History of Leith, Edinburgh

August 18, 2007

Stories of Leith Links

The Links of Leith having been used for many purposes over the centuries and has seen the coming and going of many armies.

However one subject that has rarely been broached by writers of Leith and that is its use as a place of military executions and I would like to tell two stories concerning this.

The first recorded is of a drummer who was shoot there in 1686 by sentence of a Court Martial for having it was said “ had in his heart to kill any Papist” when the Foot Guards and other troops under General Dalzeil and the Earl of Linlithgow were under arms to stop a riot caused by the students of Edinburgh University. This riot is known to history as the “Anti Popish Riot”.

The next happened in 1754 when John Ramsbottem and James Burgess deserters from the “James Stuarts Regiment” which later became the 37th Foot. They were brought from Edinburgh Castle to be shot on Leith Links. The odd thing is John Ramsbottem was shot but James Burgess was reprieved. However this was only done after he had been ordered to kneel and the firing party had been lined up ready to fire. The shock was so great he fainted. However despite being pardoned and save from death later in the year he was arrested for theft and received a thousand lashes and drummed out of the regiment with a rope round neck.

Another use of the Links rarely written about is its use for “Cock Fighting”. Cock fighting came into Scotland from England and by 1702 the first Cock Pit was in action with an admission fee of 10d (about 5p) for the front row and 7d and 4d for the second and third rows. This so called sport became so popular that it had to be banned in the streets as it would have caused trouble. In fact it was a Mr William Machrie who introduced the sport to Scotland who was a teacher of fencing and Cock Fighting and wrote a book on the subject. This horrible sport was long an enjoyment in Scotland with the dead birds being given to the School master.

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