Dr James Fairbairn

— #23 St Andrew's Church

Overview Church Interior Dr James Fairbairn Hill and Adamson
Bessy Crombie, Mrs Carnie Noble, Miss Eliza Fairbairn, Rev Fairbairn's sister, Rev Dr James Fairbairn, unknown woman, Mary Combe, unknown woman and Mrs Margaret (Dryburgh) Lyall.

A Giant Amongst Men

Rev Dr James Fairbairn (1804-1879) may have been a man of slight build but to his Newhaven parishioners, he was a giant amongst men. 

On the 25th January 1838, Rev Fairbairn was ordained the first minister of the newly consecrated church of Newhaven.  It had been built at the foot of a small brae known as “Grassy Bank” which later became Craighall Road (The Cut) when the wide road was constructed.

After much campaigning by Rev James Buchanan of North Leith Parish Church in which jurisdiction Newhaven fell,  the new building was consecrated in 1836 and Newhaven was designated a quoad sacra parish in its own right, in other words with a fully independent Kirk Session able to make its own decisions, spiritual and temporal.

“The Disruption”,that split the Church of Scotland and caused the Kirk Session of Newhaven Church, along with others put a great strain on Rev Fairbairn who was never robust at best.  He wintered in 1846-47 in Malta to improve his health before returning to Scotland although he was in constant correspondence with his Kirk Session during that time.

For the next nine years or so, Rev Fairbairn and his peripatetic congregation worshipped where they could.  In time, St Andrew’s Church was founded and built predominantly through the generous subscription of the fishermen of Newhaven.  Because of this, St Andrew’s, which was consecrated in 1852, was always known as “The Fishermens’ Kirk”. 

Look around the building and you will see many corbels all with a theme of the sea.

7_1101 Church and steeple. Until 1882, the church had no steeple. The new incumbent minister, Rev David Kilpatrick, proposed that a steeple would be a fitting tribute to Rev Fairbairn. The fishermen of Newhaven willingly brought the stone over from a quarry in Fife as their contribution

For the next 25 years until his death in 1879, James Fairbairn faithfully served his congregation spurning all approaches to move to a different parish where a higher public profile would have been assured.

Until then, the church had no steeple but, instigated by Dr Fairbairn’s successor, Rev Dr David Kilpatrick, a fine 120-foot steeple was added in 1882 as a mark of remembrance of his long and faithful ministry. James Fairbairn was popular for many reasons.  As his obituary at the time proclaimed, “Dr Fairbairn’s genial manner and attractive social qualities contributed no less than his able pulpit appearances to render him one of the most popular men in the district”.

Corbels depicting Shells, Crab (Partan) and Seaweed

He had a cultivated literary reputation and, upon his death, left his extensive library in his will for the benefit of his successors in the manse and to the congregation.  As a minister, he was particularly noted for his devotion to the bereaved families who had lost a husband, father, son or brother to the sea.  His devout attention to their needs, spiritual and temporal, was very much appreciated. 

Moved by the constant funeral services for those who had been drowned, he was pivotal in a campaign to improve the design of the fishing boats by having them fitted with decks and a wheelhouse as well as fitting out the boats with new gear.  The men paid a proportion of the £250 cost and Dr Fairbairn had no difficulty in getting the balance advanced to them. In all, 33 boats were completed and a significant improvement in both safety and prosperity resulted.

Corbels depicting Starfish and Shells, Seaweed and Rope and Anchor