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The Story of Leith

No subject of study ought to be of more interest to natives of Leith, young and old, than the history of their own town and its immediately surrounding district, which in medaeval times formed part of the extensive possessions of the Laird of Restalrig and the Abbot and Canons of Holyrood.

This book, written at the request of the Leith Education Authority as a Reader for the senior classes in their schools, endeavours to tell the story of Leith in such a way as to place it in its proper historic setting, and to show the great part the Port has played in our national history. At the same time it traces the progress and development of the town from its beginnings in the little cluster of huts by the water-side to the great centre of commerce and industry it has become to-day.

So varied and eventful has been the history of Leith that the utmost difficulty has been found in compressing its story within the limits of a single volume. Much has had to be omitted. For instance, the association of the ill-fated James I. with the town has been suggested rather than told, yet none of the Stuarts, save James IV., was more familiarly known in Leith, or did more to encourage its shipbuilding and commerce. Little, too, has been said of the gallant exploits of the Leith sailormen in the long-drawn-out struggle with France after the Union of 1707, and hardly any mention has been made of such old-world legends as the "Twelve O’Clock Coach "—a survival among us, perhaps, of the ancient superstition, so familiar to folklorists, of the death-coach that travels along the road in the silence of night and halts ever and again to pick up the souls of the dying. The legend of the giant who is said to have found a grave beneath the Giant’s Brae is a modern tale, and has no foundation in local history.

It is hardly possible for one to be equally familiar with every side of Leith’s history. I have, therefore, availed myself of the extensive and intimate knowledge of the shipping of the Port possessed by Mr. Malcolm M’Donald, and have to thank him for writing the latter part of Chapter XXX. and the whole of Chapter XXXI. To Mr. Alexander Mackay, B.A., Leith Academy, I am under a very deep debt of obligation for valuable help and suggestion at every stage of the book’s progress. I have, on occasion, incorporated paragraphs from articles on Leith and Newhaven contributed by myself to the Edinburgh Evening News.

I wish to acknowledge the help of all those who have supplied me with photographs. Exigencies of space have precluded the specific mention of the source of each illustration. The larger number of these are reproduced from photographs by Mr. J. R. Coltart, Dalmeny Street, Leith, who not only placed his collection of views of Leith at my service, but most generously supplied me with photographs of most of the buildings and monuments of historic interest in the town. To Mr. Coltart, and to all others who have contributed to the illustrations, I would express my grateful thanks.

J. R.

LEITH, 1922.

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