St Ninian's Comely Bank

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A Brief History of St Ninian's

In the beginning . . .

St Ninian’s had its origins in a mission established in Stockbridge by Holy Trinity Church, Dean Bridge (still situated at the North-West corner of the bridge but no longer a Church). In the mid 19th Century Holy Trinity founded a mission church in St Bernard’s Row, Stockbridge, which was the start of St Ninian’s. St Ninian’s is the only survivor of these churches. The premises in St Bernard’s Row then became part of the garage of William Stein and Company before being redeveloped for housing in the late 1970s . A stone plaque, now outside the garden door of the Hazel Hall, bearing the words “Trinity Episcopal School 1864” is a reminder of the school which was on the ground floor with the little church above it.

The Holy Trinity Mission consisted of a chapel and two halls, each holding about 100 “and other rooms”, but the premises were small by modern standards. Matins and Evensong were held weekly with Holy Communion “as announced”. In 1915-16 the church finances were: £4 18s 9d for clergy and £7 7s 10d for mission. The church groups were: Mothers’ Meeting; Church Lads’ Brigade; Senior and Junior Bible Classes for Girls; Girls’ Club; and a Bible Class for Young Men.

By 1920 Holy Trinity Mission had gradually become more self-supporting but without any warning, either to the congregation of Holy Trinity or their Mission Church, the vestry of Holy Trinity announced their intention to sell the Mission “ by the end of the year”. Without consulting the Bishop, who was away from home, they removed everything from the Mission and posted a note on the door stating that it was closed with immediate effect. They also claimed all the Mission’s other assets including gifts.

It would be fascinating to find out all the interactions which followed this event but there must have been support for the Mission which was now renamed St Ninian’s Mission, thus retaining a link with Holy Trinity as the original Holy Trinity by Calton Hill had a chapel dedicated to St Ninian.

In June 1921 a report of the Bishop administering Confirmation to some 29 candidates at St Ninian’s Mission in The Scottish Chronicle (a weekly paper for church people in Scotland) reported that services and other activities were being maintained in the old St Bernard’s Row buildings (until such time as a sale is effected) with the consent of the Vestry of Holy Trinity Church, Dean Bridge.

Move to Comely Bank

As the Comely Bank area was growing in population, it was decided to build a new church further out beyond the original Comely Bank Terrace on a site granted as a feu by the Fettes Trust. The Flora Stevenson School, Fettes College, the old Poor House (now part of the Western General Hospital) and a few houses in Craigleith Road, were virtually the only other buildings. Fields, market gardens, and the old orchard which has since given its name to a complex of roads, covered the area. The city tram route came to an end at Flora Stevenson’s.

Raising the £1,500 cost of the new St Ninian’s, a large sum in 1920, meant an equally large effort in fundraising by the congregation as well as the generosity of others responding to their pleas for funds. The foundation stone of the church was laid in 1920 and in the following year the Church was opened for worship and dedicated by Bishop Walpole in honour of St Ninian. [The architect was John M D Peddie, who also designed St Kentigern’s, Gilmore Place and Holy Cross, Davidson’s Mains, as well as significant work on the interiors of St John’s, Princes Street, St Paul’s and St George’s, and Palmerston Place Church. He was most noted for his bank and insurance buildings and the Caledonian Hotel]. One interesting relic of those times was the old hut in the church garden (now the grassed area to the rear of the church), which was the living quarters of some of the early priests. It is now remembered by only 1938a a few people and in the 1970s it was quite ruinous and stripped of its furnishings. It measured only about 10ft by 8ft it can hardly have allowed for luxurious living. Those were pioneering days indeed.

Another, larger hut was purchased from the War Department and erected in the garden. This was used for social purposes of all sorts. The social life of the church flourished with the Boys’ Club (later the Scouts), Dramatic Club, Cycling Club, Tennis Club (whose members made their own court); Mothers’ Union, Lightbearers, and other church organisations including the mixed choir of men and women, boys and girls. One outstanding feature of St Ninian’s has always been the garden. Starting with a barren tract of land, devoted members of the congregation planned and developed it, and today what remains is still well tended by the congregation and is an oasis in what is now quite a built-up area. [In one corner we have created a Peace Garden which was consecrated on 23 June 2009 by the Rt Revd Brian Smith, Bishop of Edinburgh].

Move to a new building

It had always been intended that a larger and more permanent church should be erected, and this goal provided much of the inspiration for the activities of the congregation. The goal was finally reached in 1952 when, on the Eve of Whitsunday, the present church was dedicated and opened by Bishop Warner. (The architect was Mr R B Taylor of Edinburgh). The former church building was adapted for use as the church hall,

Both in the late 1960s and the early 1990s the bishops of the time have proposed the closure of St Ninian’s. In the late 1960s the church was “reprieved” with its Priest in Charge also becoming Episcopal Chaplain to the Western General Hospital. In the 1990s the church responded by upgrading its facilities and becoming financially independent.

Continuing development

By the 1990s the church hall was beginning to show its age, having been in use since 1921. A deal with a property company was reached to sell off the site of the church hall for the construction of 12 flats. As part of the deal the company built a new hall and entrance foyer with modern facilities, as well as the church assuming ownership of a three bedroom ground-floor flat intended for use by the incumbent (replacing a very small top-floor flat in the locality). This considerably enhanced the facilities available to the church and in particular the hall came to be much used by local groups. Internally the church was redecorated, new sanctuary panels commissioned and a new organ installed.

The new foyer was enhanced by large painting of Christ the King (2008), gifted by the artist, and a statue of St Ninian (2011) which was commissioned by a member of the congregation and donated to the church. A description of both of these can be found by following the links in the text or in the Navigation Bar in the left margin.

In 2010 – 2011 during the interregnum between Andrew Bain and Frances Burberry the flat adjacent to the church no longer met the diocesan criteria for accommodating an incumbent  and it was necessary for the church to buy a house in the locality, with the flat continuing to be let on a permanent basis.

In 2014 the original (1952) church heating pipework had reached the end of its useful life and needed to be replaced.  To enable this work some of the flooring tiles had to be removed. It was found that the flooring tiles contained some asbestos and since this work had to be carried out by specialists the decision was taken to completely remove all of them.   The pews which had already been second hand in 1952 were not suitable for re-use. It was decided not only to carry out all the work needed but to leave the church in good order for the future. After the upgrading of the heating, carpet tiles were laid and chairs purchased to give a more modern and flexible worship space. A prayer corner was created which could be used for small groups or private prayer.

The garden to the front of the church continues to be appreciated by local residents and by staff from local businesses in their lunch breaks. The Gardening group continues to take good care of this local resource. The garden,  being on two levels,  has until now only had access by steps to the larger lower level which includes the Peace Garden. With the help of Waitrose Community Matters and the Diocesan Mission Fund the church has been  able to carry out work to enable full access to the lower garden.

Over the years people have come and gone, but even in these days of greater mobility there are several members of the congregation who have worshipped in St Ninian’s for many years. The congregation has never been of a very great size but it has a friendly “family” atmosphere that is sensed by all who come to join us.


Austin Clark-Barnacle


John Stephenson Jubb


Malcolm Bailey

1923 – 27

Edward Griffiths

1927 – 28

Herbert Torwald Coles

1928 – 40

Leslie John Webber

1940 – 43

Ronald Stanley Halls

1943 – 46

John Shand

1946 – 49

Arthur Robert Joseph Molyneux

1949 – 55

Edmund Smith Dawson

1955 – 56

James Johnston Cleland

1956 – 64

William Claude Underhill

1964 – 68

David Arthur Benson Jowitt

1969 – 77

Richard Philip Price

1977 – 81

Reginald Cecil Henning

1982 – 85

George Spencer

1985 – 92

Peter John Douglas Allen

1993 – 2006

Andrew John Bain

2006 – 10

Frances Sheila Burberry

2011 –