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Duror: St Adamnan’s Episcopal Church

Various builders, since c.1700 — organ surveyed August 2022

analysis of data gathered during the August 2022 survey is still in progress—these pages will be updated as new information and conclusions come to light

Historical overview

The stories about the organ’s pre-1832 history outlined in the Episcopal Journals should not be discounted. Church records for the Qualified Episcopal Chapel at Leith survive, and have been studied (at different times) by Dr Jim Inglis and the author of this overview. Jim Inglis’ notes on this can be inspected, or sent from the SHOT archive. The earliest reference to organs/organists in the Qualified Leith chapel (the new building of 1749 was called St James’) is 1767, and the reference to a possible installation in 1755 is only an oblique reference to Snetzler hoping to erect an organ at a meeting place in Leith, in the records of the Lodge Canongate Kilwinning in Edinburgh.  

The organ of the (St James’) Episcopal congregation in Leith was replaced in 1805 when a new building was opened. A new organ by Muir Wood (viz. by Andrew Wood and James Bruce – the firm’s earliest known commission) was built in that year. It is recorded in the minutes that the old organ was sold to Muir Wood. It is likely to have been erected elsewhere soon after by that firm, but their subsequent recorded commissions between 1805 and 1812 were all south of Edinburgh. The firm’s installation at St Paul’s Episcopal in Dundee in 1812 was a much larger organ.  

However, the 1898 Scottish Standard Bearer report alluding to ‘Bishop Forbes’ old church at Leith’ suggests that the ‘Duror’ organ may have belonged to one or more of the Unqualified chapels in Leith, the last of which united with the Qualified one in 1802, leading to the new St James’ building in 1805. In an article on Wikipedia about Bishop Robert Forbes, it is stated that he acquired a new chapel in 1764. In an 1865 history of Leith by William Hutchison, Forbes is quoted as referring in 1765 to his ‘Chapel of Ease’, having previously described his chapel as ‘my little chapel’. The 1764 chapel is likely to have remained open until 1802. 

The story that the ‘Duror organ’ went from Leith to Arbroath around 1805–10 is not impossible. Arbroath Episcopal chapels’ records are not extensive. Isabella Logie’s Short History of the Episcopal Church in Arbroath 1596–1894 (1894) indicates that two chapels united in Arbroath around the beginning of the 19th century (possibly one Qualified and one Jacobite), with the latter’s records probably non-existent or suppressed. The history of the organs in Arbroath’s Qualified chapel (St Mary’s) does not give credence to the theory that the ‘Duror’ organ was in that chapel, but it could have gone to an Unqualified chapel. Alternatively, and perhaps more likely, the Duror organ may have gone straight from the Unqualified chapel in Leith to the Unqualified chapel in Dundee around 1802–06.  

Similarly, there is no obvious primary evidence of any organ arriving in Dundee’s main Qualified chapel in the High Street from Arbroath, between 1800 and the closure of the Dundee chapel in 1829. Again it is more likely that the Duror organ served time in the Unqualified chapel in Seagate, opened in 1763. Of course, a closure date of 1829 of Dundee’s Qualified West Chapel in the High Street (and a union of the chapels) is a likely point for the Duror organ’s relocation (to Fort William) in 1832, but there is no firm documentary evidence apparent so far. The West Chapel’s organ was certainly by Richard Bridge and arrived in Dundee in 1757, for which there is primary documentary evidence.

More evidence needs to be uncovered, if there is any to uncover. At the moment, though, the pre-1832 history of the Duror organ remains inconclusive. But that could change! Meantime, a possible history could be suggested as:

  • 1700 small organ built by Father Bernard Smith (1/7)
  • upper part of organ recased and organ rebuilt with Swell (1/11) by Thomas Parker c.1750 
  • acquired by Bishop Forbes’ new Unqualified chapel in Leith around 1765 (or perhaps previous chapel around 1753, and moved to the new one in 1765)
  • removed to Dundee’s Unqualified chapel on Seagate by 1805
  • removed to Fort William’s Rosse Episcopal Chapel in July 1832
  • moved to Duror in 1880–81, Swell removed, and various parts renewed 

Alan Buchan, 25/8/22