History of Bristo

Origins of the church

The earliest written record of what is now Bristo Baptist Church is a manuscript extract from the Scots Magazine for November 1765. This is unsigned so we do not know which of the church's founders made the note nor who ensured its survival. The extract reads as follows: 

" on Monday November 25 an antipaedobaptist administered the ordinance of Baptism to two adults in the water of Leith hard by Canonmills near Edinburgh in the following manner the two persons being first stripped were cloathed with long black gowns and then went into the water along with their Minister who after repeating some words in their ordinary form took them by the nape of the neck plunged them down over head and ears and keept them for a little time wholly under the water "

 This was in fact the second such baptism. Shortly before, Robert Carmichael, pastor of a small independent church in Edinburgh, had come to accept Baptist principles through a close study of Scriptures and correspondence with Archibald McLean, a Glasgow bookseller and printer. Knowing no other Baptist in Scotland, Mr Carmichael had travelled to London where he had been baptised on 9 October 1765 by Dr John Gill of Carter Lane, a noted Baptist evangelical. It was on his return to Edinburgh that Carmichael baptised five members of his independent congregation, so instituting the first "Scotch Baptist " church. 

Unknown to them, however, there was another Baptist in Edinburgh. Sir William Sinclair, founder of the Keiss church on his Dunbeath estate, was in the debtors' prison in the grounds of Holyroodhouse, where he had sought sanctuary. As long as he remained there he could not be asked to repay his debts. Sir William died in 1768 and is buried in Lord MacLeod's grave in the Canongate Churchyard. 

Had he and the founders of the Edinburgh church met what might have been the effect on Scottish Baptist history? A few weeks after Carmichael had baptised these seven, Archibald McLean travelled from Glasgow to be baptised in turn. In 1767, settling in Edinburgh, he naturally joined the infant church, being elected co-pastor with Carmichael a year later. Archibald McLean very quickly became leader of the Baptist work in Scotland. In 1785 the church asked him to give up his work in the printing trade and supported him in full time church and denominational work. He died in 1812, remembered affectionately as "Father McLean ".