View of the Barclay Viewforth santuary from directly above

History of Barclay Viewforth Church

Barclay Viewforth Church (as it is now) is an almagamation of a number of churches over the years, the most recent being Viewforth Church in 2009. The Church – originally known as “The Barclay Church” after Mary Barclay whose legacy paid for its building – stands on the edge of the Bruntsfield Links, an area which used to be forest.  At that time, Bruntsfield was well outside Edinburgh proper.  The main road to London ran along the line of Barclay Terrace, past the wood burners’ cottages at Wright’s Houses, which stood on either side of the Golf Tavern.

The Grove Street Mission

In 1843, at the time of the Disruption of the Church of Scotland, the Tollcross area was a busy commercial terminus to the canal system which linked Edinburgh and Glasgow, the Forth & Clyde Canal. The area was rough and heavily populated, with many of the dockers living in the area The canal basin, where barges loaded, unloaded and turned round was in the area now occupied by the Lothian Road Cinema building backing on to Semple Street. The area around the basin was industrial. In 1848, the Free Church at St George’s West (not at that time in Shandwick Place)  began a Mission in Fountainbridge, in Grove Street, which was soon established in a tin roofed hut. This grew until 1853, when it became a sanctioned charge and one year later, in 1854, Fountainbridge Church was built with Rev James Hood Wilson ordained to preach there.  By 1860, however, under his inspired leadership, the Mission Church was thriving and the premises were packed to capacity.

It was becoming clear that if the work was to continue to expand a new and larger building would be required. Pressure was on the Presbytery of Edinburgh to consider a further building in the Tollcross area.

Mary Barclay

Meanwhile, on 3 December 1858, Miss Mary Barclay of 7 Carlton Terrace died, leaving over £10,000 for the erection of a Free Church.  A Board of 17 trustees was appointed and considered sites at Warriston, St Leonards and the Grange until the present site was chosen.

The choice of site was heavily influenced by several factors:

  • The expansion and success of the work of the Grove Street Mission (a Free Church Mission) under the leadership of James Hood Wilson, demonstrated that this densely populated area would benefit from a Free Church presence.
  • James Hood Wilson’s heart was in the work in Tollcross and Fountainbridge and he was loath to consider a move. He remained as the first Minister of the Barclay Church until his death in 1906.

More information

Barclay Viewforth fact sheet – a 2-sided A5 summary of the  building’s history and features

Download the Architectural guide to Barclay Viewforth church (-including some of its history too)