The History of Leith

April 17, 2012

The Episcopal chapels of Leith

” Throughout these troublesome days, a little episcopal
congregation was kept together in Leith,
their place of worship being the first floor of an
old dull-looking house in Queen’s 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 a hundred and seventy-two;
and concerning what are called 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 in
Chapel Lane (at the foot of Quality Street), and
was demolished several years ago, 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 :—
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 then obscure episcopal
chapels in Edinburgh and Leith, but in the following
week they were closed by order of the
That at Leith, wherein the Rev. Robert Forbes
and Rev. Mr. Law officiated, shared the same fate,
and the nonjuring ministers of 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 !
Hence, says Mr. Parker Lawson, in his ” History
of the Scottish Episcopal Church,” since the Revolution
in 1688, ” the sacrament of baptism was
often administered in woods and sequestered places,
and the holy communion .with the utmost privacy.
Confirmations were held with closed doors in
private houses, and divine service often performed
in the open air in the northern counties, amid the
mountains or in the recesses of forests. The
chapels were all shut up, and the doors made
fast with iron bars, under the authority of the
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, 1776; and twelve years
subsequently, the death of Prince Charles Edward
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.
” On Sunday, the 251)1 of May last,” says The
Gentleman’s Magazine for 1788, ” the king, queen,
and Prince of Wales were prayed for by name, and
the rest of the royal family, in the usual manner,
in all the nonjuring chapels m this city (Edinburgh)
and Leith. The same manner of testifying the
loyalty of the Scotch Episcopalians will also be
observed in every part of the country, in consequence
of the resolution come to by the bishops
and clergy of that persuasion. Thus, an effectual
end is put- to the most distant idea of disaffection
in any part of His Majesty’s dominions to his royal
person and government.”

Source-Old and New Edinburgh

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