Compiled from the Parish Registers for the year 1588 to 1700 and from other original sources, D. Robertson LL.B S.S, Session Clerk Printed by the authority of the Kirk Session by William R. Duff & Co, Leith, Published by Andrew Elliot, 17 Princes Street, Edinburgh, 1911
The Registers and other books under the custody of the Kirk Session of South Leith Parish extend with slight blanks, from 29th May 1597 down to the present time. Much care and anxiety have been exercised to preserve these books with the result that they have escaped the fate of mutilation or loss which usually overtakes records to which people have right to access, and they are still in a very creditable state of preservation. So far as they profess to go, they form an authentic, indeed the only authentic history of the Parish. The Registers contain the minutes of the Kirk Session and enable one to follow the deliberations of successive generations of ministers and elders, bailies and Incorporations, concerning the Church and Churchyard, the schools, the poor, the errant men and women of the Parish, the religious and social evolution of the people. From the extracts now published it may be possible to reconstruct, in outline at least, some of the problems which engaged the thoughts of former generations and to stir the dust upon controversies long forgotten, which, though concerned chiefly with the light and shadows of Parish life, not infrequently touch upon, and form foot notes to the larger pages of our National History. These extracts also hold fragmentary character sketches of individuals who were prominent in the Parish in their day; and incidentally they explain many place-names in the neighbourhood.
The ancient Parish of South Leith is nearly triangular in Shape, containing an area of some 2265 acres. It is bounded on the north-east by the Firth of Forth; on the south by Duddingston and Canongate; on the west by the Parishes of the royalty of Edinburgh, St Cuthbert’s and North Leith. The boundary runs along the Fishwives Causeway, thence nearly along the highway between the City and Portobello’ thence to Piershill it sweeps round parsons Green skirting the King’s Park; thence along the North Back of the Canongate touching Waverley Station; thence down Leith Walk; thence westward to the Water of Leith running down its bed to the Forth. Including the quoad sacra Parishes which have been disjoined from it in recent years, the parish embraces large portions of Craigentinny, Restalrig, Jock’s Lodge, Abbeyhill, Canongate, Calton and South Leith.
The present volume was begun in anticipation of the ter-centenary of the Act of Parliament dated 24th June 1609, whereby South Leith became the Church of the Parish. The event was celebrated in the Church on 24th June 1909 and an account of the proceedings of that day has been transcribed from the Parish Magazine. The event has been further commemorated within the church by restoration of various relics illustrative of its past history and are displayed the Arms of the Logan and Balmerino families, and of Restalrig, Edinburgh and Leith.
The minutes down to the year 1660 have already appeared by instalments of four pages each month in the Parish magazine, and the Kirk Session have sanctioned their continuance to the year 1700. The book owes its origin and execution to the minister of the Parish, the Rev John White MA, to whom it is dedicated in testimony of a much esteemed friendship and in recognition of many distinguished services rendered to the church
Leith, 12th June 1911
(Editor’s note-the description of the Parish as given here has changed substantially over ninety years and is much reduced. Furthermore many of the place names which were very familiar to Leithers up to the 1960’s and early 1970’s have now been removed due to the regeneration of Leith over the past forty years and which is continuing today. However if you are interested in finding the places mentioned in the Kirk Records then can I suggest the use of the Ordinance survey map of 1852. Please do not use a current map of Leith as the streets will in all probability been removed)
Act of Parliament
24th June 1609
Our Souverine Lord and estaitts of this pnt Parit understanding that the Kirk of Restlrig is ruynous and that the Kirk of Leith hs bene the place of convening of the parochiners of Restalrig the space of fyftie years past and alsue that it is the most commodious pairt in respect that the toun of Leith has the greatest part of the said parochin whilk Kirk nevertheless has never bene erectit in ane paroch Kirk. Thairfore oure soueraine Lord and estaittis of this prnt parlt declairis the said Kirk of Leith to be ane paroch Kirk and ordains the same to be repute and called hereafter the Paroch Kirk as they have done in times past and that the benefice of Restalrig, parsonage thereof gleib and manse pertaining thereto shall be disponit to the minister serving the cure at the said Kirk of Leith in all time coming, and that the said Kirk of Retlrig be suspended and extinct from henceforth and for ever, reserveand always to the patrone and his successors thair richt of patronage of the Kirk of Restalrig; and the saidis Estaittis declairis that the samyn richt of patronage shall nowayes be prejudjeit be this pnt act.
In standard English
Our Sovereign Lord and Estates of this present Parliament understanding that the Kirk of Restalrig is ruinous and that the Kirk of Leith has been the place of convening of the Parishioners of Restalrig the space of fifty years past, and also that it is the most commodious part in respect that the town of Leith has the greatest part of the said Parish which Kirk nevertheless has never been erected as a Parish Kirk. Therefore our Sovereign Lord and Estates of this present Parliament declares the said Kirk of Leith to be the Parish Kirk and ordains the same to be repute and called thereafter the Parish Kirk of Leith and all the inhabitants of Restalrig to resort thereto as unto the Parish Kirk as they have done in times past, and that the Benefice of Restalrig, Parsonage thereof Glebe and manse pertaining thereto shall be always disposed to the minister serving the cure of the said Kirk of Leith in all time coming, and that the said Kirk of Restalrig is superseded and extinct from henceforth and for ever, reserved always to the patron and his successors their right of patronage of the Kirk o Restalrig and the said Estates declares that the same right of patronage shall in no ways be prejudiced by this present act.
(Editors note- The Kirk of Restalrig was deliberately destroyed after the Siege of Leith because it was the Dean of Resalrig who married Mary, Queen of Scot’s and was also the centre in the East of Scotland for Pilgrimage at the Well of St Triduana and so was considered by the reformed church as “Idolatrous”. Please note the word “Kirk” means Church in Scots.)
The Records of the Session
(Editors note- The original records are written in old Scots and in places are very difficult to read unless you are familiar with the dialect. I will therefore write each entry in normal standard English in order to make the entry clearer to understand)
Extracts from the Register 1588-1596 now amissing
25th May 1588. William Brysoune Tailor is ordered to pay one pound Scots for breaking the Sabbath. William Penny and James Johnston Baker are ordered to be jailed for disobedience.
The same day Margaret Murray spouse to dead Henry Watt and now spouse to Patrick Green of Dalkeith was ordered under the pain of 100 pounds Scots to leave the town written at 8 o’clock immediately thereafter
(Editors note- The Scots pound was worth 1/12 of the English pound. For serious ecclesiastical crimes South Leith Parish Church had up to 1822 Cells in a tower at West side called the Cantore. Unfortunately this was demolished and the present day gates facing the Kirkgate now stands in its place.)
10th February 1589 That unless an officer with a warrant from the Session attends a visitation with two others this would be considered a violation of the sermon and the perpetrators can be put into the Tolbooth.
July 17th 1589 Bernard Lindsay and Barbara Logan give up their names to be proclaimed and married today and at Michaelmas. John Logan Cautioner
(Editors note-Michaelmas was the feast of St Michael the Archangel 29th September. Various celebrations were associated with it, especially horse racing, date of the elections in various Sheriffdoms and burghs. A Cautioner was a person who supported a couple as a form of security that they do want to be married. Bernard Street is named after Bernard Lindsay and he was chamberlain to James VI )
13th November 1591 The whole Session with one voice agreed that every person who reveals the decisions of the session which should be kept secret or may prejudice the Session or any member of the Session shall be deprived of his office and will be find 100 pounds Scots to the poor and will be registered in the books of the Town under the authority of the Baillies
23rd November 1591-The elders and deacons appointed for the year and the following acts were ratified . That the elders and deacons that are absent from the preaching on any Sunday either in the morning or in the afternoon without lawful excuse allowed by the Kirk Session at the day of the meeting will pay half a mark and if they refuse shall pay double. The order of visitations to be made as it was before. Four to visit every quarter of the Town every month. First to visit the Duobraw, 2nd the Hill, 3rd Caldtoun and 4th the Sands.
(Editors note Ist St Andrew Street, 2nd The Coal Hill, 3rd Calton and 4th Bernard Street. The mark or merk was worth about 65 pence.
It is ordered that any inhabitant found within this town to be excessively or extraordinarily drunk shall pay a penalty according to the discretion and modification of the Session and the penalty will be paid to the poor and the accused will pay according to the instructions of the Session
It is further ordered that nobody will lie down in the Churchyard during the time of the preaching or being found doing any unlawful things under the pain of being jailed.
25th may 1592 The Provost John Arnottis Shepherd, decreed that for every sheep that are in the Churchyard a tax of 9 marks and every sheep between Coatfield and the Kirk style should pay 5 marks.
17th January 1593 Gilbert Storie and his son was ordered to stand at the Kirk door in sackcloth from the beginning of the second bell till the preaching has begun and after the preaching to be taken by the collar to the form at the back of the marriage stool this is to be done also on Thursday until they find caution that they wil never cause trouble in the town, This to be entered into the Town Clerks books
11th July 1594 The Session agreed with Robert Mitchell for a year that he was to deal with the Church Clock and paid 6 pounds Scots and such like William Mathieson to ring the bells at each service and hours for 20 pounds Scots for the year and paid 5 paid 5 pounds Scots every quarter.
1596 The whole Session met for the present year allowed and rateified all the previous acts of the Session with this addition that every elder and deacon in their houses at night after supper shall read or cause to be read a chapter from the Bible followed by prayer and catechising their servants, With a prayer before work every morning
Extracts from the minute Books
29th May 1597 William Logan appeared before the Session to request a licence to build a seat for his mother who lived on the Sheriff Brae. This the Session granted on the condition that none of her heirs would be able to claim the seat without a licence from the Session on the payment of five pounds Scots.
This act of the Session was to apply to all such seats in the future to avoid any inconveniences in the future.
2nd June 1597 Isobel Morrison appeared before the Session being accused o injuring Master George Simple. She promised never to injure the said George Simple by word or deed in his presence or behind his back which we call backbiting under the pain of ten pounds.
18th June 1597 Christian Kelly and her daughter appeared before the Session accused of injuring Thomas Waldy. They promised never to be found cursing, fighting (?) or injuring any person hereafter under the pain of ten pounds Scots or else be jailed for eight days and to pay a fine five pounds
The same day William Ford (being one of the Church Deacons for the present year) was put of the Session for consulting with a Warlock in Newcastle in England. Thereafter he made a public repentance before the whole congregation.
Suchlike Archibald Tait the same day was accused of consulting with Bessie Aitkin who was suspected of Witchcraft but he wasn’t an elder or a deacon.
(Editors note-This is the first record of Witchcraft in Leith. These so called “Witches” dealt in Natural cures, herbs etc. However it was with James VI that a Witchcraft scare started with the publication of his “Daemonologie” in 1597. In Scotland between 1590-1700 there were over three thousand cases of Witchcraft with almost a third leading to execution. Many of these cases being dealt with by Sessions in the local Parishes. This is a reflection of the period not of the Church as a belief in the Black Arts was a very wide spread belief. Please note William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”). Also in the Authorised Bible of James VI it says that “Witches were to be put to death” however that had been altered as it originally was talking about Thieves.)
27th April 1598 Elspit Morton was before the Session for running a School without a licence neither from the Session being asked for or granted, nor from a magistrate or any other recognised authority. She was ordered to be discharged at Whitsun.
(Editors note- Whitsun or Whitsunday was one of the Scottish quarter days, now 28th May, formally 15th or 26th May. The period involved feasting dancing and games)
The same day John Mathieson was appointed the Baillie of St Anthony and was order to hold courts to up lift the feu duties owning to the Church for the use of the Church and the poor of the Parish
(Editors note-The origin of the Baillie of St Anthony lay in the origins of South Leith Church. The full title being Baron Baillie of Saint Anthony and in the Middle Ages the Baron Baillie were appointed by the Knight Templar’s to look after their land and holdings. That is one of the reasons we know that the knights at St Anthony were originally Templar Knights. The office existed until 1833 when Thomas Barker was appointed but after his death the position was abolished. Also it is recorded that the Preceptory of St Anthony stood outside of Leith and after the Reformation South Leith fell heir to all its properties. The area of St Anthony covered the area from Constitution Street to Cables Wynd down to the Vaults in Henderson Street. This was the only part of Leith that Edinburgh never controlled and only gained it in 1920 when Leith merged with Edinburgh)
15th June 1598 William Logan under a warrant issued by the Session accused him of not paying eight pounds Scot’s due on his feu duty. This he denied saying that he had paid nine pounds to Mr George Simples and so the Session discharged him. The feu was due on the Holy Blood Acre.
(Editors note-The Holy Blood Acre is now called Anchorfield Newhaven)
27th June 1598 The Session closed all the Schools in Leith except that being run by James Hays and Daniel Blacklaws. It was also order that no-one take on the instruction of children without the permission, sanction and licence of the Kirk Session after the examination of their qualification to teach. All present teachers to desist and to stop teaching or they would deprived of their position.
28th September 1598 Andrew Ayles for using St Anthony Yard is eighty marks to be paid in two terms at Martinmas twenty pounds Scots and at Whitsun fifty marks
(Editors note- Martinmas (11th November) was the feast of St Martin, in the fourth
century, Bishop of Tours and Patron Saint of France. It was the time for hiring servants and slaughtering cattle and is still one of the Scottish quarter days.
The quarter days are each of four days fixed by custom as marking off the quarters of the year, on which some tenancies begin and end, and quarterly payments of rent and other charges fall due In Scotland they are Candlemas (2nd February), Whitsunday (28th May), Lammas (Ist August) and Martinmas (11th November)
© South Leith Parish Church Records of the Session