The History of Leith

July 16, 2007

Old Places of Business

In the old part of Leith-the Kirkgate, Tolbooth Wynd, Coalhill, Sheriff Brae, Giles Street, Yardheads. Many of the old merchants and traders had their places of business in the early 19th century.

I the Tolbooth Wynd Mr Robert Brunton hardware merchant kept for many years the Carron Warehouse and had a very extensive trade. His shop was a little below the old Tolbooth and his warehouses extended back to the Peat Neuk of which he was one of the principal proprietors. At the opening of the Elbe mania in 1814 he had shipped a quantity of goods to Heligoland for sale and like many others in Leith and elsewhere he suffered so much hat he thought he was on his “beamish” and would have to fail. He consulted with his friend and acquaintance Mr Adam White who kindly undertook to look into his matters. After taking stock (which he had never done before) and making a list of debts due to and by him it was found that he had a large surplus. He carried on business to the day of his death.

Mr Thomas Thomson was another old merchant in Tolbooth Wynd next door to Mr Brunton. He was extensively engaged in the Shetland trade-salt fish, cod oil, herrings, salted beef etc. for which in return he supplied his Shetland customers with all kind of goods. He lived in a house near Bonnington and was an enthusiast in growing fine flowers in his well kept and large garden. He was an esteemed, respected merchant all his days.

Opposite Mr Brunton and Mr Thomson’s was Messrs James Wyld and Co very extensive wine and spirit merchants had their Office. Mr Wyld was well known as James Wyld Esq. of Gilston and he was a director of the Commercial Bank as far back as 1814. Messrs Crabbie and Cree were trained in the Office succeeded them in business.

On the Shore opposite the fish Quay Mr Robert Bayne was long an extensive grocer, He was succeeded by his friends A and E Fenton.

The old firm of Charles Cowan and Co grocers had their business premises in the Tolbooth Wynd on the East side. They are now occupied by Buchan and Johnston, James Reoch Esq. was the principal partner of the firm was long and respected in Leith and several times filled the office of magistrate. An elegant monument to his memory is placed in the south aisle of South Leith Church.

The Tolbooth wynd has been much improved within the last thirty years. At the corner of the Kirkgate it was very narrow and encumbered with outside stairs and projecting buildings. The long range of buildings on the East side called “Blackburn Buildings” occupy the site of the old Pipe house and a dye work long carried on by Thomas White a well known man in his day. His drying poles stood close to the wynd and all sorts of male and female garments and cloth were to be seen daily drying in the wind. Mr White was a great News monger and politician in his day. His yard was a place of meeting of many worthies of Leith-such as Corkie Veitch, Charlie Murray, James Miller and John Adam for the retailing of news and political event. Stories were believed to be true when it was told by tellers of them that they heard them at Tam Whites. A Cork manufactory was carried on in the same premises for many years by a Mr Merrilees,

There was another dyer in Water Lane of the name of Sandie Lowrie a native of the royal burgh of Haddington a good worthy man He had two sons who became ministers of the United Presbyterian Church at Lauder and East Calder and were men of note.

The pipes were so called because the reservoir for the water brought from Lochend Loch was placed there betwixt Water Lane and the Tolbooth Wynd. The water was carried from the pipes by the general public who stood in turn. The Lochend water but for the wells in private premises was the only supply the Leith people at that time had.

From “Reminiscences of the Port and Town of Leith” by John Martine 1888

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