The History of Leith

March 19, 2010


It’s easy to take our stained glass windows for granted and also to overlook their qualities. They change under different light conditions and on a dull day can seem a bit flat – but when sunshine streams in, the amazing colours, swirling foliage patterns and symbolic motifs transform the church.

About fifteen years ago, Dr Sally Rush of the Art history department at the University of Glasgow identified the windows as the work of Daniel Cottier, who later become a celebrated glass and interior design specialist with offices in the UK, USA and Australia. Of Manx ancestry, Cottier was closely associated with Glasgow, but amongst his earliest commissions were the windows at Pilrig St Paul’s whilst working for the Leith stained glass firm, Field and Allan.

In a recent phone conversation with Dr Rush, she suggested that, in her opinion, our windows are very significant as an early example of Cottier’s development as an artist, and that they are of a far higher artistic level than that produced by contemporary firms such as Ballantine and Son. Indeed, you can make that judgement yourself as the only window not by Cottier in Pilrig St Paul’s is the rose window above the pulpit – by Ballantine and Son. It seems quite crude by comparison!

As you will probably know, repair and maintenance work on the windows is an ongoing burden. It would really help our case for grant funding for conservation of the windows if we could absolutely verify that the windows are by Cottier and I am currently investigating this.

Another intriguing factor is that it seems that the ceiling in Pilrig St Paul’s was originally painted blue with gilt stars. We know that this was the case because an account of the church published in 1903 refers to the ceiling being smoke damaged by a fire in 1892 and that the decoration was painted over. A margin note in the editor’s copy (in Stuart Sime’s possession) confirms that the scheme was as above.

Dr Rush has confirmed that a blue ceiling covered in gold stars was a typical Cottier device, and it therefore seems very likely that Cottier not only designed the glass, but also designed the interior decorative scheme. However, we have no other evidence of this.

If anyone can offer further thoughts or indeed knows of photographic or written accounts of the building, its decorative scheme and the involvement of Field and Allan and Daniel Cottier then either Stuart Sime or Martin Ritchie would be glad to hear from you!

Martin Ritchie


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