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Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time


CHAPTER IV. THE TOLBOOTH, L UCKENBOOTHS, AND PARLIAMENT CLOSE. HE grim and massive prison of the old Scottish capital, which had degenerated to that base office after having served for the hall of the national parliaments, for the College of Justice founded by James V., and for some of the earliest assemblies of the kirk, has, in our own day, acquired a popular interest, and a notoriety as extensive as the diffusion of English literature, under the name of ‘‘ The Heart of Midlothian.” Such is the power of genius, that the association of this ancient fabric with the assault of the Porteous mob, and the captivity of the (( Effie Deans” of the novelist’s fancy, has been able to confer on it an interest, even in the minds of strangers, which all the thrilling scenes during the eventful reigns of our own Jameses, the tumults of Mary’s brief reign, and the civil commotions of that of her son, had failed to excite in the minds of Scotsmen. The site of the Tolbooth.was in the very heart of the ancient capital, and so placed that it might have occurred to a fanciful mind to suppose, that the antique fabric had been VIGNETTE.-NsOid~e of the Tolbooth.
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L UCKENBOOTHS AND PARLIAMENT CLOSE. 185 dropped whole and complete into the midst of the pent-up city. west corner of St Giles’s Church, so close to that ancient building as only to leave a narrow footpath beyond its projecting buttresses ; while the tall and gloomy-looking pile extended so far into the main street that a roadway of fourteen feet in breadth was all that intervened between it and the lofty range of buildings on the opposite side. We cannot better describe this interesting building than in the lively narrative of Scott, written about the time of its demolition,-“The prison reared its ancient front in the very middle of the High Street, forming the termination to a huge pile of buildings called the Luckenbooths, which, for some inconceivable reason, our ancestors had jammed into the midst of the principal street of the town, leaving for passage a narrow way on the north; and on the south-into which the prison opens--a crooked lane, winding betwixt the high and sombre walls of the Tolbooth and the adjacent houses on the one side, and the buttresses and projections of the old cathedral upon the other. To give some gaiety to this sombre passage, well known by the name of the Krames, a number of little booths or shops, after the fashion of cobblers’ stalls, were plastered, as it were, against the Gothic projections and abutments, so that it seemed as if the traders had occupied every buttress and coigne of vantage,’ with nests bearing the same proportion to the building as the martlet’s did in Macbeth’s Castle.” The most prominent features in the south front of the Tolbooth,-of which we furnish an engraving,-were two projecting turret staircases. A neatly carved Gothic doorway, surmounted by -a niche, gave entrance to the building at the foot of the eastern tower; and this, on its demolition in 1817, was removed by Sir Walter Scott to Abbotsford, and there converted to,the humble oEce of giving access to his kitchen court.’ Some account has already been given, in our brief sketch of the period of Queen Mary,’ of the mandate issued by her in 1561, requiring the rebuilding of the Tolbooth, and the many difficulties that the city had to encounter in satisfying this royal command. The letter sets forth, that “ The Queiny’s Majestie, understanding that the Tolbuith of the Burgh of Edinburgh is ruinous and abill haistielie to dekay ind fall doun, quhilk will be warrap dampnable and skaythfull to the pepill dwelland thairabout . . . without heistie remeid be providit thairin. Thairfor hir Heines ordinis ane masser to pass alid charge the Provest, Baillies, and Counsale, to caus put workmen to the taking doun of the said Tolbuith, with all possible deligence.” ‘‘ In obedience to the Queen’s command,” says Maitland, It has already been shown, however, in the earlier allusions to the subject, that this is an error. The new building was erected entirely apart from it, adjoining the south-west corner of St Giles’s Church, and the eastern portion of the Old Tolbooth bore incontestible evidence of being the work of a much earlier period than the date of Queen Mary’s mandate. It stood at the north-. the Tolbooth was taken down.” 1 Sir Walter Scott remarks, in a note to the edition of his works issued in 1830,--“Last year, to complete the change, a torn-tit waa pleased to build her nest within the lock of the Tolbooth,--a strong temptation to have committed n sonnet.” The nest we must preaurne to have occupied the place of the lock, the key-hole of which, when deprived of the scuteheon, would readily admit the tom-tit. The original lock and key, which were made immediately after the Porteous mob, were in the possession of Messrs Cormack & Son, Leith Street, and formed the most substantial produc tions of the Locksmith’s art we ever eaw. The lock measured two feet long by one broad ; and the key, which waa a‘oout a foot long, looked more like a huge iron mace. Ante, p. 71. Maitland, p. 21. 2 A
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