The History of Leith

July 31, 2007


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 church yard 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 Knights Templars and the chapel of St. James.

He mentions also that it was appropriated for the entertainment of aged women belonging to the crafts of malt men. trades and traffickers, the number of the inmates seldom being greater than twelve, each of whom had a convenient apartment with fire and candles and a weekly pension for their subsistence. This foundation being confirmed by a Charter of King James VI., it received the appellation of King Jamess 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 the property is a Sasine which followed upon a charter of 1496 granted by Simeon Logan to William Lander and his spouse, where in it is described as lying betwixt the kirkyard of the new Kirk of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Leith on the north, the lands of Simeon Logan on the south, the common way going up from Leith towards Edinburgh on the west, and the land of St. Christophers 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 probably the area north of the Tolbooth Wynd and lying between the Rotten raw and the Shore. This district used to be called the closets, because of the narrowness of the passages, and it still is densely covered with buildings. Outwith this arcs there were numerous mansion houses, Leith having been a fashionable place of residence since the days of Mary of Guise, who built a house here, and whose example was followed by divers of the nobility, bishops and other persons of distinction of her party. Maitland, writing in 1753, Bays that several of their houses then 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 hospital seem to have been numerous, and it is difficult to follow the various transactions, but they hardly bear out what the histories tell us, viz., that the hospital was built in 1614. Some familiar names are met with, e.g., Robert Logan of Restalrig (15 James Logan of Craig house (1559); Andrew Logan of Coatflcld (1618); Bailie Alexander Uddert of Edinburgh (1573) John Balfour, Unicorn Pursevant (1559). In 1618 the Kirk session made a contract to purchase the subjects in question from one Patrick BaIfour for 900 merks. The lands were there upon 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 followed on 11th August 1618.
Another series of titles deals with a house near the Kirk lying betwixt Balfours property on the south, the Kirk style on the north, the Kirk yard on the east, arid the high street on the west. A charter of this property was granted by the Kirk session to Henry Hall in 1598, which bears the signatures of the ministers, elders and deacons, with the seal of the Kirk and session attached. This interesting title has often been referred to, and a reproduction of the seal is given in the first volume of the Records. It is a fortunate circumstance 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 the Kirk session, in 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. Antons and St. James and anent the King James Hospital, and a narrative detailing the result of this enquiry is appended to the register of that period.
This narrative states that King James IV., having purchased from the Abbot and Convent of Holyroodhouse the superiority of Newhaven, consisting of 143 acres, in exchange for 112 acres of his own land at Linlithgow as per Charter dated 18th July 1.505, did for the maintenance of the chaplain of St. Jamess gift to him the whole annuals of the lands at Newhaven and gave an order on his Bailie there to pay over the same, dated 2nd M arch 1508.
Conform to this and other rights, the chaplains enjoyed the feus till the Reformation, and Mr John Balfour, chaplain at that time, did continue to enjoy the same long after. Alter his decease King James VI.made a presentation of the same to James Balfour in Leith.
In the year 1611 the session, being desired to build a hospital at Leith, purchased from the said James Balfour the whole benefice of St. James, as appears from his resignation in the King’s hands dated 24th September 1611, and Instrument following 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 hospital or what the funds were out of which it was built, but it seems to have been done by the sessions money and from certain mortifications; and to have been built about the year 1620, as appears by an inscription upon one of the windows of the hospital, and by a record of the Session, 23rd February 1626. In the Calendar of state papers mention is made about this time of a charter granted by King James for funding the hospital, the lands of St. Antons being directed to be used for this purpose. The only other support that appears to have been given by the King is the reversionary grant of the impost of £4 Scots per tun upon all wine vented in Leith after the building of the Kirk and steeple and plenishing it with bells, and after building the Tolbooth, as appears by the grant itself, dated 7th April 1613.
The narrative refers to other endowments of the hospital, in particular the 5 acres of land in the east end of the Links (now Seafield Cemetery) mortified by Bishop Lamb; and the 6 acres at Hillhousefleld mortified by George Thomson, maltman, conjectured to be the person who was first master of the hospital.
For many years not more than 5 or 6 old people were maintained in the hospital, but this number at the time of the narrative had in creased to 13 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 on wine valued at £60.
Source-The South Leith Records 1925

(Editors note-Although many important people did stay in Leith during the time of Mary of Guise. The Queen regent did not in fact stay in Leith but in Edinburgh where she had a palace below Edinburgh Castle a picture of which can be seen on this site)

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