The Glasite Meeting House
The Glasite Meeting House is a unique A-listed building that has been restored and repurposed by SHBT on two separate occasions.
Bob Heath Architects
Helen Lucas Architects
1991 and 2018
The Glasites were a Christian sect founded by Scottish clergyman John Glas in 1730. The sect flourished during the 18th century and there were once as many as 30 meeting houses across Scotland. The Edinburgh meeting house is now one of only four survivors and is unique in retaining its original layout along with a number of original fixtures and fittings.
Born in Fife in 1695, John Glas was ordained in 1719 as minister for the parish of Tealing, near Dundee. His beliefs about how Christianity should be practiced developed to the point that he was expelled from the Church of Scotland in 1730. Henceforth, those who followed his teachings in Scotland were called Glasites; his ideas spread to England and the US through the auspices of his son-in-law Robert Sandman, with believers in these countries consequently being known as Sandemanians.
Glas’s beliefs centred on directly following the teachings of Christ as outlined in the Bible’s New Testament. In practical terms this meant no clergy, no consecrated churches and lengthy readings from the Scriptures every Sunday, interrupted with a large meal in imitation of the Last Supper, known as the “love feast”. The feast always began with a course of kale soup, earning the Glasites the nickname ‘Kail Kirk’.
The Glasites’ Edinburgh meeting house was originally in Chalmer’s Close, off the Royal Mile, but in 1835 they purchased a new plot in Barony Street and commissioned Alexander Black to design the building. Black mainly worked for the George Heriot Trust, from whom the Glasites bought the Barony Street land. The Meeting House is thought to be Black’s earliest architectural commission and is quite different from his other surviving work. Much of the design was influenced by the specific needs of the congregation, such as the large meeting hall (top-lit for privacy), a separate feasting room (with opaque glazed windows), a kitchen and additional living space for the housekeeper and visiting preachers.
The building was completed in December 1835, and has remained essentially the same since. It received a new pulpit in 1873, designed by the notable architect David Bryce and two additional circular windows, inserted into the meeting hall in 1890.
The Glasite Meeting House was gifted to the Cockburn Conservation Trust (now part of SHBT) in 1989 after the final housekeeper retired and the remaining six members of the congregation decided they were unable to upkeep the building. From 1989 to 1991, the Trust undertook a modernisation project, overseen by Bob Heath Architects. This involved some external repairs as well as a number of practical changes, such as a new kitchen and toilets. The old 1920s gas range was re-housed at Culzean Castle’s Gas Works Museum. Upon completion of the work, the Glasite Meeting House was sold to the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland for use as their national office.
In 2012, the AHSS returned ownership of the Glasite Meeting House to SHBT to take over the direct management of the building. In 2015, we occupied the building as our headquarters whilst the restoration project at Riddle’s Court was undertaken. During this time, consideration was given as to how the building could be developed and used in the future. After SHBT vacated the building in 2017, a project was taken forward in partnership with Ingleby Gallery, a successful Edinburgh-based contemporary art gallery, to convert the building into their new home.
The building’s use as an art gallery was eminently suitable in allowing regular public access and making the most of the meeting hall’s expansive, top-lit space. Helen Lucas Architects were responsible for designing the necessary alterations. These were mostly limited to the meeting hall, which was cleared and levelled through the insertion of a new floor structure on top of the original raked floorboards. Subtle plasterboard partition walls were installed on all four sides of the room, facilitating the regular display of a variety of artwork and creating hidden storage areas where the architecturally significant pulpit and a selection of pews could be kept.
With the help of funding from the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, SHBT also took the opportunity to undertake further external stone and roof repairs and to open up the previously blind windows to the rear of the Meeting House.
The Glasite Meeting House Today
In June 2018, Ingleby Gallery took possession of the building on a long-term lease. They celebrated the move and their 20th anniversary with a special exhibition of work by the Scottish abstract painter Callum Innes. Both of the building’s grandfather clocks have been retained, along with the original service board. The feasting tables and benches remain in-use in the upstairs feasting room and are now used to display modern sculptures or host meetings.