In a new series, we investigate the city’s past city through the history of a ‘house’ (or property).
The spotlight falls first on the King’s Wark, a well-known watering hole that sits in a prominent position on Leith’s picturesque Shore. But what is the history of the site? And where does the name come from?
Work started on the King’s Wark (or fortification) building in 1434 and was to be a residence, store-house and armoury for James I.
In 1477, James III granted an annuity of 12 Scottish merks from it to support a chaplain in the Collegiate Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Restalrig.
During the English Invasions of 1544 and 1547 the building was practically destroyed. It was rebuilt by Queen Mary of Scotland in 1564 and leased to John Chisholm, the comptroller of the Royal Artillery recognising that the building held a strategic position on the approach to Leith.
From 1575 the building even served as a plague hospital for some years.
Around 1613, James VI (and 1st of Britain) granted possession to one of his royal household, Bernard Lindsay, the King’s Wark and the neighbouring land and buildings. He was instructed to keep four taverns on the site and granted the taxes from the wine sold to pay for a merchants’ exchange within the complex. Lindsay’s name lives on in the adjacent Bernard Street.
In 1649, the King’s Wark was taken into the possession of the Magistrates of Edinburgh and converted into a weigh-house. In 1690, the building was destroyed by fire and subsequently replaced by another using the same name.
Between 1799 and 1822 the building was occupied by Ramsay Williamson & Co, merchants for continental suppliers.
Rutherford & Co, a wholesale and retail wine and spirit merchants owned and occupied the building from around 1855. Rutherfords owned many other licenced premises in Edinburgh. They can be traced at the King’s Wark for almost a century, first in the Valuation Rolls from 1855 to 1900 and then in the Post Office Directories from 1911 to 1950.
For a time, two doors along, at no. 40, was R&D Slimon, an Ironmongers and Ships Chandlers, illustrating the area’s maritime heritage.
The Post Office Directory of 1959 shows that the King’s Wark had been taken over by E Cranston, another Wine and Spirit Merchant, who also had other premises in the City.
Have you ever thought about investigating the history of your home? Edinburgh Libraries has many online resources and physical collections to help you!
Get in touch via email@example.com if you want to find out how to get started.
Read other articles in this ‘History of the House’ series:
History of the house: Bowhead house
History of the house: Nicolson Square and Marshall Street
History of the house: White Horse Close
History of the house: 94 and 96 Grassmarket
History of the house: Stockbridge Colonies
History of the house: Milne’s Court
History of the house: Melbourne Place
History of the house: Falcon Hall
History of the house: North British Hotel
History of the house: Cammo House
History of the house: Newhailes
History of the house: Gladstone’s Land
History of the house: 4 Balcarres Street
Love this new series and I’m really looking forward to learning more about Edinburgh’s past through the history of its buildings!
Thanks Jan! We’ve another one coming up next month.
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This is great timing for me, and a lovely photo at the start, because I am interested in the buildings on the opposite corner, extending down to 56 Bernard Street, which I think were built by Donald Robert MacGregor, for a while in the 1870s the MP for Leith and local shipping merchant. I’ve got about as far as I can get, and have reached the speculation point, so maybe next month I’ll try to visit and confirm a few things / add a few things before I finalise my draft about him. Interesting guy (no spoilers!)
I was born 1950 at 48 the shore above the seamans shop the above picture conjured up so many memories of my youth thank you ever so much. And still very proud to be from Leith B. N. Forsyth
Thanks for getting in touch and sharing your memories.
You might enjoy looking at Capital Collections where there are many more pictures of old Leith: https://www.capitalcollections.org.uk/