The History of Leith

March 7, 2006

A Strange Story of Quality Street

Many years ago a strange tale was told by a group of party goers. They were returning home one night from a party in the Kirkgate and when they past the old Tobacco Warehouse in Quality Street (now Maritime Street) they heard a Tap.Tap.Taping noise from within. They peered through the keyhole of the door, banged on the door and shouted demanding entrance. However their cries were ignored and the Tap, Taping just went on and on and through the keyhole all they could see was a flickering candle light.

Puzzled by all of this they resolved to return the following night and again they heard the Tap, taping noise of a ghostly hammer at work but then a clattering noise followed by a sigh and a groan. This decided the young men to return the following night, but this time with a ladder, to see what was going on and solve the mystery.

The following night they returned and set up their ladder and one of them climbed up and peered through the bars of the window and in a far dark corner he could see a Cooper at work beside a burning candle. With great skill he gathered the staves and iron hoops. And gradually the barrel took shape until he tried to place the last stave and give one last tap to finish the barrel the barrel suddenly collapsed and all there was, was a jumble of broken staves around his feet. Then the candle went out and the ghostly cooper sighed and groaned and disappeared.

The origins of the above story are unknown but according to one source it began at the Preceptory of St Anthony several hundred years ago. The Monks were allowed to take a Scots Quart of Wine out of every ton of wine coming into Leith. A Scots Quart was the same as an English gallon. They would use the wine and sell the rest.

Now the monk in charge of the Preceptories accounts realised that the Wine account was short and a large amount was going missing. However the amount of wine going astray was too great for any of the Monks to have done it. The only person was Henry Douglas who worked in the wine vaults repairing the wine casks. When questioned he of course said he knew nothing about it but the wine kepted on going astray.

This continued until the Cooper was visited by the Hermit from St Anthony’s Chapel and after a while they started to talk about the missing wine. The Cooper said that he hoped the culprit would soon be discovered and punished. And the Hermit looking at Douglas and said “Amen”. At that very moment the barrel he was working on fell apart and Douglas fled into the great vaults and was never seen again.

From that moment the ghostly taping was heard but later after the Preceptory was cleared away and the Tobacco warehouse the taping seemed to stop and for very many years now the ghostly taping hasn’t been heard. But perhaps he has taken residence in some other building in Old Leith or he could be at rest at long last. Who knows?

Adopted from “Tales of Old Leith by J.S.Marshall”

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