The Disruption

— #22 Newhaven Church

Overview Church Interior The Disruption War Memorials 20th Leith Co. Boy’s Brigade The Madras School
The Disruption of the Church of Scotland (1843) by David Octavius Hill. The painting depicts 457 people of the 1500 or so who were present at the assembly on 23 May 1843 at Tanfield Hall.  You can view the painting above in The National Portrait Gallery in Queen Street.

A Calamitous Event

The Church of Scotland split mainly over the right to appoint ministers to congregations.  Originally the presbyterian Church of Scotland didn’t allow patronage, i.e wealthy patrons or powerful clergymen to appoint ministers, but bad habits crept in and by early 19th century it was common for the appointments to be made by the ruling body or influential lay people.

For about ten years there were arguments at the yearly governing conference of the clergy and elders, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and on 18th May, 1843 it came to a head.

Those against the patronage marched out of  St Andrew’s Church in George Street and down the hill to Tanfield Hall, a former wool warehouse at Canonmills.  The warehouse is still there, saved from demolition because of its connection to the split.

They formed the Free Protesting Church of Scotland.  One of the ministers involved was the Reverend Dr Fairbairn who had only been in post since 1838 at Newhaven Church.  He was one of 450 ministers who, in many cases, gave up their income and manse.

Dr Fairbairn had the backing of his whole congregation and they just carried on in the church until the Church of Scotland, backed by order of the Court of Session demanded their building back and the church communion silver.  There is no record of the silver being returned but the congregation did leave in 1849 and a Church of Scotland congregation moved in under Rev Dr Graham.

The evicted congregation worshipped  for several years in the Fishermen’s Park and a wooden hall built just on your right where Masons the baker is now before building their own church on Pier Place opposite the harbour which is Route Stop 23.

The energy and zeal of the Free Protesting Church was evident throughout Scotland when consideration is given to the money raised to fund these new churches.  A further example is New College on The Mound.   Requiring a place to train young ministers for the new church, a divinity school was founded in November 1843 and three years later the first intake of students was accepted into the New College.  In similar manner, three years after James Fairbairn’s congregation were obliged to vacate Newhaven Church, they were able, through the generosity mainly of its fishermen to  worship in their own building.

The painter David Octavius Hill was present at the Disruption Assembly in St Andrew’s Church and decided to record the scene.  He received encouragement from another spectator, the physicist Sir David Brewster who suggested using the new invention, photography, to get likenesses of all the ministers present, and introduced Hill to the photographer Robert Adamson. Subsequently, a series of photographs were taken of those who had been present, and the large painting was eventually completed in 1866. The partnership that developed between Hill and Adamson pioneered the art of photography in Scotland. The painting predominantly features the ministers involved in the Disruption but Hill also included many other men — and some women — who were involved in the establishment of the Free Church.

The Church of Scotland kept disagreeing and splitting but gradually amalgamated again in the 20th century mainly leaving a lot of redundant buildings.