Rev Dr James Scott Marshall, Minister of the Kirkgate Church 1947-73

Born: 23 May, 1913, in Leith, Edinburgh. Died 8 January, 2010, in Auchtermuchty, Fife, aged 96

LEITH has lost one of her most prominent sons. A local minister from 1947 to 1990, and acknowledged as Leith's historian, and elected a Golden Pillar of Leith in last year's celebration of South Leith Parish Church, the Rev Dr James Scott Marshall died on 8 January, 2010, in Auchtermuchty.

He was born on 23 May, 1913, in Leith and was raised in the area and educated at the Academy where he was dux boy in 1931. He studied agriculture and divinity at the University of Edinburgh. On completing his training for the ministry in the Church of Scotland, he was inducted to his first charge at Twechar Parish Church in East Dunbartonshire.

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War was declared a week before his wedding to Mary Hall Tough on 7 September, 1939, and the induction was postponed on account of the war. Once ensconced, he spent the entire war years in Twechar, his application for military service having been rejected as his position was a reserved occupation in a coal-mining town.

The young couple started their family there and ran the parish until 1947, when James accepted a call to the Kirkgate Church in Leith. The Leith community and its people and history were his passion. The fact that there was no manse available did not stop him, and he and his family moved in with his parents for several years before a manse was bought.

The Edinburgh Evening News accepted and published articles from him on various topics concerning the area and referred to him as "Leith's bearded minister". That was then an unusual feature.

History was an interest that took him into research in many institutions and libraries, and he was invited to write the history of a number of institutions. Among these were the Vaults Leith, the Incorporation of Carters, North Leith Parish Church and the history of Leith Hospital "Leith's greatest charity.

Over several years, he had books published on local history subjects, putting national Scottish history into a Leith perspective. In his retirement, he was able to complete a social history in the form of personal memoirs.

During the early post-war years, there were people concerned about the well-being of old people in Leith. There was poverty and deprivation, and many of the elderly were without family support. Housing for local people was made available in Pilton and Pennywell, remote from the older generation who were, perforce, left to fend for themselves as best they could.

This led Dr Marshall and John Crichton, a councillor, to involvement in setting up a lunch club for old folk. This would ensure a hot meal and social contact and the means of being aware of the needs and welfare of the elderly.

While pursuing matters of interest and importance to Leith and its people, the minister was assiduous in tending the congregation. Each week he visited members on two days, having intimated the days and streets to be visited on the Sunday. This was in addition to the hospital visits and home calls to the sick.

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Travelling was on foot or bike or by bus, although in Twechar he drove a pony and trap. Epilepsy as a student had denied him the opportunity to obtain a driving licence.

On arrival at the Kirkgate Church, he took an active interest in the dramatic club, and wrote some plays for it to perform. He helped where he could and encouraged involvement in the Scottish Community Drama Association Festivals and one-act-play competitions. Acting was not his strong point, but he filled in when needed. An adjudicator criticised him for making the elementary error of appearing on stage with brown hair, but wearing a ginger beard. The critic was surprised to discover that hair and beard were both natural and permanent.

During these years there was also a dance band in the church, in which the minister played his violin along with a group of talented musicians.

Dr Marshall championed the establishment of a museum for Leith, and started encouraging the collection of artefacts and preservation of all things important and relating to the area. He fought for preservation of the King's Wark and Lamb's House, which became a day centre for old folk. He deplored the decision of Edinburgh Council to demolish the Kirkgate, Leith's historic centre, while spending grandly to preserve the Canongate in Edinburgh.

As his writing and historical articles and books became appreciated, he was encouraged to take a PhD to underline the quality and authority of the writing he produced. The subject of his thesis was Irregular Marriages in Leith, a subject of considerable academic interest.

Dr Marshall was an active member of the Church History Society, the Old Edinburgh Club, the Saltire Society, the Scots Language Society and was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in Scotland. He was a onetime director of the National Bible Society, and chaplain to the Naval Cadets and to David Kilpatrick's School. He played his part in the Edinburgh Presbytery and served as moderator in 1973. He was a frequent speaker on Burns and all things Scottish

The depth of knowledge of the history of Leith earned for Dr Marshall a reputation as the area's historian, and he was consulted by others with an interest in the same and associated matters.

In 1973, the Kirkgate Church united with South Leith Parish Church and Dr Marshall became associate minister in a team ministry with the Rev Jack Kellett. This arrangement worked out favourably and the individual talents and abilities were allowed to evolve and mature to the benefit of the combined congregation.

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In 1990, Dr Marshall retired after 51 years in the parish ministry and settled in St Andrews, where he had access to the university library. He was able to continue his research and writing until 2003 when a stroke left him with impaired mobility.

In January 2009, as part of the 400th Anniversary Celebrations of south Leith Parish Church, Dr Marshall was elected one of the Pillars of Leith by the community in respect of the great contribution he made to the area.

He is survived by his wife, daughter and son, six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.