Edinburgh Bookshelf

Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time


CHAPTER VIII. ST LEONARDS, ST MARY’S WYND, AND THE COWGATE. HE date of erection of the first houses in the ancient thoroughfare of the Cowgate may be referred, without hesitation, to the reign of James III., when the example of the King, who, as Drummond relates, “was much given to buildings, and trimming up of chnppels, halls, and gardens,” was likely to encourage his courtiers in rearing elegant and costly mansions ; and when, at the same time, the frequent assembling of the Parliament and the presence of the Court at Edinburgh, were calculated to drive them beyond the recently-built walls of the capital. Evidence, indeed, derived from some early charters, seems to prove the existence of buildings beyond the range of the first wall, prior to its erection, but these were at most one or two isolated and rural dwellings, and cannot be considered as having formed any part of the street. The whole southern slope of the Old Town, on which the steep closes extending between the High Street and the Cowgate have since been reared, must then have formed a rough and unencumbered bank, surmounted by the massive wall and towers erected by virtue of the charter of James 11. in 1450, and skirted at its base by the open roadway that led from the Abbey of Holyrood to the more ancient Church of St Cuthbert, below the Castle rock. It requires, indeed, a stretch of the imagination to conceive this crowded steep, which has rung for centuries with the busy sounds of life and industry, a rugged slope, unoccupied save by brushwood and flowering shrubs ; yet the change effected on it in the fifteenth century was only such another extension as many living can remember to have witnessed on a greater scale over the downs and cultivated fields now occupied by VIGNETTE-Ancient Doorway, foot of Horse Wynd, Cowgate.
Volume 10 Page 338
  Enlarge Enlarge     Pictures Pictures
ST LEONARD’S, ST MARY’S WYND, AND CO WGATE. 311 the modern town. To the same period may be referred, with much probability, the erection of homes along the ancient roadway from Leith that skirted the east wall of the town ; and probably also the founding of the nunnery from whence the southern portion of it derived its name, although Chalmers, seemingly on insdcient evidence, assigns the origin of the latter to “ the uncertain piety of the twelfth century.”l Spottiswoode remarks, (c in the chartularies of St GiIes’s, the Nuns of St Mary’s Wynd in the City of Edinburgh are recorded. The chapel and convent stood near to the walls of the garden belonging at present to the Marquis of Tweeddale, and from its being consecrated to the Virgin Mary, the street took its name which it still retains.”P Acurious allusion to this chapel occurs in the statutes of the burgh of Edinburgh, enacted during the dreadful visitation of the plague in 1530, where Marione Clerk is convicted by an assize of concealing her infection, and of having “past amangis the nychtbouris of this toune to the chapel1 of Sanct Mary Wynd on Sonday to the mess, and to hir sisteris house and vther placis,” the pestilence being upon her, and thereby, as the statute says, doing all that was in her to have infected the whole town. The unhappy woman, convicted of the crime of going to church during her illness, is condemned to be drowned in the Quarell holes, and there can be no doubt that the cruel and barbarous sentence was carried into execution.s The salary of the chaplain of St Mary’s Nunnery was, in 1490, only sixteen shillings and eightpence sterling yearly ; and its whole revenues were probably never large, the most of them having apparently been derived from voluntary contribution^.^ The site of this ancient religious foundation was on the west side of the wynd, where it contracts in breadth, a few yards below the Nether Bow. Of its origin or founders nothing further is known, but it was most probably dismantled and ruined in the Douglas wars, when the houses in St Mary’s and Leith Wynds were unroofed and converted into defensive barriers by the beleaguered citizen^.^ 1 Caledonia, vol E. p. 761. a Acts and Statutes of the Burgh of Edinburgh ; Mait. Misc. vol. ii. p. 115. a Spottiswoode’a Religious Houses, 1755, p. 283. This proceeding ia by no means a solitary case. The following, which is of date August 2, 1530, is rendered more noticeable by the reasons for “erg that follow :-“ The quhilk day forsamekle as it we8 perfytlie vnderabnd and kend that Dauid Duly, tailyour, has haldin his wif seyk in the contagiua seiknes of pestilens ij dayis in his house, and wald nocht revele the samyn to the officiaris of the tome quhill scho wes deid in the wid seiknes. And in the meyn tyme the said Dauid past to Sanct Gelis Kirk quhilk waa Sonday, and thair said mess amangis the cleyne pepill, his wif beandin eztrentiS in the said seiknes, doand quhat was in him till haif infekkit all the toune. For the quhilk causis he was adiugit to be hangit on ane gebat befor his awin dum, and that we8 gevin for dome.” The following notice of same date proves the execution of this strange sentence on the unfortunate widower, though he happily survived the effects :-“ The quhilk day fforsamekle as Dauid Duly waa decernit this day, befor none, for hie demeritis to be hangit on ane gebbat befor his dure quhar he duellis, nochtwithstanding beawe at the toill of W heha exhapit, and tht raip brokin, and faUin of thc yibbat, a d i a am pure m mi& h maU barn&, and for pte of him, the prouest, ballies, and counsall, bannasia the said Bauid this toune for all the daia of his lyf, and nocht to cum tharintill in the meyn tyme vnder the pain of deid’,-Ibid, pp. 107,108. The following is the reference to the chapel in the titlea of the property occupying ita site :-“ All and hail these two old tenements of land lying together on the west side of St Mary’s Wynd, near the head of the same; the one on the south of old pertaining to Robert and Andrew Harts, and the other on the north called Crenzen’s Laud; and that high dwelling-house, entering from St Yary’a Wynd, on the west aide thairof, in the south part of the tenement, of old called St Yary’s ChapeL” In the Inwn&rium Jocal~unaB E& bfonaderii San& C-, 1493 (Bann. Mkc voL ii. p. 24), there is mentioned “vna reliquia argentea pro altari Sancte Katerine cum oase eiusdem, quam fecit dominus Iohannes Cruneanne, quondam Vicarius de Vre.” [Aberdeenshire.] It is poeaible this may have been the chaplain of the nunnery from whence the neighbouring tenement derived ita name. Besides Alterages dedicated to the Virgin, there were in Edinburgh and ita neighbourhood the Abbey Church of Holyrood, founded in honour of the Holy Cross, the Blessed Virgin, and all aainta ; Trinity College Church, in honour of the Holy Trinity, the ever blessed and glorious Virgin Yary, &c. ; the large Collegiate Church of St Nayy in the Fields; St Yary’s Chapel and Nunnery in St Mary’s Wynd ; St Mary’s - 4 Arnot, p. 247.
Volume 10 Page 339
  Enlarge Enlarge