A History of Gilmerton Church

 

In January 1843, there were only two churches in Liberton Parish, Liberton Kirk that had been under the ministry of Rev. James Begg since 1835, and Gilmerton Church, which was built as an extension of Liberton Kirk, opened on 20th April 1837, and under the ministry of Rev. Walter Fairlie since August 1838.  This became a Parish Church on 18th July 1860.
Rev. James Begg chaired his last Liberton Kirk Session meeting on 2nd May 1843, and both he and Rev. Fairlie joined the newly formed Free Church on 18th May, and signed the Act of Separation and Deed of Demission, on 23rd May 1843.
 
Rev. Begg became minister of the Newington Free Church that had been built from scratch from May 1843, and opened for worship in November of that year, seating over 1,000 of a congregation!  He later went on to become Moderator of the Free Church in 1865.  The Church still stands in Newington and is known today as The King’s Hall. Rev. Fairlie formed the Free Church of Gilmerton, and chaired his first Session meeting in the “Large Hall” at Gilmerton on 11th September 1843.
 
There is some evidence to suggest that meetings held before the first Sessions Meeting, were held in Gilmerton Church, until Liberton Kirk Sessions who were responsible for the church at Gilmerton, asked for the return of the Church keys on 14th July.  The following meeting on 16th July was held out of doors, before making use of the “Large Hall” for later meetings.
 
Most of the Gilmerton congregation followed Rev. Fairlie to the Free Church, leaving only a few in the Church of Scotland, as a result, between 1843 and 1860 Gilmerton was served by a succession of students and licentiate ministers until the appointment of Rev. Thomas Fleming on 27th December 1860.  A further complication was that the manse, had originally been purchased by Rev. Fairlie, so that it could not be offered to a new minister.  A new manse was eventually purchased in Ravenscroft Street in 1861.
 
There are many reasons why a significant number of Church of Scotland members decided to leave and form the Free Church of Scotland.  Perhaps the main reasons were the total lack of democracy within the ruling body of the Church, coupled with the Patronage Act that had been introduced by Queen Anne around 1712.  The appointment of elders who made up the Kirk Session, were in almost all cases selected from the upper classes, and therefore were not a cross section of the membership.  The Patronage Act by which ministers were appointed by the Sovereign, or a local landowner acting on their behalf, meant that the congregations took no part in the selection process.  This act was only erased from the statute book in 1874.
 
During 1882, the church was considerably enlarged by erecting transepts, a porch, and vestry, and at this time the interior was given a major renovation.  The population of Gilmerton has increased rapidly over the years 1841-1970; from about 1,000 at the 1841 census, to 1,500 at the 1891 census, and to about 12,000 by 1970.
 
In 1915 the old school was given to the church, to be used as the church hall, During the 1960s, this building was demolished and a new hall built.  At this time a new pipe organ was installed, and the chancel redesigned to accommodate it.
 

By 1929, the church was in need of repair, and it was redecorated, furnishings rearranged, and alterations made to the hall.  The Session room was added, the manse sold, and a new manse purchased in Main Street.  The parish boundaries were adjusted in 1952, to allow for the new parish of Tron Moredun.

 

The ministers associated with this story are as follows:-

 

Rev. Walter Fairlie was the second son of Walter Fairlie, and was born in Dumbarton; educated at the University of Glasgow, where he matriculated in 1808.  He was ordained by the Presbytery of Glasgow to Whitehaven on 1st December 1819 and was appointed to Gilmerton Church on 16th August 1838.  He joined the Free Church at Liberton in May 1843 as their first minister, and died on 25th November 1856.

 

Rev Thomas Fleming  was born in Avondale, the fourth son of John Fleming; educated at the University of Glasgow; took charge of the church in 1853, and was ordained minister of the new parish on 27th December 1860. He died unmarried at Liberton Manse  16th March 1862.

Rev. Peter Stewart was born at Dollar on 24th May 1828, son of Alexander Stewart and Susan Cameron and was educated at St. Andrews University.  He was ordained on 21st August 1862, and died at Dollar on 4th September 1873.

 

Rev. David Thomas Walker was born at Musselburgh on 30th September 1839, second son of Andrew Walker and Jean Telfer.  He was educated at High School and University of Edinburgh, and licensed by the presbytery of Dunbar.  He was appointed assistant at Trinity Parish Church, and ordained 18th June 1874.  He died on 27th April 1881.

 

Rev. James Christie was born at Foulis Wester, son of Robert Christie and Jane Wilson, and was educated at University of St. Andrews.  He was licensed by the Presbytery of St Andrews on 30th January 1861, and ordained on the same day, to the Jewish Mission station at Alexandria.  He was a missionary at Constantinople from 1861 to 1879.  He was appointed to Gilmerton on 31st October 1881, and gained a D.D. at St. Andrews in 1882. He was librarian to the General Assembly from 1885 until his death on 9th June 1913.

He translated the Old Testament into Judaeo-Spanish for the American Bible Society, and also the New Testament for the British and Foreign Bible Society.  He also edited the General Assembly Commission Records of 1646-96 in two volumes.

 

Rev. Joseph Moffett  was born at Letterkenny on 23rd August 1885, son of Joseph Moffett and Lizzie Beck.  He was educated privately and at Royal University of Ireland, was licensed by Edinburgh Presbytery in May 1909.  He was assistant at Trinity Parish Edinburgh, and at St. Columba’s London. And ordained at Gilmerton on 16th September 1913.  He demitted on 31st October 1917, and admitted to the Crown Court, London 3rd November 1917.

 

Rev. Andrew Mitchell Snadden formerly of Johannesburg, South Africa, became minister at Gilmerton on 3rd May 1919, and translated to Blackhall 18th May 1921.

 

Rev. Peter Milne formerly chaplain at Duars, India, became minister at Gilmerton on 18th September 1921, and translated to Guthrie on 7th August 1929.

 

Rev. Frank Wood was ordained at Gilmerton on 6th December 1929, and was translated to Kilbarchan West on 20th September 1934.

Rev. Donald Macrae  born 16th September 1888, and educated at Breadalbane Academy, and George Watson’s College.  He was assistant at Morningside U.F.C. and translated from Millport East to Gilmerton on 17th January 1935.  He demitted on 11th April 1948, and died on 4th July 1951.

Rev. Patrick Johnston Moffett Ordained at Gilmerton on 29th September 1948, and demitted when appointed chaplain to the Royal Navy on 4th June 1953.

 

Rev. Alexander White Ramsay Keith  born 14th January 1918 at Carnoustie, son of James Samson Keith and Annie Forbes.  He was educated at Airdrie Academy, Arbroath High, and University of St. Andrews.  After war service 1940-45, he attended Glasgow Trinity College 1946-48, student assistant Glasgow St. Mark’s-Lancefield 1947-8.  Licensed by Presbytery of Dundee 17th April 1948, and ordained at Stromness North 10th September 1948, translated to Gilmerton on 5th April 1954.  He translated to Glasgow St. James’ Pollock on 5th April 1962.

 

Rev. Donald McLean Skinner born 28th March 1930 at Alexandria, Dunbartonshire, son of Walter Skinner and Janet.  He was educated at Vale of Leven Academy, Paisley Technical College, Glasgow Tech. College, Glasgow University and Trinity College 1957-62. Assistant at Orkney  Shapinsay and Longriggend 1955-62.  He was licensed by Presbytery of Bathgate 18th April 1962.  Ordained at Gilmerton on 27th September 1962.

 

In preparing this short history, I acknowledge the assistance of Mr William Anderson who is an authority on the Free Church of Scotland, the session minutes of Liberton Kirk, “Historic Liberton” by Rev. Donald Skinner, and the “Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae”.

 

John Rennie

February 2008

 

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