The history of our church in Fairmilehead

A lot has happened to the church, the local area and the society we aim to serve, since the foundation stone of the church was laid in February 1937. This page tries to capture a sense of the passing years in the history of the church. There's more historical information about Fairmilehead and its environs on our Local History page.

Fairmilehead Parish Church was one of the first built under the new Church Extension Scheme of the Church of Scotland. The foundation stone, can be seen behind the lectern [Photo above]. The inscription reads 'Stone laid by the Rev. Dr. J R Aitken, D.D. Presbytery Clerk. 24th February 1937.' The Church was consecrated on the 12th April 1938 by the Very Rev. J White and Rev. Ian R Gillan, the first minister.

Laying the Foundation Stone 24 February, 1937.  Photo:  Courtesy of the Scotsman

Design and Architecture

The architect was Leslie Grahame-Thomson who also designed the Reid Memorial Church in West Savile Terrace. The design at the time was unique and a change in tradition for Scottish Churches with a plain elliptical vault of rough plaster distempered a pale ivory, which contrasts with the traditional external stonework.

Photo:  Work under progress, possibly May 1937


The church is built from rough-cut stone from the Craigmillar quarries with dressed pink Doddington stone surrounding the windows and doors. The tower has a corbelled upper stage and dormer heads for the bell chamber with an ogee roof. The single bell in the tower dates from 1866 when it was cast for St. Aidan's Church, Melrose. When that church was no longer used as a place of worship the bell was donated to Fairmilehead Church in 1957.

The church is a grade 'B' listed building.

The first 21 years 

1939. A temporary wooden church hall was opened on 1st April by the Right Hon. John Colville, Secretary of State for Scotland.

1940. The Rev. Kenneth D. McLaren, senior minister of Errol, was appointed acting minister during the absence on war service of Mr. Gillan, whose duties as chaplain to the Royal Scots had led to his being transferred from Edinburgh.

1943. A ring road, circumventing the city centre from Wallyford, via Fairmilehead, to Corstorphine, was recommended by the Advisory Committee on City Development, appointed by Edinburgh Corporation, with Mr. J. L. Clyde, K.C. (later Lord Clyde) as chairman.

1944. Mr. Gillan, having been re1eased from Chaplaincy duty after five .years of active service with H.M. Forces, resumed the work of his charge.

1945. On Sunday, the 13th May, a service of thanksgiving was held to mark Victory in Europe which was announced on the 8th May.

1946. The Society of Miniature Rifle Clubs held a victory Scottish meeting in the Waterworks field from the 17th to the 22nd of June. Five hundred entries were received from all parts of the United Kingdom.

1948. Ratepayers' Association Formed.

1949. On Sunday, 6th February, at the morning service, the church organ was dedicated "To the glory of God. In remembrance of the men of Fairmilehead who fell in the Second World War, 1939-45, and in honour of all who served." The Rev. A. Irvine Pirie, clerk to the Presbytery of Edinburgh, conducted the dedication ceremony and preached the sermon. Mr. McLaren also took part in the service.

Fairmilehead Telephone Exchange, at the junction of Buckstone Avenue and Buckstone Terrace, opened.

1950. To mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of his ordination as a minister of the Church of Scotland, Mr. Gillan was presented with pulpit robes.

Photo:  Inside the church in the 1950s

The Right Hon. Sir Andrew Murray, the Lord Provost, handed over the Hermitage of Braid house to Edinburgh and Leith Boy Scouts Association for use as a hostel. The grounds and the mansion were presented to the Corporation in 1937 by Mr. John MacDougal.

1952. On Christmas Eve, Sir John Falconer, former Lord Provost of Edinburgh, laid the foundation stone of the new church at Colinton Mains.

1953. On Coronation Day, Tuesday, 2nd June, the South Morningside Churches held a joint service in St. Matthew's. The Very Rev. Dr. J. Hutchison Cockburn, former Chaplain to the King, gave the address.

1954.  New Church at Colinton Mains opened and dedicated on 20th January by the Right Rev. Dr. J. Pitt Watson, Moderator of the General Assembly.

Twenty-five years ago-in October, 1929, the Church of Scotland and the United Free Church became one united church. To celebrate the anniversary, the South Morningside Churches held a united service in St. Matthew's on 24th October. The Rev. Dr. Nevile Davidson, minister of Glasgow Cathedral, was the preacher.


1955. Traffic islands erected at cross- roads. Micro-straining plant of 15 million gallons per day capacity installed at Fairmilehead Water Works. These works supply 45 per cent. of the city's water. Present capacity 16+ million gallons per day.

1956. The Rev. I. R. Gillan retired at the end of February. The Rev. R. T. Cameron, D.D., former minister of the West Church of St. Andrew, Aberdeen, acted as locum until the induction on 5th October of the Rev. John H. G. Ross, O.B.E., B.D., formerly of Newark Church, Port Glasgow.

Last tram to Fairmilehead ran on 11th of September. Last tram to the Braids ran on 16th November. Work began on storage tank to contain seven million gallons of filtered water. Tank now nearing completion.

1957. At the morning service on Sunday, 19th May, the Rev. Thomas H. Keir, M.A., minister of St. Cuthbert's Parish Church, Melrose, set apart for use in our church a bell which had hung in St. Aidan's Church, Melrose, since 1866. The bell was gifted by Melrose Kirk Session.

New adult section opened at Princess Margaret Rose Hospital with fifty-two beds.

Congregation of St. John's, Oxgangs, began services in hut.

1958. St. John's, Oxgangs Church and hall opened. On the 6th October Mr. McLaren celebrated the sixty-sixth anniversary of his ordination to the ministry. Bus service to hospital inaugurated on 1st December.

1959. Additional fifty-two beds became available on top floor of adult section at Princess Margaret Rose Hospital. Reconstruction of Swanston Village cottages begun. Work includes installation of gas, electricity, and water to the houses. Thatched roofs being preserved.

Photo:  Church 1959 showing the addition of the new halls

New church hall opened and dedicated by the Rev. Horace Walker, B.D., secretary of the Home Board, on 12th May. Service conducted by Mr. Ross and greetings conveyed from Edinburgh Presbytery by the Rev. Thomas M. M'Farlane, B.D., the Moderator, and from the Morningside Churches by the Rev. Alexander Reid, M.A., South Morningside Church. Others who took part were Mr. Gillan, Mr. McLaren, and Dr. Cameron.

The Church Fabric

The Door Bronzes. The Main door to the Church has eight cut bronze medallions. Click on the images below to enlarge. These represent aspects of the Church and its rituals. The four evangelists also appear on the four comers of the cross under the pulpit.


Matthew (An Angel)

Mark (A Lion)

Luke (An Ox)

John (An Eagle)

The Father

The Dove Descending

The Paschal Lamb

The Instruments of Passion

                                     The Tower door has a further six bronzes in the following order:

The Lily The Vine The Pelican in her Piety The Ship representing the Church in Action The Sacramental Cup A Sacred Monogram

Stained Glass

The stained glass window above the Communion table is a representation of the Good Shepherd and was donated by Mrs. T S Thomson in memory of her husband. It was designed by William Wilson and executed by him in conjunction with James Ballantine. There are a further five stained glass windows in the transept and nave. Three of these were designed by Wilson.

The Church Furniture

The Communion Table bears the device of the paschal lamb which is embossed in gold on a field of blue. The Minister's chair has the Burning Bush, emblem of the Church of Scotland, carved on the back. The wood is Port Orford cedar. They were originally painted green but were stripped to the wood in 1981. The original green linoleum floor was replaced by carpet at the same time.

The signs of the four Evangelists appear on the Pulpit representing the teaching of the Word. The Lectern has a ship in full sail - a symbol of the Church in action.

The Church was originally furnished with rush-seated chairs. In 1973 the chairs were replaced by pews, which were gifted by one of our members who bought the former Warrender Church. They were cleaned and varnished before installation in the Church. Longer pews from South Morningside Church were placed at the back of the transepts,

In 2007 a scheme for the reordering of the Church was implemented. The pews were replaced by chairs, the carpet renewed, improvements made to the decoration and lighting and a new sound system installed.

The silver flower vases were designed by Douglas Brown, a lecturer at Edinburgh College of Art. They were a gift from Rev. John and Margaret Ross, the second minister and his wife, on 29th September 1965, to celebrate his ministerial silver jubilee. When they moved to St. Fillan's they kindly gifted the two wrought iron flower stands.

The brass alms dish. which was presented to the Church, is a copy of the 17th century collection plate of the Tron Church.

The Organ

The original pipe organ was dedicated in 1949 as a war memorial. The plaque, which was originally fixed to the organ, can now be seen to the right of the lectern. After 20 years the organ was in need of an extensive overhaul and an electronic organ replaced the original pipe organ. By the mid 1980s the electronic organ was in need of replacement. Our third Minister Rev. Murray Chalmers organised a fund from the congregation to build a new pipe organ. The organ was built by Lammermuir Pipe Organs and dedicated in 1991.

As part of the reordering of the church the organ was relocated from the gallery at the rear of the church to the pulpit transept and constructed in a new case matched to the lines of the church's interior.

The Church Halls 

In 1994 the Kirk Session, under the guidance of our fourth Minister, Rev John Munro, set up the 'Towards 2000' Committee to review all the needs of Fairmilehead Parish Church in the new millennium. The Committee was chaired by Dr. J Cowan. One of the many areas reviewed were our premises and they recommended a number of important changes to the halls. As a result the Session and Congregational Board decided to redevelop the halls.

A number of plans were requested from architects and a design by Benjamin Tindall  Architects was accepted. The opportunity was also taken to provide a dedicated nursery school kitchen and facilities with their own entrance at the rear of Swanston Hall, funded by the City Council. A new hall, Caerketton, was added as well as full access for disabled people and a new and extensive entrance ball. The older halls were upgraded. The new halls were opened on 2nd May 1998. See architect's summary of the project.

The original hall was opened in 1939 by the Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. J Colville. It was a temporary wooden construction and was replaced by the present Swanston Hall in the 1998 renovations. The second hall, Buckstone Hall, was opened at a cost of £6000 on the occasion of our 21st anniversary in 1959. Even two halls were not enough and in 1969 the 3rd hall, Frogston Hall, was  built at a cost of £10,000. Further expansion took place in 1982 with the building of Caiystane Hall and the two offices behind Buckstone Hall.

'All are welcome in this place'