The History of Leith

February 18, 2008

The Haunted Houses of Leith

The Coal Hill was in the late 18th century was according to local legend the favourite resort of all disembodied spirits who were permitted to “revisit the glimpses of the moon” in Leith. At that part of it nearest to the Tolbooth Wynd there were a number of ruinous houses, part of which were occasionally occupied by wandering out casts but for which no rent was either paid or expected.

Every one of these buildings had its ghost and the rumours which were spread regarding these appropriations sealed the fate of the houses which they were reported to haunt. No landlord would be insane enough to expend money on the repair of property for which he was not likely to find more substantial customers. Moreover had any one been found reckless enough to make the experiment he would have laboured under the unwholesome dread of having visitations of the ghost to his own house. The natural history of ghosts is involved in some obscurity and this much is certain that they had an intense dislike to anything in the shape of improvement on the places that they frequented and were not slow to pour out the vials of their wrath on such as dare to make the experiment.

The house nearest to the Tolbooth Wynd was one of those curious wooden houses of which very few still exist in Scotland. It was four to five stories in height and entirely composed of wood and plaster. The front of the building being supported by posts and the only stonework was used for the chimney. It was the haunt of beggars, tramps and crooks. However in a wind it would shake and tremble which made many people think that it was going to collapse into the Water of Leith. Then at the beginning of the 19th century it was taken down as it was becoming far too dangerous. Its last occupant of the property was found dead it was rumoured that he had been very rich but had wasted all his money. The property was also used as a public house used by the porters and fish women. In fact the Landlord named Gow possessed a huge parrot which had picked up an abundant but not very choice vocabulary from the customers. He could swear and scold with the best of them and was so noisy that he frightened a horse with its cart into the Water of Leith.

This building was called for some unknown reason the Cat Nick or Neuk and was supposed to be haunted. However it was widely believed the stories had been started by the beggars and smugglers who left there contraband there. However the lovers of the supernatural would have none of it and as far as they were concerned the building was haunted by a ghostly seaman and made a lot of noise moving from one part of the building to another and not only this he had one leg shorter then the other! However any one trying to stay the night was met with unearthly laughter, banging, wet cloths around the face and many other fearful things which have been recorded this story may have been made up but there is strong evidence the following story is true.

Just along the road from the Cat Neuk was a house next to what was the Council Chamber and was haunted this time by a woman and she enjoyed breaking dishes. The last occupant was “Pig Jamie” and was constantly accused of breaking the dishes when he was drunk. However people came to the house including a minister and left convinced of the existence of the spirit. This was to be confirmed by the son of Pig Jamie who was a shoemaker and one day he was busy at his work when he chanced to look round and found the ghost quietly looking over his shoulder. A daylight visitation was completely new and he was so frightened that he fled from the building and never returned. The building was left empty and deserted and whatever happened to the ghost is not known. Fact or fiction I will leave that one up to the reader.

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