The History of Leith

July 28, 2004

The Giants Brae

The large mound on Leith Links near to Leith Primary School which is sometimes called the Giant’s Grave but more generally called the Giants Brae is usually stated in the historical accounts of Leith to have been thrown up by the English during the Siege of Leith in 1560. In this case tradition is at issue with history and I shall now give the traditional account of its origin.

It is well known that the original feudal superiors of Leith were the Logans of Restalrig whose usual residence was the little castle overlooking Lochend. Being generally men of an imperious and ambitious nature they ruled the unfortunate people of Leith with a rod of iron. In those days the will of the superior represented the law, and woe to the unfortunate who try to resist it. There was no need of lawyers, for law-suits didn’t exist, it was the case of the dungeon or the knife of a zealous retainer, speedily settled all the scruples of the serf who did not consider it his first duty “to please his lord”

The representative of the Logan family at the end of the sixteenth century was a may of expensive habits, full of ambitious projects and permitted no obstacle to stand in the way of his desires, which money or his sword could remove. The inhabitants of Leith, on all occasions were fair game for the feudal tyrant were, during his supremacy, subject to constant spoliation and robbery. It was not only I matters of property that the Leithers were made to feel the power of this “bold bad man”. The wives and daughters of the Leithers were not infrequently seduced away or forcibly carried of to Lochend and retained there as long as it suited the pleasure or caprice of its haughty Lord.

The principle instrument of Logan’s actions in Leith was a certain ludovic Wilson and man of huge stature combined with a savage and vicious character which made him a terror of the town. Every time he came into Leith the fear could be felt and people thanked God when he passed a door without entering.

In the year 1599 there lived in Leith successful merchant called John Balfour who traded with the Low Countries and on his retirement he resided on the Shore with his two sons and his daughter his wife having died. The sons continued their fathers business and life continued as normal. However the house near to what was going to be the Timber Bush had a stone balcony which ran the length of the building and which was low enough to be reached by a low ladder. It was by this means that Wilson entered the house and Kidnapped the daughter and took her to Lochend.

Early the following day the rope ladder was found and people knew it was Logan who had done it. And so a group of young men and the brother went and confronted Logan. Who in a haughty tone called them serfs and threatened to set his dogs on them. They left because there wasn’t much they could do.

However shortly after this Logan fell from power and was disinherited for being involved in the Gowrie Conspiracy and the daughter was found safe and well at Fast Castle.

After this Wilson with no lordly protection went about in fear of his life until one day he was confronted by a group of young men on the links and he was killed. During the fight a huge crowd had gathered and they later helped to dig a grave and his remains were thrown in and by way of marking the spot a mound of earth was placed over it. And for many years it was called the Giants Grave being corrupted into the Giants Brae in the course of time.

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