The History of Leith

December 2, 2004


The Dean Group

Old Edinburgh was at one time crusted over with mottoed lintels, ornamental dormers, and panels bearing heraldic devices and the insignia of trade. They were the testimony of the faith and philosophy, the record of the family pride and the industrial importance of dead and gone generations, graven in stone. The city is still rich in these memorials. But they no longer challenge the eye, even in the oldest streets and closes. They have to be hunted for; and they grow scarcer. Time and our northern weather are constantly at work rubbing out the lettering and carving of the past. But the sculptured stones of Old Edinburgh and of its environs have other enemies. Accident, or vandalism, chipped a handbreadth out of one of the inscriptions noted in this article while it was being written. Account has also to be taken of the wear and tear of traffic, of the march of improvement, of careless or ignorant attempts at restoration, of the damaging effects of transplacement, even of misdirected antiquarian zeal in the acquisitiveness of archaeological collectors.

Many of our historic stones have been covered over from public sight; many more have disappeared into private possession; many have gone astray and all trace of them has been lost. It becomes yearly more difficult to answer the question, ‘What mean these stones?’ or even ‘Where are they hid?’ Some of them are preserved and in the Municipal and other museums. But, as a rule, is not desirable that these mural records should be gathered into either public or private collections – except as a means of rescuing them from the ‘wallet of Oblivion’. They lose half their value and interest when removed from the walls from the site with which they are associated; they may continue to be city antiquities; they cease to be city adornments and landmarks. The energies of the Old Edinburgh Club would not be ill employed in the work of systematically seeking out these historic and artistic treasures, and in cataloguing and depicting them for the information of our own and future generations.

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