Leith pupils hold memorial for plague victims found below playground

PUPILS at a Leith school have held a memorial service to pay tribute to dozens of plague victims whose remains were discovered below their playground.

Service of Reinternment of the remains of victims of the 1645 plague of Leith, at Rosebank Cemetery , Wullie Marr Photography

Youngsters from St Mary’s Primary School joined members of the city council for the memorial service for approximately 80 individuals who died in the 17th century - with their remains reburied.

The skeletons, dating back almost 400 years, were discovered during an excavation of the school’s playground in April 2016 and identified by archaeologists.

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They were victims of a devastating outbreak of the bubonic plague in the Leith in 1645, which killed more than 2000 people - halving the area’s population at the time.

The funeral was held in Rosebank Cemetery - approximately one mile from the site in which they were found. The cemetery is one of the Capital’s oldest burial sites and features a mass grave and tribute to the victims of the Gretna Rail Disaster of 1915 when 215 soldiers of the 1st/7th Battalion of The Royal Scots were killed.

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Funeral to honour plague victims discovered below Leith school

The memorial stone for the plague victims reads: “In memory of the victims of the 1645 bubonic plague found in St Mary’s (Leith) Roman Catholic Primary School Leith Links. Reburied here in 2018.”

Mary Bainbridge, deputy head teacher of St Mary’s RC Leith, said: “This has been a wonderful experience for all of the pupils at St Mary’s Leith.

“When the discovery was made, the children were very excited to learn about this encounter with the past and older classes especially were interested to hear about the outbreak of the plague.

“Pupils had the chance to go on site and speak with the archaeologists, and now, they have been able to say their goodbyes.

“I think they are proud to have been able to contribute in this special way, from selecting and singing hymns to laying flowers. It has been a fantastic learning opportunity for our pupils in lots of different ways and it means the victims will never be forgotten.”

John Lawson, City of Edinburgh Council archaeologist, said: “Leith and the surrounding area has a rich archaeological history and the school excavation has been a fascinating project for everyone involved.

“Analysis of the remains has helped us to understand life in Leith at this time and shed light on the devastating bubonic plague which wiped out over half of the Port’s population.

“These discoveries have helped us establish where this plague cemetery in Leith Links was - as until now its location had been lost, with only 19th century accounts hinting at its location in this area.”

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