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History of Greyfriars Charteris Centre

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 Southside.  This was built as the Charteris Memorial Church, commemorating theologian The Very Rev. Professor Archibald Charteris.

Professor Archibald Charteris 

Charteris Moderator General Assembly

Wearing the (then) traditional robe, with lace jabot and cuffs, associated with the office of The Moderator of the General Assembly. (1892)

The Very Rev. Professor Archibald Charteris (1835 - 1908) 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 while travelling widely throughout Europe, 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’s desire for this  to be part of the mainstream of the Church’s life and work(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 of Charteris:

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.

Deconess Hospital Charteris Ward

Bed numbers fluctuated, reaching a maximum of 68 during WW I.  There were five wards: the Charteris (shown here) along with the Houldsworth, Deaconess and Moray as well as an unnamed children’s ward, along with a busy outpatients department. (photo circa. 1912)

In 1894 the Church of Scotland opened the Deaconess Hospital, within the Pleasance in Edinburgh, as part of an initiative by Charteris to provide nursing training for deaconesses. Originally named the Lady Grisell Baillie Memorial Hospital, after the first Deaconess who was ordained in 1888, it was situated next to St Ninians Training Centre which Charteris had established three years earlier. Training normally involved one year at the Centre and one within the hospital.  A further 3 years with the hospital was required for those wishing to become missionary nurses.  Those trained nurses then worked in missionary hospitals in areas such as Ichang Hospital - China, Blantyre Hospital - Africa, and Poona Hospital - India.


The Deaconess 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 accommodation.

The Charteris Building

In 1895, the year after the Deaconess hospital was built,

St Ninians Training Centre became the St Ninians Mission.

The Mission was extended after the construction of the

Charteris Memorial Church began in June 1911 when the 

foundation stone was laid by Lord Glenconner, Lord High

Commissioner of the General Assembly.

The Church was the work of James B. Dunn and features

a distinctive Scots Baronial tower topped by a striking red-

tiled spire. 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 with a number of churches in Edinburgh's Southside.  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.  That new enlarged parish now forms one of the largest Church of Scotland parishes in Edinburgh.

Archibald Charteris

St Ninians

Deaconess Hospital

Charteris Memorial
Church 1912

Greyfriars Charteris Centre

Following consultation amongst Kirk o’Field and Greyfriars Kirk congregations, plus key local stakeholders, Reverend Dr Richard Frazer, minister at Greyfriars, prepared a vision for the redevelopment of the former Kirk o’Field buildings, with the long-term aim of creating a ‘Place for Wellbeing and Innovation’ – a building with a clear identity that is an integral part of the local community.  

We will develop the centre in a way that does not identify problems in our community that need to be addressed, rather we will look at community assets, see what is already here, what potential exists, what are the barriers to involvement and what groups can offer to one another, building a community focussed asset. The new centre will have a number of paying partner organisations that will utilise purpose built space. It will run as a social enterprise with a central hub for hospitality with a small staff team and will encourage active volunteering and involvement of the local community, creatively working with the tension between communities of interest and communities of place. A key feature is that all partners will be asked to consider ways in which they can contribute to the wider role of the centre.

The Greyfriars Charteris Centre was formed in June 2016 as a 'Centre for Community', to provide a place of connection with communities of all kinds: location, people, faith, need, interest, aspiration and many more. The Centre is made up of the former Kirk o’Field (Charteris Memorial) Church together with the former St Ninians Mission (also known as St Ninian’s or Kirk o’Field Centre).

As the number of programmes, services and activities within the centre expanded, we realised we could not fully deliver on our vision with its layout and accessibility issues. Some groups we wished to support or who expressed a wish to be part of our operation, could not fully access the centre, or if they could, the facilities including toilets were not of a style that would support all their users. This is why we embarked on a plan to carry out a partial redevelopment – primarily but not exclusively on the former Kirk o’Field church building - which would embrace the existing architecture and features, while enhancing them for the future. A financing package was put together with the help of:

  • Binks Trust 

  • Greyfriars Kirk

  • All Churches Trust

  • Coop Community Fund

  • TNL Awards for All

  • City of Edinburgh Council

  • Salvesen Family Trust

  • Donald MacDonald

  • Go For It Fund

  • Individual donors through our Crowdfunder scheme

With planning permission approved the refurbishment took place between November 2019 and March 2022. In addition to structural and cosmetic changes, ramps, lifts, accessible toilets and modern heating and lighting have all greatly improved the accessibility, inclusivity and comfort now available within the centre, and it’s hoped it will continue to support local communities for the next century and beyond.

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