History of Leith, Edinburgh

November 6, 2006

The Origins of Restalrig

The history of Leith and Restalrig are closely tied together. This week we look at how Restalrig came into being.

The first question to ask is were did the name Restalrig originally come from? The name originated from the first holder of the land namely Sir Peter de Lestalric, who was a Norman knight invited into Scotland by David I, and the family held both Restalrig and Leith as a Barony until 1385. The last of the line was Sir John de Lestalric whose daughter Catherine de Lestalric married Sir Robert Logan and on the death of Sir John, Restalrig and Leith passed into the hands of the Logan Family, who held it until 1606 when the last Sir Robert
Logan died. It should be noted that the de Lestalrics and the Logans had a castle overlooking the Loch at Lochend and all that remains today are small parts of the Logan castle which strictly speaking was part house and part castle. According to history the last Sir Robert logan was supposed to have been involved in what was called the Gowrie conspiracy against James VI however this only came to light three years after his death and the Logan family was disinherited because of this. However under Scots law for a person to be disinherited he had to be present in court and being dead didnt present a problem because he was dug up and his skeleton was put into the dock and the Trial proceeded and after the sentence was passed his remains were reburied in South Leith Church where they were rediscovered in 1848 while the church was being restored. Furthermore there were three branches of the Logan family The Logans of Restalrig, The Logans of Coatfield (in Leith), and the Logans of Shirra Brae (again in Leith the Shirra Brae is now known as Sheriff Brae). The Coat of Arms of the Logan Fanily can be seen in a Stain Glass window in St
Margarets Church being donated to the Church by the American branch of the family.

However Restalrig existed long before Sir Peter de Lestalric came onto the scene. Not only was it a major pilgrimage centre due to St Triduanas Well from the 7th century it was also on the principle route into Leith. It is odd to think that for almost five hundred years up to 1296 Restalrig was more important then Leith and only lost its position due to Edward I. Up to the time of the Wars of Independence against England the Principle Port in Scotland was Berwick upon Tweed and so in a effort to destroy the economy of Scotland Edward I destroyed the Port and slaughtered over seven thousand people and according to history the streets ran red with blood. However the main export of the Port was wool from the Border Abbeys which was exported to the Low Countries. To solve this problem the wool trade was switched from Berwick to Leith. So the wool was put onto the backs of horses which traveled over the hills along the Old Dalkeith Road and around by Arthur Seat, down the Restalrig Road and into Leith and from 1296 until 1707 Leith was the Principle port in Scotland only to be superseded by Glasgow in the 18th century. To this day overlooking Holyrood on Arthur Seat can be seen St Anthonys chapel in which according to a number of histories it is recorded as an Hermitage. However it has been recently discovered that what was thought to be the hermitage just outside the Chapel was in fact a storehouse and furthermore it turned out to be a Monastic Custom House connected to the wool trade. In fact half of Arthur Seat in the Middle Ages belonged to Kelso Abbey and again this has only been discovered in the past twenty years. At this point can I mention that Queen Marys Bath House outside of Holyrood House was not a Bath House nor did it have anything to do with the Garden of Holyrood House again this was a Custom House. The point being Edinburgh started at the Nether Bow and ran up the Royal mile to Edinburgh Castle, The Canongate which belonged to the Canons of Holyrood ran from Holyrood to the Netherbow and places like Leith, Restalrig, inverleith, Broughton, Newhaven etc where all separate towns for hundreds of years and paths leading from these towns converged at Holyrood before entering the Canongate and goods entering the canongate were taxed and that is where the tax was paid. Furthermore goods entering Edinburgh were taxed at the Tron, hence
the Tron Church in the High Street , as the Tron was situated there and was a weighing machine and the tax was calculated from the weight of the goods coming into the Burgh.

The important thing to remember and is often forgotten about in both the history of Restalrig and Leith is that in the Middle Ages most of the land from the Forth down to the borders was in fact owned by the Church and is a very important fact to bear in mind when looking at the history of the area. This only changed when James VI annexed all the Church property to the Crown in 1587.

I should also mention an error which has crept into the history of Restalrig and that is about St Triduana’s Well and that is the hexagonal shaped building beside St Margaret’s Church is not in fact St Triduana’s well. This story comes from the History of the Logan family and in fact is wrong. What the building is, is the lower part of the Chapel Royal and is the Reliquary of St Triduana or St Triduanas Aisle and is where the relics of the saint would have been. The reason why it was thought to be a Well is due to the fact that when it rains the water table rises and at times it flooded and when it is dry the water table conversely falls. However there is no way for the water to escape and so could never have been used as a well. Certainly normally the water level is high and if a flag stone is lifted in the Chapel water can be seen underneath. In fact St Triduana’s Well was not at the Church at all but was on the site of the railway and what is now Meadowbank House just south of the Church which was removed from its site when the railways came into the area in the 19th century and was saved by the Society of Antiquaries and moved to a new site in the Queens Park and which we now know as St Margarets Well. If you look at this well you will see it is a miniature of the inside of St Triduana’s Chapel at Restalrig. The name of the Well merely being changed because St Margaret became a important Saint in Scotland in the later Middle Ages. Furthermore there is a story from Leith which mentions a gentleman who before the railways came drew water from St Triduana’s well in the area south of the church knowing about the name change and sold the water in Leith for ladies to bath their eyes!

Some Text