Edinburgh Bookshelf

Old and New Edinburgh Vol. VI


it, sixty feet wide, bordering the Albert and other docks, and, in addition to the edifices specially mentioned, contains the offices of the Leith Chamber of Commerce, instituted in 1840, and incorporated in 1852, having a chairman, deputy-chairman, six directors, and other officials ; the sheriff-clerk's office; that of the Leith Burghs PiZoi, and the offices of many steamship companies. At the north-east angle of Tower Street stands the lofty circular signal-tower (which appears in THE EXCHANGE BUILDINGS. son has a view of the door and staircase window of No, 10, which bears the date 1678, with the initials R.M. within a chaplet. In No. 28 is the well-known Old Ship Hotel, above the massive entrance of which is carved, in bold relief, an ancient ship ; and No. 20 is the equally well-known New Ship Tavern, or hotel, the lower flat of which is shown, precisely as we find it now, in the Rotterdam view of I 700, with its heavily moulded doorway, above which can be traced, several of our engravings), so long a leading feature in all the seaward views of Leith, and the base of which, so lately as 1830, was washed by the waves at the back of the old pier. It was originally a windmill for making rape-oil, as described by Maitland, and it is distinctly delineated in a view (seep. 173) of Leith Harbour about 1700, now in the Trinity House, to which it was brought by one of the incorporation, who discovered it at Rotterdam in 1716. Part of the King's Wark is also shown in it. What is called the Shore, or quay, extends from the tower southward to the foot of the Tolbooth Wynd, and is edificed by many quaint old buildings, with gables, dormers, and crowsteps. Robertthrough many obliterations of time and paint, a Latin motto from Psalm cxxvi, most ingeniously adapted, by the alteration of a word, to the calling of the house-"Ne dormitet custos tuus. Ecce non dormitat neque dormit custos domus" (Israelis in the original), which is thus translated-"He that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth the house (Israel) shall neither slumber nor sleep." The taverns of Leith have always.held a high repute for their good cheer, and were always the resort of Edinburgh lawyers on Saturdays. The host of the '' Old Ship I' is very prominently mentioned by Robert Fergusson in his poem, entitled '' Good Eating."
Volume 6 Page 245
  Enlarge Enlarge  
946 OLD AND NEW EDINBURGH. [Leith The Old and New Ship are good examples of what these old taverns were, as they still exhibit without change, their great staircases and walls of enormous thickness, large but cosy rooms, panelled with moulded wainscot, and quaint stone fire-places, that, could they speak, might tell many a tale of perils in the Baltic and on the shores of Holland, France, and Denmark, and of the days when Leith ships often sailed to Tangiers, and of many a deep carouse, when nearly all foreign wines came almost without duty to the port of Leith. In 1700 the price of 400 oysters at Leith was only 6s. 8d. Scots, as appears from the Abbey House-bookof the Dukeof Queensberry, when High Commissioner at Holyrood, quoted in the ? Scottish Register,? Vol. I. ; and chocolate seems to have been then known in Scotland, but, as it is only mentioned once or twice, it must have been extremely rare; while tea or coffee are not mentioned at all, and what was used by the opulent Scots of that period would appear from the morning meal provided on different days, thus :- ?One syde of lamb, and two salmon grilses ; One quarter of mutton, and two salmon grilses ; One syde of lamb, four pidgeons ; One quarter mutton, five chickens ; One quarter mutton, two rabbits.? The modem markets of Leith occupied the sites of the old custom-house and excise office near the new gaol in the Tolbooth Wynd, were commodious and creditable in appearance, covered a space 140 feet by 120, and had their areas surrounded with neatly constructed stalls. They were long, but vainly, demanded by the inhabitants from the jealous Corporation 6f Edinburgh, who had full power to promote or forbid their erection. In 1818 they were eventually reared by the impelling influence of a voluntary subscription, and by means of a compromise which subjected them ?to feu duties to Edinburgh of A219 yearly; but ?they do not now exist, having beeh partly built I., The?Coal Hill adjoins the Shore on the south, and ? here it is that, in a squalid and degraded quarter, ?but immediately facing the river, we find one of .the most remarkable features in Leith-a building . to which allusion has not unfrequehtly been made in our historical survey of Leith-the old Council Chamber wherein the Earls of Lennox, Mar, and Morton, plotted, in succession, their treasons against the Crown. Five storeys in height, and all built of polished ashlar, with two handsome string mouldings, it presents on its western front two gables, and a double over by other erections. window projected on three large corbels j on the north it has dormer windows, only one of which retains its half-circular gablet j and a massive outside chimney-stack. This is believed to have been the building which Maitland describes as having been erected by Mary of Lorraine as the meeting-place of her privy council. It is a spacious and stately fabric, presenting still numerous evidences of ancient magnificence in its internal decorations ; and only a few pears ago some very fine samples of old oak carving were removed from it, and even a beautifully decorated chair remained, till recently, an heir-loom, bequeathed by its patrician occupants to the humble tenants of the degraded mansion. Campbell, in his ? History of Leith,? says that it ? still (in 1827) exhibits many traces of splendours nothing short of regal.. Amongst these are some old oaken chairs, on which are carved, though clumsily, crowns, sceptres, and other royal insignia. The whole building, in short, both from its superior external appearance and the elegance of its interior decorations, is altogether remarkable. Every apartment is carefully, and, according to the taste of the times, elaborately adorned with ornamental workmanship of various kinds on the ceiling, walls, cornices, and above the fire-places. In one chamber, the ceiling, which is of a pentagonal form, and composed of wood, is covered with the representation of birds, beasts, fishes, &c These, however, are now so much obscured by smoke and dirt as to be traced with difficulty. . . . . Not the least remarkable part of this structure is the unusually broad and commodious flight of stairs by which its different flafs are entered from the street, and which, differing in this respect so much from most other houses, sufficiently establishes the fact of its having been once a mansion of no ordinary character.? Of all the decoration which Campbell refers to but slender traces now remain. A writer on Leith and its antiquities has striven to make-this place a residence of Mary, the Queen Regent ; but Wilson expresses himself as baffled in all his attempts to obtain any proof that it ever wag so. ?? Mary,? says Maitland, ?( having begun to build in the town of Leith, was followed therein by divers of the nobility, bishops, and other persons of distinction of her party, several of whose houses are still remaining, as may be seen in sundry places by their spacious rooms, lofty ceilings, large staircases, and private oratories, or chapels for the celebration of mass.? But the occupation of Leith by these dignitaries was of a very temporary and strictly military nature. In 1571, when head-quarters were established in
Volume 6 Page 246
  Enlarge Enlarge