The History of Leith

June 20, 2007

The Impost of Wine

Another valuable document which has found its way back to the kirk session is the original bill or petition by the ministers and inhabitants of Leith to the King and Lords of Privy Council, craving an Act of Council for raising and lifting twenty shillings Scots on every tun of wine vented or run within the town of Leith.

This bill is printed in Mr Campbell Irons book, and the purpose was to provide for the repair of the kirk, the sustaining of a second minister, a reader, and school masters; and for the support of the poor. It contains the interesting statement that the tax may be taken without hurt to the venter or seller of the wine, and na darrer to the byar. The petition is subscribed by David Lindsay, and a great number of the skippers and inhabitants of Lcith. It had subjoined to it an Instrument bearing that on Sunday, 12th September 1596, the people remained in the church after the forenoon service when the Petition was read to them and received their consent in all points, this being testified by a certificate signed by David Robertson, Notary Public. The Petition also bears on the back a deliverance dated at Holyroodhouse, 9th December 1596, subscribed by King James VI. ; but it does not hear that the Petition for this impost of 40/- was granted by the King. From a minute of the kirk session of date 1st June 1615, it appears that an impost was paid at one time by the town council of Edinburgh, and it was one of the old standing grievances of Leith that Edinburgh did not satisfactorily account for this duty. The titles do not deal with the 40/- duty, but they disclose the fact that in 1609 King James granted a Charter to the town council of Edinburgh giving to them ane new custom and excyse to be uplifted and taken by them yearly in all time coming of the sum of £4 Scots money from the retail of wine within the said burgh of each tun of wine winch should be retailed within the said burgh and liberties thereof. In 1613 there followed an Act of Secret Council relative to the foregoing Charter providing that the benefit arising of the impost of the Test of the town of Leith (not comprehended in Bernard Lindsays Gift) should be bestowed upon the building c the kirk and steeple thereof and plenishing the same with bells; and for the hospital of Leith and other purposes. In 1612 the Edinburgh town council passed au Act in regard to the impost, obliging themselves to supply and bestow upon the common works of Leith the stuns collected by them from a tun of wine vented and topped in Leith. Notwithstanding this clear statement it was apparently found necessary to take the town council of Edinburgh into the Courts, for in 1624 the kirk session obtained a decree against them declaring that it was His Majestys express will and pleasure that the impost must be employed on the uses above written, and ordaining the town council to pay to the kirk session the foresaid impost to be applied for these ends and uses. Another decree on the same subject was obtained by the kirk session in the year 1675, where the subject terminates so far as our writs are concerned. The impost is frequently mentioned in the session records, and at one time was farmed out or rouped, after intimation by the drummer. When it came to an end is not clear, but it would probably not survive the time when the Crown took the customs and excise into its own hands.
The charters and titles of South Leith have an interest which is more archaic than practical; but it happens now and again that questions arise which can most satisfactorily be answered from old documents. The day is past when to exhibit a Charter was to strike terror into stout hearts; or when the kirk session in a difficulty appointed a special night for the ceremony of searching through their charter chest. Our old titles, like our old registers, now enjoy an undisturbed repose, but they contain a chapter of history which should not be forgotten entirely.
A considerable number of origual docuinents relating to the Church and the town have been made public in recent years; but there still remain for examination, inter alia. the Court Books and protocol books stored in the Town Hall and the City Chambers. In the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of date 9th February 1863. reference is made to the Protocol I3ook of Partick Mawer or Mayor, Clerk of Leith, containing The Register of the Chartoures in South Leith “from 6th June 1653 to 3rd December 1657 (folio pp. 367). The following is a list of the Town Clerks of Leith with the dates under which their names have been traced John Robiesoun (1569, 1580); John Guthre (1580, 1583) ; Patrick Glassfurd (1593, 1633) ; Patrick Mawer (1633, 1636); William Downie (1648); Patrick Mawer (1649, 1661) ; Sir William Thomson (1661, 1665) Robert Jossie (1665, 1670); George Cheyne (1670, 1675); William Whyte (1682) ; Jamcs Whyte (1710) ; Alexander Home (1717, 1744) George Home (1738, 1756); John Pattison (1774, 1808); Hugh Veitch (1808, 1837) ; Wm. Anderson (1837, 1862); William H. Cooper (1862, 1886) Thomas B. Laing (1886, 1913); David Robert son (1913, 1918); John A. Greig (1918, 1920). There is a Minute of date 26th April 1655 which mentions a Town Clerk, but the name is in correctly given.

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