A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of being shown around one of Edinburgh's true hidden gems. The Glasite Meeting House, on Barony Street in the New Town, has a fascinating history as a meeting house for this religious sect, who broke away from the Church of Scotland in the eighteenth century.
The main hall of the building was where services took place. The Glasites - named for their founder, John Glas, who hailed from Fife - were renowned for their long Sunday services, which could often last upwards of five hours. The group were sometimes referred as the 'Kail Kirk', thanks to the serving of a hearty soup or broth made of kale, served to members to break up the lengthy service of scripture readings, prayers and blessings, and the singing of psalms and hymns.
Inside the meeting hall, there are no windows to the outside world, just a large cupola allowing light into the room. The glass skylight has minimal decoration, as does the rest of the room - worshippers were not to be distracted by bright colours or elaborate decorations. The lines of golden coloured glass on the cupola is as decorative as the meeting hall got!
The hall is laid out with lines of pews, which would have been occupied by family groups, with some of them still bearing the idle doodles scratched into the wood by children who would have spent long hours here with their families.
The dining room upstairs still has one of the original clocks built into the fabric of the building, as well as the mechanism for a dumb waiter, which would have brought the soup up from the kitchens on the floor below. Here the adult members of the church would enjoy their meal, whilst visitors and children would eat in the kitchens. More decorative than the meeting hall, this room also enjoyed the benefit of windows and two fireplaces.
The Glasites continued to meet here as recently as 1989, however membership by that time had dwindled. A larger survival of the Glasite spirit continued in America, where John Glas's son-in-law Robert Sandeman established a branch of the Glasites which became better known as the Sandemans.
Glasite Meeting Houses survive in Dundee, Perth and Galashiels - a predominantly east coast sect - and the Edinburgh house was recently given a renewed lease of life as a community cinema.
UPDATE: Since I visited in 2016 the Glasite Meeting House in Edinburgh has been converted into an art gallery with public access to its exhibitions - visit IngelbyGallery.com for more information.
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