The thread about some churches in Marchmont and the history of the German-speaking congregation of Edinburgh

Why settle for a single mansard roof when you can have a double mansard split across 3 levels?

Homeroyal House on Chalmers Crescent, Marchmont

Homeroyal House is a retirment community built on the site of the Argyle Place Church which burned down in 1974 during renovations (I believe a blow lamp set fire to paint). Argyle Place Church was founded in 1877 as a United Presbyterian Church (one of the various Victorian Presbyterian Churches in Scotland that were outwith the established Kirk) for “the use of those interested in the formation of a Congregation which should use unfermented wine at the Communion“. The building was completed and opened in 1880 to the designs of the archtect Alex McTavish. It joined the United Free Church in 1900 when the U. P. merged with most of the Free Church. In 1929 it joined with the Church of Scotland with much of the U. F. Church.

Argyle Place Church, after the fire.

The congregation merged with nearby St. Catherine’s Church in the Grange (which itself had come from the Free Church to the Church of Scotland in 1929 via the United Fee Church) in 1968 and was set to relocate to Argyle Place after the renovations were complete; the fire put paid to that and instead St. Catherine’s became the home of St. Catherine’s Argyle.

I suppose the 7-storey corner tower kind of echoes the former steeple tower and the dropping roofline too is a nod to what was there before. The dormers in the mansard are actually quite a vernacular tenement roof style (balconies and double storey excepted!).

Animated transition of Argyle Place Church, before the fire, overlaid on Homeroyal House
Animated transition of Argyle Place Church, before the fire, overlaid on Homeroyal House

Just over the road from Homeroyal House is Edinburgh’s German Speaking Congregation, one of my absolute favourite little bits of modernism around town. Very underrated and plain, but beautifully leafy and with that stained glass curtain wall. The Evangelische Gemeinde Deutscher Sprache in its own language, note that it does not refer to itself as a Church but as a Congregation. It is also referred to as the German Speaking Congregation in recognition that not all members may be German, and to intentionally dissociate itself from the post-war British attitudes to Germany as a country.

Chalmers Crescent German-speaking Congregation Church.

The stained glass of the “Laudate House”, by George Garson, is quite spectacular when seen from the inside. Laudate refers to the Laudate Psalms.

The Laudate House stained glass, picture © Die Brücke
The Laudate House stained glass, picture © Die Brücke

And what good bit of mid-century is complete without a cantilever? This church was completed in 1967 by Reiach & Hall to designs by German architect Alfred Schildt. The stained glass is by Scottish modern artist George Garson who specialised in mosaic, stained glass and concrete/stone panel work.

picture © Lutheran Church of GB

Edinburgh has had a German-speaking congregation since the late 1850s. Rev. Herr J. Blumenreich secured halls for worship for “The German Evangelical Church of Edinburgh-Leith” in Queen Street in 1862 from the then United Presbyterian Church (who would found Argyle Place Church 15 years later); the halls were part of its college and Blumenreich was their Hebrew Tutor. At this time there were 800 Germans living in Edinburgh and Leith, and his services attrached upwards of 100.

Johann Friedrich Blumenreich was born into a Jewish family from Schwerin in Prussian Poland in 1820 and converted to the Lutheran Church in 1843 during his apprenticeship as a bookbinder. Intending to become a Christian missionary amongst the Jewish diaspora in England, he arrived in London in 1844 via Rotterdam on the ship Giraffe and is recorded signing his details as an “Alien”. Being unable to speak English, he did not succeed in his chosen path and instead fell back to bookbinding during which time he learned English.

He came to Edinburgh as a missionary in the early 1850s and served in the Cowgate and the Canongate. He is recorded in 1856 taking part in the annual meeting of the “Society for the Relief of Destitute Foreigners” and is advertised as offering German and Hebrew classes to the general public. In 1858 he was ordained as a minister within the United Presbyterian Church. He was particularly concerned with the religious instruction of foreigners in his adopted city and was supported by the U. P. Church in circulating printed tracts and scriptures in foreign languages and in preaching in German. It is noted in 1861 that many Germans in the city were occupied as “workers in Bohemian glass“.

The German congregation built its own church under Blumenreich’s guidance, completed in 1881, on Rodney Street (the now Bellevue Chapel), to the designs of James B. Wemyss of Leith who described it as “bare and uninteresting“. There were many German speakers in Edinburgh at the time, apparently skilled workers drawn to the city due to the construction of the Forth Bridge.

Blumenreich retired as minister in 1885 on account of his failing health and died of apoplexy (a stroke) in 1894 aged 70, his occupation being the Clergyman of the German Church, and residence of 29 Gayfield Square. His wife Janet Holborn had predeceased him, dying in 1886. Of his children, William would become the German pastor in Dundee. In 1907, the Edinburgh & Leith post office directory lists the church Pastor as Friedrich Reimer and the Seemanspastor as Ulrich Thiesen. The Church officer was Otto Bollenbacher of 32 Hay Terrace (Broughton Road).

The Bellevue Chapel, CC-BY-2.0, Stuart Caie
The Bellevue Chapel, CC-BY-2.0, Stuart Caie

The congregation disbanded at the start of the first world war; all German men in the country were interred as aliens and the women and children had to return to Germany, leaving no congregation. The vacant church was taken over by The Christian Brethren. It did not publicly reconvene until over 30 years later, when they began to meet again in 1947 as “The German Speaking Congregation in Edinburgh” in the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church at Dean Bridge, built by John Henderson in 1837-38 in the “Early and Mid English Style”. (Holy Trinity itself had an interesting subsequent history as in 1957 the insides were taken over by the SSEB (South of Scotland Electricity Board) and filled with national grid high voltage transformer equipment. It was only recently converted back to ecclesiastical use.)

Former Holy Trinity Church, Edinburgh
Former Holy Trinity Church, Edinburgh

There were around 2,500 Germans in the Edinburgh area at this time; former Prisoners of War, Jews who had escaped Germany before the war, an influx of younger woman who had been brought to the country as domestic helps and women who had married British servicemen and returned home with them. In the early 1950s, the Glendinnings Dance School, based in a villa on Chalmers Crescent in Marchmont, became vacant and the German congregation acquired it, with the Rev. Dietrich Ritschl as minister. The villa became the manse, the dance hall the worship hall. By the mid 1960s, the congregation was able to replace the old villa with its current premises, it still serves as the German Church in Scotland.

My thanks to the Rev. Stuart Irvin, previously minister of St. Catherine’s Argyle, for the picture from the back of the Laudate House, it must be taken not long after completion and before Argyle Place Church succumbed to fire in 1974.

The back of the Laudate House. By courtesy of Rev. Stuart Irvin
The back of the Laudate House. By courtesy of Rev. Stuart Irvin

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These threads © 2017-2023, Andy Arthur


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