Leith Local History Society

St Ninian’s Chapel

St Ninian’s Chapel
St Ninian’s Chapel
Date unknown

St Ninian’s Chapel was established in 1493 by Robert Ballantyne, Abbot of Holyrood. He arranged for it to be served by two chaplains who would be supported by tolls from the bridge and rents from some property. The Chapel was almost certainly in ruins after the English raids in 1544 and 1547. After the Reformation (1560) the people of North Leith gained possession of the chapel and rebuilt it. In 1609 the parish of North Leith was created and the old chapel became the Parish Church.

In the late 17th century the church was rebuilt and extended. The distinctive Dutch style steeple, which bears the date 1675, was added then. Inside there was a gallery round three sides of the church and it was decorated with the emblems of the Trades Incorporations of North Leith. It was probably at this time that a flagstone floor was installed – previously most churches had bare earth floors and important people were buried under the church floor.

St Ninian’s Church in 2012
St Ninian’s Chapel in 2012
Photo: D King; Date: 25/06/2012

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the population of North Leith expanded and the church became too small for the congregation. A splendid new church was built in Madeira Street and the opened in 1816. This was not, however, the end of the use of the old building as a church. When the Parish Church moved out , a new congregation then known as the North Leith Burgher Church rented the premises and used them until their own new church was built in Coburg Street. When they in turn moved out, a new congregation of the Relief Church occupied the building until their new church in Great Junction Street was ready in 1825. After that it was used for commercial purposes. In 1997 the old manse and belfry and adjacent building were purchased by the Cockburn Conservation Trust and restored for use as offices.