The History of Leith

June 4, 2008

FROM THE ANNALS…digging round the puddle

After worship on a Sunday is often now a time of relaxing after a family meal. It wasn’t always so. In fact, you certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be a parishioner of the Scottish Kirk around 1669. Why?

Some background first. Archives of the Scottish Parliament from the 13th to the 18th Century have recently been made available on-line. It is a project which has taken researchers at St Andrew‘s University over 10 years to do, and has involved them copying over 16 million words from meetings, minutes and legislative acts of the Parliament. They have created an archive which anyone can now access.

And people who have done, have found some very interesting pieces of information. For example, we discover that disease was rampant in 17th Century Scotland. The Parliament moved out of Edinburgh in 1645 because the Plague was so bad. That was the same year Bo’ness was effectively locked in to try to stop the disease spreading from the town. And twenty years earlier Edinburgh was described as ‘a puddle of filth and filthiness’, due to candle-makers openly burning their tallow and “corrupting the air” and by butchers disposing of refuse in the public highway.

And the roads were in such bad condition that in 1669, the repair of the country’s roads was contracted out to parishioners themselves, who were to meet after church on Sunday suitably equipped with picks and shovels. Each parishioner was to work on the roads no more than six days per year, always outwith sowing and harvest time when manual labour was at a premium.

So, where’s you pick and shovel then!!!

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