The History of Leith

July 3, 2007

The Kantore and the Cant Ordinary

In front of South Leith Church and where the West Gates now stand stood a tower like edifice called the Kantore. Up to the late 18th century if a person was caught boiling a kettle, cutting a cabbage or eating a radish, or even walking in the Street during the time for Church could be arrested by a military patrol or by elders of the Church called “searchers” and incarcerted in the Kantore.

In the centre of the edifice was an archway and above was a chamber which by order of the Kirk Session in 1632 was repaired for use of the doctor (teacher) of the Grammar School. In 1692 it was used as a Session House during a dispute with the Episcopalians. In later years the lower chambers were used as a receptacle for gravedigger’s tools and the debris of the churchyard in which later in the first years of the 18th century the minister’s sheep and goats were wont to browse. The Kantore was demolished in 1822 along with the King James Hospital.

The historian Wilson describes a building called the “Cant Ordinary” eastward of the Trinity House in the Kirkgate of Leith, standing at the head of Combe’s Close in the 19th century (now long demolished) as being one of the most ancient in Leith (unfortunately it was demolished in 1883). The upper stories beilonged to the late 16th century and formed a neat and picturesque specimen of the private building of that period. However the most interesting part of the building was on the ground floor as it was completely different from the upper floors. As an Arcade extended all the way along for the full length of the building formed of semi circular arches resting on massive round pillars finished with neat moulded capitals. That they were ancient is without doubt as the floor of the house was several feet below the level of the street; and the ground within one of the archways had risen so much which gave access to the courtyard behind. That an ordinary man had to stoop to pass through it. However there were other buildings similar to this in Leith unfortunately now gone. Who originally built this is quite unknown however as it came within the precinct of the Preceptory of St Anthony there is the possibility that it once formed part of the Preceptory and were possibly of Norman design. This suggestion is confirmed as a similar building was to be found in the Sheep Heid Close (demolished at the same time as the Cant Ordinary) which stood near to the Coal Hill and this part of Leith in the Middle Ages came under Holyrood Abbey. The name “Cant” came from the later owners of the building.

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