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Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time


CHAPTER VI. THE HIGH STREET AND NETHER BOW. N the centre of the High Street, not far from the site of the Tron Church, there stood I in ancient times the Tron or public beam for weighing merchandise; generally . styled in early deeds and writings the Salt Tron, to distinguish it from the Butter Tron, or Weigh-house, already described. It is shown in the curious bird’s-eye view of the siege of Edinburgh Castle, drawn in 1573, in the form of a pillar mounted on steps, and with a beam and scales attached to it. This central spot was the scene of many singular exhibitions during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, more especially in the exposure and punishment of culprits. While traitors and political offenders of all sorts expiated their crimes at the Cross, the lesser offences of perjury and knavery were reserved by a discriminating system ofjustice for the more ignominious, though less deadly, penalties of the Tron. One of the liveliest of the scenes which-were enacted there during the 17th century, occurred on the arrival of the news in June 1650, that Charles 11. had landed in the north. The Estates of Parliament were then assembled at Edinburgh, and the fickle populace were already heartily tired of trying to govern themselves. Nicoll, the old diarist, tells us, (‘ All signes of joyes wer manifested in a special1 maner in Edinburgh, by setting furth of bailfyres, ringing of bellis, sounding of trumpettis, dancing almost all that night through the streitis. The pure kaill wyfes at the Trone sacrificed thair mandis and creilh and the verie stoolis thai sat npone to the %e.’’ . It has been hastily concluded from this, by certain sceptical antiquaries, that, as Jenny Xicoll’a Diary, p. 16. VIoNElTE-Ancient Doorway, Blackfriars’ Wynd. 21
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250 MEMORIALS OF EDINBURGH. Geddes, the heroine of 1637, was one of the kail wives of the Tron, her famous stool-the formidable weapon with which she began the great rebellion, by hurling it at the Dean of St Giles’ head-must have perished in this repentant ebullition of joy, and accordingly that the relic shown in the Museum of the Society of Antiquaries is undeserving of credit. We must protest, however, against so rash an hypothesis, which would involve the destruction of the sole monument of the immortal Janet’s heroic onslaught; seeing there can be no reasonable question that a dame so zealous and devout would reserve her best stool for the Sunday’s services, and content herself with a common creepie for her week-day avocations at the Tron I There is no doubt, however, that Jenny gave unequivocal proofs of her loyalty at a later period, as she is specially mentioned in the Mercurius Caledonius, a newspaper published immediately after the Restoration, as having taken a prominent share in similar rejoicings on the coronation of the king in 1661. “But among all our bontados and caprices,’’ says the curious.annalist, ‘‘ that of the immortal Jenet Geddis, Princesse of the Trone Adventurers, was most pleasant, for she was not only content to assemble all her creels, basquets, creepies, frames, and other ingredients that composed the shope of her sallets, radishes, turnips, carrots, spinage, cabbage, with all other sort of pot merchandise that belongs to the garden, but even her leather chair of state, where she used to dkpense justice to the rest of her langkale vassals, were all very orderly burned; she herself countenancing the action with a high-flown flourish and vermillion majesty.” Halkerston’~W ynd, which is the first close now remaining on the north side of the . High Street below the Tron Church, had once been a place of considerable note, but nearly every vestige of antiquity has disappeared. We have already given a view a of a very curious ancient lintel still remaining on the east side, which bears on it the monogram IHS, and a cross-Jeury, with a coronet surmounting the letter D. The whole style and character of this doorway indicates a date long anterior to the Reformation, but the building to which it belonged has been demolished, all but a portion of the outer wall, and we have failed to obtain any clue to its early history. It was in its later state a timber-fronted land, having a good deal of carving along the gables, and an ornamental stone stair-case projecting beyond, altogether indicatiug the remains of a magnxcent and costly mansion of the olden time. Adjoining this, another doorway, forming a similar vestige of a more modern building, bears the common inscription, BLISSIT . BE GOD . FOR . AL . HIS . GIFTIS . and the initials and date RD * D - 1609.. This ancient alley formed one of the accesses to the city from the north, previous to the erection of the North Bridge. Fountainhall’ gives a curious account of an action brought by Robert Malloch in 1701 against the magistrates of Edinburgh, for shutting up the Halkerston’s Wynd Port. From this it appears that a suburban village had sprung up on Moutrie’s Hill, the site now occupied by James’ Square, in which a number of poor weavers and other tradesmen had set up in defiance of the incorporations of the Gude Toun. The deacons finding their crafts in danger, took advantage of an approaching election to frighten the magistrates into a just sense of the enormity of tolerating such unconstitutional interlopers Even Jenny Geddes’s well-earned reputation “cannot live out of the teeth of emulation.” Kincaid (Hist. of Edin. p. 63) puts forward a new claimant to her honours, “ an old woman named Hamilton, grandmother to Robert Mein, late Dean of Guild officer in Edinburgh” Ante, p. 118. Fountainhall’s Decisions, vol. ii. p. 110.
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