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The Story of Leith
V. The Logans

IN Chapter IV. we read of how Sir John de Lestalric became one of Bruce’s earliest and staunchest friends in his struggle against Edward II. His son, another Sir John, was equally loyal to David II. in the struggle against Baliol and Edward III., and joined the gallant Sir Alexander Ramsay of Dalhousie in attacking English convoys passing to and fro between Leith and Edinburgh Castle. According to the popular story Sir John, who fought by Bruce’s side at Bannockburn, was the last of the male line of the De Lestalrics, and his daughter and heiress married the Sir Robert Logan who accompanied the Good Lord James on his expedition to the Holy Land with the heart of Robert Bruce. For this service the Logans bear a man’s heart in their coat-of-arms, both Sir Robert and his brother Sir Walter having been slain along with their heroic leader, as Barbour tells us in his noble and inspiring poem. It was, however, the grandson of this Sir Robert Logan who founded the family of the Logans of Restalrig. This grandson, another Sir Robert, married Katharine, the only daughter of Sir John de Lestalric, who died in 1382, and who, and not the Sir John mentioned above, was the last of the male line. By this marriage the barony of Restalrig, of which, as we know, South Leith was a part, came into the possession of the Logans.

The first Logan of Restalrig was to prove an ill friend to Leith, perhaps because he lacked that generous nature which had made his ancestor the chosen friend of the noble Douglas and his gallant company. For it was owing to this new overlord, the first of the Logans of Restalrig, considering only his own advantage in his dealings with the merchant burgesses of Edinburgh, and giving no thought to those of his vassals in Leith, that the city got her first hold on the lands, as distinct from the harbour, of Leith.

The harbour of Leith had belonged to the burgesses of Edinburgh from a very early date; but during the War of Independence, as we have already seen, it had been taken possession of by the English, and became their chief port on the east coast for furnishing their garrisons with supplies and munitions of war. After his victory at Bannockburn, Bruce restored the harbour to the burgh of Edinburgh. As their charter granting them the right of possession had been lost or destroyed in the turmoil and devastation of the long war, Bruce confirmed and renewed it in 1329, just before his death. But while the harbour belonged to Edinburgh, the river bank, at what is now the Shore, was owned by the Logans, and Sir Robert Logan’s sale of his feudal rights to the city was to bring centuries of trouble to the inhabitants of Leith, as we shall see later. It is for this reason that we in Leith look back upon this first Logan of Restalrig as no friend to the town it was his duty to foster and protect.

Bruce's Charter

Sir Robert Logan was one of the leading men of the land, and in his time had held high office in the State. He had taken a leading share in the stormy life of the time. He was now advanced in years, and his old age was not without sorrow, for his eldest son had died before him. This would seem to have given his thoughts a graver turn, and to have brought him more under the influence of the Church. And in order that he and his might be for ever remembered in the prayers of grateful souls, he founded in Leith in 1430 the Hospital of St. Anthony, where the Logans were "to be prayit for ilk Sunday till the day of doom" by the beneficiaries of his charity. He died in the year 1439, when his many possessions were divided among his four grandsons, two only of whom concern our story. Sir John, the eldest, succeeded him in the barony of Restalrig, and, like Thomas de Lestalric, his ancestor of the twelfth century, held the high office of Sheriff of Edinburgh.

On William, his second grandson, Sir Robert bestowed the lands of Coatfield, which extended from the Vaults in Cites Street round the Links by Hermitage Hill and Prospect Bank to the Clockmill Burn beyond Seafield. This William thus became the founder of the Logans of Coatfield, whose great mansion, known as Coatfield’s Lodging, stood amid its flowers and trees behind the Kirkgate, between Coatfield Lane and South Leith Church. The laird was usually called the Goodman of Coatfield, just as James V., when he wandered about in disguise among his subjects, often took the name of "The Goodman of Bahlangeich." "Goodman" was a Scots title given to a landowner who held his estates, not from the Crown like the lairds of Restalrig, but from a king’s vassal, as the lairds of Coatfield did from the barons of Restalrig, who held their lands from the Crown.

The Coalhill and the Old BrigendThe Logans of Coatfield became very closely identified with the commercial life of Leith. Like the more famous Bartons, with whom they seem to have intermarried, for the same names recur in both families, they became sea captains, sailing their own ships and joining their friends the Bartons in their plunder of the Portuguese. But after the Reformation the public conscience began to look on such semi-piratical enterprises in a very different light from that of past days. In 1561 the Lords of the Queen’s Privy Council forbade the Bartons and the Logans to fit out any more such expeditions against the Portuguese, whom the family of the Bartons had despoiled in this way for over eighty years. James IV. in his endeavours to build up a Scottish navy had no greater friends and helpers in the work than the sailormen of Leith. He was a frequent visitor at Coatfield Lodging, where he sometimes stood as godfather at the baptism of the children, and a generous godfather he always proved, for James IV. was ever open-handed among his friends.

The next generation of the Logans was to see another branch of the family established in Leith, for Sir John, the sheriff, bestowed on his second son James the lands stretching from the Brigend to Leith Mills, where they nestled by the Water of Leith at the foot of a steep descent, now part of the lower end of Ballantyne Road. They were reached by what is now Mill Lane, then a country by-way, beautiful in summer with hawthorn and wild rose, along which the click-clack of the mill-wheel, as it was turned by the water of the lade, fell pleasantly on the ear.

This James Logan had evidently been endowed with all the better qualities of his race, for he became deputy sheriff to his father and was knighted by King James IV. In Leith Sir James must have been familiarly known as the Shirra. He built his mansion where St. Thomas’s Church now stands, a somewhat hilly region; and to the lands around his turreted dwelling the people of Leith gave the name of his office, and called them the Shirra Brae, the familiar designation even to-day among Leithers for the Sheriff Brae.

The fateful Battle of Flodden was to bring "dool and wae" to Restalrig, as it did to Edinburgh, for the Baron of Restalrig (another Sir John, and nephew of the Laird of Shirra Brae) and Maister Thomas Dickson, the dean of its collegiate church, were both among those who fell for the defence and love of their king:-

"In the stern strife and carnage drear
Of Flodden’s fatal field."

And strangely enough the only memorial of the Logans surviving at Restalrig today is the tombstone of this Sir John’s widow, Janet Ker, who died in 1526.

To our modern notions it seems highly inconsistent with the ministerial office to find a clergyman donning armour and sallying forth sword in hand to battle, but the Dean of Restalrig was only one of several great churchmen who fought and fell on Flodden Edge. David Strachan, the dean’s servitor and a non-combatant in the fight, returned with the doleful news, but who else from Restalrig followed them the "ill road" to the Border no tradition has come down to tell us. Masses for their souls were sung in Restalrig church.

The next laird, Sir Robert, as most of the barons of Restalrig were named, was a mere youth when his father was killed; but his great-uncle, Sir James of the Shirra Brae, proved a wise and faithful adviser, and the young laird and his widowed mother never lacked a true friend while he continued to live. After the death of his lady mother in 1526 the young laird married Elizabeth Home, the heiress of Fast Castle, on which, as " Wolf’s Crag," Sir Walter Scott has conferred an immortality of fame in his Bride of Lamrnermoor.

Fast Castle, so strongly perched on its isolated cliff overlooking the surging waters of the North Sea, and the lands that went with it, were now added to the other Logan possessions. The Homes were as fierce and turbulent a clan as any on the Border. Whether it was owing to the mingling of their wild blood with that of the Logans or not, certain it is that from this time some evil genius seemed to influence the family fortunes, and the malign fate that seemed to pursue Edgar Ravenswood, Scott’s imaginary owner of "Wolf’s Crag," is only an exaggerated picture of the evil fortune that followed the Logans after this marriage with the heiress of Fast Castle.

The barons of Restalrig began to decline in power and influence. The times were evil. Queen Elizabeth now occupied the English throne, and England was no longer the "auld enemy" she had been for so many centuries. But Scotland, freed from the fear of English invasion, now turned her arms against herself. The country was convulsed with the strife between the party of the Reformers and that of Mary of Guise, and Leith was the centre of the struggle. The next Baron of Restalrig wavered in his allegiance between the two parties, and finally joined Mary of Guise in Leith. This Sir Robert was a man neither prudent nor fortunate, John Knox tells us. Knox was harsh and uncharitable in his judgment of those opposed to him, but we know from other sources that his estimate of the character of this Sir Robert Logan was even more kindly worded than it might have been. It was he who sold the lands of South Leith to Mary of Guise in 1555. To the merchant burgesses of Edinburgh he proved a turbulent and dangerous neighbour, but he died early in life in 1501.

The last of the family to own Restalrig was the son of this Sir Robert. He joined the party of Queen Mary against the king’s men, and aided Kirkcaldy of Grange and Maitland of Lethington in holding Edinburgh Castle in her name when she was a prisoner in England. On the surrender of the Castle in 1573 he fell into the hands of the Regent Morton along with the other Castilians, as Kirkcaldy’s party was called. He escaped the fate of his leader because of his youth. if his father had little prudence this Sir Robert had none at all, for he has been described by one who knew him as "ane godles, drunkin and deboshit man." His evil courses led him into debt, and brought his family, for a time at least, to poverty and exile. To pay his debts he had to part with most of his estates. Some of these were bought by his relations, the Logans of Coatfield, a family that had risen in wealth through joining in the shipping trade of the Port while the fortunes of their chiefs, the lairds of Restalrig, were declining.

Part of Restalrig was sold to Lord Balmerino, a family to whom fortune was to prove even more unkind than to the Logans, and part, the lands of Craigentinny, to James Nisbet, an enterprising and successful Edinburgh merchant like the rest of his race. They all became men of wealth. They were well known in shipping circles on the Shore of Leith, from which their father, the "weil-beluvit Henry Nisbet," Provost of Edinburgh, had voyaged to arrange commercial treaties both with France and the Netherlands. Sir Robert Logan died in 1606. Two years later it was asserted, whether truly or falsely has never been determined, that he had been implicated in that mysterious plot, the Gowrie Conspiracy, when what still remained of his estates was confiscated and the family outlawed. At the same time Parliament declared that the Logans of Coatfield had taken no part whatever in the plots and intrigues of their chief and superior. In 1616, however, the sentence of forfeiture and outlawry against the family was reversed, and some portion of his Berwickshire estates were restored to Logan’s sons. For this reason the Restalrig Logans are now a Berwickshjre family, where they take their place among the most important and influential of the country gentry. A branch of the family from that county, the Logans of Edrom, have a large enclosed burial-place in Restalrig Churchyard to-day.

The fact that three different branches of the Logan family were connected with Leith—the Logans of Restalrig, the Logans of Coatfield, and the Logans of Shirra Brae—has led to some confusion in our local history which does not seem to have known of the reversion of the sentence of outlawry against the so-called conspirator’s family, and has hardly been aware of the existence of the Logans of Shirra Brae. Sir Robert’s grandson married an Isobel Fowler, heiress, say some, of a Ludovic Fowler of Burncastle, near Lauder, while others hold her to have been the daughter of Ludovic Fowler, portioner or small landowner in Restalrig. Lochside Cottage, the old thatched house with the picturesque penthouse over its main doorway, that still stands at Lochend, might well have been the dwelling of a portioner of Restalrig nearly three centuries ago.

As everyone knows, there is a famous maiden of Scottish song known as "Tibbie Fowler of the Glen," who was endowed with much wealth but little beauty. Her wealth, however, brought her lovers if her looks did not, and Tibbie was besieged with wooers. Now, according to Leith tradition, this much-courted lass lived in the great mansion that once stood at the head of what is now Sheriff Brae, and had for so many generations belonged to a branch of the Logans. Tradition further asserts that George, a son of the forfeited conspirator, repaired his fallen fortunes by winning the hand of the wealthy Tibbie, to the utter discomfiture of the rest of the "ane-and-forty wooin’ at her," and that with Tibbie’s tocher he built the large house from which he could view all that chanced between it and the mouth of the harbour.

Mansion of the Logans of Sheriff BraeThe great mansion-house of the Logans of Sheriff Brae, like Pilrig and other old Scots manor-houses, was decorated with the initials of the owner and his wife. These carved stones are now built into the rear of St. Thomas’s manse, but the initials inscribed on them are certainly not those of George Logan and the weel-tochered Tibbie. They are those of John Logan of Couston, in Linlithgowshire, and his wife, Mary Caire, who either rebuilt or repaired their mansion on the Sheriff Brae in 1636. Their son James was the last of the Logans to be connected with Leith. The house and grounds were eventually bought by Sir John Gladstone in 1840, and on their site he erected St. Thomas’s Church and schools as a memorial of his own and his father Thomas’s connection with Leith.

There were now three lords of the manor in Restalrig instead of one—the Lords Balmerino, Sir William Purves of Abbeyhill, the persecutor of the Covenanters, and the Nisbets of Craigentinny, of whom the first laird, James, having purchased the lands from the notorious Sir Robert, the last of Restalrig, built thereon what is now the oldest and most interesting of the Restalrig mansions that still survive, the much gabled and turreted house of Craigentinny, surrounded by old and wide spreading elms and enclosed by grim and forbidding-looking walls.

Craigentinny House

From the deserted air that always seems to haunt it, Craigentinny House has something of mystery about it to the wayfarer whom chance or curiosity brings into its neighbourhood. No Nisbet lives there today. Their only memorials now at Craigentinny are an inscribed panel in one of the rooms and the shield over what was once its main entrance, and on which had been carved their coat-of-arms. The Lords Balmerino, the Nishets, and Sir William Purves, all "sat "in South Leith Church, and adhered to the policy of the Stuart kings in Church and State, rather than to that of the Covenanters. When the Church of Scotland was made Episcopalian, in accordance with the policy of Charles II., Lord Balmerino, Sir Patrick Nisbet of Craigentinny, and Sir William Purves of Abbeyhill became its staunch supporters in South Leith. The Nisbets died out in 1764, when Craigentinny became the property of William Miller, the Quaker seed merchant of what is now Holyrood Road. It was his son and heir, William Henry Miller, who bequeathed so much money to build the beautiful mausoleum beneath which he now lies, and which forms such an arresting object in the landscape to all who pass to Portobello by car.

The Old Thatched House at Lochend

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