Edinburgh Bookshelf

Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time


338 ‘MEMORIALS OF EDINBURGH. stentoriously laughing, and gaping with tahees of laughter. . . . Though sick with fear, yet she went the next morning with her maid to view the noted places of her former night’s walk, and at the close inquired who lived there? It is not to be wondered that Major Weir’s house should have been deserted after his death, and that many a strange sound and fearful sight should have testified to the secure hold the powers of darkness had established on this dwelling of their emissaries. The enchanted staff was believed to have returned to its post, and to wait as porter at the door. The hum of the necromantic wheel was heard at the dead of night, and the deserted mansion wag sometimes seen blazing with the lights of aome eldrich festival, when the Major and his sister were supposed to be entertaining the Prince of Darkness. There were not even wanting those, during the last century, who were affirmed to have seen the Major issue at midnight from the narrow close, mounted on a headless charger, and gallop off in a whirlwind of flame. The Major’s visits became fewer and less ostentatious, until at length it was only at rare intervals that some midnight reveller, returning homeward through the deserted Bow, was startled by a dark and silent shadow that flitted across his path as he approached the haunted corner. The house is now used as a, broker’s store, but the only tenant, during well-nigh two centuries, who has had the hardihood to tempt the visions of the night within its walls, was scared by such horrible sights, that no one is likely to molest the Dlajor’s privacy again. When all thesefacts are considered, it need not excite our wonder that this house should have escaped even the rabid assaults of an Improvements’ Commission, that raged 80 fiercely around the haunted domicile. It may be reasonably questioned, indeed, whether, if workmen were found bold enough to raze it to the ground, it would not be found on the morrow, in statu quo, grimly frowning defiance on its baffled assailants I Such are the associations with one little fragment of the Bow that still exists; our remaining descriptions must be, alas I of things that were, and that appeared so hideous to the refhed tastes of our civic reformers, that they have not grudged the cost of 22400,000 to have them removed. Directly facing the low archway leading into Major Weir’s Close was the Old Assembly Rooms, bearing the date 1602, and described in its ancient titledeeds as ‘‘ that tenement of land on the west side of the transe of the Over Bow, betwixt the land of umq” Lord Ruthven on the north, and the King’s auld wall on the south parts.” Lord Ruthven’s land, which appears in our engraving of the Old Assembly Rooms, was an ancient timber-fronted tenement, similar to those we have described in the Castle Hill. It possessed, however, a peculiar and thrilling interest, if it-was-as we conceive from the date of the deed, and the new title of his sons, it must have been-the mansion of the grim and merciless baron, who stalked into the chamber of Queen Nary on that dire night of the 9th of March 1566, like the ghastly vision of death, and struck home his dagger into the royal favourite, whose murder he afterwards claimed to have chiefly contrived. A curious and valuable relic, apparently of its early proprietor, was discovered on the demolition of this ancient tenement. Between the ceiling and floor in one of the apartments, a large and beautifully-chased sword was found concealed, with the scabbard almoat completely decayed, and the blade, which was of excellent temper, deeply corroded with rust about half-way towards the hilt. The point of it was broken off, but it still measured 323 inches long. The maker’s name, WILHELWM IRSBERwGa,s inlaid in brass on the blade. It was answered, Major Weir.’’ Time, however, wrought its usual cure, .
Volume 10 Page 370
  Enlarge Enlarge  
THE WEST 30 W AND SUBURBS. 3 39 His device-seemingly a pair of pincers-was engraved on both sides, surmounted by a coronet, and encircled on the one side with a motto, partly defaced, and on the other with his name repeated, and the words in. sol. ingen. Various other mottoes were engraved amid the ornamental work with which the blade was covered, such as, Vincere aut mort‘,- Fi& sed cui vide,-Pro ark et foeis,-and Soli de0 gloria Thie singularly curious and interesting relic was procured from the contractors at the time of its discovery; and was last in the possession of the late Mr Hugh Paton. The manner of ita concealment, and the fierce character of the old Lord Ruthven, within whose ancient lod,.ing it was discovered, may readily suggest to the fancy its having formed the instrument of some dark and bloody deed, ere it was consigned to its strange hiding-place. The character of the old tenement, wherein the assemblies of fashion were held previous to 1720, will be best understood by a reference to our engraving. Over the doorway of the projecting turnpike was inscribed the motto, IND OMINOC omDo-the title of the eleventh Psalm ; and above this, within an ornamental panel, the arms of the Somervilles were sculptured, with the initials P. S., J. W., and the date 1602. These are memorials of Peter Somerville, merchant, and “yin of the present bailies,” in 1624-a wealthy burgher, who possessed houses in different parts of the town, and whose son and heir, Bartholamew Somerville, one of the most liberal contributors towards the establishment of the infant University, has already been referred to in the account of the Lawnmarket. His picturesque old gabled tenement appears in the same view to which we have referred for his father’s lodging. AI1 beyond this building lay without the line of the earliest town walls. A piece of their massive masonry remained as a part of its southern gable, and retained, till its demolition, one of the iron hooks on which the ancient gate had hung; though it must not be overlooked that this portal of the city was retained, like the modern Temple Bar, as the appointed scene of certain civic formularies and long-established state ceremonials, for nearly two centuries after it had been supplanted in its military functions by the West Port. To the west of this was the intricate and singuiar old mansion of Provost Stewart, where he was believed to have entertained Prince Charles and some of his principal oEcers in 1745, and to have afforded them hasty exit, in a very mysterious fashion, on the approach of a party despatched by General Guest with an urgent invitation for their company in the Castle.‘ The house was one of no mean note, and appears from its titles to have deserved the name of the Mansion House-such was the succession of civic dignitaries that dwelt within its walls. It is described as ‘‘ that dwelling-house some time possessed by um$ Bailie George Clerk, merchant ; afterwards by the Countess of Southesk ; thereafter by Provost John OrJhorn ; thereafter by Provost George Hallibnrton ; and thereafter by the said Provost Archibald Stewart.” Beyond this was an antique timber-fronted tenement, which formed of old the mansion of Napier of Wrychtishousis, and which enjoyed a far more popular reputation, as containing the little booth.from whence the rioters of 1736 procured the fatal rope with which Porteons was hung. Many readers will remember a quaint. little Dutch manikin, with huge goggle eyes, and a bunch of flax in his hand, who presided over its threshold in latter times. His history was traced for considerably more than a century Ante, p. 113.
Volume 10 Page 371
  Enlarge Enlarge