History

This church has undergone 6 developments since 1844 when it was opened on this site as Corstorphine Free Church.  The first building was a simple rectangle with a pitched roof, sufficient for its 250 members and adherents.

Later developments enlarged the sanctuary as the congregation grew in number.  In 1870, the porch, gallery and bell tower were added.   Again in response to growing numbers, the main seating area – “the body of the Kirk” – was lengthened in 1889, the roof raised and the apse added.  Finally, the east and west transepts were added in 1914, giving the interior dimensions which we see today, affording seating for around 650.

Looking back from the centre aisle to the gallery gives a very good idea of the comparatively small size of the church in 1870:  the arched area in the gallery with the rose window at its centre shows the width and height of the building at that time.  When the roof was again raised in a later development, this small section of the older church was retained in the enlarged building.  The 1870 roofline can also be clearly seen from St John’s Road as a projection to the front from the more modern building.

A major refurbishment took place in 1953 under the supervision of the late William G Dey, Architect, a well-known and respected Corstorphine resident.  The windows in the apse were removed and replaced by a large but elegantly simple cross, made from sycamore as a link with the ancient Corstorphine Sycamore (blown down in 1998).  The apse furniture is all beautifully fashioned in oak, tastefully adorned with Christian symbols.  The oak screen at the rear of the apse contains integral carvings of some flowers of the Holy Land.  All of these deserve a close look.

In 1900 this church was renamed Corstorphine United Free Church, and on the reunion of 1929 it became St Ninian’s Church of Scotland, named after an altar dedicated to St Ninian in Corstorphine Old Parish Church in medieval times.

St Ninian was, by a tradition quoted by the Venerable Bede, a Briton who established a mission to the Picts centred on Whithorn in Galloway about 397AD. He was thus the first missionary and bishop in what is now Scotland.  

Details of the interior furnishings and decoration

“Gasoliers” on either side of the main door to the sanctuary, looking back from the centre aisle.  These were obtained by our first minister, the Rev Dr George Burns, from the famous hall at Tanfield, near Canonmills, where the first Free Church Assembly was held at the time of the Disruption in 1843.  This was the momentous event in church history which led to the creation of this congregation as part of the new Free Church of Scotland.

“Banners” on the west and east walls   These decorative features based on biblical themes are a comparatively recent and welcome introduction since 1992, designed and made by one of our members, Mrs Liz Wight.   On the west wall (to your left as you look at the apse), left to right: Creation; Church Law; and All Things Bright and Beautiful.  On the east wall (to your right as you look at the apse), left to right: Christmas Night; Easter Morning; and Pentecost.

Centre Aisle   The wide centre aisle dates only from the 1953 refurbishment.  Before then there were two aisles, with a central portion of pews and two narrower sections at the sides.  A close examination of the planked flooring under the pews will reveal to the sharp-sighted the former positions of the pew ends.

Hat retainers   Features of the church in Victorian and Edwardian times were individual hat racks formed from wire under the pews, shaped to hold the gentlemen’s tiled (or top) hats of the period.  Some of the racks can still be seen.  The small metal rings under the pews are for holding individual Communion cups during Communion services.

West Transept   The large west window depicting St John, the Lord Jesus and St Paul was installed when the transept was built in 1914, in memory of our second Minister, the Rev James Morrison, who died in 1912. The St Ninian window in the north wall was the sunday school’s contribution to the 1953 refurbishment, paid for from thousands of “ship” ha’pennies contributed by the children over an eight year period.  To commemorate their efforts, the window includes a ship and a boy and girl representing the children.  The window, known familiarly as the Ship Window, was designed by Gordon Webster.

East Transept   Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate and philanthropist, donated the first organ to this church in 1902,

Perhaps owing to the influence of his personal secretary, James Bertram, who was a Corstorphine man! A photocopy of a letter confirming the gift can be seen near the organ.  The organ pipes were at first positioned centrally behind the pulpit in the apse; but when the transepts were introduced in 1914, the opportunity was taken to move them to their present position behind the organ console in the east transept.   Over the transept exit door is a beautiful textile memorial, designed and made by Judith Riley, to the late Mr Robin Dempster, our organist and choirmaster from 1962 until his untimely death in 1987.

Gallery (entered from stairway to the right on entering the main door from the street.)  The appearance of the gallery remains virtually unchanged since its construction in 1870, including the two aisles which used to be a feature of the ground floor area.  The beautiful “rose” window was donated at that time by a Mr Craven, one of our members.




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