The History of Leith

June 28, 2004

In Antiquity

The Churchyard at South Leith was already ancient at the time of the Reformation and had already become the resting place for generations of Leithers who had been buried there with the solemn words and ritual of the Roman Catholic Church.

At this time the Church was the centre of life in the Town, the forum, the market place where merchandise was bought and sold and fairs held and where the people met to gossip and spend their leisure hours.

The various incorporations into which the people of the town were divided had altars in the church around which they buried their dead, the craftsmen being buried at the altar of St John, the Cordiners at the Altar of St Crispin and so on. When the space ran out in the church they buried there dead in the Churchyard adjacent to these altars.

In this way both the Churchyard and Church became divided into spaces thus the west end of the Church was used by the Maltmen and Carters, the east end by the seamen and members of Trinity House, the north side by the Hammermen and Cordiners and the south side by the tailors, wrights, bakers etc.

This continued until the middle of the 19th century and can be seen in indicated in colour on old plans of the church. As late as 1668 at a time when burial within the church was only permitted in special cases we find the Maltmen and carters entering into a contract about church accommodation one provision of which is to the effect that the carters “shall have full power and free liberty and license to bury their dead within the said Maltmen’s aisle”

South Leith Records (C)

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