The History of Leith

February 2, 2012

The Troubles that followed the Union

THE Union of 1707 united the governments of the two countries, but it was unable to unite their peoples, and for many years proved to be as unhappy as the bells of St. Giles’ had foreboded. For years Leith and Edinburgh saw nothing but the * disadvantages of the Union, which indeed were many. Taxes were much heavier, and were more strictly exacted by the army of English excise and customs officials, who were sent from across the Border to see that the new duties were properly collected. Smuggling had always been a paying occupation in Leith. The soap-works, the glass-works, and the wool-card factory had all suffered much loss through smuggled wares brought in from the Continent. Smuggling now became ever so much more profitable until the introduction of the higher English duties, and was looked on by all classes of the people as a merit rather than a crime.
The Figgate Whins were much resorted to by smugglers, and it was from there that Sir Walter Scott in the Heart of Midlothian makes Effie Deans escape in a smuggling lugger. An old seaman from Admiral Vernon’s fleet on its return from the siege of Portobello in Darien had settled down here in a small house he had built and named Portobello, after the South American town.
This house stood on the site of the old Town Hall with the projecting clock, just beyond Bath Street, and is said to have been a favourite rendezvous of Leith smugglers. In order to defeat the vigilance of the revenue officers the smuggling luggers constantly changed their appearance, so as not to be recognized by them as a vessel they had had cause to suspect before. They would often, too, pass Leith, as if bound for some port farther up the Firth, and then, after dark, would quietly drop down to the spot where the cargo was to be run ashore.
But the Union brought other and greater evils than heavy taxes to Leith and Edinburgh. Their streets were no longer thronged as they had been with the members of the Scots Parliament, lords and commoners, and all the nobles and rich people of the land, who were wont to bring both gaiety and business to the two towns.For many years after the Union the loss of trade from this cause was bitterly lamented by the merchants. The commercial classes of both towns had expected that the freedom of trade with England, and the Colonies, granted by the Union, and for which they had so long
clamoured, would lead to immediate prosperity. But it did not do so. The trade in tobacco with the Plantations after the Union certainly began the fortunes of Glasgow, but in Leith and Edinburgh, where so many new industries had arisen, the Union brought with it a loss, rather than a gain, in trade.

source-The Story of Leith

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