Marshall Street Baptist was founded on the 15th of March 1846 by the Rev Francis Johnstone, also a founder member of the Baptist Union of Scotland. The Church had an initial membership of 21 and the people worshipped in Merchant’s Hall in Hunter Square but moved the next year into a hall in Roxburgh Terrace. It wasn’t long before the Church grew and by 1850 the membership stood at 193.
In January 1856 Rev Johnstone resigned from Marshall Street having accepted a call from a Church in Cambridge. The Edinburgh Church then entered into a period of disruption and decline and in 1860 the remaining congregation of 60 people asked Rev Johnstone to rejoin them and this he did at great personal sacrifice. He set about looking for new premises for the folks to worship in and on Friday the 13th of July 1877, the Church’s new building in Marshall Street was opened.
Sadly Rev Francis Johnstone became ill in April 1880 and he died in May that same year. The minister who came after him was the Rev Alex Wylie M.A. who served the congregation at Marshall Street for over 30 years. The Church began to grow once again and on the 28th of May 1911 the Rev Thomas Stewart M.A. accepted the call to work alongside Rev Wylie in order to share the pastoral load of a Church that now had a membership of around 220 people. In December 1914 Rev Wylie retired but remained with the congregation as Minister Emeritus.
At the time of Rev Wylie’s retirement the Great War was only 4 months old but already many men, and indeed women, were volunteering to enter into the armed forces in order to fight against Germany and her allies. Included in that volunteer force were many people associated with Marshall Street Baptist Church. In fact in a Church membership book dated 1916 I noted that out of the 242 members, 40 were on active duty and there was an undisclosed number within the fellowship who had signed up to the ‘Derby Scheme.’ This was a voluntary recruitment scheme that was introduced in 1915 allowing men to voluntarily register themselves for military service on the agreement that they would only become active members of the armed forces when they were genuinely needed.
It appears that many of the men initially enlisted into the 4th and 6th Battalions of the Royal Scots, but as the war progressed the members of Marshall Street were soon dispersed to other regiments of the army such as the Royal Field Artillery, the Royal Garrison Artillery, the Cameron Highlanders, the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, the Seaforth Highlanders, the 1st Scottish Rifles, the Gordon Highlanders, the South Staffordshire Regiment, with a few, including one woman, serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps and at least two in the Royal Navy.
By the end of the war, 16 people associated with the Church had lost their lives and there was at least one who was invalided out of the army having been wounded, although it is quite possible that many more were wounded.
In 1920 the minister of the Church, the Rev Thomas Stewart, accepted a call to take on the dual offices of the Secretary of the Baptist Union and the Superintendent of the Settlement and Sustentation Scheme. One of his last acts before he left the Church was to unveil the memorial windows that commemorated the men of Marshall Street who had died during the Great War period. The windows remained in situ in the Church premises until it closed in 1943.
Prior to closing, Marshall Street had taken up a number of offerings to help support a new Baptist work in the Granton area of Edinburgh and a decision was made by the last few members of Marshall Street to dedicate the money raised by the sale of their premises to the proposed new building project at Granton. They also gave the new Church various articles, including the memorial windows which now take pride of place in Granton’s gallery.