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History - 125 years of History in 5 minutes

In the beginning…


The year was 1880. Queen Victoria was in the 43rd year of her reign. The industrial revolution had transformed the country. Railways had improved transportation of both goods and people. Charles Dickens had written the most popular novels of the Victorian era and highlighted the plight of the poor and orphans, the horrors of the workhouse and prison and the exploitation of child workers.


Edinburgh was expanding with increased trade at the ports of Leith and Granton. Manufacturing was proceeding apace and the railways had improved transportation over the original canal and road network.


However, according to maps of the area, (reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland), Craiglockhart was still a rural community set amid farm lands and woods. The only significant properties in the district were Craiglockhart House, The Edinburgh Poorhouse and the Craiglockhart Hydropathic Hotel (opened in 1880).


The need for a parish church to serve Craiglockhart may escape you.


For the answer we need to look at the neighbouring parish of Colinton. The parish of Colinton had boundaries stretching from beyond Juniper Green in the west to Fairmilehead in the east, Slateford and Kingsknowe in the north, and Swanston, Dreghorn and Bonaly in the South. By the last quarter of the 19th century the growth in numbers of those attending Colinton Parish Church, drawn from those areas, had created accommodation problems and it was felt that steps should be taken to ease the situation. The increased population also required additional pastoral care. With the approval of Presbytery, it was decided to set up a Mission station at Craiglockhart.


And so, on the 20th July 1880, a meeting of five gentlemen – Robert Hutchison of Carlowrie, R. A. Macfie of Dreghorn, Dr. D. Wilson, Craiglockhart Hydropathic Institution, Robert Beatson, W.S. and A.T. Niven, C.A. took place at 22 Queen Street, Edinburgh in connection with the management of a church at Craiglockhart. The meeting heard that Edinburgh Presbytery had undertaken a series of visits to the area and fixed on a site “near the gate leading to Craiglockhart House”. Craiglockhart Estate Company had agreed to lease the site, extending to half an acre, at a rent of £15 per annum.

The First Church

It was the practice, in those days, to erect a temporary church until the need and finance for a permanent building had been demonstrated.


The preferred type of temporary building was an “Iron Church”. This was a simple, prefabricated corrugated iron design in the shape of a church. It was relatively easy to manufacture and could be obtained from a company in Glasgow that specialised in this type of building.


Because this was the recommended method of introducing a new church building to an area, one was identified at Mayfield, Edinburgh where the congregation there had built a permanent stone church. Negotiations began to purchase the “Iron Church” and two gentlemen, Rev. Dr.  R.H. Stevenson, St. George’s Church, Edinburgh and Mr. R. A. Macfie of Dreghorn, purchased the Mayfield building for £500 (just over £40,000 in today’s money). The purchase price included the dismantling, transport and erection of the sections at the site mentioned above. The building could seat 350 people.


It was officially opened on 21st November 1880.


Although there is no photograph of this building available, there is one of Dalswinton Mission Church, built in 1881. (Shown by kind permission of 385504.)

The Next Stage

On the 9th December 1887 the Committee of Management for Craiglockhart appointed Wm. T. Dickson, W.S., to be Convener of a Committee to consider what steps required to be taken with a view to erecting a stone church.


Remarkably quickly the firm of Hay and Henderson, Edinburgh was appointed as Architects of the project and a design by George Henderson, in the style of 15th Century Gothic with Scottish Characteristics, accepted. Mr. Robert Brownlee of Colinton was appointed builder.  The site was to be on the East side of Craiglockhart Avenue, 200 yards above the Iron Church on land obtained from the Craiglockhart Estate. Building costs were £1,450, equivalent to around £140,000 in today’s prices. The sanctuary seats 400.


Red sandstone was chosen as the preferred stone, quarried in Scotland at Locharbriggs. Sadly, no trace of the original plans can be found.


By modern standards, construction progressed rapidly. You may have noted that the memorial stone, bearing the date 1889, is located on the South wall of the church opposite the main gate and to the right of the stained glass windows. Its height above ground level indicates the great progress made. The stone was laid by Lord Balfour of Burleigh on 14th October 1889. From this point the building proceed apace and was opened for public worship on 27th March 1890.


As a footnote, the Iron Church was sold to Juniper Green church, later to become St. Margaret’s. After the building of a stone church there, it became the Church Hall. Sadly, it burned down in the month of December 1907.

The Tower

The original building had no tower or spire. However, on the 22nd December 1897, Sir Alexander Oliver Riddell of Craiglockhart offered to build a tower and spire and to improve the layout of the grounds, boundary and the interior roof of the Sanctuary. Hay and Henderson were instructed to draw up plans and these were approved on 17th January 1898. Again, we have no original plans available but we do have a drawing of the Tower and Church by the architect, Mr. George Henderson. (Shown by kind permission of RCAHMS from the Hay and Henderson Collection.) Mr. R. Brownlee was also appointed builder. The tower and spire were dedicated on 9th June 1899.


Unique views of the area and beyond can be seen from the tower gallery but for your safety these are recorded in photographic form. There are also photographs of the Tower and Spire and details of the features on the tower available to view.


In recognition of their generosity, a memorial tablet was erected by the congregation to Sir Alexander Oliver Riddell and his wife Lady Jean Fazackerley Hornby located to the right of the stairs leading up to the tower.

The Interior of the Sanctuary

The interior has changed somewhat since its original construction. To accommodate various needs, the Pulpit has been, alternately, on both sides of the chancel.


Please note the improvement to the ceiling, mentioned in the addition of the Tower in 1899. The ceiling was further restored in 2002 when the cartwheel lights were added.


The purchase of an oak Communion Table and matching Chairs was approved in 1908 at a cost of £21.


Rows of pews were removed from the front of the church in 2002 and replaced by individual seats. These were purchased through the generosity of the McGill bequest. The chancel was remodelled at this time, again with assistance from the McGill bequest.


The archway that you can see on the North East side of the Sanctuary leads to the Church halls and is called the North Aisle. It was dedicated on 23rd December 1962. Prior to this the arch housed two windows and a screen behind which was the Church Organ. The archway was opened up and a new exit created.


Whytock and Reid, Edinburgh was entrusted with a scheme to widen the chancel platform, supply oak furnishings behind the Communion Table as you see it today. The improvements were completed and dedicated in April 1967.


In 1971 a legacy from the estate of the Rev. John Begg was used, among other things, to make improvements to the vestibule. These were completed around 1973/74.



There was no musical instrument in the first church with the singing being led by a Precentor who started off the tune for the Congregation to follow. It was not until 1885 that approval was given for a harmonium to be purchased from Paterson & Sons in the sum of £15. This was an Estey organ built in America. Despite the introduction of an organ, Precentors continued to be used until 1898.


In 1906 a new organ to complement the new Sanctuary was ordered from a Mr. E.  Lawton, Aberdeen. This was to be driven by water power. Unfortunately, the organ was placed in the area now known as North Aisle. the An old black and white photograph clearly shows this.


The Estey organ was sold in 1907 for £7 10/-.


As mentioned, the water driven organ was located in the cramped area and problems with dry rot were discovered.  The firm of Rushworth and Dreaper was contracted to reconstruct the organ to a specification by Herrick Bunney, organist and choirmaster at St. Giles Cathedral, in 1962. Because of the lack of funds, much of the original organ was used, including the pipes and soundboards. The “new” organ was dedicated on 23rd December 1962. This was located in its present position in the Organ and choir gallery. Until the new organ was built, the choir sang from the front of the Church.


Because much of the original organ was used, constant cleaning and overhaul has been required, first in 1974 then again in 1999/2000. When you think about it, the organ has survived pretty well with some parts being well over 100 years old. The addition of the great trumpet in 1993, by Rushwoth and Dreaper, has added to the range of the organ. Sadly, the organ requires extensive and costly restoration and is to be replaced by a Bravura L – 11 by Allen Organs of Pennsylvania, U.S.A., at a cost of £16,000.

Stained Glass


The feature window on the East wall, behind the Communion table, was part of the original Sanctuary. The window was the gift of Mr. Maurice J. Lothian, Redwood, Spylaw Road, Edinburgh. It depicts Jesus sharing a meal at Emmaus. You may know that this is the famous story of Jesus, on the day of his resurrection, appearing to two of his disciples. They talked with him as they walked but did not recognise him. The disciples invited Jesus to share a meal with them and it was only when he blessed the bread and broke it that they realised who he was. At this revelation, Jesus disappeared from their sight. It is believed that the stained glass was designed by Ballantine & Son, a famous Edinburgh firm of the time. One of the sons, James Ballantine, designed the window on the South wall dedicated to Rev. A. W. Anderson, Minister (1903 – 1934),


The other window on the same wall, was erected in memory of the first minister, Rev. R. W. Mackersy (1880 -1902) gifted by Sir A. O. Riddell. The memorial brass plaque was gifted by Mr. J. E. Denham, a close friend of the Mackersys.


On the North wall there is a window erected by the family of Mr. Adam Paterson, Clerk and Treasurer, (1904 – 1930).


In the recess of the North Aisle are windows commemorating 50 years of the Guild at Craiglockhart (1933 – 1983) and the Centenary of the Sunday School (1880 – 1980).


All the stained glass in the Sanctuary is part of the heritage of Craiglockhart.

Recent Church Repairs


As with all buildings, maintenance and repairs are never far away. And so it was, in 1978, that repairs were required to the Steeple, costing over £3,000. As a result of fund raising the work was able to be carried out along with decoration to the Church itself. The tower had additional work carried out in 1988/9, at a cost of £66,000, aided by a grant from Historic Scotland. There is a commemorative plaque at the foot of the tower dated 1989.


In 2015 restoration work was identified as being required once again. During routine maintenance work on the Tower, it was discovered that a significant amount of mortar (which holds the stone work in position) was missing and some of the stones were crumbling. A conservation architect was appointed to draw up plans to rectify this and halt the erosion. The estimated cost was in the region of £150,000. We are fortunate to have been allocated Grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and The National Heritage Memorial Fund to cover the major share of the costs and our grateful thanks go out to those bodies.



We hope that you have enjoyed reading about our heritage. There is a leaflet mirroring this script and a copy may be had from the church. Thank you for visiting the Craiglockhart Parish Church website.

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