The thread about Junction Road Church in Leith and its long and complicated journey through different church and congregation schisms and mergers

Today’s auction house artefact is this silver church collection plate, inscribed “To the glory of God and in loving memory of Miss Jessie Gray, died 18th Nov. 1961, Dear sister of Rev. Joseph Gray. Easter 1964. Junction Road Church.

Junction Road Church stood on Great Junction Street. The building is still there, a rather plain, Neoclassical block, but the congregation merged into Leith St. Andrew’s Church of Scotland at the foot of Easter Road in 2006. It is now used by the Mohiuddin Jamia Masjid (Mosque) and education centre. (left )

Junction Road Church. Bryan Hickman via British Listed Buildings

As a church, it is yet another one of those born out of the various 18th and 19th century schisms in Scottish Presbyterianism and had quite a ride before it joined the established Kirk (Church of Scotland) in 1929. Junction Road Church started out in the Relief Church, an organisation that split off the Kirk in Fife in 1763 as the “Presbytery of Relief” for the “Relief of Christians oppressed in their Christian privileges” over the right of congregations to choose their own minister. The Leith congregation of the Relief Church sat in the old North Leith Kirk of St. Ninian as a temporary home when it formed in 1822. The parishioners were Leithers but had up to this point been worshipping in a Relief congregation at St. James Place in Edinburgh.

The St. James' Place Relief Church
The St. James’ Place Relief Church

The congregation is reputed to have been “a great Kirk for Captains and Company Porters“, the seafaring and dock-working men of Leith (and their families). In March 1824, the foundation stone of a new Relief church in Leith was laid on what would become Great Junction Street – except then was known either as Junction Road (or even St. Anthony’s Road). The Junction Road name stuck for the church, even though when the whole road scheme was finally completed in 1827 it was called Great Junction Street. At this time the congregation numbered 269, so this was quite a financial undertaking.

The church opened on the Sabbath, 30th Jan. 1825 at a build cost of £4,000. The minister was Francis Muir of Strathaven who preached “Lord, I have loved the habitation of Thy house and the place where Thine honour dwelleth.” in thanks to its temporary home. Reverend Muir was joined by a 2nd minister – Deans – in 1865 to assist with the burden of duties of a congregation approaching 900. Muir died in 1871, aged 75, after 49 years with the congregation. Deans resigned in 1878 owing to ill health brought on by the burden of his work.

The new minister – Duncan – was called in 1879, but resigned 3 years later owing to being unable to manage the large congregation that had been held together largely by their loyalty to the long serving Muir. The next minister – McLeod – died suddenly in 1886 after only 3 years service. His replacement – Scott – suffered a schism in the congregation in 1890 over the issue of unfermented communion wine. The dissenters left to form the Ebenezer Free Church down the street.

The Ebenezer United Free Church is now down the road on Bangor Road, having moved when the block it was contained within was subject to a slum clearance in the late 1970s.

At the close of 1899 the Junction Place Church had a healthy congregation of 1,187. By this time it was part of the United Presbyterian Church, (the U. P. Church you will see on old Ordnance Survey maps) the Relief Church having merged with the United Secession Church in 1847 (Any excuse to bring out this diagram!)

The Scottish church schism timeline diagram for 1847

Over this time, the Church that had sat on the fringes of Leith in orchards and market gardens when it was opened was swallowed up by the burgeoning burgh, and enclosed within dense housing and industries.

1849 OS Town Plan. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
1876 OS Town Plan. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
1893OS Town Plan. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

In 1900, the United Presbyterian Church joined with most of the Free Church to form the United Free Church. To celebrate, a new pipe organ was installed in 1903. (A motion to use a harmonium instead of an organ was defeated by “overwhelming majority“)

The Scottish church schism timeline diagram for 1900

The Church had also built itself a new hall to its rear, facing onto Bonninton Road, in 1894 and ran a very active social program from here. This included a literary society, a savings bank, clothing scheme, children’s work lessons, temperance band, mothers’ meetings etc.

Former Junction Road Church halls on Bonnington Road

A new minister – Rev. Joseph Gray – was inducted in 1921 in time for the church’s centenary. The congregation followed most of the United Free Church by joining the established Kirk in 1929. It is Gray’s sister to whom the collection plate is dedicated.

The Scottish church schism timeline diagram for 1929
The Scottish church schism timeline diagram for 1929

By 1975, long term population shifts (an ageing, depopulating Leith) and changes in worshipping habits saw Junction Road merge with the nearby St. Thomas’ on Mill Lane to form St. Thomas’ Junction Road. St. Thomas’ building would become home to the Sikh Gurdwara

The Sikh Gurdwara, formerly St. Thomas' Church
The Sikh Gurdwara, formerly St. Thomas’ Church

Writing in 2003, “We- Ministers, Elders, Managers and Members of Junction Road Church-do not know what the future has in store for us as individuals and for us as a Congregation”. The future held a merger with Leith St. Andrew’s at the foot of Easter Road, the congregation moving into the latter building

Leith St. Andrew's Church of Scotland
Leith St. Andrew’s Church of Scotland

This thread is one of an occasional series with the vague working title of “just why are there so many old churches in Edinburgh and Leith.” You can read a bit more in the thread on Leith Communion Tokens.

If you have found this useful, informative or amusing and would like to help contribute towards the running costs of this site (including keeping it ad-free) or to the book-buying budget, why not consider supporting me on ko-fi.

These threads © 2017-2023, Andy Arthur

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