The History of Leith

August 7, 2007

The Temple Lands

At the foot of the [West] Bow, and on the west side chiefly, were a few old tenements, that, in consequence of being built upon ground which had originally belonged to the Knights of the Temple, were styled Templar Lands, and were distinguished by having iron crosses on their fronts and gables.

In the Heart of Midlothian, Scott describes them as being of uncommon height and antique appearance; but of late years they have all disappeared. It was during the Grand Mastership of Everhard de Bar, and while that brave warrior, with only 130 knights of the order, was fighting under the banner of Louis VII. at Damascus, that the Grand Priory of Scotland was instituted, and the knight who presided over it was then styled .Magister Domus Templi in Scotia when lands were bestowed on the order, first by King David I., and then by many others. To all the property belonging to the Temple a great value was attached, from the circumstance that it afforded, until the extinction of heritable jurisdictions in 1747, the benefit of sanctuary; thus the Temple tenements in Fifeshire are still termed houses of refuge.
In the city the order possessed several fiat-roofed tenements, known as the Temple Lands, and one archway, numbered as 145, on the south side of the Grassmarket, led to what was called the Temple Close, but they have all been removed. It was a lofty pile, and is mentioned in a charter of Lord Bynning, dated 1623, as the fore-and-back Tempillands, lyand next ye Gray FriarsYard;and in 1598, a temple tenement
lyand near the Gray Friars Yett was confirmed to James Kent (Torphichen Charters). On these the iron cross was visible in 1824.
On the dissolution of the order all this property in Scotland was bestowed upon their rivals, the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem; and the houses referred to be came eventually a part of the barony of Drem (of old a Temple Priory) in Haddingtonshire, the baron of which used to hold courts in them occasionally, and here, till 1747, were harboured persons not free of the city corporations, to the great annoyance of the adherents of local monopoly; but so lately as 1731 on the 24 of August, the Temple vassals were ordered by the Bailie of Lord Torphichen, to erect the cross of St. John on the Temple- lands within Burgh, amerciating [fining] such as did not affix the said cross.This was a strange enactment in a country where it is still doubtful whether such an emblem can figure as an ornament upon a tomb or church. Clearly there must have been some disinclination to affix the crosses, otherwise the regulation would scarcely have been passed.

From James Grants Old and New Edinburgh 1883

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