The Methodist Chapel at Nicolson Square was begun in 1815. It was designed by Thomas Brown, who later became City Architect. As the previous Octagon chapel had been demolished before the new building was completed, the congregation met in St Cecilia’s Hall in the Cowgate during the interim. The new church was officially opened on 26th May 1816. The Chapel had an adjacent manse and a meeting room beneath the raised ground floor.
The Chapel construction was very expensive. The debt was finally paid off after several other congregations had hired the building for their own services in the 1830s and 1840s. The organ was built by Forster and Andrews of Hull in 1861. The 18th President of the United States, Ulysses S Grant, worshipped at the Church in 1877 during his two year worldwide tour. Over the years, various changes have been made to the interior. For example in 1974, many pews and much old woodwork were removed, including the Victorian high central pulpit.
The Epworth Halls were built in 1916, partly as a centenary celebration, and to provide extra accommodation for outreach activities such as the Sunday School. The architects were Cousin, Ormiston and Taylor. Mr Ormiston was a member of the congregation.
The Church developed a reputation for high quality preaching (by ministers and local preachers) and for choral singing. Chaplaincy and a warm welcome were offered to students from the various Universities. Nicolson Square was for many years the home of Edinburgh Methsoc. A ‘Round Lunch’ offered monthly Sunday meals in members’ homes. Many newcomers were helped to feel part of the Church’s fellowship this way and through a regular ‘Square Walk’.
In the late 1980s the Church basement was redeveloped to form the Square Centre. Opened in 1990 by Rev Dr Colin Morris, the Square Centre provided a meeting place for community groups as well as a popular cafe.
The Church building is Grade ‘A’ Listed, linking it with Wesley’s Chapel in London and the New Room in Bristol; the three most architecturally important buildings in British Methodism. It is also a designated ‘Methodist Heritage Site’.