Marchmont-St. Giles Church

This church was formed in 1972 by the union of three congregations. The oldest of the three, West St. Giles Church, has a somewhat complicated history of movement and name change. In 1698 a parish was allocated to congregations holding their services in meetinghouses in Lawnmarket and Castlehill, and in 1699 a church was prepared for them in the northwest corner of St. Giles. It became known as ‘the Little Kirk’, more properly New North. In 1829, there was begun a reconstruction of St. Giles and the New North moved out to the Methodist Chapel in Nicolson Square and then to Brighton Street chapel. In 1843, the congregation – now Free New North – were able to move back into St. Giles, becoming West St. Giles. Another reconstruction of St. Giles which was to make it one building was undertaken in 1879, so a new meeting place for West St. Giles had to be found. Meadow Lodge in Meadow Place was bought as a site for a new church and till it was built, an iron church was provided. The new church building was opened in 1883. The two younger churches forming the union came into being within 10 years of each other, probably because of the movement of population to the new suburbs and each beginning with an iron church building.

In 1871, a church was built in Kilgraston Road taking the name of Robertson Memorial, becoming Grange Church in 1929. The third partner to the union, Warrender Church, began in Viewpark School in 1883, and in 1885 an iron church was placed at Warrender Park/Lauderdale Street, with a new building arising in Whitehouse Loan in 1892, though the iron church was kept until 1897. In 1972 a union of the three congregations was decided upon, and the buildings of the Grange Church became the home of the congregation of Marchmont St. Giles.

Marchmont St Giles Church
From Rev Elspeth Dougall
I was joint-minister of Marchmont St Giles’ Church, along with Donald Stephen from 1991-2001. Jobsharing is an unusual arrangement in the church but it was a happy one for me. I knew Donald and the congregation well as I had spent time with them in the 80s as student, then locum, and later as missionary partner, and I was delighted to return as ‘one half’ of the minister. (Before going further I must explain that I was a mature student or even, like cheese, extra mature, and the ten years Donald and I worked together took us both up to retirement.) But if I came late to ministry, my links with the Grange go back much further. In 1958-59 before getting married I lived in a flat on the top floor of 5 Whitehouse Terrace and caught the 39 bus every morning as the first part of my cross-city journey to Ferranti’s at Crewe Toll. During the 60s and 70s my husband and I and our 3 small children stayed more than once in the Church of Scotland furlough house at 2 Grange Loan Gardens, and Lover’s Loan was our regular route to Sciennes School. When I look back to those days I think of the beautiful stone walls of the Grange, the trees and the gardens and I am very thankful that that is still the general impression the area gives – provided you can close your eyes and your ears to the traffic! And with the ever-increasing traffic we reach the 1990s and my years at Marchmont St Giles’. Many of my memories are of beauty – the sun shining in through the stained glass windows; a great cornucopia of fruit and vegetables at the entrance for Harvest Thanksgiving; Easter Day and every pew decorated with posies of daffodils, to be taken at the end of the service to housebound neighbours. And that of course leads on to people, for church buildings are a means not an end, and without life they are an empty shell. The people who throng my memories are of all ages: little children learning to interact with each other in the safe environment of the Playgroup; Rainbow Brownies exploring the Discovery Trail round the church, fascinated by the mouse carved on the lectern, puzzled to guess how many pipes the organ has (the answer is over 1000); teenagers selling fairly traded coffee to help 3rd World producers; family groups filling the candle-lit church for the Watchnight Service; friends from Newington Council of Churches packing the church for Songs of Praise (when the volume of sound nearly lifted the roof off); elderly people enjoying church lunches on first Sundays of the month; people of all ages working together to raise money for Christian Aid, for the homeless, for projects in Africa and Asia. Of course there are memories of other kinds as well – the freezing day when the heating didn’t switch on, the would-be projects that never came to anything, the sadness of untimely deaths, but these dark threads have their place in the tapestry and give it depth. They come into perspective when seen in relation to a service the children of the church devised and led in 2001 on the theme of the Prodigal Son. When the waiting father (aged 10), saw his wastrel son in the distance, he ran the length of the church to meet him, threw his arms round him and hugged him. The child’s understanding of unconditional love enabled the rest of us to comprehend it better. Times move on, children grow up, ministers retire, the church finds new ways to be the church, but such things are changeless and hold the past and the future together.

Rev Elspeth Dougall – June 2003