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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. I


190 OLD AND NEW EDINBURGH. [The Great Fire. while the weather changed rapidly ; the wind, accompanied by rain, came in fierce and fitful gusts, thus adding to the danger and harrowing interest of the scene, which, from the great size of the houses, had much in it that was wild and weird. ? About five o?clock,?? says Dr. James Browne, in his ? Historical Sketch of Edinburgh,? ?the fire had proceeded so far downwards in the building occupied by the Coura~rf office, that the upper part of the front fell inwards with a dreadful crash, the concussion driving the flames into the middle of the street. By this time it had communicated with the houses on the east side of the Old Fish Market Close, which it burned down in succession ; while that occupied by Mr. Abraham Thomson, bookbindet, which had been destroyed a few months previously by fire and re-built, was crushed in at one extremity by the fall of the gable. In the Old Assembly Close it was still more destructive ; the whole west side, terminating with the .king?s old Stationery Warehouse, and including the Old Assembly Hall, then occupied as a warehouse by Bell and Bradfute, booksellers, being entirely consumed. These back tenements formed one of the most massive, and certainly not the least remarkable, piles of building in the ancient city, and in former times were inhabited by persons of the greatest distinction. At this period they presented a most extraordinary spectacle. A great part of the southern Zand fell to the ground ; but a lofty and insulated pile of side wall, broken in the centre, rested in its fall, so as to form one-half of an immense pointed arch, and remained for several days in this inclined position. ?By nine o?clock the steeple of the Tron Church was discovered to be on fire ; the pyramid became a mass of flame, the lead of the roof poured over the masonry in molten streams, and the bell fell With a crash, as we have narrated, but the church was chiefly saved by a powerful engine belonging to the Board of Ordnance. The fire was now stopped; but the horror and dismay of the people increased when, at ten that night, a new one broke forth in the devoted Parliament Square, in the attic floor of a tenement eleven storeys in height, overlooking the Cowgate. As this house was far to windward of the other fire, it was quite impossible that one could have caused the other-a conclusion which forced itself upon the minds of all, together with the startling belief that some desperate incendiaries had resolved to destroy the city ; while many went about exclaiming that it was a special punishment sent from Heaven upon the people for their sins.?? (Browne, p. 220; Courant of Nov. 18, 1824; &c.) As the conflagration spread, St. Giles?s and the Parliament Square resounded with dreadful echoes, and the scene became more and more appalling, from the enormous altitude of the buildings; all efforts of the people were directed to saving the Parliament House and the Law Courts, and by five on the morning of Wednesday the scene is said to have been unspeakably grand and terrific. Since the English invasion under Hertford in 1544 no such blaze had been seen in the ancient city. ? Spicular columns of flame shot up majestically into the atmosphere, which assumed a lurid, dusky, reddish hue ; dismay, daring, suspense, fear, sat upon different countenances, intensely expressive of their various emotions ; the bronzed faces of the firemen shone momentarily from under their caps as their heads were raised at each successive stroke of the engines ; and the very element by which they attempted to extinguish the conflagration seemed itself a stream of liquid fire. The County Hall at one time appeared like a palace of light ; and the venerable steeple of St. Giles?s reared itself amid the bright flames like a spectre awakened to behold the fall and ruin of the devoted city.? Among those who particularly distinguished themselves on this terrible occasion were the Lord President, Charles Hope of Granton ; the Lord Justice Clerk, Boyle of Shewalton ; the Lord Advocate, Sir Williani Rae of St. Catherine?s ; the Solicitor- General, John Hope; the Dean of Faculty ; and Mr. (afterwards Lord) Cockburn, the well-known memorialist of his own times. The Lord Advocate would seem to have been the most active, and worked for some time at one of the engines playing on the central tenement at the head of the Old Assembly Close, thus exerting himself to save the house in which he first saw the light. All distinction of rank being lost now in one common and generous anxiety, one of Sir Wiiliam?s fellow-labourers at the engine gave him a hearty slap on the back, exclaiming, at the same time, ? Wee1 dune, my lord !I? On the morning of Wednesday, though showers of sleet and hail fell, the fire continued to rage with fury in Conn?s Close, to which it had been communicated by flying embers ; but there the ravages of this unprecedented and calamitous conflagration ended. The extent of the mischief done exceeded all former example. Fronting the High Street there were destroyed four tenements of six storeys each, besides the underground storeys ; in Conn?s Close, two timber-fronted ? lands,? of great antiquity ; in the Old Assembly Close, four houses of seven storeys each ; in Borthwick?s Close, six great tenements ; in the Old Fish Market Close, four of
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The High Street.] THE HIGH STREET. six storeys each ; in short, down as far as the Cowgate nothing was to be seen but frightful heaps of calcined and blackened ruins, with gaping windows and piles of smoking rubbish. In the Par!iament Square four double tenements of from seven to eleven storeys also perished, and the incessant cmsh of falling walls made the old vicinity re-echo. Among other places of interest destroyed here was the shop of Kay, the cancaturist, always a great attraction to idlers. During the whole of Thursday the authorities were occupied in the perplexing task of .examining the ruined edifices in the Parliament Square. These being of enormous height and dreadfully shattered, threatened, by their fall, destruction to everything in their vicinity. One eleven-storeyed edifice presented such a very striking, terrible, and dangerous appearance, that it was proposed to batter it down with cannon. On the next day the ruins were inspected by Admiral Sir David Milne, and Captain (afterwardssir Francis) Head of theRoyal Engineers, an officer distinguished alike in war and In literature, who gave in a professional report on the subject, and to him the task of demolition was assigned. ? In the meantime offers of assistance from Captain Hope of H.M.S. BnX, then in Leith Roads, were accepted, and his seamen, forty in number, threw a line over the lofty southern gable above Heron?s Court, but brought down only a small portion Next day Captain Hope returned to the attack, with iron cables, chains, and ropes, while some sappers daringly undermined the eastern wall. These were sprung, and, as had been predicted by Captain Head, the enormous mass fell almost perpendicularly to the grognd. At the Tron Church, on the last night of every year, there gathers a vast crowd, who watch with patience and good-humour the hands of the illuminated clock till they indicate one minute past twelve, and then the New Year is welcomed in with ringing cheers, joy, and hilarity. A general shaking of hands and congratdlations ensue, and one and all wish each other ?? A happy New Year, and mony 0? them.? A busy hum pervades the older parts of the city; bands of music and bagpipes strike up in many a street and wynd; and, furnished with egg-flip, whiskey, &c., thousands hasten off in all directions to ?first foot? friends and relations, CHAPTER XXI. THE HIGH STREET, A Place for Brawling-First Paved and Lighted-The Meal and Flesh MarketsState of the Streets-Municipal Regulations 16th Century- Tuleies-The Lairds of Ainh and Wemyss-The Tweedies of Drummelzier-A Mont- Quarrel-The Slaughter of Lord Tarthorwald- -A Brawl in 1705-Attacking a Sedan Chair-Habits in Lhe Seventeenth Century-Abduction of Women and Girls-Sumptuary Law6 against Women. BEFORE narrating the wondrous history of the many quaint and ancient closes and wynds which diverged of old, and some of which still diverge, from the stately High Street, we shall treat of that venerable thoroughfare itself-its gradual progress, changes, and some of the stirring scenes that have been witnessed from its windows. Till so late as the era of building the Royal Exchange Edinburgh had been without increase or much alteration since King James VI. rode forth for England in 1603. ?The extended wall erected in the memorable year 1513 still formed the boundary of the city, with the exception of the enclosure of the Highriggs. The ancient gates remained kept under the care of jealous warders, and nightly closed at an early hour ; even as when the dreaded iiiroads of the Southron summoned the Burgher Watch to guard their walls. At the foot of the High Street, the lofty tower and spire of the Nether Bow Port terminated the vista, surmounting the old Temple Bar of Edinburgh, interposed between the city and the ancient burgh of Canongate.? On this upward-sloping thoroughfare first rose the rude huts of the Caledonians, by the side of the wooded way that led to the Dun upon the rock -when Pagan rites were celebrated at sunrise on the bare scalp of Arthur?s Seat-and destined to become in future years ?the King?s High Street,? as it was exclusively named in writs and charters, in so far as it extended from the Nether Bow to the edifice named Creech?s Land, at the east end of the Luckenbooths. ?Here,? says a writer, ? was the battle-ground of Scotland for centuries, whereon private and party feuds, the jealousies of nobles and burghers, and not a few of the contests between the Crown and the people, were settled at the sword.? As a place for brawling it was proverbial ; and thus it was that Colonel Munro, in ?His Expedition with the Worthy Scots Regiment called Mackeyes,? levied in 1626, for service in Denmark
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