The History of Leith

May 18, 2012

Golf on the Links (as described in 1883)

Golf on the Links (as described in 1883)

In the year 1724 the Hon. Alexander Elphinstone,
elder brother of the unfortunate
Lord Balmerino, engaged on Leith Links
in what the prints of that time term ” a solemn
match at golf” with another personage, who is better
known in history—the famous Captain John
Porteous of the City Guard—for a twenty guineas’
stake.
On this occasion the reputation of the players
for skill excited great interest, and the match was
attended by James, Duke of Hamilton, George
Earl of Morton, and a vast crowd of spectators.
Elphinstone proved the winner.
President Forbes was so enthusiastic a golfer that
he frequently played on the Links of Leith when
they were covered with snow. Thus Thomas
Mathieson, minister of Brechin, in his quaint poem,
” The Goff,” first published in 1743, says :—
” great Forbes, patron of the just,
The dread of villains, and the good man’s trust,
“When spent in toils in saving human kind,
His body recreates and unbends his mind.”
Elsewhere he refers thus to these Links :—•
” North from Edina eight furlongs or more,
Lies the famed field on Fortha’s sounding shore.
Here Caledonian chiefs for health resort—
Confirm their sinews in the manly sport.”
When the silver club was given by, the magistrates
and Town Council of Edinburgh, in 1744, to
be played for annually on the Links of Leith, in
the April of the following year, just before the
rising in the Highlands, the Lord President Forbes
was one of tfre competitors, together with Hew
Dalrymple, Lord Hailes, and other men then
eminent in the city.
Smollett, in his ” Humphrey Clinker,” after detailing
the mode in which the game is played,
says :—” Of this diversion the Scots are so fond
that, when the weathe? will permit, you may see a
multitude of all ranks, from the senator of justice
to the lowest tradesmen, mingled together in their
shirts, and following the balls with the utmost
eagerness. Among others, I was shown one particular
set of golfers, the youngest of whom was
turned of four-score. They were all gentlemen of
independent fortunes, who had amused themselves
with this pastime for the best part of a century
without ever having felt the least alarm from sickness
or disgust, and they never went to bed without
having each the best part of a gallon of claret in
his belly ! Such uninterrupted exercise, co-operating
with the keen air from the sea, must, without doubt,
keep the appetite always on edge, and steel the
constitution against all the common attacks of
distemper.”
The Golf House was built towards the close of
the last century, near the foot of the Easter Road,
and prior to its erection the golfers frequented a
tavern on the west side of the Kirkgate, near the
foot of Leith Walk, where, says the Rev. Parker
Lawson, they usually closed the day with copious
libations of claret, in silver or pewter tankards.

source-Old and New Edinburgh

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