Old Parish Church
In the early 17th Century the people of South Queensferry were still using the Dundas owned Priory Church as their place of worship. Wanting a church of their own and enjoying the benefits of healthy trading conditions, the merchants and skippers decided to build a church he and support a minister with a stipend of 400 merks Scots.
In 1633 the foundation stone was laid in the Vennel, and the building was completed in 1635. David Jonking, a Dutchman who was a merchant in Edinburgh gifted a bell which was cast and fashioned by Michael Burgerhaus in Holland. In that Year King Charles I granted a Charter separating the Burgh from Dalmeny and making it an independent Parish. It stated that the population of the burgh had so increased that Dalmeny could no longer house the enlarged congregation, and in addition, the road to Dalmeny was an arduous one for the aged and infirm.
The first minute of the Kirk Session dated 13th August 1635, narrates that David Lindsay second Bishop of Edinburgh came to consecrate the new church and to install Mr Robert Gibson as the first minister. After the sermon two children were baptised, Edward Sympsone and George Hutton, and Communion celebrated. On the 23rd August Deacons and Elders were elected and arrangements made for the keeping of the poor box. On the 13th September James Livingstone was appointed parish “Dominie”, beginning a long association between church and school.
The power of the church socially was very strong. The office bearers were also the baillies and senior citizens, and the rules for behaviour were to govern every aspect of daily life. Fines for violation of the strict rules were paid into the Poor Box, but records show that even so many fell by the wayside.
In 1636 Charles 1 had attempted to establish the Episcopal form of religious service in Scotland, and in 1638 Queensferry joined with other Scots in signing the National Covenant.
For the next two years the town was in a permanent state of defence, but as was to happen on later occasions Queensferry escaped serious involvement.
The Rev. Robert Gibson died in May 1641, and was succeeded by Mr Ephraim Melvill. Very strict in all things pertaining to church matters, he was assiduous in pursuit of witches and although supported by the Baillies and Kirk Session this gave rise to resentment on the part of townspeople. Nevertheless several women were burned as witches in the 1640’s.
When Civil War broke out in England in 1642, the Scottish Covenanters agreed to join with the English Parliament, and the Solemn League and Covenant was signed in Queensferry Kirk on the 5th November 1643. Once again these troublous events had little effect on the Burgh.
In 1661 Queensferry signed the Oath of Allegiance to King Charles 11 which committed the Burgh to acceptance of Episcopacy. The minister, the Reverend John Primrose, had been ordained by the protesting Presbytery in 1652 and refused to conform. He was therefore removed in 1662 and in May 1665 the Synod refused to recognise him. A search for a successor ensued over a long period without result until the Privy Council relented, and John Primrose was welcomed back in December 1669.
Records for the next 50 years show the close association of church and school. They show the decline in trade clue to the continental wars and the general poverty which led to the minister being a major sufferer. In 1716 the Town Council had to threaten action against defaulting heritors. At this time the members of the congregation seemed to be less devout than formerly, and it is minuted that the Kirk Session complained to the Town Council that several of them were wont to forsake the seats allotted to them preferring “dark corners of the church in order as may be presumed to their more convenient sleeping or idle talking”.
In April 1724 the Kirk Session threatened to sue the Town Council for repayment of a loan of 400 merks due to the poor box, and also a sum of £105.30s. Scots, with interest, due to the Kirk Session. Panic ensued, and subsequently it transpired that the minister, the Reverend James Kid was demanding a balance of £879.10.8d. due to him, and that the Presbytery also was taking action for the repayment of loans. The affairs of the Council were a disaster, and the methods employed to avoid their liabilities reflected little credit on them.
Social behaviour continued to deteriorate, and in 1735 “profanity and immorality were rife” despite the efforts of the Rev. James Kid and the Parish Dominic, William Anderson, supported by the elders. The Town Council was forced to appoint two Burgesses as Constables to apprehend the numerous transgressors.
In 1744 the Rev. James Kidd died, and to avoid further disputes regarding the stipend, it was decided in January 1745 that the emoluments would be:-
- The amount collected for seat rents let by the Council - 400 merks Scots.
- The money from the Bishop of Edinburgh’s rents- 400 merks Scots.
- The interest on £244.1/- Scots lent to the late Lord Rosebery, secured on the lands of Niven’s Green.
- Rent derived from the Malt Barns and Kilns - £40 Scots.
- The rent derived from two Smiddies.
In 1755 the roof of the original church building, which had been decaying for some years, was repaired. The sarking, laths and slates were replaced, but the original main timbers of the roof were good enough to be retained.
However by 1760 the minister was again in difficulties. None of the agreed sums were being paid promptly, if at all, and action was taken at the Court of Session in 1766. His right to 10% of the Burgh Rentals was confirmed, but it was stipulated that the individual amounts he collected by the minister or his agent.
After the eventful first hundred years a quieter spell seemed to ensue. We move to 1832 when it is noted that the Reverend Thomas Dimma proposed to heat the Kirk with air by a stove at a probable cost of 20 guineas, and the Council as patrons of the church agreed.
The Reverend Thomas Dimma died on 25th June 1854 after 34 years of service. A marble tablet was placed on the north wall of the old Parish Church in the Vennel, and the Hutton Bequest provided for the upkeep of his resting-place in the kirkyard, for the cropping of the greensward and the planting of a few flowers in memory of him.
In May 1883 James Maxwell, the teacher in the school was appointed Precentor in the Parish Kirk, and in July became the Session Clerk. In August the congregation stood for the first time during the singings, led by the Precentor.
About 1890 the Reverend Donald Miller, the minister of the Parish felt it necessary to declaim against gambling in the Kirk on Sunday evenings!
The century and an era were coming to an end. In 1888 the Town Council met as a Parochial Board to consider the provision of a new burial ground as the old ground at the Vennel was now a “nuisance” and should be closed. Various alternative sites were proposed and on 12th March 1900 a closing order was made on the old burial ground.