Brief History

Palmerston Place Church can trace a long history back to 1732. In that year, the Rev. Patrick Wotherspoon was inducted as minister to one of the daughter congregations of the West Parish Church (now St Cuthbert’s, and at that time collegiate with a number of daughter congregations). This was against the wishes of the congregation, many of whom then left in protest to join another congregation under the ministry of the Rev. John M’Laren. M’Laren died only two years later, at which point most of those who had just joined his congregation then left again, but this time leaving the Church of Scotland. They applied to become part of the Associate Presbytery, the name given to a large Scotland-wide grouping of individuals who had seceded from the Church of Scotland in 1733 (an event known as the ‘First Secession’). Their application was not approved until 1738. They then constructed a new building in Bristo Street, which opened in 1741.

In 1747, the Associate Presbytery split (known as the ‘Breach’) over a disagreement relating to the Burgher Oath, which required holders of public offices to affirm approval of the religion ‘presently professed in this kingdom’. The issue was the separation of church and state. Opponents and supporters of the Burgher Oath on theological grounds became known as the Anti-Burghers and the Burghers. The Bristo Street congregation was itself divided in opinion: the majority were Anti-Burghers, but the trustees of the church building, along with nine elders and a large minority of the congregation, were Burghers. This resulted in a dispute as to who should retain the building. Initially, the courts found in favour of the majority (Anti-Burghers) in 1751, but in 1752 the decision was reversed. The issue continued in the courts until 1753 when it was confirmed in favour of the minority (Burghers) and they again took possession of the church. The majority (Anti-Burghers) then built a separate church for themselves in Nicolson Street, which opened in 1754.

This Anti-Burgher congregation was growing, and in 1785 160 members left amicably to form a new congregation in the New Town. After renting premises for a year they opened a new building in Rose Street in 1786. This congregation became part of the United Secession Church when that denomination was formed in 1820. That denomination merged with the Relief Church in 1847 to form the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Pressures on space led to the construction of a new building in Palmerston Place in the early 1870s, and most of the Rose Street congregation moved to the new church when it opened in May 1875.

The building cost £17,750 and originally seated 900 people. The Edinburgh architects Peddie & Kinnear seem to have sought inspiration for the facade from the 17th century Parisian church of Saint-Sulpice.

Upon the union of the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland with most of the Free Church of Scotland in 1900, the congregation became part of the United Free Church of Scotland. The congregation then joined most of that denomination in merging into the Church of Scotland in 1929.

The two neighbouring properties, Nos. 8 & 10 Palmerston Place, are part of the congregation’s home and are known as Annan House, after Willie Annan, in whose memory No. 11 was originally given in 1946.

Two neighbouring congregations have been united into Palmerston Place Church: Belford Parish Church (now Belford Hostel) in 1970 and Lothian Road Parish Church (now the Filmhouse) in 1976.

Our lovely church building has been refurbished at various times. A major refurbishment took place in the early 1990s with the removal of the central section of wooden pews. In 2015 the vestibule area around the sanctuary was redecorated, in 2016 new red chairs were introduced into the sanctuary area to allow greater flexibility for worship and in 2017 new vestibule furniture was purchased.

Throughout the congregation’s history, different ministries have come and gone. Yet throughout the years, the mission of the congregation has been to bring glory to God and the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ to all who come within our walls and live in our parish. This is what, with God’s grace and help, we aim to continue today.