The History of Leith

March 23, 2012


Much interest has been taken in the purchase of the
old west window of the church of South Leith, and in its
removal to a parish in Argyleshire, where it is to be built
into a church in connection with the Church of Scotland.
It will be remembered that until a few days ago it stood
in the garden of the house, 43 Albany Street.
The window in question has often been examined, and
there seems no reason to doubt that it formed part of the
original fabric of St. Mary’s Chapel, built in 1483.
It will be remembered that in the wars of 1560 the
English cannon firing from Lady Fyfe’s Brae and the
Giant’s Brae “shot down some part of the east end of
the Kirk of Leith,” as our chronicle records. The parts
of the chapel destroyed in these assaults were the choir
and the transepts, probably as large an area as the nave,
which escaped serious injury. At the Reformation the
debris of the ruined parts were removed, a screen wall
was built at the east end, and the nave then became the
church, in size and outline exactly the same as it stands
at the present time. Minor alterations were made from
time to time, and in particular a little tower or steeple
was added in 1674, but for the most part the church
throughout the changes and vicissitudes of three centuries
remained in the state it had assumed at the Reformation.
Early in the nineteenth century the west end of the
church began to show alarming signs of decay, and in
1836 it was found necessary to take it down, the
steeple being then twenty-four inches from the perpendicular.
From this date onward extensive alterations
were made, until in 1848 the church became complete in
its present state.
No attempt seems to have been made to preserve the
many relics which had gathered in the old building during
its long and varied career, and these were either
destroyed or passed into private hands, with the result
that in the course of a few years they became
lost to sight. It happened that Dr Robertson,
one of the few antiquaries of Leith, was then a
member of the congregation, and he eagerly took
possession of a large number of articles, some of which
he has described in his book, “The Sculptured Stones
of Leith.” As the west window was taken down he had
it removed to the garden of his house in Albany Street,
and rebuilt stone by stone, and there it has remained for
about seventy years. Upon being removed in the middle
of last month it was found that the window had been
hewn from splendid weathering stones by thoroughly
capable workmen, the arches were finely chiselled, and
the whole structure was in a splendid state of preservation.
The architecture of the window belongs to the
period of the decorated Gothic, and the design is
obviously a very beautiful one. This must have been
appreciated in 1848, for the existing west window is in
all respects a reproduction of the original window.
On either side there were carved panels, which Dr.
Robertson had built in with the window. The left hand
panel bears the arms of Mary of Lorraine with the
inscription—” Maria de Loraine regina Scotle, 1560.”
This stone was taken from the residence built by this
Queen in the Water Lane. The right hand panel bears
the motto, “In Defens,” with the date 1560 and the
initials M.R. The arms are the royal arms of Scotland,
the Initials those of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the stone
originally stood in front of the old Tolbooth.
It may be added that the purchaser of the window and
of the panels has acted in a very considerate and generous
manner. When it was brought to his notice that an
endeavour was being made by the minister and session
clerk to gather together some of the interesting reli’Ss of
the past, he at once granted an interview to the minister
and Provost Smith member of the Kirk Session ; and he
has now agreed to hand over the panels and coat-of-arms,
which it is hoped will find a place in South Leith Church
as a memorial of our tercentenary. With this auspicious
beginning it may not be vain to hope that many antiquities
will gradually return to South Leith Church,
which is now the oldest and probably the only historic
building remaining in the town.
.With regard to the window, the purchaser has shown
no less consideration for the sefSiment of South Leith.
He has promised, and will give a written document to
the effect, that if in the future there should be any
restoration of South Leith Church, and possibly the
erection of a chancel, the window will be restored on
condition that a window of similar design be substituted
in the church to which it has been presently removed.
The community is deeply indebted to the purchaser of
the window and the panels (who desires to remain
anonymous) for his kindly consideration, his courtesy,
and his generous gift

source-South leith Church Magazine 1911

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