Robert Douglas of Leith


Extract from the History of Leith...

There was a "sugarie" or sugar-house in the Old Sugar-house or Candle Close in Tolbooth Wynd, and two soap-works were now at work in the town. Evidently the good folk of Leith and Edinburgh were making a beginning at washing every day. The old one in Riddle’s Close, under the new management of the Balfour family, now of Pilrig, was in a very flourishing condition, while a new one in the grounds of Coatfield’s Lodging did much to contribute to setting up the trade with Archangel.

Its proprietor, Robert Douglas, was a man of much commercial activity and enterprise, and a great promoter of industries in Leith, where he had also established a pottery. The last member of this family to be associated with the Port was Miss Anne Douglas, who died in Trinity in 1910.

(see also Douglas and the sugar industry


After the Restoration towards the end of the seventeenth century the idea of producing a finer quality of pottery than hitherto produced occurred to Robert Douglas of Leith. In old Records of 1695 his name appears applying for permission to erect a kiln and the necessary workshops in Leith. I Te tells 'is that the expenses of doing so were far beyond his resources, and he was unable to complete the construction of the factory, and that some of his troubles were owing to the course of trade for the last five years, he could get none to join him in such a public and expensive work." 


But Scotland, and more especially the Leith and Edinburgh part of it, had become a manufacturing centre, and markets for the disposal of her manufactured goods were urgently needed. Having spent what capital she could gather together in establishing manufactures, she now gave what money she had left to found the Darien Company to settle a colony in Darien, which was to be a great colonial market for the disposal of Scottish manufactures. The maximum amount of stock one could hold in the Darien Company was £3,000, the sum subscribed by the Corporation of Edinburgh, but none of the sixteen Leith shareholders on the list approached this amount. The highest was the share of James Balfour, the ancestor of the Pilrig family and a partner in the soap-works in Riddle’s Close and the powder-mills at Powderhall, who subscribed £2,000, while Robert Douglas, his rival in the soap trade, with more Scots caution, put his name down for the modest sum of £100. The Trinity House "adventured" £200, as also did Mr. William Wishart, the minister of South Leith.


Charles II. died in 1685. For a time after the succession of James II. the persecution was continued with the utmost cruelty. Then, in 1687, in order to defeat the penal laws against Roman Catholics, he issued his three letters of Indulgence, allowing freedom of worship to all save those who persisted in attending field conventicles. The outed ministers were now allowed to preach in meeting-houses. In accordance with this "Liberty," as the Leithers were accustomed to call the Declaration of Indulgence men like Thomas Stark of Leith Mills and Robert Douglas of Coatfield (the most enterprising among the Leith merchants of his time), who were still firm in theft loyalty to the Covenant in North and South Leith, formed themselves into a congregation and set up a meeting-house at the Sheriff Brae, where service was conducted by the aged Mr. Wishart, the outed minister of Kinneil, until a clergyman should be appointed.


??? Is this one of these the 'Robert Douglas of Leith' mentioned elsewhere???
??? is this the 'Miss Douglas of Leith' who married John Reid of Gogar Bank???


1748: Petition by Thomas Gardner, merchant in Edinburgh, and Robert Douglas, merchant in Leith, for the arrest of Hugh Douglas, son of said Robert, who was contracted to sail on his ship the James of Dundee, for a voyage from Leith to Virginia, but had subsequently enlisted as a soldier by Lieutenant John Adair of Marjorybank's Regiment in the service of the States General of Holland and was then aboard a transport in Leith Roads.


1683. December 18. —Robert Douglas in Leith, having obtained a decreet
of removing against Patrick Johnston, he suspended, alleging he had obeyed,
in so far as he had removed within twenty days after Whitsunday last. An
swered, Though that latitude may be received in houses, yet this being a brew
Sect. ix. REMOVING. 13893
house, it cannot excuse him; because by the constant custom of Edinburgh 1^3,
and Leith, persons remove from them the very next day after the term ; and
there is this good reason for it, because such houses, breweries, ovens, &c. have
a daily and weekly profit resulting and arising from the use of them, which is
not in other habitations, (what if they set out chambers ?) and whereof he to
whom they are set is deprived, and therefore this damage should be repaired.
M The Lords, on Forret's report, found him liable for the mail till Whitsunday
next, in regard he did not remove immediately after the term, but kept it
twenty days.


Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine et al
John Wilson Gillon married Jean Gibb Douglas on 29 Jun 1819 in Leith North, Leith. (Jean Gibb DOUGLAS was born on 4 Jun 1797 in Leith, Midlothian, christened on 18 Jun 1797 in Leith North, Leith and died on 21 Oct 1886 in Greenpark, Linlithgow, Scotland .) She was the daughter of Robert Douglas of Leith.


Rev. James Douglas, son of Robert Douglas, soapboiler, was minister in Stow.  His wife, Jean Allan presented two silver communion cups to the parish in 1736.  James died in March 1732.


See also:

  • William Douglas of Leith
  • Errors and Omissions

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