The History of Craigmillar Bristo Memorial Church

Since the creation of Liberton Parish, Craigmillar was an important part, and its growing population became an ever-increasing problem. For many years prior to 1900, the question of building a church for this community often arose, and the original idea was to construct a nave to accommodate about 300 people. Should this be done, the Home Mission Committee promised a grant, subject to the usual conditions. The question of plans proved to be the main stumbling block, since it was necessary to satisfy both the Home Mission Committee, and the Proprietors Agents, as to the type of building to be erected.

The Kirk Session first discussed this in November 1899, when it was agreed to ask two or three architects to submit sketch plans, from which a choice could be made.

A member of session volunteered to ask architect “A” to submit a sketch plan, while another member asked architect “B” to submit a plan. A short time later, it became clear that architect “A” was not aware that the two plans were in competition with each other, but was so informed on 9th July 1900. At the session meeting of 12th July, one member, seconded by another, moved that architect “A”’s plan should be adopted. It should be noted that this was two months before the plans ever came before the session at all!!

Fortunately this motion was rejected, until both plans had been seen and discussed.

When the plans did come before session on 6th September 1900, it was decided that in accordance with the requirement of the Home Mission Committee, they should send both plans to them for consideration. Most members seemed to prefer architect “A” to the other, which was of Gothic design. The assessor for the Home Mission Committee in his report stated that in his opinion, the Gothic plan was the better of the two. Notwithstanding the opinion of an expert, the session still adhered to their preference, and since little money was at hand, deferred a decision. For several following session meetings, no further progress was made. An expert Surveyor was consulted, and reported that on a cost basis, the building of a nave was far in excess of that given by either architect, but especially so in the case of architect “A”. Due to the continuing delays, and the problem of raising sufficient funds, the Craigmillar Local Committee suggested that a hall, which could be used as a church, would be of more benefit to the community than a church. The session meeting on 4th April 1901, after discussion, agreed to look at the erection of a hall instead of a church. Fortunately, both architects, unasked, had incorporated a hall in their original plans, and one would have thought that both architects would now be asked for estimates for a hall only.

However the majority of session thought otherwise, and resolved to ask only architect “A” for an estimate, although earlier, the majority had objected to certain features of the hall plan, while no criticism of the gothic hall plan was made. Architect “A”’s plan would need several modifications at as yet unknown cost, to be carried out before it could be built. One member suggested that a competent architectural assessor be asked for an opinion that they could all accept, since none of the session could be described as expert judges of architecture. The majority would not agree to this, being satisfied with their own opinion, and also objected on the grounds of probable cost involved.

During the next meeting in May, the above member intimated that he was willing to bear the total cost involved in obtaining an expert opinion, if only to satisfy his own sense of fair play. The session by a majority agreed, and the plans were submitted without names, to a very prominent architect, for his assessment. His conclusion was that the Gothic plan was better by far than the other. Further delays ensued, due to waiting on the financial results of a bazaar in October, and a proposal to increase the session numbers. During the meeting of February 1902, the result of the bazaar was intimated, and the question of the plans was raised but deferred until the March meeting. At this meeting, the assessors report was read, rejected, and a motion passed by 5 votes to 2, that architect “A” should be accepted as architect for church and hall.

The same member of session took legal advice on the matter, and found that the appointment of an architect to build a church was not a matter for session at all, but for a building committee, which had not yet been appointed. When this became known, the Craigmillar Local Committee met, and sent a protest to session, against using the funds, which they had raised, until a properly constituted buildings committee had been appointed. The bazaar committee, who had raised most of the money so far, unanimously requested a congregational meeting to appoint a building committee. This was duly intimated to the session meeting of 3rd April, and a congregational meeting was held on 11th April. At this meeting, the majority of session again went beyond their powers, by objecting to both the meeting and its purpose. However it got little support from the congregation, and a buildings committee of 15 members was appointed.

The majority of the session, instead of recognising that they had exceeded their powers, and withdrawn from an untenable position, met the same evening and drew up a joint letter of resignation (except two) of their office. The Kirk session met the following week to discuss the resignations, decided that in view of the congregation’s appointment of a buildings committee, to rescind the resolution of 12th March, and accept that the appointment of an architect was outside the remit of a Kirk session.

Under the buildings committee, work was quickly begun, and the foundation stone was laid on Saturday 17th October 1903 by Lieut. Colonel R Gordon Gilmour, and a jar containing documents, newspapers and coins, was placed in a cavity by Lady Susan Gilmour.

Saturday 24th September 1904 saw the new Church officially opened as a “Chapel-of-ease”, by Mrs Wauchope, widow of the late Major General A.G. Wauchope, and handed over to the Trustees and Kirk Session of Liberton, to hold and administer on behalf of the Church of Scotland.

The following ministers served as probationers between 1905-10:

  • William Cowper Robertson, M.A.,
  • David Crawford
  • Thomas Ferguson, M.A., B.D.,

On 1st September 1910, James Watson, former minister of the Free Church in Leith, was inducted. He resigned on 30th September 1912, to take up the appointment as Missionary professor of Economics, in the Scottish Churches College in Calcutta.

Thomas Gillieson was inducted in 1913.

A War Memorial to those who died in the 1914-18 conflict, containing 25 names, was unveiled on the outer Church wall, to the left of the door, on 10th July 1921.

Meanwhile, Edinburgh Corporation proposed a comprehensive redevelopment in the Richmond Street area of the city, including the demolition of the local church buildings. The congregation was offered a minimal site value as compensation if they voted to dissolve, but if they agreed to continue in another area, taking with them the minister and a number of members, the sum paid would be much greater. During a prolonged period of negotiation, a sum of £3,000 was offered against the Kirk Sessions expectation of £12,000. Eventually, a fixed compensation of £6,000 plus a development site at Craigmillar was agreed.

At a Liberton Kirk session meeting held on 16th June 1931, it was mentioned that the North Richmond Street Church in Edinburgh was being demolished, and the congregation transferred to a new church to be built at Niddrie. During a session meeting on 14th July 1932, a sub committee was formed to assist the formation of this new church. The session meeting of 28th September 1932 approved the use of Craigmillar Church until the new church was built, and offered the services of the Liberton assistant minister E.S. Towill as caretaker minister.

At a meeting held in Craigmillar Church on 16th November 1932, the congregation were informed of the proposals. The first service for Richmond Street members was held in April 1933.

Since the new parish to be created would include Craigmillar village and current church, it was clear that both congregations could not continue as separate items for long. Meanwhile in April 1934 Northfield United Free Church became a part of the Church of Scotland, taking another chunk out of Liberton Kirk territory.

At a meeting of session held on 18th February 1935, the question of the future of Craigmillar Church was raised. A proposal to hand it over to the Home Mission Committee was agreed unanimously.

Richmond Memorial Church at Craigmillar opened in September 1935, and on 2nd October, and the Watson’s FP club took over the Craigmillar church halls on a 3 years lease.

The session meeting of 7th June 1937 decided to transfer all the buildings of Craigmillar Church to the General Trustees of the Church of Scotland who would form a church extension charge in return for a hall and classroom accommodation for Liberton Kirk, at Burdiehouse.

The session meeting of 3rd November 1939 was informed the transfer documents had been signed.

The meeting of 4th December 1939 was informed of the boundaries for the “Craigmillar Castle Church”.

The following is a list of ministers since then:

  • Alistair Gilbert Steven Rae, M.A., inducted on 12th January 1940
  • William Paton Henderson, M.A., who was translated from Inverness East, on 5th June 1946
  • Donald John Barron, who was inducted on 21st July 1951
  • William Scott Reid 1958
  • William C. Nelson 1965
  • Eric W.S. Jeffrey 1978
  • Angus L. Bayne 1994
Bristo United Free Church that became Church of Scotland in 1929 was located at Cowan’s Close, Cross-causeway, and its last minister was Henry Arnott who was born in Glasgow in 1870, and came to Bristo on 19th December 1928.

The congregation was dissolved in November 1938, and the buildings sold. The proceeds were handed over to the National Church Extension Committee, and the Craigmillar Church building was reopened in January 1940 as Craigmillar Bristo Memorial Church. The money generated from the sale of Bristo Church was eventually used to reconstruct the Craigmillar building, which was dedicated on 12th December 1954.

John Rennie. Liberton July 2004
Greater Liberton Heritage Project