The History of Leith

June 24, 2004

Episcopal Chapels and Leith

On the west side of Shore Place (formally Queen Street) once stood an early Episcopalian Chapel. Referring to the period of Culloden, Chalmers says-“Throughout these troublesome days a little Episcopalian congregation was kept together in Leith, their place of worship being the first floor of an old dull looking house in Queen Street (dated 1516) the lower floor of which was in my recollection a police office”

The congregation about the year 1744 is said to have numbered only about a hundred and seventy two and concerning the Episcopal chapels in Leith confusion has arisen from the circumstance that one used the Scottish Communion Office while another adopted the liturgy of the Church of England. The one in Queen Street was occupied in 1865 as a temperance hall.

According to Robertson’s “Antiquities” the earliest of these Episcopal chapels was situated on chapel Lane at the foot of Quality Street (now Maritime Street) and was demolished in the late 19th century and an ancient tablet which stood above the door lintel was built into a house near the spot where the chapel stood. It bears the following inscription-“T.F Thay AR welcome Heir that A.M. God does love and feir 1590” which can be seen today over the door to St James the last Episcopal Church in Johns Place.

In 1788 this building was converted into a dancing school said to be the first that was opened in Leith.

On Sunday April 27 1745 divine service was performed in a few of the obscure Episcopal chapels in Edinburgh and Leith but in the following week they were closed by order of the sheriff

That at Leith wherein the Rev Robert Forbes and Rev Mr Law officiated shared the same fate and the non juring ministers in their Communion had to perform their duties by stealth being liable to fines, imprisonment and banishment. It was enacted that after the Ist of September 1746 every Episcopal pastor in Scotland who failed to register his letters of orders to take all the oaths required by law and to pray for the House of Hanover should for the first offence suffer six months imprisonment for the second be transported to the plantations and for the third suffer penal servitude for life.

The Rev Robert Forbes became Bishop of Caithness and Orkney in 1762 but still continued to reside in Leith making occasional visits to the North for the purpose of confirming and baptising till the year of his death in 1775 and twelve years later after the death of Bonnie Prince Charlie put an end to much of the jealousy with which the members of the Episcopal communion in Scotland were viewed by the House of Hanover.

According to the South Leith Records “In the introduction to Bishop Forbes Journals of his travels we find that he lived and died in his house in the Kirkgate and was buried in the Maltman’s Aisle South Leith Parish Church. Unfortunately no stone can be found. The funeral took place on the 21st Nov 1775 he being buried in the Maltman’s Aisle of South Leith Parish Church. Mrs Forbes only survived him a short time dying on the 8th January 1776 and was buried beside her husband. A memoir of his life and work with the journal of his Episcopal visitations to the diocese of Ross and Caithness, Ross and Argyle and a sketch of the Episcopal Church of Ross during the 18th century edited by the Rev J.R. Cowen of Kirkwall was published 1886. Bishop Forbes also wrote “A lion in mourning” about the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745.

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