The History of Leith

October 14, 2011

Feu-duty in Leith

In the Middle Ages it was from their fields, and their few cattle, sheep, and swine, or from those of their neighbours, came their food and clothing, and not from cargoes brought in from abroad,
you must put from your mind all notions of the farming of to-day. Then there were no great farm steadings with their hinds’ cottages dotted over the land; there were no farm labourers working for wages as with us to-day. Instead of wages, each had so much land, which he tilled for his own use, and in return helped to farm his overlord’s land as well. There were in those days two classes of tenants—the free and the unfree, or villeins as they were called. All paid their rent by service of some kind in accordance with the feudal system —the free mostly by military service and certain dues either in money or in kind (that is, in farm produce to feed his lord and his retainers), and the unfree by helping to till the lands of De Lestalric as well as their own holding. But ere many centuries had passe’d all the folks around Leith gradually became free tenants, and the service on the overlord’s lands became simply a part of the rent of the holding which might be done by a hired labourer.
This old custom of rendering so much service as part of rent, and especially rent of land, lingered among us for centuries after this time, for in 1640 the feu-duty of a house in the Kirkgate opposite South Leith Church was forty pence Scots and one day’s work in autumn—that is, in the harvest fields of the Laird of Restalrig. We would find similar conditions attached to the feus
of other old houses in Leith could we but get a peep at their old feu-charters, where such still exist.

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