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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. I


Parliament Close. CHAPTER XIX. THE PARLIAMENT CLOSE. Probable Extinction of the Court of Session-Memorabilia of the Parliament Close and SquartGoldsmiths of the Olden Time-George Henot- His Workshq-His Interview with James VI.-Peter Williamson?s Tavern-Royal Exchange-Statue of Charles 11.-Bank of Scotland- The Fire of 17oo-The Work of Restoration-John Row?s Coffee-house-John?s Coffee-house-Sylvester Otway-Sir W. Forber?s Bank- Si Walter Scott?s Eulogy on Si W i U i Forks-John Kay?s Print-shop-The Parliment Stairs- James Sibbald-A Libel CascFire in June, 1824-Dr. Archibald Pitcairn-The ? Greping Ofice?-Painting of King Charles?s Statue White-Seal of Amauld Larnmius. A CHANGE has come over the scene of their labours and the system of. the law which these d d lords could never have conceived possiblewe mean the system that is gradually extending in Scotland, of decentralising the legal business of the country-a system which stands out in strong con- ,trast to the mode of judicial centralisation now prevailing in England. The Scottish county courts have a jurisdiction almost co-extensive with that of the Supreme Court, while those of England have a jurisdiction (without consent of parties) to questions only of value. This gives them an overwhelming amount of business, while the supreme courts of Scotland are starved by the ipferior competing with them in every kind of litigation. Thus the Court of Session is gradually dwindling away, by the active competition of the provincial courts, and the legal school becomes every day more defective for lack of legal practice. The ultimate purpose, or end, of this system will, undoubtedly, lead to the disappearance of the Court of Session, or its amalgamation with the supreme courts in London will become an object of easy accomplishment ; and then the school from whence the Scottish advocates and judges come, being non-existent, the assimilation of the Scottish county courts to those of England, and the sweep -ing away of the whole legal business of the country to London, must eventually follow, with, perhaps, the entire subjection of Scotland to the English courts of law. A description of the Parliament Close is given in the second volume of ?? Peter?s Letters to his Kinsfolk,? before the great fire of 1824 :- ?The courts of justice with which all these eminent men are so closely connected are placed in and about the same range of buildings which in former times were set apart for the accommodation of the Parliament of Scotland. The main approach to these buildings lies through a small .oblong square, which from this circumstance takes the name of fhcParlianient Close. On two sides this close is surrounded by houses of the same gigantic kind of elevation, and in these, of old, were lodged a great proportion of the dignitaries and principal practitioners of the adjacent Courts. At present, however (181g), they are dedicated, like most of the houses in the same quarter of the city, to the accommodation of tradespeople and inferior persons attached to the courts of law. . . . . The southern side of the square and a small portion of the eastern are filled with venerable Gothic buildings, which for many generations have been dedicated to the accommodation of the courts of law, but which are now shut out from the eye of the public by a very ill-conceived and tasteless front-work, of modern device, including a sufficient allowance of staring square windows, Ionic pillars, and pilasters. What beauty the front of the structure may have possessed in its original state I have no means of ascertaining ; but Mr. Wastle (J. G. Lockhart) sighs every time we pass through the close, as pathetically as could be wished, ?over the glory that hath departed.? The old Parliament House, the front of which has been destroyed and concealed by the arcaded and pillared facade referred to, we have already described. The old Goldsmiths? Hall, on the west side, formed no inconsiderable feature in the close, where, about 1673, the first coffee-house established in the city was opened. The Edinburgh goldsmiths of the olden time were deemed a superior class of tradesmen, and were wont to appear in public with cocked hats, scarlet cloaks, and gold-mounted canes, as men of undoubted consideration. The father of John Law of Lauriston, the famous financial projector, was the son of a goldsmith in Edinburgh, where he was born in April, 1671 ; but by far the most famous of all the craft in the old Parliament Close was George Heriot. Down to the year 1780, says a historian, perhaps there was not a goldsmith in Edinburgh who did not condescend to manual labour. In their shops every one of them might have been found busy with some light work, and generally in a very plain dress, yet ever ready to serve a customer, politely and readily. The whole plate shops of the city being collected in or near the Parliament Close, thither it was that, till the close of the eighteenth century, country couples resorted-the bride to get her bed and table napery and trousseau ; there, too, were got the nuptial ring, and ?? the silver spoons,? and, as the goldsmiths of the city then kept scarcely
Volume 1 Page 174
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