From Branch meeting house to luxury B&B

    by Sylvia Brown

    2 Hillside Crescent, Edinburgh Photo by John Talfourd Smyth www.nationalgalleries.org
    2 Hillside Crescent, Edinburgh

     

    Number 2, Hillside Crescent, Edinburgh, is currently a very up-market bed and breakfast establishment in a prime city-centre location.  It is A-listed for being a building of special architectural interest.  No notices are allowed to be displayed on the windows, railings, or doorway, and any proposed alterations are subject to strict rules and scrutiny.  The basement has become a separate dwelling.

    “I had no idea!  I can’t wait to tell the neighbours,” was the response of the current owner, when she found out it had previously been used by a congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Clients have sometimes asked her what it was used for before, as they felt a certain peaceful ambience.  When she and her partner took over the ground and upper floors of the property in 2007, she was only aware that it had been a gym and hosted a judo club for over 30 years.

    The townhouse, comprising three floors and a basement, is part of an elegant classical Georgian terrace, designed around 1820 by architect William Henry Playfair (1790-1857).  The properties are notable for their repeating Greek Doric columns, with a continuous decorative ironwork balconette on the first floor.  Playfair was one of the most influential Scottish architects of his time, designing many outstanding buildings in Edinburgh and elsewhere, including the City Observatory, George Heriot’s Hospital, and the National Gallery of Scotland.

    The census records from 1841 to 1911 show that the occupants of the terrace were typically well-to-do merchants or bankers’ families, with servants.

    Mr

    In the 1950s the Church bought several properties in major Scottish cities to house growing post-war congregations.  The purchase of 2 Hillside Crescent was finalised in January 1951.  Those purchasing the property are listed as George Albert Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith, Stephen Longstroth Richards, Harold Bingham Lee, Spencer Woolley Kimball, Ezra Taft Benson, and Legrand Richards.[1]  Edinburgh Branch had fared considerably better than most Scottish congregations, as for the previous few years it had rented space in a similarly attractive property nearby at Ruskin House, Windsor Street, also designed by William Playfair.

    Lloyd and Martha Martin who began their mission in Britain in October 1950, spent their first two and a half months working in Bournemouth.  Then, Mission President Stayner Richards gave them a special assignment to go to Edinburgh to fix up the building.  They arrived on 15th January 1951.  Brother Martin served as Branch President and had the responsibility to oversee fund-raising for the proportion of costs the members were required to pay towards the building.  Living on the property, the Martins got to work right away.  They had the chapel area ready for the first meeting on 1st February 1951.  Members worked days and evenings with the Martins until October 1951 to complete the necessary work, to bring the property up to standard and adapted to the needs of the congregation.  As they worked together, they came to love and appreciate each other more.[2]

    The Saints felt great excitement as the long-awaited day of dedication came on 4th June 1952, when President David O McKay would be in their midst.  Around 200 people attended.  A printed programme had been prepared beforehand with some photographs of the interior.[3]  For President McKay it was also a very emotional occasion, a time to reminisce.  His grandparents had joined the church in the northern county of Caithness, in the parish of Thurso, over a hundred years before.  He, his father David, and his grandfather William McKay, had all returned from America to serve missions in Scotland.  Struggling to steady a quiver in his voice, he paraphrased a verse from poet Robert Burns, Epigram to a kind host, to say:


    “When death’s dark stream I ferry o’er A time that surely shall come In heaven itself I’ll ask no more Than just a Scottish welcome.“


    President McKay’s talk that day was transcribed and appeared in the Millennial Star, July 1952.[4]

    Other speakers were President Clifford Cutler (a young missionary overseeing the Scottish District), Elder and Sister Martin, President McKay’s son Elder David Lawrence McKay (Assistant Supervisor of the General Sunday School Board) and his wife Mildred (a member of the Primary General Board), Mission President Stayner Richards and his wife Jane, and Sister Emma Ray McKay.  Typical Scottish gifts were presented to the visitors – dressed dolls and corsages for the ladies, a travel rug for President McKay, a paper knife and paperweight for David Lawrence McKay.  Stayner Richards received a ‘sgian dubh’, an ornamental dagger usually worn tucked into a kilt sock.  He joked that it would help establish who was in charge in his household!  At the end of the programme President McKay dedicated “… all parts of it, the walls, the windows, the rostrum, the musical instruments, the draperies, every part and portion …”.[5]  He shook hands with everyone present as they left.

    Two days previously on Monday 2nd June 1952, President McKay had performed the first dedication of Church property in Scotland at 7 Claremont Terrace, Glasgow.  The missionary force at the time was depleted due to the Korean war. Senior missionary George Erskine recorded in his journal, “We attended the missionary meeting and were again thrilled by the inspirational talks by President McKay and President Stayner Richards.  It was a wonderful meeting and will long be remembered by all.”[6]  James R Cunningham who was 1st counsellor to Mission President Richards wrote, “I cannot begin to tell the joy in each heart.  The songs and words of inspiration flowed freely to make a memorable occasion.”[7]

    A young missionary present was Elder Frederick Stuart Buchanan, a native Scot who had emigrated to Utah with his family in 1949, and returned as a missionary two years later.  His first impression of President McKay was, “immaculately regal and looking every inch a prophet.”  Elder Buchanan was privileged to go sightseeing with the official party on 3rd June and enjoyed sharing Scottish poetry and songs – to the delight of President McKay, who was himself well-read in Scottish literature and cherished his Scottish connections.  At the conclusion of the official party’s business in Edinburgh, as it left from Waverley Station heading to the next assignment in London, Elder Buchanan and Elder Lamar Jones began to sing “Bonnie Charlie’s noo awa …. Will ye no come back again?” substituting “Davie” for “Charlie”.  They then sang “Ye’re no awa tae bide awa”.  Elder Buchanan recorded in his journal, “Tears rolled down his cheeks as he listened with glee and a wee bit sorrow.”  Elder Buchanan treasured a few minutes conversation at the open train window before departure.  President McKay, with a glint in his eye, told him, “You’ll be pretty happy at an announcement to be made soon”, alluding to the plans for the first European temple in Switzerland.[8]

    With the excitement of the prophet’s visit behind them, life in the Edinburgh branch settled back to normal routines.  Sunday School at 11am for all ages, after a morning Priesthood meeting, with sacrament meeting late in the afternoon.  Tuesday at 7.30pm was Mutual Improvement Association (MIA) for everyone age 12 and up; Thursday evening at 7pm was Relief Society for the women; and Friday at 4pm was Primary for the children.

    A large room on the ground floor to the right of the entrance hall served as the chapel, with the ballroom upstairs ready-made as the recreation room.  Ancillary rooms were classrooms, with a baptismal font constructed in the basement.  David Sneddon, from Fife to the north of the Firth of Forth, was baptised there in 1961.  There was no local building with a baptismal font, so the mission van picked up candidates in various places and took them to Edinburgh to be baptised.  The road bridges had not yet been constructed, so they crossed between North and South Queensferry by ferry.  Years later David Sneddon would enter that font for a second time, on this occasion when he was a judo player, after it had been transformed into a jacuzzi!

    Group photo from 1950's

    Jimmie and Rose Thompson, a young married couple, lived in the upstairs rooms for a few years.  Rose had helped throughout the building’s renovation.  Jimmie had been involved in the work of microfilming the Scottish genealogical records.  Two of their children were born there, Peter in 1957 and Heather in 1959.

    Jean Flinn was baptised in the building in 1961, as were her three sons Bruce, David and Paul in 1962.  David Flinn recalled, “Mum was very active and seemed to be always baking cakes for fund raising etc. and dad, not being a member, always objecting to the principle of tithing.  One day he said that he would be going to heaven, because all these cakes mum donated to the church was equivalent to him paying tithing.”  David was twelve years old at his baptism.  As he became a teenager, he was very conscious of the short trousers that his mother felt were mandatory.  The mission president had an attractive daughter who attended the branch.  To create a better impression, he and his brothers elected to wear their kilts on Sundays.  In the time between morning and afternoon meetings, they would sometimes wander along Princes Street, with shops on one side and a beautiful park on the other, leading towards the castle.  Tourists would often stop them to take photos, assuming them to be typical Scots lads, although two were born in Zambia and one in Johannesburg, South Africa.  

    Hillside Crescent was in walking distance of the rocky crag of Arthur’s Seat, in Holyrood Park, well-remembered for Orson Pratt’s prayer in 1840 that he might be helped to find 200 converts.  Often, during MIA, the young people would climb to the top.  David Flinn loved to exercise by racing up it.

    Les Cairns remembers leaving from Hillside Crescent in 1965 for his mission in Lyon, France, wearing an ill-fitting suit which had belonged to a mature brother in the branch named Sidney Cramer.  Les would return to the same mission many years later to serve with his wife Marlyn.

    At the beginning of 1964, the members were busy donating their labour and resources again, as ground-breaking took place for a new custom-built chapel in Colinton Road, next to a recently purchased mission home.  After two years, the new chapel was completed, and members were ready to move from Hillside Crescent.  However, the old property was retained.  The title was transferred in June 1967 to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Great Britain Ltd, for use as a visitor’s centre.  The branch received monetary credit towards the new building because of what they had invested in Hillside Crescent.  The Millennial Star of April 1969 gives a report of the facilities of the centre, which included works of art, audio testimonies, filmstrips, and Books of Mormon in many different languages.

    2 Hillside Crescent, Edinburgh
    2 Hillside Crescent, Edinburgh

    The property was finally sold by the Church on 12th April 1971, after which it became a fitness club, run by George Kerr.  During his tenure the property was known as ‘The Edinburgh Club’ which he ran until 2003 when he applied for a change-of-use to a domestic dwelling, stating his intention to retire.  When he sold the property in 2007, another change of use was obtained, this time to a luxury bed-and-breakfast, its present use.  

    This building, once an important part of the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Scotland, has all but faded into distant memory.  But, in 2017 when Brother Robert Laird visited a cousin in Edinburgh, the influence of the building had not been lost.  Robert had been doing some family history research concerning World War I, and an aunt had encouraged him to go to see this cousin and share the information with him about his grandfather, as she thought he would be interested.  He went reluctantly, as his cousin was reported to be a very unrefined, tough, and potentially intimidating character.  Instead, Robert was surprised to be treated with great respect and almost deference.  A non-caffeinated drink had even been bought specially for his visit.  The reason, he found out, was that the man’s mother had been a cleaner for some time at 2 Hillside Crescent.  She had often spoken about how well “the Mormons” had treated her and the many kindnesses shown.  Her son has treasured this positive memory which engendered benevolent feelings towards members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    Inside 2 Hillside Crescent, Edinburgh

    APPENDIX I

    Millennial Star

    APPENDIX II

    Millennial Star
    Millennial Star

    APPENDIX III

    Millennial Star
    Millennial Star
    Millennial Star
    Millennial Star

    APPENDIX IV

    Dedicatory Prayer 4 June 1952, 2 Hillside Crescent, Edinburgh, by David Oman McKay

    Our Heavenly and Eternal Father, thou who knowest the hearts of all men, knowest our gratitude as we approach Thee on this sacred occasion. Overlook our follies and shortcomings we beseech Thee and let the channel of communication between Thee and us be open and may we sense Thee in even a greater degree than we have for the past two hours, and Thy nearness. Bless all who have contributed by labour, by cash, by service, in diverse ways, towards the completion, purchase, and the renovation and completion of this house, set apart for the worship of the Edinburgh Branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Bless them in their basket and in their store. Multiply their blessings, especially their spiritual blessings, that come from a consciousness of having served others, denying self for the good of others. We are grateful for the organisation of the church that makes it possible to erect these houses in all parts of the world. Bless those who are in charge, who have the responsibility of guiding the blessings of Thy church, from the First Presidency, the Twelve, the first Council of Seventy, the Bishopric, Presidencies of Stakes, Bishoprics of Wards, Presidencies of missions, leaders in Priesthood Auxiliaries and Quorums everywhere. May the influences of Thy church be felt that it may radiate faith in the universal brotherhood of man. We thank Thee for this British nation, for the freedom it vouchsafes for the individual, for the liberty of worship, freedom of worship that it gives, that each man may worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience. Strengthen the Government, that they may indeed preserve the liberties of the individual and not curtail them in any degree.

    Bless the presidency of this mission, the British Mission, the great good that has come from that organisation throughout the century past.  Bless President Richards and his counsellors for what they have accomplished during the last three and a half years, through Thy guidance and Thy inspiration, and we acknowledge it. We pray will Thou sanctify their leadership and their efforts. Bless the presidency of this branch, and those who have assisted. Bless our mothers and our wives, for they contribute much and very often are forgotten, and their glowing efforts left unmentioned. We pray Thou wilt bless them that their influence as mothers may be felt for good, for we know that motherhood, in its sacred office, when carried on reverentially, is much to Thee in creation. Sanctify all these efforts, we beseech Thee, as we now come to Thee and turn this house to Thee that it may be sanctified, that Thy servant, holding the Priesthood in behalf of these thy servants I dedicate this house. This chapel here, as a place of worship, all parts of it. The walls, the windows, the rostrum, the musical instruments, the draperies, every part and portion. Oh Father cause that they may be  sacred and contributing to true worship of Thee, and may those who come here to worship, ever keep in mind Thy promise that where two or three have met in Thy name, there will I be to bless them, and having that in mind may those who may come to here to scoff be impressed to remain to pray. We dedicate the recreation room, that thy spirit may be present in the drama, in the musical numbers, and whenever the young people or the others meet to enjoy social festivities. We dedicate the classrooms and pray that the teachers who lead the young may teach them truth and implant faith in the hearts of the young rather than doubt. We dedicate the other rooms, the store rooms, the rooms occupied by those who take care of this building, and those who are living here as their home, that the entire building will radiate faith in Thee and love for our fellow men, to this end we set it apart, pray that thou wilt guard and protect it and inspire all who come here to worship and we do it in the name of our Lord and our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Amen.

     


    [1] Appendix I Property Search Sheet

    [2] David O McKay Audio-visual Collection 1952- 1967. Church History Library Reference AV51.

    [3] Appendix II Dedication programme

    [4] Appendix III Talk in Millennial Star, July 1952

    [5] Appendix IV Transcription of Dedicatory Prayer from Church History Library Reference AV 51

    [6] Missionary Journal of George G Erskine, Church History Library, Reference MS 9612

    [7] James R Cunningham Diaries 1941-1967, Church History Library, Reference MS8796

    [8] “Memories of a Missionary” compiled 2004 comprising 47 loose-leaf pages given to the author by Fred Buchanan.