At least six church buildings in Edinburgh are currently facing closure as part of a massive shake-up by the Church of Scotland across the country in response to a shortage of ministers, dwindling numbers and financial pressures. But closures, mergers and even demolition of buildings is nothing new.
In common with the rest of Scotland, Edinburgh has long had a surfeit of church buildings – due, in large part, to the Disruption of 1843, when around 450 evangelical ministers walked out of the Church of Scotland and formed the Free Church of Scotland in protest at state intrusion on church affairs. The Free Church then built hundreds of new churches for the breakaway congregations. The reunion in 1929 and the more recent decline in attendances has left the church with too many buildings and not enough people.
Here are just some of the Edinburgh church buildings, each with their own history and their place in the community, which have been lost over the decades – closed, demolished, sold, repurposed or even destroyed by fire.
1. Barony & St James Church, Albany Street
At the Disruption in 1843, the minister of St Mary's Church in Bellevue Crescent and a large group in the congregation broke away to form St Mary's Free Church. They met first in a building in Barony Street and in 1862 moved to a new building at the corner of Albany Street and Broughton Street. It cost £13,000, had a 180ft tower and was the pride of the Free Church - the Prince Consort was brought to see it during a visit to Edinburgh before it opened. On reunion with the Church of Scotland in 1929, the church was renmed Barony. And in 1933 it united with the congregation of nearby St James Place Church, becoming known as Barony & St James Place. But the fabric of the building began to deteriorate and part of the tower had to be demolished. The church united with another congregation in 1956 to form Hillside Church In Greenside Place. The Barony building was sold to a theatrical costumier, and was demolished in 1983, to be replaced by offices. Scaffolding on Barony & St James church at the junction of Albany Street and Broughton Street in Edinburgh, January 1983. It was being demolished. Photo: Stan Warburton
Founded in a meeting-house on Castlehill around 1687, this congregation later occupied the north-west part of St Giles' Cathedral and eventually moved to a new building on the edge of the Meadows in 1883. In 1972, the congregation united with Grange Parish Church on Kilgraston Road and Warrender Parish Church on Whitehouse Loan to form Marchmont St Giles' Parish Church. The building was demolished in 1974 and replaced by a care home for the elderly. Exterior of West St Giles church in Edinburgh in January 1973. Photo: Dick Ewart
A corrugated iron building big enough to seat 350 was put up in Dumbiedykes in 1868 and called Queen's Park Chapel. St Margaret's Church - a large building with a spire and a clock - was opened in Dumbiedykes Road in November 1881. It was altered in 1928 and refurbished in 1962, but by then many people had moved out of the area and the membership was very small. The congregation was dissolved in 1969 and the building was demolished in 1971 to make way for housing. Photo: George Smith
This congregation was formed in 1940 by the union of two churches: Leith St Ninian's - which had started life as a "floating chapel" on a converted boat, a place of worship for seamen - and Leith Harper Memorial, named after its first minister James Harper, who served for 60 years. The united congregation used the 1100-seat Harper Memorial building in Coburg Street, which had opened in 1819. In 1962 the Coburg Street congregation united with Leith St Nicholas to become Leith St Ninian's Ferry Road, which eventually merged into North Leith Parish Church. The Coburg Street building burned down in October 1967. Fire at St Ninain's Church, Coburg Street, Leith in Edinburgh Photo: Ian Brand