The History of Leith

January 2, 2007

The Story of the King James VI hospital Leith

The story of the King James VI is central to the history of Leith and connects its early history with the modern world

King James’s Hospital-South Leith Parish Church.- South Leith Records 1925

Maitland tells us in his history that this hospital stood on the eastern side of the Kirkgate and at the South-west corner of the Churchyard; that it was founded by the Kirk Session in the year 1614 and endowed with certain lands and tenements anciently belonging to the Preceptory of St Anthony of the knight Templars and the Chapel of St James. He mentions also that it was appropriated for the entertainment of aged women of the belonging to the crafts of Maltmen, Trades and traffickers (Editors note Maltmen brewed beer, Trades were Hammerman, shoemakers, and traffickers were merchants.), the number of inmates were never above twelve, each with a convenient apartment with candle and fire and a weekly pension for their subsistence. This foundation being confirmed by a Charter ofKing James VI, it received the applellation of the King James VI hospital.

The situation of the hospital is well marked by the line of Tombs in the Kirkgate,where it stood until the year 1822. The first title dealing with theproperty is a Sasine (Editord note this is a title to Land) which followed upon a charter of 1496 granted by Simon Logan to William Lauder and his spouse, wherein it is described as lying bettwixt the Kirkyard of the New Kirk of the Blessed Virgin Mary inon the North, the lands of Simeon Logan on the South, the common way going uo from Leith towards Edinburghon the West and the land of St Christopher on the East parts. This is one of the earliest references to the Kirkgate, which probably became a roadway after South Leith Church had been built for some time. The part of Leith where houses were first erected was probalably the area north of the Tolbooth Wynd and lying between Rotten Row (Editors note now called Water St) anf the Shore. This district used to be called the “Closets”because of the narrowness of the the passages, and it is still densly covered by buildings. Oywith this area there were numerous mansion houses, Leith having been a fashionalble place of residence since the days of Mary de Guise who built a house here (Editors note this is a mistake on the authors part)and whose example was followed by “divers of the nobility, bishops, and other persons of distinction of her party. Maitland writing in 1753 says several of their houses remained “as may be seen in sundry places by their spacious rooms,lofty ceilings, large staircases, and private oratories or chapels for the celebration of Mass.

The titles relating to the site of the hopital seem to be numerous and it is difficult to follow the various transactions, but they hardly bear out what the histories tell us, that the hospital was built in 1614. Some familiar names are met. For example, Sir Robert Logan of Restalrig (1559), James Logan of Coatfield (1618), Bailie Alexander Uddart of Edinburgh (1553),John Balfour,Unicorn Pursevant (1559). In 1618 the Kirk Session made a contract to purchase the subjects in question from Patrick Balfour for 900 merks. The lands were thereupon resigned in the hands of the town Council of Edinburgh,the superiors thereof, upon which a charter was granted by the City to the Kirk Session, which declared that the subjects were conveyed for the use of the South Kirk of Leith and chiefly for the augmentation of the Kirkyard thereof. Upon this Charter sasine folloed on the 11th August 1618.

Another series of title deeds deals with a house near the Kirk lying betwixt Balfours property on the south, the kirk style on the north, the kirkyard in the east and the high street on the west. A charter of this property was granted by the Kirk Session to Henrey Hall in 1598 which bears the signituresof the ministers, elders, and deacons, with the seal of the Kirk and Session attached. It is a fortunate circumstnce that the original document with the seal, all in good condition,are now restored to the Church. In 1619 james Hall reconveyed the property to th Kirk Sessionin whose hands it has remained since that date

The Kirk Session minutes of date 11th March 1736 refer to an enquiry made about that time into the superiorities of St Anton’s (Editors note The Preceptory of St Anthony) and St James (Editors note St James was situtated in Newhaven) and anent the King James Hospital, and a narrative detailing the result of this enquiry is appended to the register of that period.

This narratve states that King James IV having purchased from the Abbot and Convent of Holyrood the superiority of Newhaven consisting of 143 acre in exchange for 112 acres of his own land at Linlithgow as per charter dated 18th July1505 did for the maintenance of a chaplain of St James gift to him the whole annuals of the lands lands at Newhaven and gave an order on his Bailie there o pay over the samedated 2nd March 1508. Confirm to this the other rights, the chaplains enjoyed the feu till the reformation, and Mr John Balfour chaplain at that time did continue to enjoy the same long after. After his decease King James VI made presentation of the same to James Balfour in Leith. In the year 1611 the Session being desired to build a hospital in Leith purchased from James Balfour the whole Benefice of St James as appears from his resignation in the Kings hands dated 24th September 1611 and Instrument followung thereon; confirmed in 1614 by the Golden Charter. The narrative proceeds to state that it does not appear by the records of the Session in what year they did build the hospitl or what the funds out of which it was built; but it seems to have been built about the year1620 as appears by an inscription upon one one of the windows of the hospital and by a record of the Session 23rd February 1626. In a calender of State papers mention is made about this time of a charter granted made by King James for funding the hospital from the lands of St Antons being directly used for this purpose. The other support that appears to have been given is the revisionary grant of the impost of £4 Scots per tun upon all wine vented in Leithafter the building if the Kirk and steeple and plenishing it with bells and after building the Tolbooth as it appears by the grant itself dated 7th April 1613.

The narrative refers to other endowments of the hospital in particular 5.5 acres of land in the east end of the Links (now Seafield Cemetery) mortified by Bishop Lamb; and 6 acres at Hillhousefield mortified by George Thompson maltman conjectured to be the first master of the hospitl.

For many years not more than 5 or 6 old people were mainted in the hospital but this number at the time of the narrative had increase to twlve to thirteen persons chosen from the trades Maltmen and Traffickers. The narrative concludes with a statement of the funds of the hospital the last item of which is the impost of wine valued at £60.

(Editors note from 1296 Leith was the principal port of Scotland and exported huge amounts of wool from the Border Abbeys and was the largest importer of wine in the country. The Monks of St Anthony were entiled to a Scots Quart of wine (which was almost a gallion of wine out of every ton of wine imported. This was the origin of the £4 wine impost)

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