The first ministers of Crown Court were George Gordon and Patrick Russell, who held the charge jointly from 1711 until George Gordon’s death in 1714. Russell, a young man when he took up the charge, remained as minister until 1746. The initial entry in the Church Register of Baptisms, dated 1711, is for the baptism of his son.
During the next century the church had six ministers, with terms of office lasting from nine months to twenty-five years, as well as several periods of vacancy. However, it was the appointment of John Cumming, minister from 1832 to 1879, that really set Crown Court alight. Cumming was one of the most popular preachers of the period and contemporary reports describe crowds of up to 1,000 worshippers, from all over London, cramming into Crown Court to hear what he had to say.
Cumming was a pioneer in the area of local mission and social work, to which Crown Court Church has been committed since its earliest days. In 1845 he opened day and Sunday schools for the local people in an extension to the church building. The day school remained in operation until the introduction of compulsory schooling by the Education Act of 1870 rendered such “ragged” schools unnecessary, and one account estimates that during its lifespan some 16,250 children attended.
It was at Cumming’s initiative that a church in Holloway Road was bought from the Congregationalists in 1848 and used as a place of worship for the Royal Caledonian Schools, which provided education for the children of Scottish service men. Known as the Caledonian Church, this congregation was merged with Crown Court in 1950. The colours of the Royal Caledonian Schools, today an educational trust in Bushey, Hertfordshire, now hang in Crown Court Church.
Cumming was also an innovator. In 1841 he persuaded the Kirk Session to change from tallow candles to gas lighting. He was also the first minister to reverse the practice of sitting for singing and standing for prayers.
After Cumming’s ministry ended there was a two-year vacancy until Donald Macleod became minister in 1881. This was the beginning of the turbulent period which saw Macleod, together with most of the members and elders of Crown Court, break away in 1883 to found St. Columba’s Church in Pont Street, Knightsbridge. The reason for the move was convenience for many members, the general population of London having shifted westward and out of central areas such as Covent Garden.
However, some members of Crown Court decided that they wished to remain in Covent Garden and continue the work that had been going on there since the church’s earliest days. The Kirk Session of St. Columba’s continued to support that of Crown Court for several years in both practical and financial ways. Crown Court and St. Columba’s remain the only two Church of Scotland congregations in London.
It was during the ministry of Alexander Macrae (1890-1917) that the name “The Kirk of the Crown of Scotland” appears to have come into use. There are no known records specifically detailing the claim to the title, though some authorities cite as circumstantial evidence the presence of the Royal Arms on the panel behind the communion table and on one of the original building’s stained-glass windows. There may also be a link with the “Scotland Yard” chapel at the time of the Union of the Crowns. Whatever its origin, the title seems to have stood the test of time.
Macrae’s ministry also saw the replacement in 1909 of the original building, no longer adequate after 190 years, by the present one. The cost of £11,000 was raised by the congregation, heavily supported by the Campbells of Stracathro. The new building was dedicated by the Moderator of the General Assembly of that year, the Right Reverend James Robertson, D.D.
The end of Macrae’s ministry saw the arrival of another long-serving minister, Joseph Moffett (1917-1962). Someone who was a child during the latter part of Dr. Moffett’s ministry has described him as “an Old Testament prophet”, a seemingly forbidding person. This impression is belied by Dr. Moffett’s high reputation as both preacher and pastor, but is no doubt partly due to the fact that in those days the children stayed in the church for the entire service.
During Dr. Moffett’s tenure membership of Crown Court increased from about 250 in 1917 to over 900 in the late 1950s, allowing Crown Court to become financially self-supporting and no longer reliant upon a contribution from St. Columba’s. Dr. Moffett’s description of his task as “like preaching to a procession” aptly summed up the ever-changing face of the congregation and remains highly relevant today.
Keen to meet the needs of all London’s Scots, Dr. Moffett encouraged the quarterly Gaelic services which continue to this day. He was chaplain to the Royal Scottish Corporation and the Royal Caledonian Schools, and was involved with the Caledonian Christian Club, which was set up during his ministry to provide hostel accommodation for young Scots coming to London. This was the forerunner of the present-day Borderline agency, formed in 1990 to work with homeless and vulnerable Scots in the city.
John Miller Scott (1963-1985) was as much an innovator as any of his predecessors. Under his leadership the Sunday School was re-established as a weekly part of Church activities. He was also instrumental in introducing such activities as the annual Harvest Supper and the “Kirking” of Scottish MPs and peers at the beginning of each new parliament. His tenure also saw the establishment of the Westminster Christian Council, an ecumenical body in the Borough of Westminster, with Dr. Scott as its first Chairman.
Since Dr. Scott left to take up the charge of St Andrew’s Jerusalem, there have been three shorter ministries.
Kenneth Hughes (1986 – 1990) had previously served in parishes at Port Glasgow, Livingston and East Lothian. His particular interest was in forms of worship.
Our next minister, Stanley Hood (1991 – 2000), whose earlier ministry included parishes in Edinburgh and Glasgow as well as time spent overseas on missionary work in Malawi, maintained an interest in world mission. He served as chaplain to the Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1998 and 1999.
Following Mr Hood’s retirement, Crown Court called its first woman minister, Sigrid Marten (2001 – 2006), who had previously served in a parish in Glasgow and was a member of the International Relations Committee of the Kirk’s Church and Nation Committee. She had a particular interest in the situation in Palestine.