Newhaven Main Street, Ruins of St Mary and St James Chapel, Edinburgh
Description: Newhaven Main Street, Ruins of St Mary and St James Chapel
Date Listed: 14 December 1970
Historic Scotland Building ID: 27475
OS Grid Coordinates: 325479, 677037
Latitude/Longitude: 55.9805, -3.1958
Location: Newhaven Main Street, Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh EH6 4TD
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Commenced 1506, completed 1508. Remains of rectangular-plan chapel; flanked by Lamb's Court to E and Westmost Close to W. In ruins by 1611, acquired for use as graveyard by the Society of Free Fishermen, 1766 and used as such until 1848. Random rubble walls to W and E; long and short bull-faced quoins to openings; iron railings to Main Street boundary.
W WALL: 3 metres high, 86 cm deep; set within E boundary of Westmost Close. Single window to centre; chamfered jambs to outside; heavy stone lintel above; holes for vertical bars. Splayed ingoes to inner face; relieving segmental arch above; no glazing.
E WALL: irregular wall; 86cm depth with projection into Lamb's Court. 17th century opening of domestic character set in re-entrant angle; droved sandstone reveals; inset iron rails.
A Campbell HISTORY OF LEITH (1827); Ordnance Survey map (1855); J Grant OLD AND NEW EDINBURGH (1882) Vol III p297-298; Rev. I Burnett THE CHURCH OF NEWHAVEN-ON-FORTH, 1836-1936 (1936); INVENTORY OF MONUMENTS IN EDINBURGH, RCAHMS (1951); J C Wallace "Excavations on the site of
St Mary's and St James" BOOK OF THE OLD EDINBURGH CLUB, Vol 34, (1974); Gifford, McWilliam and Walker EDINBURGH (1984) p602; M Cant, VILLAGES OF EDINBURGH (1986) p172.
An extract from the Charter of Chaplaincy reads "At Holyrood, 18th February 1506. The King confirmed for mortmain the charter of George, abbot of Holy Rood, granting to the chaplain and his successors that shall offer the Holy Sacrifice at the altar of St Peter Apostle in the new church of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St James in Newhaven, and hereby presents and appoints Sir James Cowie to be chaplain at the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St James". Originally built for the shipwrights and mariners involved in the construction of the Great Michael, the chapel lost much of its congregation when the Royal dockyard was abandoned after the fall of the Scots at Flodden, 1513. Whilst there is little evidence, the building is said to have suffered greatly at the hands of the English during the Siege of Leith, 1544. By 1560 and the Scottish Reformation, the chapel had been abandoned as a place of worship and by 1611 was in ruins. In 1766 the site was acquired by the Society of Free Fishermen for use as a burial ground - a function it was to fulfil until 1848. A footnote in Alexander Campbell's HISTORY OF LEITH, 1827, talks of a cannon cut in stone and of a holy water font belonging to the chapel. These he said were in the possession of a gentleman living near Newhaven - no traces have ever been found.
An excavation of the site was carried out by Edinburgh University's Department of Educational Studies in 1972. Randomly dispersed skeletons (probably moved during the construction of the flanking closes) were discovered alongside pottery, ashes, shells, iron coffin handles and a coin dating from the time of Charles I. It was concluded that the original building (with an internal length of 192m and breadth of 6.2/6.4m) had heavy stone foundations laid in mortar. The N and S walls were 69cm deep, the E and W gables 86cm deep. Evidence of inner facing was discovered in the form of mortar which was not present on exterior surfaces. No traces of flooring were found, neither any trace of an altar or doorway. Although officially a graveyard from 1766, skeletons were found at lower levels than expected both outside and inside the chapel. Thus, it was concluded that burials must have taken place at an earlier date than originally thought.
Source: Historic Scotland
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.