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.

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