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St Cuthbert's History


1706 - Reverend David Williamson died aged about 72 years. He was buried next to his predecessor, Robert Pont but his widow erected no headstone - perhaps because her six predecessors would have had to be listed!  

1707 - The Union of Parliaments. There was much opposition to this, particularly in Scotland, where people felt they would lose more than they would gain. Rev Neil McVicar was appointed to the collegiate charge of St Cuthbert’s.  

Courage and a muscular Christianity marked the Rev Neil McVicar, a Highlander and previously an army chaplain at Fort William. He spoke Gaelic and so was appointed to take charge of the Highlanders in and around the city.  

He strenuously upheld the Government position during the two Jacobite Rebellions of 1715 and 1745 - the Jacobites being those who remained loyal to James VII after he was deposed by his son-in-law, William of Orange.  

This Minister feared God but feared no man. Once he was threatened by a fellow who said he would have thrashed McVicar but for his clerical coat. In a moment the coat was on the ground and the Minister cried: "There lies the Minister of the West Kirk and here stands Neil McVicar, and by Yea and by Nay, sir, come on". The man wisely fled !  

1721 - Act of Parliament restored patronage, that is the congregation lost the right to choose their own Ministers. Ministers and congregation strongly opposed the Act but did so in vain.  

1732 - Edinburgh was notorious for its riots and St Cuthbert’s experienced this around the Church doors. A new Minister was presented to the congregation but he was not acceptable to some of them and so a riot began.  

The City Guard, commanded by Captain Porteous, was called for, to quell the disturbance. Musket shots were fired and several rioters injured. Four years later, the same Captain Porteous and his Guards fired at rioters in the city, killing six of them. The mob took their revenge then and hanged Porteous in the Grassmarket.

1743 - Rev Neil McVicar produced a survey of the Parish population - 9,493 people living throughout 26 area divisions.  

1745 - September, news reached Edinburgh that the Highland Army was approaching. The Gaelic-speaking horde had a fearsome reputation and so great excitement and terror was roused in the population. 

Prince Charles Edward Stuart seized the city. Several hundred in Edinburgh actively supported him and attended the Ball at Holyrood House after the Jacobite victory at Prestonpans but the Ministers of St Cuthbert’s Church - Rev Pitcairn and Rev McVicar - opposed him.  

Apart from one service held at the Tron Church, there was no public worship in the city itself during this time and many people sought refuge in the countryside. The Ministers of St Cuthbert’s, however, continued to hold normal services which were well attended despite the political and military upheaval happening all around.  

1747 - After nearly forty years serving St Cuthbert’s, Neil McVicar died aged 75. He was buried in the Churchyard.  

1753 - Parish population over 12,000 and Church accommodation quite inadequate. The Little Kirk, as it was known, was almost a ruin.  

1754 - Proposal made and approved by the Kirk Session to build a Chapel of Ease on the south side of the parish. Funds were duly raised.  

1756 - The Chapel of Ease opened. It accommodated 1200 people and cost £640 and 10 shillings.  

1758 - Proposal made to build a Charity Work-house for the parish. It was in Riding School Lane to the west of the Church. 84 people were there the first year and it was enlarged as the need arose.  

1759 - In this year, the draining of the Nor' Loch (Princes Street Gardens area) was begun.  

1763 - The Little Kirk’s bell was hung in the Chapel of Ease.  

1772 - Sunday 27th September, the imminent collapse of the Church was feared. Tradesmen gave their verdict that it was beyond repair and should be replaced.  

1773 - Workmen, digging in the foundations of the pre-Reformation St Cuthbert’s Church, found a leaden coffin containing bones and a leaden urn.  

They opened the urn and a fragrant smell issued forth. It was found to contain an embalmed human heart. This most likely belonged to a Crusader killed in the Holy Land because the custom was to send the embalmed heart home to the Crusader’s family.  

1775 - 31st July, the new St Cuthbert’s Church was opened. Unusually, it had no steeple or bell but was fitted with a sundial !  

1789 - A steeple was added to the tower of 1775.  




If you are researching your family history, or are interested in finding out more about the history of St Cuthbert's Church or Parish, you can find information on available resources HERE

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St Cuthbert's Parish Church. 5 Lothian Road. Edinburgh. Scotland. EH1 2EP