Edinburgh Bookshelf

Old and New Edinburgh Vol. I


and burned, and ?? that ilk mail in Edinburgh have his lumes (vents) full of watter in the nycht, under pain of deid !? (I? Qiurnal.?) This gives us a graphic idea of the city in the sixteenth century, and of the High Street in particular, ?with the majority of the buildings on either side covered with thatch, encumbered by piles of heather and other fuel accumulated before each door for the use of the inhabitants, and from amid these, we may add the stately ecclesiastical edifices, and the substantial mansions of the nobility, towering with all the more imposing effect, in contrast to their homely neighbourhood.? Concerning these heather stacks we have the following episode in ?Moyse?s Memoirs :?--?On the 2nd December, 1584, a b.kxteis boy called Robert Henderson (no doubt by the instigation of Satan) desperately put some powder and a candle to his father?s heather-stack, standing in a close opposite the Tron, and burnt the same with his.father?s house, to the imminent hazard of burning the whole Sown, for which, being apprehended most marvellously, after his escaping out of town, he wus n~xt day burnt pick at the cross of Edinburgh as an example.? There was still extant in 1850 a small fragment .of Forrester?s Wynd, a beaded doorway in a ruined wall, with the legend above it- ?? O.F. OUR INHERITANCE, 1623.? ?In all the old houses in Edinburgh,? says Amot, ?it is remarkable that the superstition of the time had guarded each with certain cabalistic characters or talismans engraved upon its front. These were generally composed of some texts of Scripture, of the name of God, or perhaps an emblematical representation of the crucifixion.? Forrester?s Wynd probably took its name from Sir Adam Forrester of Corstorphine, who was twice chief magistrate of the city in the 14th century. After the ?Jenny Geddes? riot in St. Giles?s, Guthrie, in his ?Memoirs,? tells us of a mob, consisting of some hundreds of women, whose place .of rendezvous in 1637 was Forrester?s Wynd, and who attacked Sydeserf, Bishop of Galloway, when .on his way to the Privy Council, accompanied by Francis Stewart, son of the Earl of Bothwell, .?with such violence, that probably he had been torn in pieces, if it had not been that the said Francis, with the help of two pretty men that attended him, rescued him out of their barbarous hands, aud hurled him in at the door, holding back the pursuers until those that were within shut the door. Thereafter, the Provost and Bailies being assembled in their council, those women beleaguered them, and threatened to burn the house about their ears, unless they did presently nominate two commissioners for the town,? Src. Their cries were : ?? God defend all thdse who will defend God?s cause! God confound the service-book and all maintainers thereof !? From advertisements, it wonld appear that a character who made some noise in his time, Peter Williamson, ?I from the other world,? as he called himself, had a printer?s shop at the head of this wynd in 1772. The victim of a system of kidnapping encouraged by the magistrates of Aberdeen, he had been c?arried off in his boyhood to America, and after almost unheard-of perils and adventures, related in his autobiography, published in 1758, he returned to Scotland, and obtained some small damages from the then magistrates of his native city, and settled in Edinburgh as a printer and publisher, In 1776 he started The Scots Spy, published every Friday, of which copies are now extremely rare. He had the merit of establishing the first penny post in Edinburgh, and also published a ?? Directory,? from his new shop in the Luckenbooths, in 1784. He would appear for these services to have received a small pension from Government when it assumed his institution of the penny post. The other venerable alley referred to, Beith?s Wynd, when greatly dilapidated by time, was nearly destroyed by two fires, which occurred in 1786 and 1788. The former, on the 12th Decernher, broke out near Henderson?s stairs, and raged with great violence for man), hours, but by the assistance of the Town Guard and others it was suppressed, yet not before many families were burnt out. The Parliament House and the Advocates? Library were both in imminent peril, and the danger appeared so great, that the Court of Session did not sit tha? day, and preparations were made for the speedy removal of all records. At the head of Beith?s Wynd, in 1745, dwelt Andrew Maclure, a writing-niaster, one of that corps of civic volunteers who marched to oppose the Highlanders, but which mysteriously melted away ere it left the West Port. It was noted of the gallant Andrew, that having made up his mind to die, he had affixed a sheet of paper to his breast, whereon was written, in large text-hand, ?This is the body of Andrew Maclure j let it be decently interred,? a notice that was long a source of joke among the Jacobite wits. With this wynd, our account of the alleys in connection with the Lawnmarket ends. We have elsewhere referred to the once well-known Club formed by the dwellers in the latter, chiefly woc!!en He died in January, 1799.
Volume 1 Page 122
  Enlarge Enlarge  
The Tolhwth] THE SIGNET ANI) ADVOCATES? LIBRARIES. 123 THE genius of Scott has shed a strange halo around the memory of the grim and massive Tolbooth prison, so much so that the creations of his imagination, such as Jeanie and Effie Deans, take the place of real persons of flesh? and blood, and suchtraders. They have been described as being ?a dramdrinking, news-mongering, facetious set of citizens, who met every morn about seven o?clock, and after proceeding to the post-office to ascertain the news (when the mail arrived), generally adjourned to a public-house and refreshed themselves with a libation of brandy.? Unfounded articles of intelligence that were spread abroad in those days were usually named ? Lawnmarket Gazettes,? in allusion to their roguish or waggish originators. At all periods the Lawnmarket was a residence for nien of note, and the frequent residence of English and other foreign ambassadors; and so long as Edinburgh continued to be the seat of the Parliament, its vicinity to the House made it a favourite and convenient resort for the members of the Estates. On the ground between Robert Gourlay?s house and Beith?s Wynd we now find some of those portions of the new city which have been engrafted on the old. In Melbourne Place, at the north end of George IV. Bridge, are situated many important offices, such as, amongst others, those of the Royal Medical Society, and the Chamber of Commerce and Manufactures, built in an undefined style of architecture, new to Edinburgh. Opposite, with its back to the bridge, where a part of the line of Liberton?s Wynd exists, is built the County Hall, presenting fronts to the Lawnmarket and to St. Giles?s. The last of these possesses no common beauty, as it has a very lofty portico of finely-flutcd columns, overshadowing a flight of steps leading to the main entrance, which is modelled after the choragic monument of Thrasyllus, while the ground plan and style of ornament is an imitation of the Temple of Erechtheius at Athens. It was erected in 1817, and contains several spacious and lofty court-rooms, with apartments for the Sheriff and other functionaries employed in the business of the county. The hall contains a fine statue of Lord Chief Baron Dundas, by Chantrey. is the power of genius, that with the name of the Heart of Midlothian we couple the fierce fury of the Porteous mob. ?Antique in form, gloomy and haggard in aspect, its black stanchioned windows, opening through its dingy walls like the apertures ~ Adjoining it and stretching eastward is the library of the Writers to the Signet. It is of Grecian architecture, and possesses two long pillared halls of beautiful proportions, the upper having Corinthian columns, and a dome wherein are painted the Muses. It is 132 feet long by about 40 broad, and was used by George IV. as a drawing-room, on the day of the royal banquet in the Parliament , House. Formed by funds drawn solely from contributions by Writers to H.M. Signet, it is under a body of curators. The library contains more than 60,000 volumes, and is remarkably rich in British and Irish history. Southward of it and lying psxallel with it, nearer the Cowgate, is the Advocates? Library, two long halls, with oriel windows on the north side. This library, one of the five in the United Kingdom entitled to a copy of every work printed in it, was founded by Sir George Mackenzie, Dean of Faculty in 168z, and contains some zoo,ooo volumes, forming the most valuable cpllection of the kind in Scotland. The volumes of Scottish poetry alone exceed 400. Among some thousand MSS. are those of Wodrow, Sir James Balfour, Sir Robert Sibbald, and others. In one of the lower compartments may be seen Greenshield?s statue of Sir Walter Scott, and the original volume of Waverley; two volumes of original letters written by Mary Queen of Scots and Charles I.; the Confession of Faith signed by James VI. and the Scottish nobles in 1589-90; a valuable cabinet from the old Scottish mint in the Cowgate; the pennon borne by Sir William Keith at Flodden; and many other objects of the deepest interest. The office of librarian has been held by many distinguished men of letters; among them were Thomas Ruddiman, in 1702; David Hume, his successor, in, 1752 ; Adani Ferguson ; and David Irving, LL.D. A somewhat minor edifice in the vicinity forms the library of the Solicitors before the Supreme Court
Volume 1 Page 123
  Enlarge Enlarge