The History of Leith

April 24, 2012

Leith—A Glossary of Her History.

Leith—A Glossary of Her History.
The February issue of The Scottish Endeavourer con –
tains a very interesting article on the history of our own
town. Leith has always been noted for its sterling support
of the Christian Endeavour Movement, and this year the
Annual Convention is to be held in Leith.
For the benefit—not to say instruction—of our readers
we take the liberty of quoting a number of selections
from this article.
We are told that nothing is known, definitely, about
the history of Leith before the twelfth century. In
those days there were two distinct towns—North Leith
and South Leith. The latter came under the jurisdiction
of the Laird of Restalrig, and until the nineteenth
century was by far the most important of the two towns.
” South Leith consisted of little more than a line of
houses facing the Water of Leith, and was quite surpassed
in size and importance by the village of Restalrig.
Both were part of the Barony of Restalrig, but it was
Restalrig which gave its name to the family, the De
Restalrigs, who owned it. It is not until about the year
1124 that we find Leith beginning to take its place
among the seaports, until now she is the second largest
port in Scotland.”
Several invasions of Leith by the armies of Edward I.
and of his son Edward II. are next referred to, when
Leith suffered more than the Capital which was the goal
of all would-be conquerors. Then follows the interesting
account of the founding of our own Church.
” The earliest centre of religious life in Leith district
was at Restalrig. Here is the holy well and tomb of St.
Triduana, who, legend tells us, plucked out her eyes and
sent them to Nectan, King of the Picts, skewered on a
thorn, after which she suffered no more molestation.
Her tomb and holy well became the most noted place of
pilgrimage in the Lothians, and her effigy in stone,
‘ quhilk on ane thorn has baith her ene,’ surmounts the
apex of the well. To this Church at Restalrig went the
people of Leith on Sundays and especially on holy days,
but the inconvenient distance made them resolve to
have a Church nearer home. This Church, familiar
to-day as ‘ South Leith,’ was dedicated to the Virgin
Mary, who thus became the patron saint of the community.
What survives to-day is only a fragment of a
cruciform church, the choir, transepts, and central
tower being destroyed by the English in 1560.”
When Henry VIII. was King of England Leith again
suffered from invading armies. South Leith Kirk, how-
‘6r, escaped two invasions—those of 1521 and 1544, when
Leith was burned by the English commander, Hereford.
But after the battle of Pinkie, in 1547, St. Mary’s Church
was destroyed by fire.
The section dealing with the part played by Leith in
bringing about the Reformation is instructive—
“It was about this time that those who favoured
Protestantism ran great risk of persecution, and the
spread of the new teaching was first shown in Leith in
1534, the year when David Straiton and Norman
Gourlay were executed at Greenside Cross, opposite
Picardy Place. The seafaring men of Leith were largely
responsible for the propagation of Protestantism in
Scotland, bringing its teaching from the Continent.
” The differences between the two factions in Scotland
became more acute, and a great struggle began as to
whether the country was to become Protestant or to
remain Roman Catholic. Mary of Guise, as Regent,
had the assistance of the French to drive out the English,
and when peace was declared the French outstayed their
welcome. They had fortified Leith, using it as their
headquarters, and the Lords of the Congregation, as the
Reformers were now called, with the assistance of Queen
Elizabeth, besieged the town, but were unsuccessful. A
treaty was made, and the departure of the French marked
the fall of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland and
the end of the Franco-Scottish alliance, while it also
marked the triumph of Protestantism in Scotland and
the beginning of the Union with England which gave
rise to the kindgom of Great Britain.”
We may be allowed to add that Knox in his History
of the Reformation in Scotland has much to tell us
about this phase of Leith’s history. On one occasion,
shortly after the town had surrendered to the Queen
Regent, he remarks that ” by her consent and procurement,
the preaching stools in the Kirk of Leith were
broken, and idolatry was re-erected there.” But the
preaching stools have won the day !
The article concludes with a brief review of the main
events in the annals of our town during the last three
centuries, which we take the liberty of quoting in full.
” During the years of the Commonwealth and Protectorate,
and after much skirmishing around Leith, the
Port became the headquarters of Cromwell and his
army, who built the citadel during their nine years’ rule.
After Cromwell’s army departed, Charles ascended the
throne in 1650, and immediately sought to crush the
Church of Scotland. Among the 400 ministers driven
from their-Churches for holding that Christ was the
Head of the Church and not Charles were the ministers
of North and South Leith Churches.
” But it was only after the ’45 Rebellion that a change
for the better came over Scotland. Leith began to
advance with steady progress, and with the coming of
the Turnpike Act in 1751 her trade area was largely
extended, finding expression in her shipping trade.
Since then Leith has forged ahead until, in 1920, came
amalgamation with Edinburgh. The union of 1920 is
very different from that of the old, unhappy days before
1833. The relations of Leith then was one of serf to
overlord, while in this later union Leith joined Edinburgh
on equal terms to co-operate with her for the good
of the community.

source-South Leith Magazine 1930

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