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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
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any goods on hand in their shops, everything had to be ordered long before it was required ; and it was always usual for the goldsmith and his customer to adjourn together to the B ~ j e n Hole, an ancient baker?s shop, the name of which has proved a puzzle to local antiquarians, or to John?s Coffee House, to adjust the order and payment, through the medium of a dram or a stoup of mellow ale. But, as time passed on, and the goldsmiths of Edinburgh became more extensive in their views, capital, and ambition, the old booths in the Parliament Close were in quick succession abandoned for ever. The workshop of George Heriot existed in this neighbourhood till the demolition of Beth?s Wynd and the adjacent buildings. There were three contiguous small shops, with projecting wooden superstructures above them, that extended in a line, between the door of the old Tolbooth and that of the 1,aigh Councilhouse. They stood upon the site of the entrancehall of the present Signet Library, and the central of these three shops was the booth of the immortal George Heriot, the founder of the great hospital, the goldsmith to King James VI.-the good-humoured, honest, Humble though this booth, after the execution of ?the bonnie Earl of Gowrie,? when the extravagance of Anne of Denmark-a devoted patron of George Heriot -rendered the king?s private exchequer somewhat impaired, he was not above paying visits to some of the wealthier citizens in the Lawnmarket or Parliament Square, and, among. others, to the royal goldsmith. The latter being. bred to his father?s business, to which in that age was usually added the occupation of a banker, was GEORGE HERIOT?S DRINKING CUP. (De-d Sy himsew) and generous ?Jingling Geordie? of the ?? Fortunes of Nigel.? It measured only seven feet square ! The back windows looked into Beth?s Wynd ; and, to show the value of local tradition, it long appeared that this booth belonged 10 George Heriot, and it became a confirmed fact when, on the demolition of the latter place, his name was found carved above the door, on the stone lintel. His forge and bellows, as well as a stone crucible and lid, were also found on clearing away the ruins, and are now carefully preserved in the museum of the hospital, to which they were presented by the late Mr. Robertson, of the Commercial Bank, a grateful ?? Auld Herioter.? admitted a member of the Incorporation of Goldsniiths on the 28th May, 1588. In 1597 he was appointed goldsmith to Queen Anne, and soon after to the king. Several of the accounts for jewels furnished by him to the queen are inserted in Constable?s ? Life of Heriot,? published in 1822. It is related that one day he had been sent for by the king, whom he found seated in one of the rooms at Holyrood, before a fire composed of cedar, or some other perfumed wood, which cast a pleasant fragrance around, and the king mentioned incidentally that it was quite as costly as it was agreeable, ? If your majesty will visit me at my booth in the Parliament Close,? quoth Heriot, ?I will show you a fire more costly than that.? ?? Say you so ! ? said the king ; ?? then I will.? On doing so, he was surprised to find that Heriot had only a coal fire of the usual kind. ?Is this, then, your costly fire?? asked the king. ? Wait, your highness, till I get my fuel,? replied Heriot, who from an old cabinet or almrie took a bond for Az,ooo which he had lent to James, and, laying it on the fire, he asked, laughingly, ?Now, whether is your majesty?s fire in Holyrood or mine the most costly ?? ? Certainly yours, Master Heriot ! ? replied the king.
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