The History of Leith

May 9, 2008

The Origins of South Leith Parish Church

One of the greatest mysteries connected to Leith is the origins of South Leith Parish Church. According to Campbell Irons in his Leith and its Antiquities he asserts that it was founded in 1483 but gives no evidence for this assertion and since then every writer on Leith have said the same thing.

It is also said that Sir Robert Logan of Restalrig was the founder of the Preceptory of St Anthony based on what is called the Rental Book of St Anthony . In this short article I will set out to prove that these two assertions are in fact wrong and that origins of South Leith Church can in fact be dated from 1438. Further I will also show that instead of one building the charter evidence in fact points to two separate buildings and that the charter evidence has been merged together and hence the Preceptory has been called a monastery, Abbey or a Hospital causing no end of confusion. I will start with the evidence for the founding of Preceptory of St Anthony.

The Preceptory of St Anthony

In 1230 there is a land Grant to the Knights of St John at Torphican

Charter 1230

This is the introduction to the donation of land at Leith to the Grand Master of the Knights of St John at Torphican Godfrey de Saulton the donor is Gilbert son of Henry of Leith dated 1230. (Reg. NewBattle)

However the above Charter is not used until 1327 as can be seen in the next charter when the knights as the charter says the black cross of the Hospital came to Leith.

Charter 1327

(Reg.Melrose 1327)

After this there is no record until 1387 when David Bell in a Charter of Confirmation of a grant when he resigned as Abbot of Holyrood by Cardinal Walter papal legate he was granted certain Tithes of property held by Holyrood one of these properties is a hospice held by John Gray, clerk of Leith. The donation was granted on the petition of John, eldest son of King Robert, earl of Carrick, Seneschal of Scotland who held property in what was later to become Lord Balmerinos house and St Mary, Star of the Sea. The knights must have left Leith and passed there property to Holyrood Abbey between 1327 and 1387.

The Hospice is again mentioned in 1416 but by this time it is held by the Augustan Order of St Anthony Hospitaller as can be seen below.

Charter 1416

The next Charter of interest is-

Charter 1444

In this charter of 1444 it does not mention James I as the founder of the Preceptory nor for that matter Sir Robert Logan. However if we go to a charter that does mention Sir Robert Logan it is in 1438. What James I intended was a expansion of the monastery because erysipelas or St Anthonys fire was considered a serious economic problem in Scotland and they were supposed to be able to cure it.

South Leith Church

2nd August 1438
formerly, Robert Logan of Lastabryg, knight,d. St. A ., for his souls and familys weal, donated land near Leith, d. St. A., to the chapel of St. Anthony, then to be erected by the grant of James King of Scots and Henry bishop of St. Andrews for the brothers and canons of the monastery of St. Anthony, d. Vienne, and to John Courtman. Canon of the said monastery, and his successors. This donation the king and the bishop confirmed and, so that this may have greater validity, John Stele, present preceptor of the said chapel, supplicates the Pope to confirm the same. Concessum. Ferrara.
From Scottish Supplication to Rome Eugenius IV

Now it can be seen from the above that Sir Robert Logan donates land for the erection of a Chapel to be used by the Canons of St Anthony and this is granted by James I and Bishop Henry of St Andrews. In fact the Logans are the patrons of the Chapel as can be seen in the Charter of 1490 in which Peter Falconer erects a alter to St Peter. The document is signed by Simon Logan and Walter Logan therefore the family must be acting as patrons as in a Private Patronage capacity. Therefore this charter has been completely misunderstood by previous writers on the subject as can be seen from the above as the preceptory had already been founded, James I could not have founded the preceptory as he was held prisoner by the English from 1406-1424 and so the founders of the preceptory of St Anthony must have been the Knights of St John and this is confirmed by the fact that when King James VI annexed all the Church property in Scotland in 1572 it was discovered that certain Church property wasnt Church property at all as they were considered secular and had belonged to one of Military Orders such as the Templars or the Hospitallers and so they were unannexed among them was the preceptory of St Anthony. That is the reason why the Golden Charter of 1596 granting the property of St Anthonys to South Leith had to be passed through a number of hands before being passed back to the King before being given to the Church in order that a hospital for the poor could be built..
Also the Rental Book of St Anthony and Newhaven can be shown to be a complete fraud as it lists people to be prayed for and mentions Sir Robert Logan as the founder of the preceptory. However the date 1526 appears on the cover and by then all records of the preceptory had been destroyed because-

Letter concerning the plague 1514

So on what recorded evidence the Rental Book is based is not known.

Further prior to 1526 the membership of the confraternity of the Abbey of St Anthony which included Brothers and Sisters was formed and as they had separate buildings the Brothers using the Monastery the Sisters must have used what had been the Chantry Chapel of the Logans which had by then been developed into a church building. This is confirmed in the charter of Peter Falconer which calls the building the Virgin Mary Kirk and describes it as within the Barony of Restalrig which the original Chapel was. This is further confirmed in a Charter by Gilbert Edmonstoune when he erects a chapel at South Leith to Saint Barbara also signed by the Logan family. So you have the same Logan connection going back to 1438.

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