The History of Leith

August 2, 2007

St James Chapel

This religious house appears to have been founded by King James IV in 1506 in order to provide for the spiritual welfare of the Shipwrights, mariners, and others connected with the Royal Dockyard erected by him at Newhaven. It was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St James and had a brief existence, having been dissolved or transferred at the time of the Reformation and the site became appropriated as a cemetery for the people of Newhaven.

Although its history is obscure the Kirk Session of South Leith parish Church appears to have had a multitude of title deeds recording transactions connected with St James Chapel. In 1508 King James IV granted a warrant to the Bailie of Newhaven ordering him to pay all the annuals on the property of Newhaven to Sir James Cowie chaplain of Our Lady’s Chapel. In 1518 Sir James Cowie resigned his Chaplainry as it was called into the Kings hands for a new gift then to be given to Sir David Wilson. Which gift was granted under the privy seal in the year following. The family of Tours of Inverleith are referred to as having held of the King six acres of land at Newhaven which land was conveyed to Sir David Wilson at first by way of security for a bond and afterwards in fee in 1523. The Tours lands of Inverleith included Wardie. It may be recalled that in 1500 the Laird of Inverleith received license from James IV to build a tower at Wardie Brow to defend his lands against English invaders and that in 1504 King James IV bought from the Laird of Inverleith 163 trees to construct the dockyard at Newhaven.

In the year 1556 Mr John Balfour was Chaplain of St James and whether because “of the times” or because of the sudden development of Newhaven there seems to have been a large number of transactions in land at this time. In these transactions the names of Arthur Wilson, indweller of Leith, and his wife Janet Douglas are prominent. And we learn that there was a churchyard at St James at that date, a mansion house connected to the chapel, and a muir at Wardie. From the Edinburgh Records we learn that on the 21st of April 1591 the property was granted to Daniel Hay of 14 acres of land at Newhaven sometime owned by the Blackfriars.

In 1595 the chaplainry of St James belonged to James Balfour merchant of Leith who brought an action against the Bailie of Newhaven and the Ton Council of Edinburgh to confirm the land was the property of the chaplain of St James.

By 1614 all the property of St James was transferred to the Kirk Session of South Leith. There is a possibility that this was done because St James came under the Preceptory of St Anthony and South Leith originated from the Preceptory. Therefore when the Preceptory was abolished their property was transferred to South Leith under what was called the “Golden Charter”.

I should add there is a possibility although more research would need to be done that St James may be a far older and a far larger church building then previously thought this is due to the Pentworth map of the Siege of Leith done in 1560 which shows St James Church as being very extensive.

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