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Still in the City

“Catholic Anglicanism at its best has always been marked by social concern”. (Rev Alan Moses)

This observation can be found in the booklet recording the history of Old Saint Paul’s and produced in 1989 to commemorate the Tercentenary. Over the centuries, the church has flourished but also risked extinction, has experienced trials yet made extraordinary progress. And, after 335 years, OSP is still in the City, in the east end of the City, and at its best has been ‘marked by social concern’.

The Monday Warm Lunches and Community Fund are the current expressions of this concern but, within living memory, OSP has been responsible for more than one initiative – including the Ritz and the Ark. In this article, a few of those who volunteered have been willing to share their memories and photographs. Andrew Kerr who was closely involved with the Ark, particularly when it came to legal matters, has gone through his papers and trawled his memory to provide a more detailed record to be published later this year.

Canon Laurie died in 1937. In his time as Rector, there had been no welfare state and the church had provided health care and education in the local overcrowded area. After the end of the Second World War and the Beveridge report, poverty, homelessness, ill health and addiction did not disappear. The challenge to the church to care for its neighbours was ever present. Richard Holloway, living in Lauder House in the early 70s, was well aware of this, given the constant stream of people at the Rectory door with requests for food or a handout.

Photo showing front door of the Ritz Café

Credit: Marion Chatterley

In an attempt to meet this need, the Ritz Café was established in 1974 in Blackfriars Street. Betty Strang was in charge, and Jean Holloway remembers taking her shopping so that Betty could make huge pots of nourishing soup. (Some things don’t change) Jean also recalls her amusement when ‘one client besotted with Betty Mannpersisted in telling her how beautiful she was and Betty retorting I wish you’d said that when you were sober.‘ It was not all banter however and Graham Forbes, curate at the time, reputedly had a knack of dealing with the more difficult customers.

Other volunteers included Brenda White and Sheila Marren seen in this photograph with Rev Carol Naismith and Dorothy Borley enjoying a meal – as they regularly did – in the rather more salubrious surroundings of Jacques Bistro in Brunstfield.

Photos showing volunteers of that time

Credit: (top) Peter Niven & Marion Chatterley; (bottom) PeterNiven & Brenda White

Photo showing a young volunteer

Credit: OSP










By 1986, Marion Chatterley (currently Vice Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral) was the manager of the Ritz. She recalls that, when she took over, the Ritz had outgrown its available spaceLynne Niven and John Thompson, both of whom worked at the Ritz, also recall a miserable little building, its inadequate size contributing to tension among the men with fights and argumentsbreaking out. The make-up of the community was changing: the older street drinkers were being joined by younger drug users and both were difficult to help.

It was at this stage that the Council approached the mangers of the Ritz with the

Photo showing the hanging sign of the Old Sailor's Ark

Credit: OSP

suggestion that they moved to the Old Sailor’s Ark in New Street as its Trustees wanted to close and were looking for a suitable local charity to take over the building. The Old Sailor’s Ark had been founded in 1936 by Captain Charles Taylor who bequeathes his considerable fortune to set up ‘a handsome souop kitchen’ for disadvantaged people in the area of the Waverley Market. The Ritz moved there in March 1989, with OSP becoming responsible for meeting all the terms and conditions of Captain Taylor’s will, and with the Rector, Alan Moses, designated Judicial Factor. (Quite the oddest title I have acquired over the years!)

The Ark was set up as a breakfast café, Marion recalls, open from 6 until noon every day except Sunday. (Carubbers Close Mission provided breakfast and a service on Sundays) It attracted volunteers from a number of other churches and from within OSP. There was an annual grant from the City of Edinburgh Council which covered running costs and food though we also collected about two trays a day of unused sandwiches and cakes from Jenners! At its peak, the Ark served about 100 people a day.

In addition to serving food, there was an ambition at one point to provide a full medical service. These were the early days of HIV and, Marion recalls, we became one of the distribution points for free condoms and needles and for advice on where to be tested. (A more comprehensive medical service was not achieved until much later.)

Lynne Niven and John Thompson, with Marion, moved to the Ark and remember a much bigger place, easier to work in with a large kitchen and a very large dining room for the customers. Nevertheless, the facilities were antiquated: the cooker had been there since 1936 and there was no dishwasher. Marion was succeeded by Anna Gerius and John remained to assist her. It was decided that improvements had to be made, money was raised, and the upgraded kitchen included a dishwasher, fridge and freezer and better health and safety!

Photo showing the kitchen

Credit: OSP/Peter Niven

Sheila Marren continued to volunteer, moving from the Ritz to the Ark and clearly remembers a few of the customers – Are you Christian? the man asked. Yes, I said, sitting down and looking forward to an interesting conversation. I am not he said gloomily. I’m a Protestant.

Photo showing some ark customers

Credit: Peter Niven

Photo showing some more Ark customers, including "Old John" on the top right hand corner

Credit: (top left & bottom) Peter Niven; (right) OSP

Sheila also recalls the declaration from one man – Come live with me and be my love quoted Charlie as he waited in line for his breakfast. Join me in my cardboard abode at the foot of the clase and we will dance to the stars and serenade the moon. I thanked him for his invitation but why the compliment for me, I asked, when there was a lovely young volunteer nearby? Charlie sighed deeply and said aye lovely she is and young too but you’re the one wearing gold!

Peter Niven also remembers that sort of banter when he worked at the Ark on a Wednesday from 7 to 8:30 before going off to work. He recalls a warm atmosphere, a sense of community and a lot of noise with occasional raised voices. Sitting at tables of three and four, they had a cooked breakfast, a good blether followed frequently, in those days, by a smoke.

Photo showing Maurice on Mull

Credit: Maurice Houston

Curates at OSP were expected to be involved. Malcolm Richardson recalls that it was part of the routine for the clergy, drawn up at the beginning of the week. The same was true for Maurice Houston who comments that as alcohol was not allowed in the café so there were always two or three folk outside sitting on the step enjoying a can. Social workers were present inside to help with money or with court hearings.

Photo showing the newsletter of The Ark Trust dated Spring 2006

Credit: OSP

A Leaflet to mark the 70th birthday of the Ark illustrates how it had grown to offer a range of services in addition to the basic provision of food and medical help. Sox in the City, for example, was a community lauderette and clothing store operating from premises in Montrose terrace. It was joined by B

aby Sox offering children’s clothes and toys, many of them donated. And Maurice recalls an unforgettable occasion when they took about 10 of the ‘customers’ to Camas Outdoor Centre on the Isle of Mull. Most of them had never been out of the city before. We canoed, abseiled and walked. These bits were fun. Less fun wer

e the dorms at night, taking care of the meds and the fact that the only alternative substance to temazepam was tabccoo. We ran out of cigarettes on the first day so some of the boys walked four miles to the nearest shop to buy supplies!

Photo showing front cover of The Ark brochure from the 1980s

Photo showing page four of the brochure

Credit: (all) OSP

Photo showing the second page of the brochurePhoto showing page 3 of the brochure


The last word can maybe best be provided by oneof the beneficiaries of the Ark: when you’ve slept in a doorway, are soaked to the skin, frozen to the marrow, have been mugged for the few pence in your pocket – The Ark is the place to come to. They dry you off, patch you up, stuff with you bacon, eggs, sausages, bread, beans, tea and coffee. You pay 50p if you’ve got it and you can stay from early morning until noon or later. It’s warm, it’s friendly. And nobody asks you any questions.

This ‘Restaurant of the heart‘ demanded an investment of time and effort that eventually became unsustainable, but it was a remarkable achievement and a challenge to our own perception of what the church exists to do.

Sheila Brock & contributors