The First Clergy of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral Edinburgh

St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Palmerston Place, Edinburgh was designed by George Gilbert Scott and consecrated in 1879. St Mary’s was funded by the bequest of two sisters, Mary and Barbara Walker, whose fortune as landowners had been made by the housing and railway development of the West End of Edinburgh. How did this new Cathedral understand itself? What identity did its architect provide? Who were its congregation? How did it belong in a Presbyterian industrial city? I begin with a group of eleven clergy who were closely connected with its foundation, and who provided its spiritual vision.

The Clergy

Bishop Charles Terrot and Dean Edward Ramsay of Edinburgh, and John Sinclair were older clergy who had known the Walker sisters, and were appointed by them as Trustees to plann the Cathedral.

In March 1871 Mary Walker died and the will came into effect, but the project was launched amidst a complete change in clerical personnel. Henry Cotterill became coadjutor in 1871 then Bishop on Terrot’s death in 1872. The energetic Dean Ramsay also died in 1872. Cotterill appointed James Montgomery Dean in 1873. Finally Sinclair, last of the old guard, died in 1875.

In 1878 the Cathedral chapter was appointed. Montgomery was made Dean of the Cathedral (an office later re-named Provost) as well as of the Diocese. Sub-Dean John Cazenove and Chaplains William Meredith and Reginald Mitchell-Innes comprised the other full-time staff, while Incumbent Canons Daniel Fox Sandford of St John’s Princes Street, Gildart Jackson of St James’ Leith and William Bird Bushby of the Duke of Buccleuch’s chapel at Dalkeith were senior clergy in the diocese of Edinburgh.

Scottish or English?

The question usually first asked of a Scottish Episcopalian’s identity is, ‘were they Scottish or English?’, but the answers for this group were far from straightforward.

Bishop Terrot’s parents, who met in India where Terrot was born, were both from French Hugenot families. When his father was killed in action his family invited his mother to live with them in Berwick-upon-Tweed. Terrot was educated in Cambridge but holidayed with his uncle, incumbent of the Episcopal Chapel at Haddington, succeeding him in that post and spending his entire career in the diocese of Edinburgh.

John Sinclair, son of the editor of the Statistical Account of Scotland, grew up in Edinburgh, studied in Oxford and became Rector of Sutterby in Lincolnshire, but aged 25 returned to the diocese of Edinburgh for seventeen years, before heading in 1839 for an ecclesiastical-political career in London.
Ramsay, son of the Sheriff of Kincardineshire, was largely educated in England: at Durham and Cambridge, with his uncle in Yorkshire, and as a curate in Somerset where, in charge in the absence of the rector, he was remembered for befriending the local Methodists. He returned to the Scottish Episcopal Church in 1824 and was distinguished by his energy and intelligence, playing an important role in removing barriers between the Scottish Episcopal and Anglican church, and shining as a national literary figure.

Bishop Cotterill was the son of the evangelical Rector of Blakeney in Norfolk and educated at Cambridge. He came to Scotland as Bishop of Edinburgh late in his career, after serving for thirty-five years in Madras, Brighton and Grahamstown in South Africa. Montgomery, grandson of the Baronet of Stobo, made his career in the land of his birth, although he received his theological training in Durham and spent two years as a curate in Dorset before Terrot recruited him as curate for St Paul’s York Place.

Cazenove, from London, had a British Tractarian formation as curate at St Peter’s, Leeds, followed by twenty years as Vice-Provost then Provost of the Cathedral of the Isles on Cumbrae in Argyll, before settling in Edinburgh where he developed a distinguished educational career.

Sandford was a Scot by birth, education, and career. However, he was the grandson of a prominent English immigrant in whose diocese the elder clergy had grown up,  Bishop Daniel Sandford (d.1830), the first Englishman to become a bishop in the Scottish Episcopal Church, assisting it to emerge from post-Jacobite obscurity and into communion with the Church of England. The migrant missionary gene emerged late in his grandson’s life: he became Bishop of Tasmania in 1883.

Jackson and Bushby were English immigrants, as were the young chaplains, Meredith and Mitchell-Innes, who were at the start of careers that would lead both of them further north: Meredith after a period as Vice-Principal of Chichester Theological College returned to Scotland as Rector of Muthill and then Crieff in Fife, while Mitchell-Innes held various diocesan posts in Edinburgh, Glasgow and finally Inverness.

To categorise any individual in this group as Scottish, English or even British would be misleading: collectively, they were Episcopalians of the British Empire. What did they think about theology, Scottish identity, church establishment, social action? What shape did the teaching in the new church take? To find out you’ll have to read my full article. All I need to do is write it.

Gothic Revival in Westminster

I was invited to St Matthew’s Westminster to give a talk on religion and environmental issues at the inaugural Just Festival Westminster, and unexpectedly found myself in a George Gilbert Scott church.

St Matthew’s, begun in 1849, was a high-church mission in a notorious slum area of Westminster known as the Devil’s Acre. I dread to think what the price of these flats might be now, but the narrow lanes and names like “Perkin’s Rents” and “Old Pye Street” recall a time when bare food and shelter were foremost in people’s minds. A church and, as so often in these missions more importantly a school, represented a great leap forward in civilization.

St Matthew’s is a strange church, because it burn down in the 1970s, so is a now a collection of rescued George Gilbert Scott fragments juxtaposed with unashamedly modern additions and reconstructions. There is still a sense of how the weary and heavy laden of Devil’s Acre might have come there to find rest amongst the beauty:

And been raised above the squalor of the lanes outside by the combined splendour and homeliness of George Gilbert Scott’s gilded reredos, depicting the nativity:

The fact that the original stained glass consists of rescued fragments makes one look at them with fresh appreciation, perhaps more as the original beholders saw them, perhaps feeling that they were rescued fragments of humanity themselves.

St Matthew’s is like a beautiful patchwork casket for new works of religious art. I particularly like this Mary and child, with her brazen nudity and all the stroppiness of the Magnificat. She isn’t just talking about God showing strength with his arm, scattering the proud and exalting the humble and meek, she’s jolly well doing it herself:

The Just Festival in which I was participating included a new piece of art showing different faces of God: much bigger and more spectacular than it appears in my picture. My friend Raymond, whose organisation of the Festival included procuring the enormous exhibition panel to display it on, was worried it would be a bit controversial but it seemed to meet with general acclaim.

Apparently the naked Mary had caused a bit of a stooshie. So did my “Earth be Glad” talk about religion and the environmental crisis. I feel I’m in good company. Whether you’re a nineteenth-century Tractarian missionary, or a twenty-first century environmental campaigner, it’s difficult to sing Mary’s song at choral evensong every week without becoming a bit revolutionary:

He hath showed strength with his arm;
He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts;
He hath put down the mighty from their seat,
And hath exalted the humble and meek;
He hath filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich he hath sent empty away.

So what are you actually asking us to do?

This seems to be the most frequently asked question at the talks I give on religion and the environmental crisis. I’m always slightly put out by it, because the whole talk is about what I think people ought to do. I agree people deserve more help than I give them in the talk: I’m just not sure I’m equipped to do it: the talk itself was my contribution and now it’s over to you. However, here is an attempt at a framework based on my talk which might form a useful programme for a group wishing to pursue the idea of looking for hope in the middle of mass extinction.

I think you need to learn, speak, and act.


My talk is challenging and fresh not because I’m on the pulse of the zeitgeist, but because I hunt obscure things in dusty archives — in news that doesn’t make headlines, in ancient wisdom our culture neglects. As I argued in my talk, in the face of mass extinction maybe outdated religious concepts might turn out to be useful after all. The first law of history is ‘we ain’t no smarter than our ancestors’. If you agree we need a change in discourse, the first thing I’m asking you to do is to learn with me. Your brains are as big as mine. If I’m ahead in my thinking it’s only because I’ve been puzzling over this for the past ten years. There’s only one of me and there are many of you. The world needs your brains. Your first task is, get learning.

“When people know what they are facing, that’s when they dig deep, and find that miraculous hope and courage. That’s when they stop being afraid.”

Learn about prophets

“You are Jonah. You must be thrown into the sea. You must find the courage that’s only found when you’ve sunk to the very bottom. You must be vomited up on the beach, and you must go and deliver the message. You must turn into the hope.”

A prophet in Christian tradition is not someone who foretells the future by reading entrails. It is someone whose insights about the present are so clear that they can understand the probability of future consequences. This is what climate scientists do today, as well as those involved in equally important and less controversial environmental research. However, what makes a prophet different from most scientists is the scientist must retain a detached and objective perspective, whereas the prophet commits his or her whole physical life to becoming the message. This often involves great personal sacrifice, but this is the secret of the prophet’s influence: their actions tend to speak louder than their words. A valuable study exercise for a group would to each take one of the prophets in the Bible and see how they go about this, and to do what I did with Jonah. You might be surprised. Try it for Micah, Amos, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Elijah, and Christianity’s greatest prophet (alongside his other roles), Jesus. Have each person report back and then discuss them. What would it mean for you to take these prophets as your role models today?

– We have an environmental crisis going on, and you’re asking us to sit around doing bible study?

– How can a discourse change, can thought patterns change, without thinking and learning? The problem is, you have been used to fruitless, theoretical discussions about the bible, about theories of theology or morality that can never be put to the test or be other than subjective. I’m asking you to read it as a book of practical wisdom that’s relevant for real life now. Oh and quit the fruitless religious discussions.

“Whether you believe in God, or not, or don’t know, today it doesn’t matter, because the situation of Jonah stays the same, and our situation, so spookily similar to Jonah’s, stays the same.”  

Learn about the environmental crisis

“Ecosystems are good at recovering, but faced with increasingly violent assaults from climate change, pollution and exploitation, they cannot recover, and eventually collapse. Not decline gradually: collapse. If this is new to you, I urge you to go and find out about it. The picture has got spectacularly worse over the past few years, and the science has not been widely reported.”

Find out what scientists are saying about the environment: global deforestation, the Pacific rubbish dump, Himalayan glacier melt, what mass extinction means. Read the report on the state of the oceans ( I do commend Twitter not because it’s trendy but because it’s useful for getting at the right information quickly: many scientists use it to provide ongoing succinct updates of what they regard as their most important findings. Find a teenager to show you how to use it, then get in touch with me (@eleanormharris) and I’ll point you in the direction of useful resources.

– But Twitter sounds difficult and strange and scary!

– You asked me for hope. I’ve looked for hope and found it in you. Do you expect it to be easy? If you think Twitter sounds difficult and scary, I think you will have difficulty being the hope of the world. As Jesus said (when he wasn’t saying ‘don’t be afraid’), if you can’t be trusted with trivial things, whose going to put you in charge of more important ones?


“Either we transform our eating, or we starve. Either we transform our travelling, or we stop forever. Either we transform our living, or we die. Not modify: not reduce a bit: not next year: totally transform, now.”

I didn’t mean this metaphorically, and I wasn’t exaggerating.

It is often objected that your individual effort won’t make any difference. This is true of the individual who is merely doing things to salve their conscience, or as the result of an individual advertising campaign. But it is not true in your case, because you are prophets, and an essential part of being a prophet (as you discovered earlier) is that they are completely personally committed to their message.

“Get out of this church and demonstrate that humanity can be more than just a rogue species”

Here are two suggestions:

First suggestion:

  1. Go through the gospels and find all the passages where people ask Jesus what they should do.
  2. Make a list of his advice.
  3. Take it.

Second suggestion:
1. Make one list of all the things you do which contribute to mass extinction, by using unsustainably produced resources, polluting, or damaging ecosystems. Do this in discussion with a group and with the help of on-line resources.
2. Make a second list of all the ways you can think of to create an environmental handprint, that is, to increase biodiversity and counter mass extinction.

3. Which do you think is currently bigger, your handprint or your footprint? Challenge yourselves and one another to live so your handprint is bigger than your footprint, to leave the world more biodiverse than you found it.

Try both. How do they compare?

Handprint Ideas

tree planting and reforestation
wildlife gardening, window boxes for bees, green roofs and ‘no mow’ grass areas
using consumer power to persuade producers of food or wood to encourage biodiversity
install solar panels to generate electricity without contributing to climate change
find out about biodiversity and land use (grazing, crops, housing, recreation like golf courses and grouse moor), and support policies that improve biodiversity
give to charities and invest in projects that conserve or restore biodiversity (for example, money saved reducing your environmental footprint, or you might consider your pension and other investments)
support the global education of women: it’s the quickest, cheapest and fairest way to slow population growth and increase sustainable practices locally


“You have to be the prophets, who proclaim the message.”

Prophets speak. I got your interest by speaking. Discourse change leads policy change and happens, sometimes quite quickly, when the message of a few voices is taken up by many. My talk used the model of Jonah’s message spreading around Nineveh then being taken up as policy by the king. You think I’m naturally good at speaking: I’m not. I’m naturally inarticulate and prefer hiding in history archives, which is why I wrote my talk out word-for-word and spent much time rehearsing it. If you think what I said is right and important, it’s up to you to find ways to tell other people: not just in talks, but in conversation, by letter, by postcard, in sermons, in ten-foot-high letters on a wall, on Twitter (scary!!). I can send you the text of my talk if you like, but it would be much better to write your own. In your group, make a list of practical ways you could be prophets, and speak to the powerful.

– But speaking out is not my thing: it’s difficult and scary!

– Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid of looking a fool. The only fear allowed round here is `fear of the Lord’.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Proverbs 1.7

“You’ll realise as the story unfolds that `the Lord’ represents everything that happens which isn’t human decision or will: objective scientific knowledge; the tugging voice of conscience; the uncontrollable forces of nature.”


Use your initiatives. I don’t know much and I’m not in charge of anything. I only have one brain and you have many.

If you’re reading this without having heard the talk, do invite me to come and give it. I’m told it’s thought-provoking. Clergy and non-churchgoers seem to find it most interesting, which is interesting!

And do keep in touch. Comment on this blog. My email is Do that scary Twitter thing.

There’s a discourse that needs changed. You are the prophets. Go and make more.

Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. 2 Corinthians 5:11

“Nothing will ever be the same. Don’t be afraid. Turn into the hope.”

Holy boldness: Caroline Scott’s Family Prayers

The Gothic Revival architect George Gilbert Scott was devastated by the death of his wife Caroline and troubled by guilt that he his flourishing career had left her too much alone. Just as he never designed his own house but let his professional work stand as his legacy, so his monument to her was not to design a lavish grave, but to publish her own creative legacy, a volume of Family Prayers, ‘on which’, Scott writes, ‘she for many years spent much of her leisure time’.

In the model of the pious household, the head, George, would be expected to lead family prayers, but as he was so frequently absent the task would devolve onto his second-in-command, Caroline, who was thereby given free rein to be both leader and liturgist, a role she could never have taken under the gothic arches her husband was building for the Church of England itself.

Caroline’s little services, with titles such as ‘Monday evening’ or ‘Thursday morning’, 430 pages of them, luxuriate in the idiom of the Book of Common Prayer. She included the familiar words of the Lord’s Prayer and Doxology in most of the services to give them an element of participation, with perhaps one response from the set of responses in the Prayer Book offices. When she said ‘O Lord open our lips’, her family would automatically respond ‘And our mouth shall shew forth thy praise’, without need for a prompt. The services typically included a few verses from the bible, one of the collects (short prayers for particular occasions) written by Cranmer for the BCP, and often a few verses of one of the canticles set for daily offices in the BCP. All these are easily identifiable for the historian who also happens to sing Choral Matins and Evensong.

In addition to this familiar material, the meat of Caroline’s services is other, often longer petitions, all in the musical, antiquated idiom of the BCP (as antiquated to Victorians as to us, but familiar as the language of Religion), but not quoted from it. In his preface her husband wrote, ‘I am not able to tell which parts of them are original; but I know that they were composed, or compiled, with constant reference to all old precedents and authorities to which their writer had access; and, perhaps, more largely than others to those of Bishop Jeremy Taylor’. Here is a sample, the second-last prayer in the book, A Prayer for the Evening:

Almighty Father, who givest the sun for a light by day, and coverest the earth by night with the robe of darkness; vouchsafe we beseech Thee, to receive us this night and ever into Thy favour and protection; defending us from all evils. Save, defend, and keep us evermore; and may our souls be sanctified by Thy Spirit, and glorified by Thy infinite mercy, in the day of the glorious appearing of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. — Amen. p.429.

I have an advantage over Scott, which is that I have at my fingertips a global searchable database of digitised books, which includes the works of Jeremy Taylor. So I decided to paste some samples of Caroline Scott’s prayers into Google, and find out where her words came from.

Sometimes she edits and adapts the Bible and prayer book. Here she cuts a line from the BCP Collect for the thirteenth Sunday after Trinity, refocusing it from human failure to human possibility:

Keep, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy Church with thy perpetual mercy; and, because the frailty of man without thee cannot but fall, keep us ever by thy help from all things hurtful, and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Here, she re-works some advice from James 4.8-10 into a liturgical call to confession, replacing his self-flagellatory language with her own idea of a more measured, constructive repentance:

Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. and make confession of your sins unto him, with a hearty sorrow and humble hope — begging for mercy at the throne of grace.

Early in my searching I found a quotation from the kind of source I was expecting, the Anglican writers who in the seventeenth century wrote a great deal of devotional and theological material in the BCP idiom. Caroline quoted from an Exhortation to the Candidates for the degree of Master of Arts in the University of Edinburgh by Robert Leighton (1611-1684) Archbishop of Glasgow. Excited by the prospect that this method would enable me to re-create Caroline’s library, I googled on. Yet every other unfamiliar prayer I looked up returned only one result: Caroline Scott, Family Prayers. I found nothing by Jeremy Taylor. My small sample suggests that many of the Family Prayers are indeed Caroline’s own words.

O merciful Father, who invitest all penitent sinners to come to the fountain of mercy to be pardoned; all the oppressed to be relieved; all the sorrowful to be comforted; admit us, O gracious God, to partake of these Thy loving-kindnesses — that we may not only hear of Thy mercies, but may participate in them; not only see the gate of the Kingdom of Heaven set wide open, but may we enter in. Wedneday Morning, p.29

What was her theology? There is much about sin and repentance, although as the edits above suggest, Caroline rejects the powerlessness suggested by the BCP Calvinism in favour of a theology of participation and possibility:

O enable us, most gracious Father, to work out our own salvation, knowing that Thou wilt work with us, and wilt assist us by Thy grace; for we know that he who heartily endeavours to please God, and searches what His will is, that he may obey it, certainly loves God, and nothing that loves God can perish. — Tuesday Morning, p.25.

I was reminded of the Scottish theologian Thomas Erskine, who rejected the legalistic direction which Evangelical theology was taking in the 1820s in favour of a relational spirituality: salvation meant encountering, imitating, and eventually participating in God. Caroline’s prayer are similarly warm, relational and personal, with little interest in church or society, all about oneself and the universe. There are not many degrees of separation between them: Erskine was closely connected to the Sandfords in Edinburgh, probably a member of Bishop Daniel Sandford’s congregation in the 1810s and 20s, and at his death given his final communion by the Bishop’s grandson, Rev Daniel Fox Sandford, Rector of St John’s. The bishop’s daughter — and rector’s aunt, Frances, had married the bishop’s curate Charles Lane and settled in Wrotham, Kent, where the Scotts spent the summer of 1868. ‘My wife […] greatly enjoyed her stay there, and the more so, as the country around is very beautiful, and as she there made several very agreeable friendships especially with Mr and Mrs Lane at the Rectory’, wrote George (Personal and Professional Recollections ed. Gavin Stamp 1995, p.259 and 465). Frances was a serious theologian herself, as the letters to her father the bishop in answer to her questions demonstrate. Her husband’s theology focused on the Holy Spirit. ‘You know his favourite theme so well’, said the preacher at his funeral sermon. ‘We know how earnestly he himself daily prayed for an outpouring of the same Holy Spirit; and what a special day in his calendar was Whitsun day!’ (J.H. Jaquet, In Memoriam (London 1879) p.12) All these writers seem to share a warm, relational theology distinct from the legalism of evangelicalism, the mysticism of Tractarianism or the erastianism of the ‘Broad Church’.

Caroline’s themes in her prayers combine a sense of the epicness of God’s universe combined with the practicality of the Christian’s daily task. I was struck by her use of the phrase ‘holy boldness’ for one Sunday Morning prayer:

Give us, we beseech Thee, O Jesus, a holy boldness to confess before men, that Thou art the Sovereign whom we will serve. We have received from Thee the bounty of Thy grace. O assist us to be Thy faithful soldiers and servants unto our lives’ end. — Amen.

The phrase ‘holy boldness’ is not, to my knowledge, biblical, but Caroline didn’t make it up. I’m not sure what source she was likely to have found it in, but it is widespread in devotional writing and seems to be a translation of the Hebrew chutzpah.

My very brief sampling of Family Prayers could give me little more than an admiration of Caroline’s command of the religious idiom, her familiarity with her sources, and her confident filleting and reworking of them, with a great deal of her own material, into an original theological text. Digitisation, however, raises the possibilities of studying the theology of women from their unreferenced, private texts like these in ways that would previously impossible: reconstructing reading lists, identifying original passages, and then analysing theology in the light of contemporary ideas of their male counterparts in churches and universities. I should like to see church historians write a great deal more about the chutzpah-theology of women like Frances Lane and Caroline Scott.

St Michael’s Longstanton: a Gothic Revival role model

I read about St Michael’s Longstanton on Friday, and found myself in the next Cambridgeshire village on Sunday. And the sun was out. And there was moss! I wouldn’t like to discourage Serendipity by ignoring such opportunities presented by her to test my ability to explain the principles of gothic revival. There’s a great deal I don’t say in this very short summary, but I hope it sparks your interest.

West end of St Michael’s Longstanton, with its ancient well and churchyard wall.

St Michael’s is important in the gothic revival because in about 1842 the Cambridge Camden Society’s journal The Ecclesiologist identified it as perfectly embodying the principles of gothic architecture as set out by Pugin in the ideal form for small village churches — such as were required in countless colonial settlements. As a result, St Michaelses popped up all around the world.

What gives a gothic building away is the windows: the revivalists called it the Pointed style. They divided the gothic into three phases, easily identifiable by the window tracery: 
  • early, with simple tracery, regarded as full of energy but underdeveloped
  • middle, decorated or flamboyant, regarded as the high-point of the style
  • late or perpendicular, in which the vertical bars go all the way to the top, regarded as degenerate and enervated

The early thirteenth-century St Michael’s was built in the decorated style which the Ecclesiologists liked best.

Decorated tracery in St Michael’s nave. The pulpit and lectern are on either side of the nave, at its junction with the chancel.

Whereas the earliest gothic revivalists, such as the writers of gothic novels in the late eighteenth century, were interested in the romantic and sublime possibilities of the appearance of gothic decoration, Pugin and the Ecclesiologists were interested in structure. St Michael’s fits Pugin’s principles of architectural authenticity. Firstly, he appearance of the building should show:

  1. how it is engineered
  2. what materials it is made of. 

There may be plenty of decorative carving and painting, but no veneers or, for example, a plaster ceiling imitating a stone vault, or sandstone pillars veneered with wood painted to look like marble.

Secondly, carved decoration is not gratuitous but ornaments structural features, such as the window tracery, or the alternating rounded and squared pillar heads below: it is decorated construction, not constructed decoration. Pugin observed that this was the case for all gothic decoration. A larger building than St Michael’s, such as a cathedral, had a more complex structure and therefore more opportunity for ornament: foliated pinnacles, for example, add important weight to a flying buttress, while grotesque gargoyles are decorated drainpipes.

St Michael’s is an honest building: you can see its pillars and arches holding up the roof, decorated pillar and window heads, wooden ceiling, tiled floor, stone walls, and thatched roof.

What made St Michael’s really ideal for the Ecclesiologists, however, was that it incorporated, in pocket-sized form, all the features they considered essential for the proper liturgical ordering of a church. For Christians of the Enlightenment it was the intellectual content of worship which was important, if the sermon argued the truth persuasively and the prayers expressed the right petitions, worship could take place in any convenient hall. But for Christians influenced by the Romantic movement, this was too dry. As physical, emotional beings, people needed to worship in sensory spaces which appealed directly to their feelings and physically embodied their spiritual principles. The shape of the space was therefore very important. They made a list which included such items as:

  1. a clearly separated nave and the chancel, with more ornament in the chancel
  2. a porch to the south
  3. a bell tower suitable to the scale of the church
  4. three steps up to the altar
  5. an east window with three lights, to represent the Trinity

St Michael’s had all these and many other essential liturgical details which made it the perfect model of a small church. It was copied all around the world. 

St Michael’s has a south-facing porch, bell tower, clear separation of (larger) nave and chancel (in the foreground), and buttresses supporting the walls.

The modern visitor’s eye might be more likely to be caught by the imposing key you borrow to get in, which goes in and turns the opposite way to modern keys, and the ancient, perhaps pagan, well, with its stone cross cut into the rear wall: the local tradition is babies can only be baptised when the morning sun shines from the east through the cross and into the well:

But if you visit St Michael’s — or any church built in the Medieval thirteenth century, or the Victorian 1840s, have a look for Pugin and the Ecclesiologists’ principles of gothic: visible engineering and materials, ornamented structure rather than constructed ornament, and liturgical ordering in the architecture. For them, this wasn’t just a pretty, interesting, or convenient building, it was, like the faith it was built to house, intended to be a true one.

George Gilbert Scott and the Scottish Episcopal Church

I’m four days in to a new project looking at the neo-gothic architect George Gilbert Scott and the Scottish Episcopal Church. This 16-month project is part of a larger Leverhume-funed one led by Professor Sam McKinstry at University of West of Scotland, investigating Gilbert Scott’s highly-successful business networks.

George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) was the leading neo-gothic architect of his day in terms of the scale of his practice, successfully employing a large number of people who worked in a ‘house style’. You can find out easily about Gilbert Scott, but history has often judged him harshly. It was an unfortunate feature of the architects, musicians and theologians of the nineteenth-century church (as in wider culture) that their high sense of drive and progress necessitated looking down upon their immediate predecessors, and even on their own earlier work. Their biographies and autobiographies bequeathed this patronising attitude to historians, who only recently have begun to learn that deficiencies based on what they couldn’t have known yet might be less important than their insights and wisdom which were subsequently forgotten. I don’t know a great deal about gothic revival architecture so ask me again what I think of Gilbert Scott’s architecture in a few weeks.

George Gilbert Scott designed six Scottish Episcopal Churches:
1855 St Paul’s Dundee
1858 St Cuthbert’s Hawick and St Mary’s Broughty Ferry
1861 St James the Less, Leith
1871 St Mary’s Glasgow
1876 St Mary’s Cathedral Edinburgh.
He also designed or revised elements of the Episcopal Churches in St Andrew’s and Kilmarnock and the clergy training college at Glenalmond, and designed memorials for two of the most famous Victorian Episcopalians, Dean Ramsay and Bishop Forbes.

This was a motley mixture. The churches in Dundee, Leith and Glasgow were the original Episcopal congregations of those places, thrown out of their parish churches when Presbyterianism was established in 1689. Hawick and Broughty Ferry were both new missions in towns that had no Episcopal congregation. The Dundee and Glasgow churches were later raised to Cathedral status, but only St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh was actually designed as a Cathedral, a new foundation in a small city already well-stocked with large Episcopal Churches.

The Duke of Buccleuch appears to have been an important link between the Episcopal Church and Gilbert Scott, with whom he shared a surname. Buccleuch commissioned Gilbert Scott to provide plans for a chapel at Drumlanrig Castle: these were not executed although a chapel was opened in 1850. Buccleuch appears to have funded the mission at Hawick, and laid the foundation stone of St Mary’s Edinburgh.

The bishops of the dioceses, Forbes of Brechin, Terrot of Edinburgh and Trower of Glasgow, were largely responsible for instigating the projects and in three cases were commissioning churches for their own use. They were a mixture of Scottish and English, High and Broad church influences.

Gilbert Scott, whose early Evangelicalism mellowed into Broad Anglicanism, appears to have followed a similar spiritual path to Bishop Terrot, as several clergy did who, like Terrot, began their career under Bishop Sandford of Edinburgh. It is no surprise that, when spending a summer at Wrotham in Kent, the Gilbert Scotts formed a warm friendship with the local rector and his wife — Charles Lane, Sandford’s former curate, who had married the bishop’s clever daughter Frances. Gilbert Scott, like Sandford and his followers, were well-disposed towards the High Church although they were not part of it, admiring its combination of missionary zeal, social concern, and passion for historical tradition, and he gained his first Scottish commission from the Episcopal Churches first, and for a long time only, Tractarian bishop Forbes.

My hope is that investigating the contacts and networks which led to the construction of these churches will provide an insight into the importance of Gilbert Scott’s own spirituality in his highly successful business — which will involve unearthing a great deal of Episcopalian history along the way.

Please do get in touch with me if you have a particular interest in Gilbert Scott or in these churches, which I’m certainly hoping to contact and visit in the course of the year, and follow me on Twitter @eleanormharris for future updates.

In Defence of Bankers

I’ve just been watching a very poor BBC2 documentary about big, bad bankers. In a tone of impending doom, the narrator catalogued thirty years of now-familiar events which led to the ultimate crisis. For twenty years it seemed delightful: but we knew that it would all end in mis-selling, crash, small business owners in tears, and bankers facing the condemnation of society with a united viciousness I don’t think I’ve ever seen exhibited against any other group of people before.

The condemnation of bankers and their `culture’ is comprehensive. Bankers are thieves, swindlers, lacking `any common decency or honesty’. We will never trust a bank again. I can’t remember ever hearing anybody, politician, commentator or acquaintance, in public or private life, defend a banker since the crash.

Well, the anger of the woman whose hotel will have to be sold to pay for her mis-sold insurance is entirely understandable, and she may easily be forgiven for not having a cool and detached perspective on the question. However, I believe the bankers deserve to be defended. 

Not that I never did `trust’ them either (but my friend Rob has already written eloquently on this side of the question, about other forms of business for whom the issues are exactly the same). But I don’t condemn them, and I don’t think anyone else who is in a position to take a considered view of the matter should either.

In fact, this kind of condemnation is the best way to avoid fixing the problem, and so ensure it happens again.

In a capitalist system, banks like all businesses are required to compete. They compete within rules, but within those rules, their task is to do everything they possibly can to out-compete the others. This, we believe, produces better results: if bread-production is nationalised, you will end up with horrible bread. If there is a free market, bakers will compete to produce ever-tastier loaves to entice customers.

Suppose it wasn’t banking: suppose it was the Olympics. Within the rules, the athletes can, and must, do everything they can to win the game. If they break the rules, for example by taking drugs, or sabotaging another athlete’s wheelchair, they will be fiercely disciplined.

But suppose one athlete realised that it would be more exciting for the spectators if she lost a few rounds of the game, so deliberately did so and perhaps then lost? Or suppose he knew that his rival’s grandmother had just died, so let him win out of compassion? Athletes with such attitudes would probably not have made it anywhere near the Olympics. What about the athlete in the boxing, or shooting, event, who had a moral objection to boxing or shooting? That’s just silly — such a person couldn’t even come into existence.

Sometimes the rules of the game require to be changed, to make it safer for the athletes, or more exciting for the spectators. The athletes’ task is not to make the rules, but to compete within them, although a responsible athlete might notify the organisers of a change which they thought ought to be made. If the organisers refuse to change the rules, the athlete can put up with it, or pull out of the competition.

The best, most honourable athlete is the one who, at the end of the games, stands on the top of the podium and is awarded the gold medal. Only in very extreme and unusual situations does an athlete gain more credit for losing than winning. The Boston marathon runners who stopped yards from the finish line to help competitors injured in the bomb attack lost the competition, but were more than compensated, in terms of honour, by the excellence of their unselfish actions.

Sometimes there might be an athlete with a moral qualm he could not overcome which put him at a disadvantage, like the evangelical Christian Eric Liddell who refused to compete on a Sunday. If, despite this, he is selected for his team and wins competitions, he wins extra admiration: he has proved both high-minded and superhuman. Yet no-one expects athletes to handicap themselves with moral qualms, and those of more ordinary abilities who do so will have fallen out at far earlier stages in the competition.

So to return to the banks. The stakes are higher, but the structure is exactly the same. The bankers compete within the rules laid down for them. They are responsible to their customers and shareholders to do the best they can, as the athletes are to their team and the spectators. To discharge that responsibility they must be as ruthless and competitive as they can, within the rules.

The bankers themselves are not required to regulate their competition, but a responsible banker might suggest regulations which ought to be changed, and if they are not he must put up with it or leave the industry. I suspect quite a lot of bankers have done all these things over the past thirty years. However, I suspect the majority, like the majority of athletes, have been content to play their assigned role, and to leave the rule-making to those with that expertise. Indeed, athletes — or bankers — who were continually demanding changes to the rules might be criticised as impertinent, interfering, or not paying proper attention to their assigned task.

So when the banks increased their range of products, centralised branches, encouraged aggressive sales through performance-related pay, they were not thieves, or swindlers, or abusing trust: they were playing within the rules of the game they had been given. If they had backed off sales to allow their rival who had suffered a bad year to catch up, or used company money to give interest-free loans to poor people on a philanthropic basis, they would be rightly fired as ineffective bankers, or even prosecuted by shareholders for misusing company funds. Many people did leave the industry as the competition grew more cut-throat; so the individuals who remained were indeed the toughest and the most ruthless. Yet to condemn them for their culture or their ethics would be like condemning the boxer for hitting his opponent. They played within the rules.

Now, of course, those `values’ of `trust’ and `decency’ to which everyone is appealing have become, literally, valuable. 9 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, is being redeveloped as the headquarters of Scoban, a new bank promising `stable long-term client relationships’, `no legacy “baggage”‘, `clean reputation’, `respected and experienced banking and treasury staff’ and `risk averse culture’. This is very nice, but I suspect that, in a free market, such commodities will fetch a high price, beyond the reach of most of us. (By the way, I can’t help noticing that they have no women on their board, and only two on their senior staff, one of whom is the HR manager. That’s another product, I believe, of the rules: not of some condemnable mysogyny of bankers — but it suggests to me the rules might benefit from further change).

For twenty years, the game appeared to be benefiting everybody; a banker who foresaw the crisis that evolved would have been more far-sighted than the politicians who encouraged them or the customers who bought their products.

The BBC2 documentary ended with an orgy of vituperation against the big, bad bankers. At the last moment, however, the last word went to Justin Welby, who in my opinion spoke the first sensible words in the programme. He didn’t condemn the bankers, blame them for creating a destructive `culture’, or appeal to vague notions of `decent common basic traditional values’ as voice after voice had been doing for the past ten minutes. He deplored the situation, and said, `we now have a chance to change the architecture, the structure of banking’.

It’s not about trust, or decency, or good or bad. It’s about deciding what rules you want to put in place. Stop blaming the bankers. Give them better rules, and get them back in their game.

Over the Hills and Far Away

Never mind the Lake Poets: Beatrix Potter is one of the most evocative and romantic of authors. I mean, look at this!

Over the hills and far away! Your dinner wrapped in a red pocket handkerchief, your clothes (in a style evoking a freer era before railway travel and crinolines) all fresh and neat, the ways parting, the hills blue…

It makes my heart beat faster: it always happens when I go up the Pentlands at the Edinburgh end: from the top of Allermuir you look south, and see the blue hills stretch away, away, ready to be skipped over, to … where?

I looked on a map and found it was Carnwath, so I booked a B&B in Carnwath and on Friday caught the bus to Penicuik and, humming ‘Tom, Tom the Piper’s son’ – or for a change ‘Lilibullero’ (I’ve got the eighteenth century on the brain) danced over the hills and far away.

It began through the woods around Penicuik House (the eighteenth century is pursuing me, I tell you), which dripped with that other current obsession of mine: moss.

 It also dripped with rain. All the way up into the hills I kept thinking it might clear up, but it set in heavier. And heavier. Every time I got my map out it turned slightly more to papier mache, and soon the wind just blew bits of it away each time I got it out and I got well and truly lost.

My navigation descended to, Look! A feature! A kind of low point on the skyline! Let’s head for it and see what we can see… I discovered later this was called Cauldstane Slap, which seemed appropriate.

The thing was, even in the pouring rain, what appeared from far off like the bleakest and most featureless of landscapes, is, under your feet, the most intricate, gorgeous tapestry of bright colours, rich textures and dazzling forms.

It’s like an illuminated manuscript so fine and detailed that from any distance it looks mushy brown: only close up you see the radient emerald, wild red, bright gold, delicate grey-green.

I had swithered as to whether to find someone else to walk with this weekend. I find myself pretty irritating company, but I really wanted to test myself, have a sense of achievement, and not be held back by having to plan a sensible walk, and then hang around while they put their waterproof trousers, or stop for lunch (I’m a snacker-on-the-march), or argue about navigation. As it turned out though, I didn’t have to put up with my own company, because the hills were my company, demanding my endless interest and attention with finding the route, battling the wind and rain, watching my step and finding my way over the pathless ground, and unrolling this stunning, endlessly variegated tapestry of moss, lichen, sedge, grass and heather under my feet. By the end of the walk I felt more chilled out and distracted from all the stuff than I have done for months.

However, I still didn’t know where I was. My map had turned to mush (memo: get plastic map case). I was getting wetter and wetter in a pathless wilderness. But this was the reason I was doing this in the Pentlands and not (say) on Rannoch Moor: I knew reaching civilization would always be within my capabilities. I could see woods and a reservoir, and although I was sure it wasn’t where I wanted to be, I decided I’d just better go for it.

It turned out to be ten miles up the A70, not a good road to walk along, but at least I knew where I was. I headed south about through fields, buggering about delicately in my perpetual fear of a. scaring lambs, b. trampling crops, c. damaging fences, d. committing some other blundering city-dweller transgression, until I reached a minor road which I could identify on my soggy shreds of map. It looped around half West Lothian. I went around three sides of a wind farm which I came to hate with a cordial hatred. I had the Binns and the railway line to Carstairs ahead of me — places definitely in the ‘over the hills and far away’ category. But it did at last bring me to Carnwath.

I’ve never been so glad to arrive at a B&B. They said I was the wettest guest they’d ever had. I’d walked about 25 miles.

SO the next day dawned completely different.

The map although somewhat shredded was dry and solid again. My new boots were a triumph. I was restored with steak pie, sticky toffee pudding, nine hours sleep and full Scottish breakfast, so I set off to do it properly.

The southern end of the Pentlands really are romantic. I didn’t meet a soul in the whole two days, until I got all the way back to West Kip. The featureless wasteland of yesterday formed itself into evocative places: the high-point Craigengar; the Raven’s Cleugh (I’m sure I’ve encountered that in literature? Walter Scott? John Buchan?). Most romantic of all, when I came down Bleak Law (!), the Covenanter’s Grave:

all wreathed in lichen, ‘…covering with strange and tender honour the scarred disgrace of ruin, laying quiet finger on the trembling stones to teach them rest…’

Several miles on, a lonely rock formed the next significant feature in the landscape, all harlequinned in white, black and bright green:

 Everything was drenched and soaked and dancing with yesterday’s downpour

Merry with a million fountains

Despite going by a reasonably sensible route, it was still at least 23 miles, or more given that even in the better conditions I faffed amongst low hills that all looked the same. I came over, I think, Cock Law — the placenames just got better and better — and got a sudden view of the Kips and Scald Law and all the familiar Pentland range with the Forth laid out lazily behind, all sunlit and homely-looking. But it was still about six miles to Penicuik, and although for the first time on the walk I was on paths, they seemed a very, very, very long six miles. I became obsessed by the thought that ‘don’t people sometimes do extreme sport things and then SUDDENLY DIE?’ Going back through the woods south of Penicuik I had to keep having little sit-downs on fallen trees, where I pondered whom I should text to tell them my netbook password and to ask them to publish my novels posthumously. After about 50 miles of walking, I was pushing myself. I’d found my limitations.

I hadn’t conquered the Pentlands, and they hadn’t conquered me, but I’d got completely immersed in them, and come out clean and refreshed. It feels amazing. And I’ve been there: I’ve been over the hills and far away.

Remembering Bishop Sandford

Last night I gave a lecture to the Old Edinburgh Club on Daniel Sandford (1766-1830), Bishop of Edinburgh 1805-30. This article is my personal response to that history, which is that the name of Daniel Sandford deserves to be remembered, both by his Church of St John, and by the people of Edinburgh.

Daniel Sandford founded the only congregation in Britain, as far as I can tell, where it was possible to be passionate about the enlightenment, passionate about the gospel, and passionate about Scottish Episcopalianism, all at once. It was hugely popular: his congregation outgrew two buildings in twenty years.

Thanks to this unique theology, Sandford drew the tremendous wealth, talents influence of hundreds of Episcopalians in the New Town into participation in ‘Improvement’ – getting the Enlightenment out of theory and into practice, in the structure of Edinburgh society. Without him, the history of Edinburgh might have been very different. When he died, he was affectionately remembered:

‘By all who venerate wisdom, sanctity and virtue, let this stone be held for ever sacred. In memory of the Right Reverend Daniel Sandford D.D.  In the Scottish Episcopal Communion Bishop of Edinburgh, to record the gratitude of a church, which, to his piety, prudence and meekness, was mainly indebted for its union and prosperity, and of a congregation, which for thirty eight years, he led, by teaching and example, in the way of truth, peace and Godliness, this monumental tablet was erected by the vestry of the Chapel of St. John. Born July 1st 1766 Died January 14th 1830.’

Yet Sandford was forgotten.

He was a peacemaker, seeing good in apparently opposing traditions. He encouraged Evangelicals for their warm, lively faith; but he would not countenance their challenges to official doctrine. He championed distinctively Scottish Episcopal ideas, but he objected to Episcopalian introversion and mysticism: his religion was for everyone. As a result, he was condemned by both sides in the partisan world of eccesiastical history. He has never had a champion – until me!

Sandford was serious-minded and shy in company. So he missed out on the other route to fame taken by his assistants Sydney Smith and E.B. Ramsay, whose witty and frivolous anecdotes kept their books in print and their bon-mots repeated to this day.

Meanwhile, forgetting why he was important, his own church of St John’s carelessly lost him. His memorial in the sanctuary was removed to the baptistry in the 1880s when the sanctuary was enlarged. However, in the 1980s, the baptistry was converted into the church office, and Sandford’s memorial, with its touching epitaph, is now completely invisible.

From inside the church, the top of Sandford’s memorial is just visible in the alcove at the back, below the coat of arms

Sandford is buried just outside St John’s, alongside some of his family. Yet his own modest, white gravestone has weathered into illegiblity.

Sandford’s grave, hidden in a shady corner behind the showy Dean Ramsay Cross

Sandford also founded the Choir of St John’s which is reason enough for me to champion him. I sit in the choir each week staring at the memorial of his successor as Bishop, James Walker, far better known but (in my opinion) far less distinguished.

I’m not sure Sandford would have wanted a big statue or giant cross. But hope that, sometime, the vestry might bring their predecessors’ affecionate memorial tablet back down into the church, and remember the name of their gentle, influential founder.

‘We could still prevent climate change’

Today New Scientist published seven reasons Climate Change is worse than we thought. It makes depressing reading. Most of us want to believe that humanity has the capacity to fix the problems we created and put our civilization on a sustainable footing; yet it is increasingly clear that our democratic, capitalist processes, so adept at producing economic growth, are completely incapable of meeting this challenge.

In theory, I think the human race could save its civilization, but we’d have to start now. We have newly appointed leaders in the US and China so maybe now’s our chance. Here’s my manifesto for what they’d need to do:

1. All human rights to remain respected at all times during this process, with the single exception of the temporary suspension of democratic processes.

2. For five years from today, the leaders of China, USA, EU, India and Brazil, African states and other countries as appropriate to form a united `climate cabinet’ to restructure the global economy on a sustainable footing. Democratic processes will be suspended for this period. Opposition to this process will be illegal, and persistent objectors may be humanely detained.

3. All fossil fuel supplies to be requisitioned by the climate cabinet and distributed as necessary until transition to a fossil-free economy is complete.

4. Armed forces to protect forests and other natural areas from black-market exploitation.

5. The global construction industry to be conscripted to:
a. convert global housing stock to be carbon neutral and electricity generating.
b. install desert solar panels and a network under-sea cables sufficient to meet global electricity needs.

6. Global food production to be requisitioned and fairly distributed by rationing. Individuals to be encouraged to supplement supplies by growing their own.

7. Global medical resources to be requisitioned to provide immediate and comprehensive contraception and family planning advice to every woman in the world.

8. A global `land army’ to implement a comprehensive programme of habitat restoration, tree planting etc.

9. Safe methods of carbon capture and storage to be implemented.

10. On 20 November 2022 existing constitutional law to be restored and all detainees released.

11. Capitalist economics will thereafter be allowed to develop the re-structured economy (for example, to complete the electrification of transport which will be required following the ban on fossil fuels), although certain regulations will remain in place including:
a. A global ban (cf. CFCs) on the burning of fossil fuels; their other uses to be carefully regulated.
b. Protected natural areas to remain unexploited.
A United Nations environmental police force to remain in place to enforce these regulations.

Well, you say, that will never happen! You will give me twenty good political and economic reasons why such a programme is unfeasible, impractical and impossible. You may be right: in that case I’d say we have perhaps ten to twenty years of this global civilization of ours left; in which case, seize the day, put your trust in God, and spend your pension.

By all means let us keep our faith in humanity, let’s discuss what we must do, and let’s work out how we can do it. But let’s do it honestly, using the facts at our command truthfully, and being honest about what a `massive global effort’ really means. The time for vague talk of `political will’ and `technological solutions soon to be developed’ is long past, and it would be a shame if we wasted the last years of our history in such discussions.