THE HISTORY OF ST MARGARET'S CHURCH
THE ABBEYHILL MISSION
St Margaret's Episcopal Church, Easter Road, Edinburgh has its origin in the mission work of two remarkable Edinburgh ladies, Miss Marrion Weir and Miss Margaret Weir, who lived in Regent Terrace, an elegant Georgian street overlooking the Palace of Holyroodhouse. In the 1870s on the other side of Calton Hill was a large and growing working class district around the St Margaret's Railway Workshops and a number of foundries and glass works. The Misses Weir began visiting in this district and in 1877 established a savings bank, mothers' meeting, Sunday school and mission services with the help of the Revd J.W. Burrows of Loretto School. In May of that year the 'Abbeyhill Mission' moved into two converted flats in Salmond Place. The mission grew and in 1878 moved into larger premises at Comely Green. Much help was given to the fledgeling mission by the Revd Alexander Chinnery-Haldane, later bishop of Argyll and The Isles.
The Abbeyhill Mission was in the pastoral district of St Paul's Episcopal Church, York Place (now St Paul's and St George's) but the Misses Weir were Anglo-Catholics, supporters of a movement in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion which emphasised catholic teaching, dignified worship and work with the poor. They were helped in their mission by Fr Alexander Murdoch of All Saints Episcopal Church, Tollcross (now St Michael and All Saints) and when the mission had grown to over a hundred members the decision was made to build a church.
Land was obtained on Easter Road and the Edinburgh architect Hippolyte Jean Blanc was commissioned by the vestry of St Paul's to draw up plans. The new church cost £1394, was dedicated to St Margaret of Scotland and opened on Thursday 4 November 1880 by Bishop Henry Cotterill. This is commemorated in a stone panel over the main door.
'The Buildings of Scotland' described it as 'a village-scale church with a broad but cosy interior'. It is a small cruciform gothic church orientated north-south (the liturgical east where the altar and sanctuary are is to the north). It has a finnialed fleche at the crossing, a three-bay aisless nave with a lean-to narthex to the liturgical north-west, a piend-roofed polygonal apse containing the sanctuary, a north transept containing the old high altar, a south transept used as the vestry and the school wing with church hall behind the church.
Next door to St Margaret's and looking like its big brother is the former Guthrie Memorial Church, built by the Free Church in 1882. It closed in 1962 and is now flats. A dispute between the Misses Weir and the vestry of St Paul's led to the foundation of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit at Meadowbank in 1886 which developed into St Matthew's Episcopal Church (closed in 1944).
Inside St Margaret's the nave has stained glass windows of SS Margaret and Michael, a First World War memorial by G Brodrick of Twickenham, and SS Andrew and Margaret by William Wilson, 1947. The gothic timber pulpit of 1818 is from St Paul's church and the organ was built in 1893 by Eustace Ingram and rebuilt by same firm in 1945.
The old mission rooms at Comely Green were turned into a Working Men's Club. Marrion Weir wrote of the club in 1880, 'the old vestry is set aside as a dining and coffee room where good food is provided at moderate prices... the large hall is open every evening as a reading and smoking room where a library, games, papers etc. are provided for the members... upwards of 80 members have already joined the St Christopher's Club'. At the same time the church school was growing and new buildings were erected alongside the church in 1882.
THE LIFE OF THE CONGREGATION
From the first the life of the congregation centred around the celebration of the Eucharist. Care was taken at the beginning to obtain all things necessary for the celebration of the sacraments and some of the furnishings of the sanctuary have been made by members of the congregation. Under the leadership of a number of priests the congregation of St Margaret's continued mission work in the Easter Road area, became independent of St Paul's in 1898 and was made an incumbency in 1925. The church registers tell us something of the work of the members of the congregation, they include: silver smith; mason; brewer; iron moulder; railway servant; engine driver; and bookbinder.' One key member of the congregation from the very first service was a sergeant of the Royal Engineers, John Davidson, of Carlyle Place, and soldiers from Piershill Barracks attended the church for a number of years, using the door in the north transept.
The church has been an important centre for the Easter Road area and some members of the present congregation have family links with the church going back to the early days. The school closed after the Second World War but the buildings are now used by the Mannafields Christian School. Various clergy have served the church and recently it has been linked with Old St Paul's Episcopal Church in the Old Town.
A more detailed history of the foundation and early years of St Margaret's is found in James Wynn-Evans, St Margaret's: The Story of the Founding of St Margaret's Episcopal Church, Easter Road, Edinburgh (1980) - copies available from the Church