The History of Leith

November 8, 2010


Unfortunately no Jocelin of Brakelond, no Monk of St Anthony’s Preoeptory that stood behind the Kirkgate of Leith has left us any
realistic portraiture of the ways and the doings of the early ecclesiastical life of our old town.
No Abbot Samson inhabits in our imagination the precincts of St Anthony Lane or the ancient burial ground of St Mary’s Chapel, now known as South Leith Church. And yet there must have been some useful function served by the old hooded and tonsured brethren in the
squalid and unsavoury old lanes and* closes that were improved out of existence less than thirty years ago. The old monasteries were centres of charity and benevolence, not unfrequently they afforded food and shelter to all who had need. Let us think in kindly mood of these shadowy figures of an age and a system that has ceased to be. Doubtless the ashes of many a pious monk rest in South Leith. The
old Roman Catholic Church survives in our midst, and it becomes us to speak reverently of worthy men gone, who doubtless left many good footprints on the sands of time that are now effaced and forgotten. At this date it is difficult to say whether there was or was not a burying ground around the walls of St Anthony’s Preceptory. Probably there was not, because building operations have revealed few relics, and but a foot or two below the causeway stones is the sea sand that makes
clear the conditions that prevailed long before the plains of Leith arose from out the azure main. Where then was the burying place of the monks, and for that matter, of the inhabitants of Leith from say the tenth century to the fifteenth? Was it not the area now embraced
by the walls of South Leith Churchyard, and a still wider area? If this supposition has nothing unreasonable in it, is it less reasonable to suppose that ” the new Kyrk of Leith to our Ladle ” to which King James III. made a contribution of the kingly sum of ” XVII s,” may have been a ” new Kyrk ” in the sense that it was being set up on the site of an old one? The plan of old Leith, like that of many other old towns, was altogether unmethodical.
They took a site who had the power in the olden times, and consulted little but their own oonvenience. Yet streets and closes took long
to form and were a kind of evolution from the crude wishes, fancies, and necessities of generation after generation. But God’s acre, even
if encroached upon at its outskirts, was in the main kept sacred. Not improbably the old churchyard extended to Laurie Street, and
houses in that old thoroughfare may have grown up by toleration just as those which skirt old Greyfriars in Edinburgh have obviously done in times of laxity as regards building regulations, and the formation of

(Editor-It has since the above was written the Preceptory had a Graveyard and it was on the site of the present day St Anthony Street)

source-The Parish Church of South Leith-William Hudson 1909

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