The History of Leith

December 6, 2006

The Hemitage of St Anthony, Arthur Seat

Above the curious little hill on Arthur Seat called the Haggis Knowe or sometimes called the Fairies Knowe stands the ruins of a chapel and what was believed to be a hermitage of St Anthony. Recently it has been discovered that it was a monastic custom house and storage building for wool. Furthermore it was more then likely connected to the Preceptory of St Anthony of Leith

In 1296 the principal port of Scotland which was at Berwick was sacked by Edward I and as Melrose and Kelso owned substantial properties in Leith and Arthur Seat it was decided to export their wool from the Border Abbeys through Leith to the low countries. Being on Church property Edward I wouldn’t have dared to have attacked the Church. Also Leith was defended by a Wall and by Templar Knights.

From a 19th century drawing. St Anthony’s Chapel in 1544 and 1854

The ruins of St Anthony’s Chapel looking towards Leith (from a photograph by Alex A.Inglis)

At the foot of the rock there once bubbled up a little spring named St Anthoney’s Well which flowed down through the grass to the valley below. Originally the spring flowed under a arch . The well is referred to in an old song which begins “O waly, waly” the Scottish expression of “Alas”. This beautiful song was supposed to refer to some circumstance in the life of Queen Mary or some unfortunate love affair at her court. It has now been discovered from a copy found in the Pepysian Library at Cambridge (published in
motherwells “Minstrelsy 1827, under the title of “Lord Jamie Douglas”) to have been created by the sad tale of Lady Barbara Erskine daughter of John (sixteenth Lord Erskine) ninth Earl of Mar and wife of James II Marquis of Mar. The lady who was married in 1670 was divorced or at least expelled from Society by her husband on the bases of lies being told about her by Lowrie of Blackwood. The marquis remarried Mary,daughter of the Marquis of Lothian. Lady Barbara returned to her father.

Two verses run thus-
” Oh Waly Waly gin love be bonnie
A little time while it is new
but when its auld it waxeth cauld
And fades away like morning dew
Oh, wherefore should I busk my heid
or wherefore should I kame my hai
for my true love has me forsook
and says he’ll never love me mair

Now Arthur Seat shall be my bed
The sheets shall ne’er be pressed by me
St Antin’s Well shall be my drink
Since my true love’s forsaken me
Martimmas wind when wilt thou blaw
An shake the green leaves aft the tree
O gentle death when wilt thou come
For o my life I am wearie”

St Anthony’s Chapel, Arthur Seat

Some Text