The History of Leith

December 20, 2003

South Leith Gravestones

The most important place to start in any research of the history and genealogy of Leith is South leith Churchyard.

The gravestones of South leith although not the most famous in Scotland nor the most attractive. They are important however because they are the best recorded in scotland dateing back in some cases to the 16th century

We have all scanned the tombstones in passing by looking for something of interest, and it must be admitted that in this respect South Leith churchyard has no very great attractions. We are impressed by the large families which were so common a feature of former times and by the ravages of infectious diseases which carried children of in batches at a time. One of the pathetic inscriptions reads “lyth here, two children dear, in life united, when dead not parted” One stone tells us of a certain lady who was the mother of 21 children and died at the early age of 45. John Pew the Maltman whose stone is worth visiting had 25 children and outlived all but a few.

There is also the type of inscription which details long phrases the numerous virtues of a deceased friend and there are others which point a moral or warning to the careless reader (eg “As I am now, so shalt thou be”).There is an interesting stone which bears to be erected to a lady the daughter of a soldier who fell in the royal cause at the battle of Preston in 1745.

The Tombstones also bear the names of many gentlemen who were famous in Leith in their day. Such as Adam Whyte the first provost of Leith, The Lixmount family concerned with the building of Leith Hospital, the ministers’ tomb of Dr Dickson, Mr Duff and others. Nearby is the Tomb of Hugo Arnot a famous historian, the Balfour family of Pilrig are buried here, who had connections with Robert Louis Stevenson. Robert Louis Stevenson’s full name was Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson but he dropped the Balfour part from his name and from time to time he would visit the Balfour Tomb passing on his way the gravestone of John Pew. He immortalised Pew in his book “Treasure Island” and it is Blind Pew who gives Billy Bones the black spot at the Admiral Benbow Inn.

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