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Edinburgh, Leith, St Ninian's Chapel

Chapel (16th Century)

Site Name Edinburgh, Leith, St Ninian's Chapel

Classification Chapel (16th Century)

Canmore ID 52007

Site Number NT27NE 8

NGR NT 2684 7647

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Edinburgh, City Of
  • Parish Edinburgh (Edinburgh, City Of)
  • Former Region Lothian
  • Former District City Of Edinburgh
  • Former County Midlothian

Archaeology Notes

NT27NE 8.00 2684 7647

See also

NT27NE 8.01 NT 2685 7648 16th century Manse

NT27NE 752 Post-medieval Mill

NT27NE 829 18th century Tenement

(NT 2684 7647) Granary (NAT)

Formerly St Ninian's Chapel (NR) (1493)

OS 6"map, Edinburghshire, 1st ed., (1853)

In 1493 Robert Bellenden, Abbot of Holyrood, founded and endowed a chantry chapel for two secular canons on the N bank of the Water of Leith, dedicating it to St Ninian. The fabric fell into ruin after the Reformation, was restored in 1595 and became the church of a new parish of North Leith in 1606. It was considerably rebuilt in 1736. When a new parish church was built (at NT 2627 7652) in the early 19th century, the building was let to other congregations, and in 1825, it was converted into a granery which, in turn, has been rebuilt as a mill. The only remains of the older masonry now left exposed are in the lower part of the S side-wall.

RCAHMS 1951.

NT 2683 7647 Recording of standing buildings and exploratory excavations in the surrounding yards were carried out at the site of St Ninian's Chapel (later church and manse) and the N end of the 1430s 'Old Bridge of Leith' (NT27NE 7)

The standing building complex on the site contains the remains of a 6 x 5m, cellared, three-storey building. The W and N walls of this tower house-style structure survive to a height of over 10m and pre-date the surviving ashlar W wall of the original St Ninian's Chapel, built by the Abbot of Holyrood in 1493. The chapel was replaced in 1600 by a basically rectangular church building, 19.8 x 15m, of one storey, applied to the W face of the cellared building (which became the session house) and incorporating the W wall of the chapel. To the E of the kirk, and S of the session house, a four-storey manse was built in 1606. A garden was reclaimed from the banks of the Water of Leith in 1613, with waterproofed perimeter walls. The manse was extended to the S by a three-storey building, now demolished, in the late 17th century. The session house was extended to the E, with a turnpike stair in the NE corner, surmounted by an ogival steeple, in 1675, using stone from the demolished English Church in the nearby Cromwellian citadel. Substantial alterations were carried out on the church fabric in 1735 and, in 1751, the original manse building was extended to the E, with a chamfered SE corner to avoid impinging on the road from the 'Old Bridge'. In 1816 the minister and congregation moved to a new site and the building complex was given over to industrial uses; a substantial four-storey mill building was constructed in 1825, using the N and S walls of the church as foundations, and retaining the manse and session house as offices. Several subsidiary industrial buildings were constructed around this complex during the 19th and early 20th centuries, which have been demolished during the current conversion of the buildings to domestic accommodation and office space.

Sponsor: City of Edinburgh Council.

D Henderson 1999


Publication Account (1951)

218. St. Ninian's Church and Manse, Church Street.

ln 1493 Robert Bellenden, Abbot of Holyrood, founded and endowed a chantry chapel for two secular chaplains on the N. bank of the Water of Leith, dedicating it to St. Ninian. The fabric fell into ruin after the Reformation, was restored in 1595, and in 1606 became officially the church of a new and independent parish of North Leith. The Statistical Account of Scotland (1) states "both the church and manse are as old as the times of popery, but they have undergone a variety of repairs; the church received a very considerable one in the year 1736, when it was in a great measure rebuilt." In the early 19th century, when a new parish church had been provided upon another site, the old one was let to other congregations; and in 1825, when the last of these removed, the place was converted into a granary, which in its turn has been rebuilt as a mill [NT27NE 752]. The only remains of the older masonry now left exposed are in the lower part of the S. side-wall.

[NT27NE 8.01] The manse, however, which stood at the N.E. corner of the church, still exists in Church Street as the offices of Quayside Mills. It is built in two parts, of which the one to the W. represents the parsonage of the two canons of Holyrood who served the church; while the E., and larger, portion, which covers the entrance to the church, was added after the Reformation to accommodate married clergy. The building as a whole has all the appearance of a late 16th-century structure which has been remodelled towards the end of the century following. It is three storeys in height and L-shaped on plan, its wing containing the staircase and terminating in a timber clock-tower with a lead-covered ogival roof following the Dutch fashion. The re-entrant angle is occupied by a modern brick building of a single storey. The masonry is squared rubble. The lowest windows have been altered. Those on the first floor have moulded margins, while the single light on the second floor, which lacks its pediment, has back-set margins. The entrance to the stair, now covered by the extension, bears the date 1675 on the lintel. The interior has lately been modernised. In the steeple hangs a bell inscribed FOR THE KIRK OF NORTH LEITH DAVID HODGE FECIT 1738. The iron spindle and cardinal points and the copper weathercock upon the apex of the roof are modern, those that they replaced being preserved in the National Museum of Antiquities (2).

[NT27NE 829] From the S. gable of the manse extends a plain, rubble-built, four-storeyed tenement, probably of the first half of the 18th century, which has its S.E. corner splayed back. Through the centre of the front runs a pend, by which the church behind was entered; it has a rusticated archway at its outer end, the keystone of which is scrolled and bears a grotesque head. The windows have back-set margins. Over the central window on the first floor has been inserted the lintel of the main entrance to the church, bearing the inscription BLESED AR THEY YAT HEIR YE VORD OF GOD AND KEIP IT/ LVK XI 1600.

[For a description of the church plate, see RCAHMS 1951 p.252]

RCAHMS 1951, visited c.1941

(1) Vol. vi, p. 574 (1793). (2) P.S.A.S., iv, (1860-2), p. 295·

Publication Account (1981)

The church of North Leith was dedicated to the 'honor of God, the Virgin and St.Ninian' and was erected in 1493 under the auspices of Abbot Robert Bellenden, although North Leith did not become a parish in its own right until 1606. The church appears to have been extensively repaired after the Reformation (Hutcheson, 1865, 124) and replaced in 1815-16. A granary was erected on the site of the old church (Hutcheson, 1865, 126).

Information from ‘Historic Edinburgh, Canongate and Leith: The Archaeological Implications of Development’ (1981).


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