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Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time


ST LEONARD’S, ST MARY’S WYND, AND CO WGATE. 327 gentlemen, January 22, 1729 ; ” and Chambers has preserved, in his “ Minor Antiquities,” the bill of fare presented in the same place on the 20th of March 1747, “ By Desire of a Lady of Quality, for the Benefit of a Family in Distress ; ” probably one of the last performances there by a regular company. A handsome tenement stands immediately to the west of the Tailors’ Lands, surmounted with two ornamental gables, bearing on them the initials of the builders, and over the main doorway the following inscription :- R - H 0 MAGNIFIE THE LORD WITH ME AND LET US EXALT HIS NAME TOGETHER. I - H ANN0 DOMXNI 1643. Over another door of the same tenement, a sculptured tablet bears the device of two sledemen carrying a barrel between them, by means of a pole resting on the shoulder of each, technically styled a sting and lileg. It is cleverly executed, and appears from the character and workmanship to be coeval with the date of the building in which it is placed, although the purposes to which the neighbouring property is now applied might suggest a much more recent origin.’ Various antique tenements of considerable diversity of character remain to the westward of this, all exhibiting symptoms of ‘‘ having seen better days.” The last of these, before we arrive at the arches of George IV. Bridge, is another of the old ecclesiastical mansions of the Cowgate. It is described in an early title-deed as “ some time pertaining to lime Hew M‘Gill, prebender of Corstorphine,” and, not improbably, a relative of the ancestors of David Macgill of Cranstoun-Riddel, King’s Advocate to King James VI., who is said to have died of grief on Sir Thomas Hamilton, the royal favouriteafterwards created Earl of Melrose and Eaddington-being appointed his colleague. We find, at least, that the property immediately adjoining it, now demolished, belonged to that family, and came afterwards into the possession of his rival. The operations of the Improvements Commission were no less effectual in the demolition of the interesting relics of antiquity in the Cowgate than elsewhere. Indeed, if we except the old Mint, and the venerable Chapel of St Magdalene, no other site could have been chosen for the new bridge where their proceedings would have been so destructive. On the ground now occupied by its southern piers formerly stood Merchant’s Court, a large area enclosed on three sides by antique buildings in a plain but massive style of architecture, and containing internally finely stuccoed ceilings and handsome panneling, with other indications of former magnificence suitable to the mansion of the celebrated Thomas Hamilton, first Earl of Haddington, the favourite of James VI., and one of the most eminent men of his day. Some curious anecdotes of TAM 0’ THE COWGATEa,s the King facetiously styled his favourite, are preserved in the Traditions of Edinburgh, derived from the descendants of the sagacious old peer, and many others that are recorded of him suffice to confirm the character he enjoyed for shrewd wit and eminent ability. Directly opposite to this, a building, characterised by very remarkable architectural features, was peculiarly worthy of the attention of the local antiquary. Tradition, which represented the old Earl of Had- At Society, in the immediate neighbourhood, a company of brewers was eatabliahed -so early 1598.-Hist. of Kiiig Jamea the Serb, p. 347.
Volume 10 Page 356
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328 MEMORIALS OF EDINBURGH. dington’s mansion as having been the residence of the French embassy in the reign of Queen Mary, had assigned to this antique fabric the name of ‘‘ The French Ambassador’s Chapel,” which we have retained in the accompanying engraving, in the absence of any more distinctive title. An ornamental pediment, which surmounted its western wing, was decorated with the heads of the Twelve Apostles, rudely sculptured along the outer cornice ; and on the top a figure was seated astride, with the legs extended on either side of the cornice. It is supposed to have been designed as a representation of our Saviour, but the upper part of the figure had long been broken away. This pediment, as well as the sculptured lintel of the main doorway, and other ornamental portions of the edifice, were removed to Coat’s House, and are now built into different parts of the north wing of that old mansion. But the sculpture which surmounted the entrance of this curious building was no less worthy of notice than its singular pediment; for, while the one was adorned with the sacred emblems of the Apostles and the figure of our Saviour, the other exhibited no less mysterious and horrible a guardian than a Warwolf. It was, in truth, with its motto, SPERAVETI h E N I - n o unmeet representative of Bunyan’s Wicket Gate, with a hideous monster at the door, enough to frighten poor Mercy into a swoon, and nothing but Christian charity and Apostolic graces within ; though the latter, it must be confessed, did not include that of beauty. U I shall end here four-footed beasts,” says Nisbet, ‘‘ only mentioning one of a monstrous form carried with us. Its body is like a wolf, having four feet with long toes and a tail; it is headed like a man;-called in our books a warwolfpassant,- and three stars in chief argent; which are also to be seen cut upon a stone above an old entry of a house in the Cowgate in Edinburgh, above the foot of Libberton’s Wynd, which belonged formerly to the name of Dickison, which name seems to be from the Dicksons by the stars which they carry.”’ Who the owner of these rare armorial bearings was does not now appear from the titles, but the style of ornament that prevailed on the building renders it exceedingly probable that it formed the residence of some of the eminent ecclesiastical dignitaries with which the Cowgate once abounded. The destruction of the venerable alley, Libberton’s Wynd, that formed the chief thoroughfare to the High Street from this part of the Cowgate, involved in its ruin an old tenement situated behind the curious building described above, which possessed peculiar claims to interest as the birthplace of Henry Mackenzie, “ The Man of Feeling.’’ It was pointed out by himself as the place of his nativity, at a public meeting which he attended late in life. He resided at a later period, with his own wife and family, in his father’s house, on one of the floors of WLeZZan’s Land, a lofty tenement which forms the last in the range of houses on the north side of the street, where it joins the Grassmarket. This building acquires peculiar interest from the associations we now connect with another of its tenants. Towards the middle of last century, the first floor was occupied by a respectable clergyman’s widow, Mrs Syme, a sister of Principal Robertson, who maintained an establishment there for the accommodation of a few boarders in this genteel and eZigi6Ze quarter of the town. At that time Henry Brougham, Esq. of Brougham Hall, arrived in Edinburgh, and took up his quarters under Mrs Syme’s roof. He had wandered northward to seek, in change of scene, some alIeviation of grief consequent on the death of his betrothed mistress. It chanced, Nisbet’s Heraldry, voL i. p. 335. The shield, however, so far differs from Nisbet’s description, that it bears a creaccnt betwtcn tuw stara in chief.
Volume 10 Page 357
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