The History of Leith

August 3, 2011

Filthy wynds Where the demon of disease had his nativity

12 of Octor 1645.—The qlk day being ye Lords day efter ye eftemoone sermon it was referrit to ye bailie James barnes to speak with my Lord Provost bailies and counsell of Edr. superiours of or toune of Leith how many men may be gottine to cleanse yis or said toune. Also yt yr be a warrand gottine from ye said toune counsell of Edr. for borrowing of monyes and qt securitie may be given yrfor. Also to try further qt ye good towne of Edr. haith zit remaining in yr hands 6^ yat sowme yat was collectit be ym for releise of ye distresse of yis or toune. To yis effect ye said James Barns and Mr Alexr. Gibsone w pastor are to go to ye Counsell of Edr. The Bailie gave comand to his officers to lay ym fast in prison who will not cary out mucke out of yis toune qo hath horse and land lying about ye same.
(Note.—The work of cKefensing Leith of its primeval filthiness recalls the labours of Hercules in cleansing the Augean stables. The houses of the time were built partly of wood, partly of boulders gathered at the sea shore. There were no ceilings to hide the low thatched rafters, no ventilation or drains. The windows were filled with moveable boards, which in cold weather were mostly kept tight. The fire rested on the ground and the smoke either made its exit by a hole in the roof, or by a primitive chimney, or made a circuit of the room and escaped by the door, which was so low that a man required to stoop when entering.
The earthen floor was rarely swept and so accumulated all manner of rubbish and decaying matter. It is easy to see that in such dens—small, primitive, and overcrowded— the spread of the plague could not be checked without extreme difficulty. Here amid the dark, narrow, and filthy wynds the demon of disease had his nativity, spreading awe, terror, and superstition around.)

Source-South Leith Records

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