History of the School
Leith School of Art is situated in the oldest Norwegian Lutheran church outside of Norway. The church was built in 1868 by the Norwegian Seamen's Mission to serve the seafaring community that existed around Leith Docks. The church was the first church built outside of Norway by the Mission and illustrates close historic links between Scotland and Norway.
Scottish architect James Simpson and Johan Schroder of Copenhagen designed the church. The building has some particular features that identify it with Norway and the sea. The fish-scale tiles on the spire are of interest, especially as the spire is the only architectural feature of the building that is particularly Scandinavian, being tall and slender. The stained glass windows in the main sanctuary (now used as a studio) show a crucifixion with fish and Christ fishing with his disciples.
A Founding Stone was placed in the church and can be seen inside the main entrance behind the double doors. The script is in Old Norwegian and as such is more akin to Danish than contemporary Norwegian. In architectural terms, the church bears stronger comparison with other Scottish churches of the period, being stone built and Gothic with a symmetrical gabled street elevation, a tower at one side and halls set at the rear.
There is a stone in the garden called the Vim Stone. In 1937 a ship named Vim, sailing from Norway with a cargo of timber, ran aground, letting in water. However, a fragment of rock broke off, forming a plug in the hole. This prevented the ship from sinking and enabling it to make safe passage to Leith.
The stone was removed from the ship and carried to the church where it was placed on the communion table and a service of thanksgiving was held for the protection of the ship and preservation of the sailors’ lives. Later it was transferred to the garden.
The Norwegian community used the church for Sunday worship and also as a community centre for Scandinavians living in Edinburgh. The Church hall had newspapers and coffee and provided a place for Scandinavians to come and retain links with their own culture. The Norwegians Seamen’s Mission sold the church about 30 years ago.
It passed through a succession of owners before being bought by Mark and Lottie Cheverton in 1988. The Chevertons repaired and restored the building and converted it for use as an art school.
In 1991 the Chevertons were tragically killed in a car crash and the future of the church again looked uncertain. However, Philip Archer, a colleague and friend of the Chevertons was appointed as Principal and the church has continued to be used as an art school.
Since 1991 the numbers of students attending the School has expanded greatly leading to increased pressure on the space. In 1995 the loft was converted to create a mezzanine floor in the upper studio to create more storage and working space. This is called the Persevere Gallery after the motto of Leith 'Persevere'.
In 1998 the building was altered and extended by transforming all the external grounds of the church into internal spaces. The result was a new Sculpture Court studio, library and circulation space. The Hugh Martin Partnership carried out the architectural work.
The church is still consecrated and continues to be used by the Norwegian community for special services and events.