The History of Leith

January 2, 2007

Part of the Charter of Confirmation and Precept of Clare- in favour of Wm.Giles Brewer in Leith. Part 2

The reason why this document is important is because it raises question as to why the Elders of South Leith Parish Church were called the “Preceptors of the Preceptory of St Anthon’s” and the Church is not called South Leith Parish but the “Church of St Anthon’s” and the graveyard is not called the graveyard of South Leith Parish Church but the “Churchyard of St Anthon’s”


An idealised view of a monastery. It should be noted that many medieval Hospices developed into substantial monasteries

Originally the first Church buildings on the site was probably a small Templar Hospice built around 1128. However by 1327 with the coming of the knights of St John the area would have developed into an enclosed monastic settlement which included the building of the Preceptory of St Anthony a very large and magnificent Church of length 325 feet from east to west. The normal monastic buildings would have existed such as a brew house, bakery, stables, dormitories etc extending over what is now Henderson Street. There was also a blockhouse as well close by the church sometimes called the “steeple” so it is possible that the Preceptory wasn’t destroyed during the siege but allowed to fall down gradually becoming the quarry for the piers of Leith Docks and other building and so in time it disappeared. The only part surviving being the Lay Hospital which was taken over by the Leith seamen as a hospital due to the fact that St Nicholas in North Leith which was the seamen’s hospice was destroyed by Lord Hertford during the rough wooing in 1544 and explains the date of 1555 at the side of Trinty House. After the Reformation all the property owned by the Preceptory including the enclosed monastic area was transferred to South Leith Church under what was called the Golden Charter in 1614 and the Elders of South Leith Parish were from then called the “Preceptors of St Anthony” the area was then called the “Barony of St Anthony” and did not become a part of Leith until 1833 when Leith became a Parliamentary Burgh. What may not be realised is that the Preceptory of St Anthony was always considered to be outside of Leith.

The building that was to become South Leith Church which was the site of the original Templar Hospice was then taken over by the incorporations of Leith as the Knights had built the Preceptory. However it was still called even after the Reformation as “ The Church of St Anthon’s” the Preceptory itself was for the Nobility judging by the number of Charters by important people to the Preceptory and when Royalty came to Leith they stayed at the Preceptory. So I suspect the original Hospice was called St Mary or “Our Lady Kirk” (It should be noted that St Mary was one of the patron saints of the Templars along with St James) but after 1614 as it had taken over the position of the Preceptory of St Anthony it was then called “The Church of St Anthon’s” and only after 1833 did it revert to being called South Leith Parish Church. This is the only explanation for the fact of South Leith Church being called the “Church of S Anthon’s” in a legal document. It is strange in all the histories of Leith this fact has never been recognised until now. Perhaps it was done not to draw attention to the fact that South Leith Parish Church was not only originally a Roman Catholic Church but its roots lay with the Knights of St John and the Templars and possible Masonic links as the Masons have a dubious position within the Presbyterian tradition. This argument also explains the design of an early seal of the Church showing stars above the Church building and gravestones in from as this is a coded form of Compostella which is in Northern Spain. Compo meaning a Churchyard and Stella meaning star. The seal being a remembrance of the time in Pre Reformation times when Pilgrims went from Leith to go to the Tomb of St James which as already stated was a patron Saint of the Templars. However on a practical level South Leith Church would need to emphasise its rights over the Barony of St Anthony because it was the feudal superior of the land within the Barony of St Anthony and Edinburgh continually challenged this and also for the very obvious reason that Leith itself as we know it today never existed until 1833.

I will return to this again.

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