The History of Leith

September 12, 2004

Old Places of Business 2

At the Pipes and at the end of Water Lane Messrs J and Ebenezer Murray had their grocer’s shop for many years. Eban was a well known man and a character in his day. In the Sheriff Brae there was an extensive soap manufactury carried on by the old firm of Jameson and Auld. The date of the building is shown on a stone in the wall opposite to Mr Darge’s public house-built in 1583. Rebuilt by T.J (Thomas Jameson) 1800-which shows it must have been a very old establishment. Mr Jameson was a brother of Professor Jameson of the Natural History Chair of the University of Edinburgh. Mr Auld was long in the service of the Hudson Bay Company and for some years a magistrate in Leith under the old system. The soap work was latterly carried on by William Taylor and Co whose name can still be seen on the gateway. The premises are now partly owned by Mr George Taylor, dairyman.

In the Coalhill in a tenement now taken down which stood on the corner next to the harbour, Robert Strong senior had his place of business. He was also in the Shetland trade- Robert Strong junior was also in the same trade. They were natives of Shetland originally. They used to brag the name was first given to the family because they were “Strong Men” in stature s=and other respects and descendents of the old “Vikings”. Some people however used to doubt the application of the name to them as they were only middle sized persons.

J.C.Beadie was a grain merchant in the Sheriff Brae for long. Beadie’s Lofts are still known there.

John and Francis Fulton were long well known cheese and butter merchants in the Coalhill. Their shop fronted east and is now occupied by J.Marshall provision merchant.

In Williamson’s directory of Edinburgh and Leith for 1786 to 1788 we find James Gladstones School master, North Leith and Thomas Gladstones flour and barley merchant, Coalhill. James was the Uncle and Thomas the father of Sir John Gladstone of Fasque.

At the foot of Tolbooth Wynd there stood for a long period of time a singular pile of buildings which went by the name of Babylon. It was of great height and had been patched and repaired and presented a very remarkable and by no means a prepossessing appearance. Part of it a Leith Historian narrates was “a refuge for the destitute”. For many of the dens within its precincts no rents were ever sought or paid and hence its tenantry was always more numerous than select. Sailors and stragglers from various countries found refuge within its walls. It was often the scene of boisterous revelry and the shouts of noisy inebriates were heard proceeding from it at all hours by day and by night. As natural consequences, quarrelling and fighting were of frequent occurrence and if tradition is to be relied on murder must be added to the grave calendar recorded against the inmates of the gloomy pile. Altogether it had a most villainous character and its removal must have been regarded in the light of a positive blessing by those whose misfortune it was to live in its neighbourhood..

In the pile or near it were grain lofts which were occupied by Mr Henry Band an extensive grain merchant in his day. He was an extensive buyer of wheat in Haddington market which was carted in. Old Haddington Carters used to tell that they had to carry bags of eighteen stone wheat on their backs up five or six wooden stairs and coup them down in the lofts of Babylon. Mr Band was accidentally killed in 1819 by falling of a spar on his head when he was inspecting a cargo of wheat in the harbour at the Coalhill. Babylon it is said stood where Messrs Maule’s drapery establishment is now and ran back towards the Peat Neuk.

Source-“Reminiscences of the Port and Town of Leith” John Martine 1888

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