The Charteris Centre occupies the former Charteris Memorial Church (more recently known as the Kirk O'Field Church) and St Ninians Centre (also known as the Kirk O'Field Centre). The name Kirk o' Field has an exceptional history, but in this context refers to the church occupying premises on the Pleasance at the top of Brown Street on Edinburgh's South Side. This was built as the Charteris Memorial Church, commemorating theologian The Very Rev. Professor Archibald Charteris (1835 - 1908) who was a pioneer in establishing the diaconal ministry. He left his birth place in Moffat at 14 years old to attend the University of Edinburgh, where he later worked as a professor of biblical criticism.
In 1879, he established Life and Work – the magazine of the Church of Scotland. It was inspired by his work on the Church of Scotland's Committee of Christian Life & Work, which he initiated and led. Hugely committed to Church causes, in 1887 he founded the Woman's Guild and ‘restored’ the Diaconate, in order to harness the energies of women in the Church. He formed the Diaconate from his experience of similar orders in protestant churches in Europe, where he travelled widely, and in stating that he was restoring the order, Charteris made it clear he was alluding to its New Testament origins. It has held a special place both within the Church and in the communities of Scotland at large and followed Charteris’ desire for this to be part of the mainstream of the Church’s life and work, not just as a concession to women’s aspirations. (Although originally an office for women, the Diaconate has been open to both men and women since 1988). In 1892, Charteris was elected as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
General Secretary of the Church of Scotland Guild, Iain Whyte, said “Archibald Charteris was a man of vision and determination who displayed great skills of leadership and organisation. His achievement in convincing the General Assembly of the need to recognise the place of women in the Church and to harness their skills and abilities has contributed to the shaping of the Church of Scotland over 127 years. The Woman’s Guild, now the Guild, the Diaconate and, indeed, the whole Church are eternally grateful for what he made possible”.
In 1894 the Church of Scotland opened the Deaconess Hospital within the Pleasance, Edinburgh. This was originally named the Lady Grisell Baillie Memorial Hospital in commemoration of the first Deaconess, who was ordained in 1888. The Hospital was built next to St. Ninian’s Mission which had provided practical training in mission work since 1889 among the overcrowded tenements of the Old Town. The Deaconess Hospital provided training in nursing for Deaconesses, each of whom spent a year there as part of her training. Deaconesses who wished to become fully qualified nurses spent a further three years in the hospital’s Nurses’ Training School. The Hospital closed in 1990 and for a time became headquarters of NHS Lothian. It is now owned by the University of Edinburgh and has been sensitively converted into student living accommodation.
The Charteris Memorial Church was the work of James B. Dunn and features a distinctive Scots Baronial tower topped by a striking red-tiled spire. The foundation stone was laid by Lord Glenconner, Lord High Commissioner of the General Assembly, in June 1911. The church formally opened in May 1912 and its first minister was Reverend William Cowan. The last formal congregation at the church came about through a series of mergers of a large number of churches in the Southside, which had come about through splits into the Burghers and Antiburghers (1747), Old Lichts and New Lichts (1798 and 1806) and the Disruption of 1843. By 1942, the congregations that had started life as Davie Street Antiburghers, Roxburgh Place Relief, St. Paul's Parish Church and Newington Free Church had come together to form St. Paul's Newington.
The Charteris Memorial and Pleasance congregations united as Charteris Pleasance in 1953 at which point, the lower hall was named after the Very Rev. J. Harry Miller, who had been a much loved minister at The Pleasance Church from 1919 to 1935. Further unions with Buccleuch Parish Church and Nicolson Street Parish Church in 1969, and with St. Paul's Newington in 1984, eventually formed Kirk o' Field. Then in 2013, the congregation merged with the Greyfriars Tolbooth and Highland Kirk with all formal worship activities relocated to Greyfriars Kirk. The enlarged parish forms one of the largest Church of Scotland parishes in Edinburgh.
A Short History and Description of the Charteris Centre Buildings by Roy Pinkerton
Plan showing the congregations which came together over the years to form the Kirk O'Field Church. Compiled by Roy Pinkerton