The early years…
The recorded history of North Leith begins in 1128 when King David of Scotland granted land to his newly founded Monastery of Holyrood. By the end of the 15th century the population had grown considerably and in view of this the Abbot of Holyrood in 1493 built a chapel dedicated to Saint Ninian on the north west bank of the Water of Leith, right beside the bridge which he had also constructed for the benefit of the people. (the bridge was demolished and replaced in 1788)
At the time of the Reformation the Church was temporarily closed and the inhabitants had to trudge all the way to Holyrood to go to worship. The people petitioned the authorities to have the chapel handed over to them and this was granted in 1569, but the building was far too small for their needs so it had to be demolished and rebuilt, a process completed in 1586.
Though they had their own church building, the people had to wait until 1599 to have their own first Minister – the Rev James Muirhead.
In 1606 the Scottish Parliament, sitting at Perth, passed an Act that conferred upon the church the full status of Parish Kirk. All that now remains of the original building is the 1675 Dutch style steeple and behind it the Minister’s manse, which are now incorporated with the premises of what was until recently McGregor’s Mill at Quayside Street.
A second pre-reformation chapel dedicated to Saint Nicholas (the patron saint of seafarers) stood in North Leith until its demolition in 1656 to make way for the Citadel of Leith constructed by General Monk in Cromwell’s time. Very little is known about its origins or precise location.In 1736, following the discovery of serious rotting in the roof timbers, St Ninian’s Church was extensively renovated, but by the end of the 18th century it was again too small to accommodate all the worshippers.