The History of Leith

March 14, 2005

Early References to the Bailies

The Bailies were first appointed by Edinburgh in 1567, but it is not until some twenty years later that the Records of the Church are available and the first reference occurs in 1591.

In November of that year the Session passed an act providing that any elder revealing any conclusions of the Session that ought to be kept secret should be deprived of his office and pay £100 to the poor. This act was ordered to be registered in the books of the town and ye Bailies authoritie interponit yairto. In May 1592 the Session dealt with a shepherd in the service of John Arnot, provost of Edinburgh, ordaining him to pay 9 merks for every sheep he kept in the churchyard. In April 1598 a woman was discharged from uptaking a school in Leith without license asked or granted from the Session, or the Magistrates. In July 1602 the education question is mentioned again when the Session wt concurrence of the magistrats comanded be oppin proclamaoun and straik of drume that nane inhabitant within this toun send their bairnies to ony uther schoole but all the lads to Mr Thomas provand and all the lasses to James Hay, and for certain services in the Kirk James Ray was to be paid yearly £120 the magistratis bindis them selifis yrto. In August 1609 the Bailie, at the request of the Session, granted that uncouth beggars qua resorts heir upon the Sabbath day should be committed to prison. In December 1609 the Bailie promised that thair sail na boates passe over the water upon any Sabbath day in tymes cuming and gif any passe over the bailie hes promisit to pay 4 merks for every boate that passes over In June 1610 the Bailie promised to take such order with the officers that they should not trouble the town by scoting or taxing the people but once in the zeir. In August 1611 it being reported that people were found drinking in taverns on a particular Sunday, the tavernors were cited to compear before the Session; and the Bailie promised to cause poynd ye hail tavernors yt compeirit not,In January 1613 the Session requested the Bailie to advise with the Council of Edinburgh to see what order could be taken with an unfortunate man who had put violent hands on him selfe to have slaine him selfe. In February 1613 a certain tailor in Leith compeared and acted himself to the magistrate and the Session that if ever any vagabond or forebodinge persoun should lodge with him or frequent his house then he should be banished from the town perpetuallie. In February 1614 the Session requested the Magistrates and the ministers to speak to the Master of work anent the Kirk. The roof of the church was then renewed and a steeple built at the west end, the cost being met by a weekly cess or tax and from the proceeds of the wine silver or impost on wine to which the Session had right. In July 1614 the Bailes delivered to the Kirk Treasurer (£300) of the wine silver to be employed upon the repairing of the Kirk; and in September 1615 they concurred with the Session in raising a loan of 2.500 merks for the same purpose on the security of the wine silver. In August 1615 the Session, with advice of the Magistrates, dealt with workmen of the town who had refused most stubbornly to set up their box and become responsible to support their sick and decayed brethern and meet the cost of burying their dead; their conclusion being that the said workmen sail be depryved of all benefit of ye kirk, viz, of comunion, baptyme, mariage and. buryall wtin ye kirkyard until ye said box be set up. Probably in this case the work men were in the wrong, as it was the custom for each craft or incorporation to provide for its poor members,
These references indicate that a close co operation existed between the Bailies and the Session, the Baffles willingly lending their authority to make the decisions of the Session effective. There is no suggestion that the system led to friction, unless this may be inferred from a certain reluctance on the part of the Town Council of Edinburgh to pay over the wine silver collected by their officials at the harbour of Leith. When, however, reference is made to the Bailies the Minutes are expressed in an objective way which leaves it uncertain whether or not the Bailies were members of the Session. One may suppose that it was not unreasonable for the Bailies to expect some share in forming decisions they were liable to be called upon to enforce, and this right they insisted on having. It was however opposed, and strenuously opposed, and on the issue a controvarsy raged for many years. We cannot discover when or how the dispute came to a head because the Minutes are awanting for the period from 1616 to 1629
South Leith Records 1925

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