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Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time


1 90 MEMORIALS OF EDINBURGH. Previous to the extension or rebuilding of the west portion of the Tolbooth, it had furnished accommodation for the wealthiest traders of the city, and there also some of the most imposing displays took place on Charles I. visiting his northern capital in 1633. ‘‘ Upon the west wall of the Tolbooth,” says an old writer,l r‘ where the Goldsmiths’ shops do stand, there stood ane vast pageant, arched above, on ane large mab the pourtraits of a hundred and nine kings of Scotland. In the cavity of the arch, Mercury was represented bringing up Fergus the first King of Scotland in ane convenient habit, who delivered to his Majesty a very grave speech, containing many precious advices to his royal successor; ” a representation, not altogether in caricature, of the drama often enacted on the same spot, at a later period, when Jock Heigh,-the Edinburgh Jack Ketch for above forty years,-played the part of Mercury, bringing up one in ane convenient habit, to hear a very grave speech, preparatory to treatment not unlike that which the unfortunate monarch received, in addition to the precious advices bestowed on him in 1633. The goldsmiths’ ’ shops were latterly removed into the Parliament Close ; but George Heriot’s booth existed at the west end of St Giles’s Church till the year 1809, when Beth’s Wynd and the adjoining buildings were demolished, as already described. A narrow passage led between the church and an ancient three-storied tenement adjoining the New Tolbooth, or Laigh Council House, as it was latterly called, and the centre one of the three booths into which it waa divided, measuring about seven feet square, was pointed out by tradition as the workshop of the founder of Heriot’s Hospital, where both King James and his Queen paid frequent visits to the royal goldsmith. On the demolition of this ancient fabric, the tradition was completely confirmed by the discovery of George Heriot’s name boldly carved on the stone lintel of the door. The forge and bellows, as well as a stone crucible and lid, supposed to have belonged to its celebrated possessor, were discovered in clearing away the ruins of the old building, and are now carefully preserved in the Hospital Museum. The associations connected with the ancient building we have described, are almost entirely those relating to the occupants whom it held in durance in its latter capacity as a prison. The eastern portion, indeed, had in all probability been the scene of stormy debates in the earlier Scottish Parliaments, and of deeds even ruder than the words of the turbulent barons. There also the College of Justice, founded by Jamea V. in 1532, held its first sederunt ; the earliest statutes of the Court requiring that all the lordis sall entre in the Tolbuth and counsal-houss at viij howris in the mornyng, dayly, and sall sit quhill xi howris be strikin.” All these, however, had ceased to be thought of for centuries previous to the demolition of the tall and gloomy prison ; though even in its degradation it was connected with historical characters of no mean note, having been the final place of captivity of the Marquises of Montrose and Argyll,’ and others of the later victims of factious rivalry, who fell a sacrifke to the triumph of their opponents. The main floor of the more ancient building, in its latter days, formed the common hall for all prisoners, except those in irons, or incarcerated in the condemned cells. It had an old oak pulpit of curious construction for the use of any one who took upon him the duties of prison chaplain, and which tradition,-as usual with most old Scottish pulpits,-affirmed to have been . Pidc Canipbell’a Journey, vol. ii. p. 122. Biooll’s Diary, p. 334.
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L UCKENBOOTHS AND PARLIAMENT CLOSE. 191 . occupied by John Rnox. Here also there was inscribed on a board, the rhymee preserved by Scott in the “Heart of Midlothian,” which have been traced to an English poet of the seventeenth century :- A prison is a house of care, A place where none can thrive, A touchstone true to try a friend, A grave for men alive. Sometimes a place of right, Sometimes a place of wrong, Sometimes a place for jades and thieves, And honest men among. The room immediately above the common hall may be presumed to have been “ the upper chamber of the Tolbooth,” in which James V. held his first council, after escaping, in 1528, from his durance at Falkland Palace in the hands of the Douglas faction; its latter use was as a dungeon for the worst felons, whose better security was insured by an iron bar placed along the floor. Here also the condemned criminal generally spent the last wretched hours of life, often chained to the same iron bar, and surrounded with the reckless and depraved, whose presence forbade a serious thought. It was indeed among the worst features of this miserable abode of crime, that its dimensions entirely precluded all classification. It had no open ‘area attached to it, to which the prisoner might escape for fresh air, or even a glimpse of the light of day, and no solitary cell whither he might withdraw to indulge in the luxury of solitude and quiet reflection. Dante’s memorable inscription for the gates of hell might have found no inappropriate place over its gloomy portal :- All hope abandon, ye who enter here ! We must refer the reader to Chambers’s “ Traditions,” for much that is curious and amusing among the legends of the Tolbooth, gathered from the tales of its old inmates, or the recollections of aged citizens. One of its most distinguishing traits, which it might be supposed to retain as an heirloom of its former more dignified duties, was &.total suspension of its retentive capabilities whenever any prisoner of rank was committed to the custody of its walls.’ A golden key, doubtless, was sometimes effectual in unlocking its ponderous bars ; but when this was provided against, other means were discovered for eliciting the convenient facility of ‘(knowing those who ought to be respected on account of their rank.” It is no less worthy of note, that occasions occurred in which the Tolbooth proved the only effectual road to freedom for some of the most notorious offenders, when seeking to elude the emissaries of justice. An old lady, to whose retentive memory we owe some interesting recollections of former times,-when, as she was wont to say, she used to gather gowans on the banks of the Nor’ Loch, and take a day’s ramble in Bearford’s Parks;-related the following as a tradition she had heard in early youth :-When Mitchell, the fanatic preacher, who Chambers’s Caledonia, vol. ii. p, 614. * (‘ The Viscount of Frendracht (of the surname of Creightonn), his brother being priesoner in the Tolbuith of Edinburgh for murther, and once pannelt befoir the Criminall Judge, eacapit, being clothed in ane womanes apperell, upone the ellevint day of Junij [1664], being Settirday, about sex houris at evio, in fair day licht.”-Nicoll’s Diary, p. 414. ’ The site of George Street, and the adjoining parts of the New Town.
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