Leith Local History Society

South Leith Parish Church

North Leith Parish Church
South Leith Parish Church
Photo: D King; Date: 25/06/2012

Some little known information on South Leith Parish Church and its place in the history of Leith in the 17th century.

Elders had more responsibility than they have today. In his district an Elder had to see that the streets were clear of pedestrians by 10pm; act as policeman; receive complaints; investigate scandals; patrol markets; restrain the violent and quarrelsome; attend Session meetings weekly and when otherwise necessary (attendance strictly required) and serve for one year.

In 1645 the Bubonic Plague broke out in Leith. The Kirk Session Minutes, recorded by David Aldinstone the Session Clerk, give almost a day-by-day account of the suffering. On 19th May the plague was confirmed and several families were confined to their houses. The Session provided food. David Aldinstone was confined to his house for a month as he had been a contact . Elders met several times a week as they acted as Town Council and were responsible for ‘ludges’ or booths (wooden huts) being erected on the east Links near Seafield for plague victims. Victims houses were shut up with people inside and a white cloth hung from the window. Elders reported to the Bailie which houses had been newly infected and the occupants were then removed to the ‘ludges’ on the Links. All bedding was burned, clothes were boiled in cauldrons on the Links and the houses fumigated by burning heather in them. The Kirk Session formed a committee to interview cleaners, agree payment and supervise the work.

Money was needed for this and Elders and Deacons made door to door collections. Any money found in closed houses was also used. Trade Incorporations and the Kirk Session were directed to use the contents of their Poor Boxes to make payments to the cleaners, grave diggers, carpenters and sledders. All whin on the Links was stripped and used to fumigate houses and David Aldinstone had to go as far as Kilsyth to find further supplies. He also co-ordinated all the work and kept a record of it which we can still read today.

Note: Three quarters of the population (2736 people) were dead. The elders were now faced with the problem of sorting out the finances incurred including payment of debts to families and carpenters. The conclusion was reached on 8 October 1647 when a silver basin was presented to the Church in recognition of its efforts.

The inscription reads: ‘Gifted to the South Kirk of Leith by James Rucheid, James Elles and David Vilkie, Bailies 1647’.

This basin is still used to-day at the baptism of children – more than 300 years later.