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Edinburgh, Leith, Kirkgate, South Leith Parish Church

Chapel (13th Century), Church (15th Century), Inhumation(S) (13th Century), War Memorial (20th Century)

Site Name Edinburgh, Leith, Kirkgate, South Leith Parish Church

Classification Chapel (13th Century), Church (15th Century), Inhumation(S) (13th Century), War Memorial (20th Century)

Alternative Name(s) St Mary's Church; War Memorial; 2nd Regt Maritime Royal Artilley War Memorial; South Leith Parishioners War Memorial

Canmore ID 51946

Site Number NT27NE 30

NGR NT 27041 76070

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
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Digital Images

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Edinburgh, City Of
  • Parish Edinburgh (Edinburgh, City Of)
  • Former Region Lothian
  • Former District City Of Edinburgh
  • Former County Midlothian

Archaeology Notes

NT27NE 30.00 27041 76070

(NT 2704 7606) Church (NAT) formerly St Mary's Chapel (NR) 13th century OS 6"map, Edinburghshire, 1st ed., (1853)

South Leith parish church was originally a chapel, dedicated to St Mary, attached to the collegiate church of Restalrig (NT27SE 103). Origally cruciform, it had been reduced to its nave by 1559. It was made into a parish church in 1609. Between 1650 and 1657, it was used as a magazine by Cromwellian troops, subsequently being restored to ecclesiastical use. The fabric was entirely renewed in 1848,but the west piers of the original crossing are still to be seen in the vestibules at the east end of the building.

RCAHMS 1951.

It was not possible to confirm the presence of the original piers at the time of field investigation.

Visited by OS (B S) 27 November 1975.

Architecture Notes

NT27NE 30.00 27041 76070

NT27NE 30.01 27044 76040 Churchyard



Robert Mylne 1674 - new steeple taken down 1936

Thomas Hamilton - reported on state of building in 1836 - repaired & restored 1848.



Copy (1822) of agreement between John Brown, Boxmaster of the Maltmen of Leith, and John Stewart, Boxmaster of the Sledders for giving possession to the Sledders of the 5 laigh seats built by the maltmen under their lofts in the Lady Kirk of Leith, with licence to bury their dead within the maltmen's aisle ...

1661 (Ratified 21 September 1699)

GD 399/78

Wright's account for work on houses and The Kirk.


GD 399/42/3

Wright's account for work in Leith Churh and house at Yardheads


GD 399/62/12

Account for painting the Carters' seats in South Leith Church.


GD 399/62/7

Account or alterations to seats in South Leith Church.


GD 399/69/10

Account for a pair of Kirk seat candlesticks


GD 399/69/11

[Printed] Letter James Reoch, Convener Committee of the Kirk Session. He includes William Burn, Architect's report on the state of the Tower of the Church and asks proprietors to consider this report before attending a meeting.

19 September 1836

GD 399/127/1

Report by William Burn, Architect [1789-1870] on the state of the Tower or Spire of South Leith Parish Church.

'The Tower on the West end is of much more recent construction and to the careless and injudicious execution ... the whole defects, not only of the Tower itself but of the main roof of the Church and East Gable, are entirely attributable ... The West end of the Church appears to be part of the original building and on this wall the West Front of the Tower has been errected; but as the other 3 sides had no similar substructure to depend upon a new foundation became necessary, while having yielded to the weight placed upon it while the West wall rested on the old structure, the Tower has evidently sunk on the East and by pressing against the timbers of the roof has also given them an inclination to the Eastward and displaced the upper part of the East Gable ...'

William Burn considers that the Tower should be taken down as far as the roof of the Church and the East Gable rebuilt to correspond to the West end.


GD 399/127/1

Letter: James Reoch to the Deacon of the Carters, Leith.

Payment for the work on the steeple is now due.

The Deacon's proportion is ?4.4.4.

10 July 1837

GD 399/127/2


Publication Account (1951)

217. St. Mary's Church, Kirkgate.

St. Mary's was originally a chapel attached to the collegiate church of Restalrig (No. 220 [NT27SE 103]). In 1609, however, the King and Parliament ‘understanding that the kirk of Restalrig Is ruynous and that the kirk of leith hes bene the place of Convening of the parochineris of Restalrig the space of fyftie yearis past As alsua that it is maist comodious pairt In respect that the toun of leith Is the greatest pairt of the said parochin’ declared ‘the said Kirk of Leith to be ane paroch Kirk . . . And that the benefice of Restalrig personage their of gleib and manse pertening their to shall be alwayes disponit to the minister serveing the cure at the said kirk of leith . . . And that the said kirk of Restalrig be suppressed and extinct frome henceforth and forevir"(1). Fifty years before this date the original cruciform building had been reduced to its nave. Between 1650 and 1657 the place was used by the Cromwellian troops as a magazine pending the completion of the Citadel, and the congregation had to petition General Monk for its restoration to ecclesiastical uses (2). The fabric was entirely renewed in 1848 and to-day is therefore virtually modern, although the W. piers of the original crossing are still to be seen in the vestibules at the E. end of the building.

To the capital of the N. pier is affixed part of a tombstone, inscribed I K M M 1674, while part of another, inscribed I B 1690, is attached to the S. pier.* The floor of these vestibules is paved with other old grave-slabs, dating from the 16th century onwards, which have been broken up for the purpose. One slab, for example, bearing across-shaft and slight traces of an indecipherable marginal inscription, forms the threshold of the W. vestibule. Another, dated 1585, can be seen similarly employed at the E. door-; its marginal inscription, again too much worn to be legible, encloses a shield which is flanked by two sets of initials, D V and [?] V, and charged: Per pale, dexter, a bend, on a chief a mascle between two crescents, probably for David Vaus who died in 1586; sinister, on a fess between three mascles, three crescents, for Wardlaw. At the W. end of the church there seem to be other stones beneath the covering of the floor. On the walls of the church are displayed carvings of the insignia of some of the trade incorporations-a hammer and crown for the Hammermen; the shears of the Tailors, accompanied by the date 1659; and the rounding-knife of the Cordiners with the date 1550. Two panels exhibiting the Royal Arms are built into the outer side of the modern W. tower. The N. one, which originally occupied a position on the front of St. James' Hospital, is arranged within the Garter, as follows: 1st and 4th grand quarters, Scotland, 2nd grand quarter, France quartering England, 3rd grand quarter, Ireland, for James VI and I. The one to the W. bears the initials C(arolus) R(ex)I and is arranged thus within the Order of the Thistle :1st and 4th, Scotland, 2nd, England, 3rd, Ireland. This panel was carved in preparation for a visit paid by Charles I in 1633 ; the Royal pew was restored at this time but it is no longer extant.

Two more heraldic achievements are built into the inside of the tower. The larger one came from the old Tolbooth of Leith, which was built in Tolbooth Wynd in 1664 and was demolished in 1819; it represents the Royal Arms of Scotland with supporters and crest, accompanied by the initials M(aria) R(egina). Below the shield appears the badge of the Order of the Thistle, and below this• again a panel bearing the motto and date IN DEFENS1565. The smaller achievement, which came from an old house at the corner of Quality Wynd,**demolished in 1878, has a panel at the top inscribed MARIA DE LORAINE/ REGINA SCOTII (sic) 1560. Below this a finely carved garland of oak-leaves encircles a shield ensigned with a crown and charged: Per pale, dexter,. the Royal Arms of Scotland, for King James V; sinister, a label of three points in chief, quarterly, 1st, harry of eight for Hungary, 2nd, semee of fleurs-de-lys, a label of three points for Naples, 3rd, a cross potent for Jerusalem, 4th,four pallets for Aragon, 5th, semee of fleurs-de-lys within a bordure for Anjou, 6th, a lion rampant contourné, crowned and langued for Gueldres,7th, a lion rampant, crowned and langued for Flanders, 8th, semee of cross-crosslets fitchy, two barbels endorsed for Bar ; on an inescutcheon en surtout : on a bend, three eaglets displayed for Lorraine, the whole representing Queen Marie de Guise-Lorraine. In the same compartment are suspended the old parish jougs, which were originally fixed to the front of the tower. Part of the carved oak cornice of a pew, inscribed 16 FOR THE CRAIGEND 56, is affixed to the N. wall of the church.*** Beside the W. entrance to the churchyard some fragments of one of the original 15th-century windows have been set up. Another window, said to have been of six lights with tracery above, which had been removed in the "restoration" and re-erected in a garden, was transferred in 1911 to St. Conan's Church, near the head of Loch Awe, and placed in the chapel that commemorates King Robert the Bruce.

[See RCAHMS 1951, 251 for a description of the silver and brass Plate].


There are no pre-Reformation stones left in the churchyard. The oldest of the surviving memorials is a small headstone with a shaped pediment containing on one side a book and on the other an hour-glass flanked by the date 1656 and the initials of A(lexander) A(bercromby), with a label below on which the admonition MEMENTO MORI can just be deciphered. The inscription on the body of the stone is quite illegible. Such stones were fashionable until the middle of the following century.

RCAHMS 1951, visited c.1941

1 Acts Parl. Scot., iv, p. 442, No. 25. 2 P.S.A.S., i (1851-4), pp. 158-68.

*The first of these is apparently a portion of the monument of James Kendal, "skipper in Leith," who died in March 1674, although an entry of 1668 in the Edinburgh Sasines gives his wife's name as Alison Gibsone. The second is undoubtedly the monument of Captain James Burnet, also " skipper in Leith," who died on February 26, 1690. In 1704 both monuments were "within the Church of South Leith " (Monteith, An Theater of Mortality, pp. 69 f.).

**This house was long known as " Mary of Guise's House," but the mansion of the Queen-Regent, which was immediately adjacent, had been removed in the early 18th century.

***Craigend was the district of Calton Hill.

Publication Account (1981)

The church of St.Mary in South Leith was built about 1438. It was formed as subordinate chapel to Restalrig which continued to be the church of the parish until 1609 (Swan, 1925, 201). Little of the original fabric survives except for the west window which is now in the church of St.Conan at Loch Awe. The church was apparently used to lodge Scots prisoners during Hertford's campaign of 1547-8 (Robertson, 1851, 26) and the choir appears to have been destroyed during the siege of 1559-60 (Grant, 1882, iii, 218).

Despite the damage sustained, St.Mary's continued as a place of worship for South Leith residents. In 1572 the General Assembly met within its walls (Hutcheson, 1856, 118). Additions to the fabric included a range of dormer windows in 1614 and another seventeenth century appendage, a stone tower surmounted in the 'Scoto-Dutch taste by a conical spire of wood and metal' (Grant, 1882, iii, 219). In 1848 the church underwent drastic restoration which included the construction of a new tower, the removal of the remaining dormer windows and the demolition of the east and west gables of the church (Hutcheson, 1856, 199).

Information from ‘Historic Edinburgh, Canongate and Leith: The Archaeological Implications of Development’ (1981).

Trial Trench (22 September 2008 - 2 October 2008)

An archaeological evaluation was undertaken on Constitution Street, Leith during September and October 2008. The aim was to establish the former extent of the South Leith Parish Church graveyard which had been cut through in the 18th century with the construction of Constitution Street and its housing.

The deposits beneath the road are likely to be made ground. The sandy deposit, into which the service trenches were cut was probably used to create a level surface for the road. The presence of disarticulated

human bone in this made ground suggests that at least some of it originated from the original graveyard and at may have been deposited when the tenements, which have basements, were constructed on the eastern side of Constitution Street. The graves were more numerous on the western side where they had been less disturbed. They were cut into a graveyard soil that was present at a depth of c 0.8m. This was found on the western side of both trenches and in the centre of Trench 2 where burials were also encountered. The graveyard soil in the centre of Trench 2 had been truncated leaving only a small area undisturbed. It occurred at a similar depth as that found to the west but the burials in this area occurred 0.3m into the graveyard soil, at a depth of 1.1m below the present road surface, suggesting that the profile in this area was more complete.

Information from Ross Murray (Headland Archaeology) December 2008. OASIS ID: headland1-51073

Excavation (15 April 2009 - 22 September 2009)

NT 27041 76070 Part of the post-medieval graveyard associated with South Leith Parish Church was excavated

15 April–22 September 2009 in advance of tram track construction in Constitution Street. The street runs adjacent to the graveyard wall and was built in 1790 to improve access to the harbour.

The excavations yielded 260 graves containing some 302 inhumations in a variety of grave types. Despite the proximity to a known graveyard, the density and preservation of the graves was unexpected, as burials

had not been thought to extend much beyond the existing graveyard wall. No finds of human remains had been

reported previously, despite evidence that many burials had been cut by modern services.

The graves, orientated NW–SE, were arranged in closely spaced rows. The majority were single, supine extended inhumations interred in wooden coffins or in earthen graves. Also present were shrouded bodies placed in simple graves, group burials in irregular pits and superimposed double burials, usually of a child and an adult. Most artefacts were iron coffin nails, with a few shroud pins. A copper buckle was found in one grave, along with textile remains of clothing.

Documentary and pottery evidence point to a date between the 16th and 17th centuries for most graves, and all predate the construction of Constitution Street in c1790. However, there is a strong possibility that earlier

medieval burials are present, possibly associated with the 15th-century hospital and chapel that stood on and close to the present church. Radiocarbon dating and further stratigraphic analysis may give us a more accurate picture of their chronology.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended). Reports: CECAS and RCAHMS

Funder: TIE

Sorina Spanou – Headland Archaeology Ltd

Project (February 2014 - July 2014)

A data upgrade project to record war memorials.


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