Our History

Crown Court Church is unique in its history as the longest-established Presbyterian church in England. Dating from 1719, the congregation recently celebrated its tercentenary, and continues its mission in the heart of London’s theatreland.

The Kirk in London

The Church of Scotland has been active in London since the time of James VI, King of Scots, who became James I of England in 1603. There is evidence that courtiers of the King who had followed him from Scotland worshipped in a chapel in the precincts of the old Whitehall Palace. At this time, many Scots settled in and around this area of the Strand.

The Eighteenth Century

The first formal records of what is now Crown Court Church date from 1711. The original congregation met in St Peter’s Court, off St Martin’s Lane, and grew steadily as the number of Scots in London increased. In 1719 this congregation moved to a new location in Covent Garden, in Crown Court, off Russell Street, where it has remained ever since. The site was obtained from the Duke of Bedford at a peppercorn rent for the first year and then £14 per year for sixty years. The original building was completed at a cost of £611.10s.11d, raised by public subscription, and consecrated as the new Kirk on 4 March 1719.

The Nineteenth Century

The appointment of John Cumming, minister from 1832 to 1879, set Crown Court alight. Cumming was one of the most popular preachers of the period and contemporary reports describe crowds of up to 1,000 worshippers, from all over London, cramming into Crown Court to hear what he had to say. Cumming was also a pioneer in the area of local mission and social work, to which Crown Court Church has been committed since its earliest days. In 1845, he opened day and Sunday schools for local people in an extension to the church building. It was also at Cumming’s initiative that a church in Holloway Road was bought from the Congregationalists in 1848 and used as a place of worship for the Royal Caledonian Schools, which provided education for the children of Scottish service men. Known as the Caledonian Church, this congregation was merged with Crown Court in 1950. The colours of the Royal Caledonian Schools, today an education trust in Bushey, Hertfordshire, now hang in Crown Court Church.

In 1883, the minister Donald Macleod, together with most of the members and elders of Crown Court, broke away to found St. Columba’s Church in Pont Street, Knightsbridge. The reason for the move was convenience for many members, the general population of London having shifted westward and out of central areas such as Covent Garden. However, some members of Crown Court decided that they wished to remain in Covent Garden and continue the work that had been going on there since the church’s earliest days. The Kirk Session of St. Columba’s continued to support that of Crown Court Church for several years in both practical and financial ways. During the ministry of Alexander Macrae (1890-1917), the name “The Kirk of the Crown of Scotland” appears to have come into use, though there are no known records specifically detailing the claim to the title.

The Twentieth Century

In 1909, the original building, no longer adequate after 190 years, was replaced by the present one, at a cost of £11,000. This was raised by the congregation, heavily supported by the Campbells of Stracathro. This success of the project was in great part due to the energetic efforts of suffragist Lady Frances Balfour (1858-1931), whose husband, Eustace, designed the building which stands today.

By the late 1950s, Crown Court’s congregation had increased in size, allowing it to become financially self-supporting and no longer reliant upon a contribution from St. Columba’s. Keen to meet the needs of all London’s Scots, Dr. Moffett encouraged the quarterly Gaelic services which continue at Crown Court today. He was chaplain to the Royal Scottish Corporation and the Royal Caledonian Christian Club, which was set up during his ministry to provide hostel accommodation for young Scots coming to London.

In the second half of the twentieth century, several ministers contributed to the life of Crown Court Church. Under the leadership of John Miller Scott (1963-1985), the Sunday School was re-established as a weekly part of Church activities, and his tenure also saw the introduction of the annual Harvest Supper and the “Kirking” of Scottish MP’s and peers at the beginning of each new parliament. Stanley Hood (1991-2000), whose earlier ministry included parishes in Edinburgh and Glasgow as well as time spent overseas on missionary work in Malawi, maintained an interest in world mission, and served as chaplain to the Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Sigfrid Marten (2001-2006), who had previously served in a parish in Glasgow, was a member of the International Relations Committee of the Kirk’s Church and Nation Committee. Philip Majcher (2007-2020) was for 20 years a chaplain in the Army, and acted as honorary chaplain for the London based charity Scotscare.

Our current minister is Rev Scott Rennie.

The historical archive of Crown Court Church is held at the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh, and can be accessed by readers using the reference “CH2/852” on the catalogue.

If you have any enquiries about the history of Crown Court Church, please e-mail Mary-Jannet Leith, Outreach and Heritage officer, at outreach@crowncourtchurch.org.uk.

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