Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Story of Leith
XXIX. 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 with 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.

This was foreseen by many, and is not difficult to account for. In the first place, whatever, trade Leith still had with France was lost to her by the Union and our many wars with that country during the eighteenth century. Then England had for centuries been a manufacturing country, and her products were both cheaper and of much finer quality than those of Leith and Edinburgh. The result was that immediately the Union was accomplished English merchants flooded Scotland’s markets with their better and cheaper wares, and our local industries naturally began to decline. This was especially true of the woollen manufacture which had been set up in Leith, Bonnington, and Paul’s Wark in Leith Wynd.

Unable to compete with England in the production of the finer qualities of cloth, these factories once more reverted to the manufacture of the plaidings, blankets, and the other coarse woollens of former days; but factories that did not thus adapt themselves to the new conditions brought about by the Union had to close down. To encourage the woollen cloth trade it was enacted in 1707, just as it had been in England in 1678, that, in all time coming, dead bodies were to be buried in plain woollen cloth. The linen trade, the most important in Leith and Edinburgh all through the eighteenth century, also became depressed, and from this cause and the decline in the woollen trade, the wool-card factory which had flourished in Leith for over half a century had rather a bad time until both trades began to revive again. The folk of Leith and Edinburgh, therefore, had good cause to lament the Union, to which they ascribed all their ills, for during the first half of the eighteenth century trade and commerce languished rather than flourished.

Everybody had expected that when Queen Anne died in 1714 the Pretender would succeed as James VIII; but the Whigs had been too clever for the Jacobites, who, beaten in statecraft, resolved to try force of arms. In such incidents as the ships in Leith Roads hoisting their ensign on the Pretender’s birthday they saw ardent sympathy with their cause, when it was nothing more than a harmless way of showing resentment against England. The Earl of Mar, the Jacobite leader in the ‘Fifteen, left London for the north disguised as a workman under the name of Maule, in a small coal sloop of only a few tons burden, owned and commanded by John Spence, a Leith skipper. Spence landed Mar at Elie, and, when his standard of rebellion had been unfurled, Mar detached Brigadier Mackintosh with 2,500 men to cross the Forth and aid the English rebels of Northumberland.

Mackintosh, a bold and resolute commander, successfully accomplished this in spite of the English fleet in the Forth. Elated with his success, Mackintosh made a dash on Edinburgh, but as he and his weary men reached Jock’s Lodge, Argyll with the king’s forces entered the city, and Mackintosh and his men then turned aside to Leith, where they took up a strong position in the Citadel. The following night, however, after dark, Mackintosh evacuated the Citadel, and, leading his men along the beach at low water, he crossed the mouth of the harbour, the water only reaching to the men’s knees, and then marched away to the Border. He had achieved nothing by his raid on the Port, for, however much the Leithers had good cause to dislike the Union, they had no desire to destroy it by force.

By the fifteenth article of the Treaty of Union it was stipulated that the capital lost by the Darien venture was to be repaid, with five per cent, interest up to date. Although it was only gradually that this money seemed to become available for purposes of trade, it was, nevertheless, a great boon in this time of industrial depression. Its beneficial effect in doing something to bring about progress and prosperity in the country may be inferred from the way in which the repayment of the capital lost by the Darien Company influenced the fortunes of the Balfours of Pilrig, whose ownership of their estate has close association with the story of the ill fated Darien Company.

Pilrig HouseJames Balfour, who lived in Wine’s Court, Lawnmarket, was a burgess and a guild brother and carried on business in Leith. Along with other partners he owned the powder-mills at Powderhall, glass-works and a shipbuilding yard in North Leith, and the soap-works in Riddle’s Close. He was also one of the directors of the Darien Company, and was involved in its ruin. The receipts for his shares are still preserved in the old iron family treasure chest, which, according to a tradition with no basis of truth behind it, had belonged to a galleon of the Spanish Armada. Balfour’s losses completely crushed him, for he seems to have died of a broken heart. His eldest son James, wisely guided by his widowed mother, Helen Smith, a niece of the heroine of the Morocco Land in the Canongate, did his best to pay his father’s debts and to save some part, at least, of his business. Then, taking to himself a wife, he left the aristocratic precincts of Wine’s Court, and set up house in a dwelling belonging to the soap-work in Riddle’s Close. At that time, strange as it may seem to us now, this was quite a fashionable residential quarter of Old Leith in spite of the soap-work at its junction with St. Andrew Street, then known as the Dub Raw, a corruption of its former French name of "Les Deux Bras" (The Two Arms)—a relic of the days of Mary of Guise—because of the two alleys, the Sheep-head Wynd and St. Leonard’s Lane, the Peat Neuk of post-Reformation times, into which it branched after passing the Vaults.

In 1719 the capital lost by the Darien Company repaid, and young Balfour found himself suddenly rich. With his new-found wealth he purchased the estate of Pilrig, with its quaintly gabled mansion, its wooded park, its lawn with the three old holly trees, its great garden with its wealth of old Scots flowers, its meadows and its cornfields, through which, with winding silvery stream, flowed the waters of the Broughton Burn to form a ford, where they crossed the Bonnington Road between Silverfield and Swanfield, on their way to join the Water of Leith. James Balfour’s son, the Laird of Pilrig made so familiar to us by Robert Louis Stevenson in Catriona, would stroll on summer evenings through pleasant field byways to Bowling Green House to woo the lovely Cecilia Elphinstone. Here, in the garden overlooking the weir that sent the mill lade racing to Leith Mills, she would sit sewing her silken seam in those good old-fashioned days when every girl was accustomed to make her own trousseau.

Pilrig House, as its almost indecipherable lintel tells us, was built in 1638 by Gilbert Kirkwood, the wealthy goldsmith, who was a victim of the terrible plague of 1645. Kirkwood’s picturesque old mansion, the present Pilrig House, succeeded the old peel tower of the Monypennys erected at some time during the fifteenth century. Built on the ridge here, this peel must have been a conspicuous object in the landscape. To their old tower we owe the name Pilrig (the peel on the ridge). St. Cuthbert’s, in the old pre-Reformation days, had been the church of the Monypennys; but the Balfours worshipped in South Leith. In its churchyard, in that portion of it set aside for the gentlemen traffickers, they were buried. The family tombstone there, setting forth the virtues, as Catriona has proclaimed the fame, of the second Laird of Pilrig, must have been well known to his descendant, Robert Louis Stevenson, to whom a fine specimen of the sculptor’s art in the maltmen’s ground immediately adjacent may have suggested the name of that uncanny villain, blind Pew, in Treasure Island.

Between the ‘Fifteen and the Jacobite rising of 1745 was a period of trade depression, and consequent gloom and discontent, largely brought about by the Union. This spirit sometimes showed itself in open defiance of the Government, as it did in the Porteous Riots in 1736. Despite their unfriendly feeling to King George and his ministers, however, the Leithers were filled with dread on the approach of Bonnie Prince Charlie and his wild Highlanders at the ‘Forty-five—a dread which became consternation when they saw Hamilton’s panic-stricken dragoons, seared at Coltbridge by the advanced guard of the Prince’s army, come pouring into the town, and pass, with a clatter of hoofs, over the old stone bridge at the Brigend, on their way to the Citadel.

Feeling themselves unsafe even behind the defences of this stronghold, these doughty warriors immediately took to their heels again, and hardly drew rein until they had joined Cope at Dunbar. After the Battle of Preston pans the old custom-house in the Tolbooth Wynd was despoiled of its goods by the Highlanders. These were immediately turned into money by being sold to the smugglers from whom they had been captured. Some. thirty of the Leithers donned the white cockade, and, after assisting the Highlanders to seize all the horses, corn, and hay in the old stage-coach stables, enlisted under the Prince’s banner. At this time there were two stage coaches, with three horses, a driver, and postilion each, running between Leith and Edinburgh. They took a whole hour to accomplish the journey, as the road—the Easter Road—was such that they could oily travel at a walking pace. These were the only regular stage coaches at this time in Scotland.

Easter Road showing the old Leith and edinburgh stage Coaches

The most notable recruits to join the banner of Bonnie Prince Charlie from the Leith district were the last Lord Balmerino and John Hay of Restalrig. Hay acted first as treasurer to the Prince, and later as secretary. Lord George Murray always attributed the disastrous defeat of the Highlanders at Culloden to his neglect in provisioning the army. Hay lived in exile with the Prince until 1771. He then returned to Edinburgh, as there was now no thought on the part of the Government of prosecuting him for his share in the ‘Forty-five He died in 1784, and was buried beside his wife in the family vault which abuts on the Well of St. Triduana in Restalrig Churchyard.

The estates of Lord Balmerino and Hay of Restalrig were forfeited after the Rebellion. Those of Lord Balmerino were bought by his nephew, the Earl of Moray, in whose family they still remain. Hay’s estate of Restalrig, on which his mansion has given place to the present Restalrig House, now St. Mary’s Catholic Home, became the property of Mr. Ronald Crauford, and through his granddaughter passed into the possession of the Bute family, who were always favourites with George III., and, therefore, strongly opposed to the Jacobites. Miss Hay, daughter of John Hay of Restalrig, who had come into possession of that estate by his marriage with Anne, daughter of James Elphinstone, one of the Balmerino family, lived to a great age. On her deathbed in 1814 it was her earnest wish to be buried beside her beloved father and mother in the family vault at Restalrig; but this dying request the Marquis of Bute refused to grant. Miss Hay, as her great recumbent tombstone tells us, was therefore interred immediately outside the vault, to be as near as possible to the cherished spot where her parents were buried.

Lord Balmerino, who had been "out " in the ‘Fifteen, was a staunch believer in divine right, in spite of all that his family had suffered from the tyranny of the Stuarts. He joined the Prince at Holyrood, and became one of the commanders of his Life Guards. He was a man of the most engaging charm of manner. His brother, the fifth Lord Balmerino, was the last to live in the old mansion off the Kirkgate, where he died in January 1746. At his execution on Tower Hill in August 1746, Lord Balmerino’s gallant bearing won the reluctant respect and admiration of the beholders. He was the last of a family that had experienced many changes of fortune, for two Lords Balmerino had been condemned to death before him; but only in his case was the sentence carried into execution. The old mansion in the Kirkgate, though still retaining its historic name, then became the home of strangers. Since 1848 it has been the property of the Catholic Bishop of Edinburgh, and within its grounds in 1853 was built the Catholic church of "Our Lady, Star of the Sea."

While the Prince’s army occupied Edinburgh a Highland guard was kept stationed on the Shore to prevent men being landed from the warships in the Firth. To one of these, the Fox sloop of war, was delegated the special duty of protecting the Port, but Leith had more reason to dread the action of the Government officers than to fear any harm from the Highland army, for, while some regiments of the latter were at drill on the Links, which then lay open to the sea, the Fox is said to have opened fire upon them, thus threatening destruction to friend as well as foe.

The recruits from Leith who joined the Prince’s forces were all from the lower orders save Lord Balmerino and Sir David Murray of Stanhope, who was not a native of the town. The insignificance in rank and numbers of these recruits leads us to conclude that the Leith folks had no desire to help Bonnie Prince Charlie in his gallant attempt to win back the crown of his ancestors. Yet they did nothing to oppose him, for, though the tyranny of the "killing time" had estranged their once deep affection for the Stuarts, they had no love for the House of Hanover. The trade depression that followed the Union had caused such hatred of England as made the Leithers feel that, if they were to continue to be ruled from London, it was a matter of indifference to them whether it was done under a Stuart or a Hanoverian sovereign.

Yet there was one hotbed of Jacobite sentiment in their midst. This was the Episcopalian Church, and more especially those among its members who refused to transfer their allegiance to the foreign kings who succeeded the Stuarts on the throne. On the accession of William of Orange to the throne, the Presbyterian Church once more became the State Church in Scotland. The Episcopalians, as we have already seen, now became "outed," and the Presbyterians from Meeting-house Green returned to their old parish churches of St. Mary and St. Ninian. The Episcopalians who took the oath of allegiance to the new king were allowed to hold their services undisturbed in licensed or "qualified" chapels, to give them their legal designation, which, like "The Ark" in Cables Wynd, differed little in outward appearance from ordinary dwelling-houses. But those Episcopalians whose feelings of loyalty to the house of Stuart would not allow them to transfer their allegiance to King William, and for this reason were known as Nonjurors, were forbidden by law to hold their services even in meeting-houses, and could only worship secretly in private houses. In less than twenty years after the ‘Forty-five, however, the penal laws against the Nonjurors had fallen into abeyance, when they too, like their co-religionists who had sworn allegiance to the reigning sovereign, were allowed to worship publicly in meeting-houses.

One of the meeting-houses of the nonjuring Episcopalians gave its name to Chapel Lane, off Quality Street. The decorated door lintel of this old meeting-house, now built into a tenement hard by.

Sculptured Lintel, Carpet Lane

The pious legend which the deep religious feeling of the Reformation period had caused to be inscribed on this lintel, has been copied as a motto over the doorway of St. James’s Parsonage in John’s Place. With this non-juring congregation, we may be sure, were connected most of the men from Leith who joined the Prince’s army. The clergyman of this congregation at the time of the ‘Forty-five was the Rev. Robert Forbes, who was an ardent Jacobite. He afterwards became Bishop of Ross and Caithness, but at the same time continued to hold his charge in Leith, until his death in 1775, when, he was buried in the Maltmen’s Aisle, beneath the organ loft, in South Leith Church.

Mr. Forbes, along with Mr. Stuart Carmichael, linen manufacturer, Bonnyhaugh, behind Bonnington Mill, started off to join Prince Charlie on his arrival in the Highlands. Luckily for them they were both arrested, and remained prisoners in Edinburgh Castle until after the Cause of the White Rose was finally lost at Culloden. They thus escaped the fate of the two Leithers who were executed for their share in the rebellion, Lord Balmerino, and James Nicholson who owned a coffee-house, as fashionable restaurants were then called. On being released, Mr. Forbes went to reside with Lady Bruce of Kinross, a wealthy member of his congregation, and a strong Jacobite. Lady Bruce’s mansion was in the Citadel, then a fashionable suburb for the nobility and gentry. Her house was in all probability the one which a Leith tradition used to associate with the name of Cromwell, despite the fact that General Monk did not begin the construction of the Citadel until several years after Cromwell had left Scotland for good.

Cromwell House, Citadel, now removedFlora Macdonald, her kinsman Macdonald of Kingsburgh, and all like them who had in any way succoured Prince Charlie or fought in his cause, were always welcome guests at Lady Bruce’s, and at the house of James Macdonald, who was sib to the Laird of Raasay and dwelt on the Coalhill, a street whose line of ancient houses with their mingled stone and timber fronts, like the ghosts by which so many of them were haunted in later days, has long since disappeared. The Prince escaped to France at the end of September 1746, but, as this was unknown to the Government until some time afterwards, they continued their search for him with unabated persistence. It was rumoured that the fugitive was making his way south. The Government officers thought that he might even find his way to Leith in the darkness of night, as some Jacobites had succeeded in doing, in hope of finding a ship for France. As Lady Bruce’s mansion was a known resort of Jacobites, it was suddenly surrounded by the military on a quiet Sunday morning, a week after Prince Charlie’s escape. The soldiers threatened to shoot any one who dared to stir from the house, and, stimulated by hopes of a large reward, left no nook or corner unsearched, even looking under the very cabbages in the garden. They failed, of course, to find the Prince, who arrived safely in France the following day.

Meanwhile the heroic Flora Macdonald had been arrested for her share in aiding the Prince’s escape, and was at this very time a prisoner aboard the frigate Bridgewater, in Leith Roads, where she remained for two months. Flora had spent three years at school in Edinburgh. During that period she had been a frequent visitor at Lady Bruce’s, and had made many friends in Leith among Jacobite ladies like Miss Crawford of Redbraes, whose modest manor-house still stands near Bonnington Toll, and the charming Mally Clerk, a general favourite with Prince Charlie’s officers while in Edinburgh. "Make my compliments to Lady Bruce and Mr. Clerk’s family, and especially to Miss Mally," wrote that gallant Jacobite cavalier, Major Macdonald of Tiendrish, in Inverness-shire, who is said to be the original of Sir Walter Scott’s Fergus Maclvor in Waverley. Although Flora was never once allowed ashore, her many friends in Edinburgh and Leith on visiting her aboard the Bridgewater were most hospitably entertained by both officers and crew, who treated Flora rather as a distinguished guest than as a prisoner.

When the Bridgewater weighed anchor for the Thames, to carry "the bonnie young Flora" to her trial in London, large crowds gathered on the pier and sands to cheer the fair prisoner on her departure, while the buildings in the town and the ships in the harbour and road-stead were gay with flags in her honour. On her release in the following year Flora was welcomed once more at the Citadel on her way home to Skye, and spent at least one happy night at Lady Bruce’s among her loved friends in Leith, each adorned, one hardly doubts, with "bonnie breist-knots" from the Jacobite rose-bushes that still flourish so luxuriantly in old Scots gardens like those of the Grange and Pilrig, although the Balfours, as readers of Catriona do not need to be reminded, were staunch Whigs.

The print gown which the Prince had worn in the character of Betty Burke when, by the ingenuity of the heroic Flora, he escaped "over the sea to Skye," had been preserved as a precious relic. After his visit to the Citadel on his release from Edinburgh Castle, Macdonald of Kingsburgh sent a portion of the print of which the gown had been made to Mr. Stuart Carmichael, the Jacobite linen manufacturer at Bonnyhaugh, the land between the Water of Leith and the mill lade now occupied by Bonnington skin works. Mr. Carmichael had print made of a pattern exactly similar, and so great was the demand for this cloth among the "loyal" ladies of Scotland and England that the linen mills at Bonnington could by no means keep pace with it.

A piece of this print with other small relics of Prince Charlie, such as part of his blue velvet garters, which had been entrusted to the care of Lady Bruce while Flora Macdonald was a prisoner, may be seen attached to the cover of the third volume of the Lyon in Mourning, which is always on exhibition in the lower Parliament Hall behind St. Giles’ Church. The Lyon in Monrning, which was perhaps so called " in allusion to the woe of Scotland for her exiled race of princes "—the Lyon being the heraldic emblem of the nation—is a collection of manuscripts in ten volumes written by Bishop Forbes from journals, letters, and narratives relating to the life of Bonnie Prince Charlie during and after the rebellion of 1745. Two other manuscript volumes written by Bishop Forbes, his registers of baptisms and marriages, are among the most treasured possessions of St. James’s Episcopal Church. ln these two volumes we are introduced to many families among the Nonjurors during the good Bishop’s ministry in Leith.

Long before the death of Prince Charlie in 1788 the Jacobite cause had become utterly hopeless. After that event the Nonjurors gave in their allegiance to George III., and early in the nineteenth century, a union took place between those in Leith, who always seem to have dedicated their meeting-house to St. James the Apostle, and the Episcopalian congregation that had continued steadfast in its loyalty to the Government. The united congregation, in 1805, built St. James’s Chapel in Constitution Street, opposite South Leith Churchyard. This chapel now forms part of a wool-store from which, however, it is still, architecturally, quite distinct. In 1863 the congregation moved farther down the street to the present St. James’s Church, built from funds largely gifted by the Wood family, who are still numbered among its members, and whose finely equipped sailing-ships in days of yore used to make so brave a show as they cleared the old harbour to voyage to the Greenland whale-fishing.

The disturbing effect of the ‘Forty-five on the trade of Leith was very great. The banks, of which there were four in Edinburgh but none in Leith at this time, removed their cash and other valuables into the Castle for safety. How greatly this crippled trade we may judge by its effect on the South Leith Roperie, which amalgamated in 1750 with one in North Leith, founded there after the failure of the Newhaven rope-walk, to form the huge business established in Bath Street known to-day as the Edinburgh Roperie and Sailcloth Company.

Throughout the greater part of the period during which the rebellion lasted, the South Leith Roperie Company had the utmost difficulty in keeping their business going. The banks being closed, the company were unable to pay for the cargoes of flax imported from St. Petersburg to keep their mills working, and had not their business correspondents in London and Amsterdam come to their aid, the firm must have collapsed. At the close of the year 1745, when the annual balance was struck, it was found that the company had a loss on the year’s working of £240.

It is interesting to note, in connection with inquiries by Jacobites, like Secretary Murray, about ships voyaging from Leith to the Continent, that the Government warrant for the arrest of Alan Breck Stewart, who plays so great a part in Stevenson’s fascinating stories of Kidnapped and Catriona, is still preserved in the Customhouse, Leith.

Previous Page | Index | Next Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus