The Provost

Author: John Galt

Chapter XVI—About the Repair of the Kirk

The repair of the kirk, the next job I took in hand, was not so easily managed as that of the causey; for it seems, in former times, the whole space of the area had been free to the parish in general, and that the lofts were constructions, raised at the special expense of the heritors for themselves. The fronts being for their families, and the back seats for their servants and tenants. In those times there were no such things as pews; but only forms, removeable, as I have heard say, at pleasure.

It, however, happened, in the course of nature, that certain forms came to be sabbathly frequented by the same persons; who, in this manner, acquired a sort of prescriptive right to them. And those persons or families, one after another, finding it would be an ease and convenience to them during divine worship, put up backs to their forms. But still, for many a year, there was no inclosure of pews; the first, indeed, that made a pew, as I have been told, was one Archibald Rafter, a wright, and the grandfather of Mr Rafter, the architect, who has had so much to do with the edification of the new town of Edinburgh. This Archibald’s form happened to be near the door, on the left side of the pulpit; and in the winter, when the wind was in the north, it was a very cold seat, which induced him to inclose it round and round, with certain old doors and shutters, which he had acquired in taking down and rebuilding the left wing of the whinny hill house. The comfort in which this enabled him and his family to listen to the worship, had an immediate effect; and the example being of a taking nature, in the course of little more than twenty years from the time, the whole area of the kirk had been pewed in a very creditable manner.

Families thus getting, as it were, portions of the church, some, when removing from the town, gave them up to their neighbours on receiving a consideration for the expense they had been at in making the pews; so that, from less to more, the pews so formed became a lettable and a vendible property. It was, therefore, thought a hard thing, that in the reparation which the seats had come to require in my time, the heritors and corporation should be obligated to pay the cost and expense of what was so clearly the property of others; while it seemed an impossibility to get the whole tot of the proprietors of the pews to bear the expense of new-seating the kirk. We had in the council many a long and weighty sederunt on the subject, without coming to any practical conclusion. At last, I thought the best way, as the kirk was really become a disgrace to the town, would be, for the corporation to undertake the repair entirely, upon an understanding that we were to be paid eighteen pence a bottom-room, per ANNUM, by the proprietors of the pews; and, on sounding the heritors, I found them all most willing to consent thereto, glad to be relieved from the awful expense of gutting and replenishing such a great concern as the kirk was. Accordingly the council having agreed to this proposal, we had plans and estimates made, and notice given to the owners of pews of our intention. The whole proceedings gave the greatest satisfaction possible to the inhabitants in general, who lauded and approved of my discernment more and more.

By the estimate, it was found that the repairs would cost about a thousand pounds; and by the plan, that the seats, at eighteen pence a sitter, would yield better than a hundred pounds a-year; so that there was no scruple, on the part of the town-council, in borrowing the money wanted. This was the first public debt ever contracted by the corporation, and people were very fain to get their money lodged at five per cent. on such good security; in so much, that we had a great deal more offered than we required at that time and epoch.


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Chicago: John Galt, "Chapter XVI— About the Repair of the Kirk," The Provost, trans. Evans, Sebastian in The Provost Original Sources, accessed March 21, 2019,

MLA: Galt, John. "Chapter XVI— About the Repair of the Kirk." The Provost, translted by Evans, Sebastian, in The Provost, Original Sources. 21 Mar. 2019.

Harvard: Galt, J, 'Chapter XVI— About the Repair of the Kirk' in The Provost, trans. . cited in , The Provost. Original Sources, retrieved 21 March 2019, from