6. 55m), with a three-light pointed window containing simple but elegant tracery located in the west gable. Alongside is a contemporary south-west porch with stone benches inside and an arched doorway into the main church. After the Reformation in 1560 the church was re-arranged, and the Sinclairs of Forss took over the now redundant Medieval chancel and used it as their burial enclosure. Meanwhile, lofts and galleries were added to the east and west ends of the naves, entered by stairways next to the porch and end of the nave (now demolished). The early 17th century saw the creation of the transeptal south aisle (later becoming the Communion aisle), complete with crowestepped gables. It was positioned east of centre due to the location of the porch. There is a large five-light traceried window to the south. The east and west walls contain moulded rectangular windows. A now partly blocked doorway was built to gain access to a passage leading to the porch, under the stairway. A large segmental north arch gave access to the main body of the church. A session house was added at about this time, above the chancel. It was also used as the burgh court room. The main route of entry was through a stair contained within a contemporary tower rather awkwardly attached to the chancel's south-west corner. The tower was carefully positioned so as not to block any existing doorways or windows. The tower has circular buttresses and used to have a pyramidal roof. In 1664 a second transeptal aisle was added on the nave's north side. Its crowstepped gable has the remains of a three-light window with intersecting tracery. The side walls feature moulded rectangular windows to give light to a gallery, which was entered by a forestair in the north side of the nave. The lower windows, under the gallery have pointed arches, which suggests they may belong to the remains of a late Medieval chapel. Old St Peter's church stands within a tightly packed burial ground, enclosed by a high rubble wall. The church was superseded as the parish church in 1832 by St Peter's and St Andrew's Church, on Princess Street. A wooden loft or gallery front from the church is preserved in the Episcopal church nearby (site 0262). The graveyard extends beyond the present wall which was built in 1868. In 1870 additional soil was introduced to the graveyard to tidy it up. All broken or sunken stones were buried and covered up, but not removed from the grounds. A runic cross (Caithness Inventory No. 446) was found to the east of the church, and it now resides in Thurso Museum. Researched and written by J. Dowling, 23/2/04 and 12/8/2004.

Burial ground






Session house



  • Church: Build/construction (1200)
  • Church: Build/construction (1500C)
    Feature: Nave.
    Additional: Rebuilt
  • Church: Alteration/conversion (1560A)
  • Church: Addition (1600)
  • Church: Addition (1664)
    Feature: Aisle