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Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time


3 50 MEMORlALS OF EDINBURGH. This was the picturesque half-castellated edifice of Wrychtishousis, unfortunately acquired by the trustees of Mr Gillespie, a wealthy and benevolent tobacconist who bequeathed his whole fortune to found an hospital for the aged poor. By them it was entirely demolished in the year 1800, and the tasteless modern erection built which now occupies its site. The nucleus of this singularly picturesque group of irregular masonry appeared to have been an ancient keep, or Peel Tower, evidently of very early date, around which were clustered, in various styles of architecture, intricate ranges of buildings and irregular turrets, which had been added by successive owners to increase the accommodation afforded by the primitive tower. The general effect of this antique pile was greatly enhanced on approaching it by the numerous heraldic devices and inscriptions which adorned every window, doorway, and ornamental pinnacle ; the whole walls being crowded with armorial bearings, designed to perpetuate the memory of the noble alliances by which the family succession of the Napiers of Wrychtishousis had been continued from early times. The earliest records of this ancient family which have been discovered, show that William Napier, the owner of the old mansion in 1390, was then Constable of Edinburgh Castle, and maintained that important stronghold at the beginning of the following century, with the aid of Archibald, Earl of Douglas, and the unfortunate Duke of Rothesay, against Henry IT., at the head of the whole military force of England. To this brave resistance, which baffled all the efforts of the English monarch, and redeemed Scotland from total subjection, the ingenious genealogist of the Napiers conceives that the peculiar tenure of the Wrychtishousis may be referred. From old charters, preserved in the Register House, it appears that that property was held by payment to the king of a silver penny upon the Castle Hill of Edinburgh. “ Fourteen yeara’ services as Constable, iucluding so memorable a siege, may perhaps account for the silver link between the Wrychtishousis and the Castle Hill.” The singular edifice thus intimately amociated with a historical event of such memorable importance, formed by far the most striking example of an ancient baronial mansion that existed in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh. Minutely examined, it exhibited the picturesque blending of the rude feudal stronghold with the ornate additions of more peaceful times, combining altogether to produce a pleasing effect rarely equalled by more regular designs. The effect of this irregular group of the various styles of Scottish architecture is described, by those who still remember it with regret, as singularly striking, especially when viewed from the Borough Muir towards sunset, rearing its towers and pinnacles against the evening sky. Had it remained till now, it is probable that the prevalence of a better taste would have induced the trustees of Gillespie’s foundation to adapt it to the purposes of their charitable institution, instead of levelling it with the ground. Its demolition, however, was not effected even then without a spirited, though ineffectual remonstrance, by a correspondent of the Edinburgh Magazine for July 1800, who writes under the name of Cadmon, and urges, among other arguments, the venerable antiquity of the building, one of the dates on which was 1376. “Above one window,” he remarks, “was the inscription, SICUT OLIVA FRUCTIFERA, 1376; and above another, IN DOMINCO o m o , 1400. There were several Iater dates:marking the periods, probably of additions, embellishments, or repairs, or the succession of different proprietors. The arms Partition of the Lennox, p. 181.
Volume 10 Page 383
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