Liberton Free Church – the lost church

M.P.Collingwood – Greater Liberton Heritage Project

The area now known as Ellen’s Glen was formerly known as Stenhouse, at the junction of Ellen’s glen Road and Ellen’s Glen Loan.  Hidden in the undergrowth and by years of the dumping of garden refuse, lie the remains of a church long since forgotten.

Church remains Ellen’s Glen road

The ‘Disruption’ in the Church of Scotland in 1843 led to the breaking up of many churches and in our area this was Gilmerton church, where the minister the Reverend Walter Fairlie, along with many of his congregation joined the Free Church. Initially they met in local halls but collected enough money to build their own church. There must have been some large donations, for only four years later in 1847 their new church, complete with steeple, was opened in Stenhouse and named the Liberton Free Church.No photographs or drawings of the church have been found but the photograph below shows the outline of the steeple through the trees.The photograph below shows a former entrance to the church from Ellen’s Glen Road.

Liberton Free Church Steeple circa 1940

The first ordnance survey was being carried out and the surveyors kept detailed notebooks of their finds in each area (1). They reported that the church was built in 1847 and described it as being ‘a small neat church capable of accommodating 300’. Having measured the site and found it to be approximately 122 feet by 63 feet at its widest, the congregation could not all have attended at once and possibly had no pews.

Rev. Fairlie must have been a man of some wealth, as he built himself a manse on Lasswade road near the Ellen’s Glen Road . The building has been enlarged and is today the Northfield Hotel. Rev. Fairlie died in 1856 and was succeeded by D.K. Guthrie, the son of the renowned Dr. Guthrie (3). 

The surveyors also stated that underneath the church there was a school ‘taught by a competent master and mistress attended by about 50 boys and 30 girls …’.  

Closed Entrance to Church site  Ellen’s Glen Road 2019

The congregation had quickly become too large for the building and in 1869 they moved to the new Liberton Free Church on Gilmerton road, now called Liberton Northfield.

The church at Stenhouse had a life of only 21 years but the building continued as a school until 1889 (2) when it moved to the new school at Liberton.The building remained, initially used as a grain store for the mill at Stenhouse but it gradually deteriorated and collapsed in a storm in the winter of 1947/8 (4) The church tower had lasted until the end and when it fell its bell was still hanging – this however disappeared that night never to be found (4).

References

  1. Surveyors notebooks 1897. Historic Environment Scotland
  2. Ferenbach C. 1975. Annals of Liberton; Liberton Kirk Session.
  3. Good G. 1893. Liberton in Ancient and Modern Times. Andrew Elliot; Edinburgh
  4. Stenhouse G. 2006. -Interview with long-term resident

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