The History of Leith

March 11, 2011

The Plague 1645

The plague broke out in Edinburgh and Leith in 1645. In the latter town about 2,320 persons, constituting perhaps one-half of the entire population, were swept away within eight months by this scourge of
those ante-sanitation times. As the small churchyards were utterly deficient in accommodation for the dead, many of them were buried in the Links and on the north side of the road leading to Hermitage Hill. Till very recent times masses of half-decayed bones, wrapped in the blankets in which the victims perished, have been dug up in the fields and gardens about Leith.
This scourge broke out on the 19th of May in the King James’s hospital in the Kirkgate. In Restalrig there died 160; in the Craigcnd, 155—the total number of victims in the whole parish was generally estimated at 2,736, but the accounts vary. In 1832 great quantities of their remains were laid bare near Wellington Place—among them a cranium which bore traces of a gunshot wound. (” Antiquitiesof Lcith.”)
So fearful were the double ravages of the plague and an accompanying famine, that Parliament, believing to exceed that of
‘ the living, empowered the magistrates to seize for the use of survivors all grain that could be found in warehouses or cellars, and to make payment therefor at their convenience, and to find means of
making it by appeals to the humanity of their landward countrymen.

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