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Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time


CHAPTER IX. THE WEST BOW AND SUBURBS. N the centre of the ancient city there I stood, till a few years since, a strange, crooked, steep, and altogether singular and picturesque avenue from the High Street to the low valley on the south, in which the more ancient extensions of the once circumscribed Scottish capital are reared. Scarcely anything can be conceived more curious and whimsically grotesque than its array of irregular stone gables and timber galleries, that seemed as if jostling one another for room along the steep and narrow thoroughfare ; while the busy throng were toiling up or hurrying down its precipitous pathways, amid the ceaseless din of braziers’ and tinsmiths’ hammers, for which it was famed, and the rumbling of wheels, accompanied with the vociferous shouts of a host of noisy assistants, as some heavy-laden wain creeked and groaned up the steep. The modern visitor who now sees the Bowhead, an open area nearly on a level with the Castle drawbridge, and then by gradual and easy descent of long flights of stairs, and the more gentle modern slope of Victoria Street, at length reaches The Bowfoot Well in the Grassmarket, will hardly be persuaded that between these two widely different elevations there extended only a few years since a thoroughfare crowded with antique tenements, quaint inscriptions, and E t i l l more strange and interesting associations ; unmatched in its historic and traditionary memories by any other spot of the curious old capital, whose memories we seek to revive. Here were the Templar Lands, with their antique gables, surmounted by the croBs that marked them as beyond the reach of civic corporation laws, and with their old- . ~IC+Nrrr+?tfajor Weir’s HOUS~.
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3 34 MEMORIALS OF EDINBURGH. world associations with the knights of St John. Here was the strange old timber-fronted tenement, where rank and beauty held their assemblies in the olden time. Here was the Provost’s lodging where Prince Charles and his elated counsellors were entertained in 1745, and adjoining it there remained till the last a moment0 of his royal ancestor, James 11.’~m assive wall, and of the old Port or Bow whereat the magistrates were wont to present the silver keys, with many a grave and costly ceremonial, to each monarch who entered his Scottish capital in state. Down this steep the confessors of the Covenant were hurried to execution. Here, too, was the old-fashioned fore stair over which the amazed and stuppified youth, who long after sat on the bench under the title of Lord Monboddo, gazed in dreamy horror as the wretched Porteous was dragged to the scene of his crime, on the night of the 7th September 1736, and near by stood the booth at which the rioters paused, and with ostentatious deliberation purchased the rope wherewith he was hung at its foot. Nor must we forget, among its most durable memorabilia, the wizards and ghosts who claimed possessions in its mysterious alleys, maintaining their rights in defiance of t6e march of intellect, and only violently ejected at last when their habitations were tumbled about their ears. This curious zig-zag steep was undoubtedly one of the most ancient streets in the Old Town, and probably existed as a roadway to the Castle, while Edwin’s burgh was comprised in a few mud and straw huts scattered along the higher slope. Enough still remains of it to show how singularly picturesque and varied were the tenements with which it once abounded. At the corner of the Lawnmarket is an antique fabric, reared ere Newton’s law of gravitation wa,s dreamt of, and seeming rather like one of the mansions of Laputa, whose builders had discovered the art of constructing houses from the chimneytops downward! A range of slim wooden posts sustains a pile that at every successive story shoots further into the street until it bears some resemblance to an inverted pyramid. The gables and eaves of its north front, which appear in the engraving of the Weigh-house, are richly carved, and the whole forms a remarknhly striking specimen, the finest that now rhmains, of an ancient tim6er-land. Next come8 a stone-land, with a handsome polished ashlar front and gabled attics of the time of Charles I, Irregular string courses decorate the walls, and a shield on the lowest crowwstep bears the initials of its first proprietors, I. O., I. B., with a curious merchant’s mark between. A little lower down, in one of the numerous supplementary recesses that added to the contortions of this strangely-crooked thoroughfare? a handsomely sculptured doorway meets the view, now greatly dilapidated and time-worn. Though receding from the adjoining building, it forms part of a stone turnpike that projects considerably beyond the tenement to which it belongs : so numerous were once the crooks of the Bow, where every tenement seemed to take up its own independent standing with perfect indifference to the position of its neighbours. On a curiouslr-formed dormer window which surmounts the staircase, the city motto appears to have been cut, but only the first. word now remains legible. Over the doorway below, a large shield in the centre of the lintel bears the Williamson arms, now greatly defaced with this inscription, and date on either side, SOLID. EO. HONO.R E T. GLOBIA, D . W . 1 . 6 . 0. 4 . The initials are those of David Williamson, a wealthy burgese in the time of James VI. But the old stair once possessed-or was believed to possess-strange pro- It is, nevertheless, a fine example of an old burgher dwelling.
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