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Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time


LEITH AND THE NEW TO WN. 359 thereto by the United Corporations of Leith, exclusive of that of the Mariners, the wealthiest and most numerous class of privileged citizens, whose Hospital, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, stood directly opposite to St Mary’s Church, on the site now occupied by the Trinity House. The inscription which adorned the ancient edifice is built into the south wall of the new buildiug at the corner of St Giles’ Street, cut in large and highly ornamental antique characters-h THE NAME OF THE LORD VE MASTERIS AND MARENELIS BYLIS THIS HOTS TO YE POVR. ANNO DOMIN1I 555. The date of this foundation is curious. Its dedication implies that it originated with the adherents of the ancient faith, while the date of the old inscription indicates the very period when the Queen Regent assumed the reins of government. That same year John Knox landed at Leith on his return from exile ; and only three years later, the last convocation of the Roman Catholic clergy that ever assembled in Scotland under the sanction of its laws, was held in the Blackfriars’ Church at Edinburgh, and signalised its final session by proscribing Sir David Lindsay’s writings, and enacting that his (( buik should be abolished and brunt.” To the east of the Trinity House, on the north side of the Kirkgate, a very singular building fronts the main street at the head of Combe’s Close. The upper stories appear to have been erected about the end of the sixteenth century, and form rather a neat and picturesque specimen of the private buildings of that period. But the ground floor presents different and altogether dissimilar features. An arcade extends along nearly the whole front, formed of semicircular arches resting on massive round pillars, finished with neat moulded capitals. Their appearance is *such that even an experienced antiquary, if altogether ignorant of the history of the locality, would at once pronounce them to be early and very interesting Norman remains. That they are of considerable antiquity canuot be doubted. The floor of the house is now several feet below the level of the street; and the ground has risen so much within one of them, which is an open archway giving access to the court behind, that a man of ordinary stature has to stoop considerably in attempting to pass through it. No evidenae is more incontrovertible as to the great age of a building than this. Other instances of a similar mode of construction are, however, to be found in Leith, tending to show that the style of architecture is not a safe criterion of the date of their erection. The most remarkable of these is an ancient edifice in the Sheep’s Head Wynd, the ground floor of which is formed of arches constructed in the same very early style, though somewhat plainer and less massive in character, while over the doorway of the projecting staircase is cut in ornamental characters the initials and date, D. W., M. W., 1579. The edifice, though small and greatly dilapidated, is ornamented with string courses and mouldings, and retains the evidences of former grandeur amid its degradation and decay.‘ Maitland refers to another building, still standing at the north-west corner of Queen Street, which, in his day, had its lower story in the form of an open piazza, but modern alterations have completely concealed this antique feature. Here was the exchange or meeting-place of the merchants and traders of Leith for the transaction of business, as was indicated by the popular name of the Bursa-evidently a corruption of the French term Bourse-by which it was generally known at a very recent period. The arches in the Kirkgate have also been closed up and . 1 This teuement is erroneously pointed out in Campbell‘s History of Leith aa bearing the earlieat date on any private editice in the town.
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3 60 MEMORIALS OF EDINBURGH. converted into shops of late years, but not so effectually as to conceaI their character, which is deserving of special notice as a peculiar and very characteristic feature in the domestic architecture of the town. Returning, however, to the ancient edifices of the Kirkgate, we must refer the reader to the view already given of one which was only demolished in 1845, and which, from its appearance, was undoubtedly one of the oldest private buildings in Leith.’ Popular fame, as was mentioned before, assigned its erection to May of Guise. The value to be attached to such traditional associations may be inferred from a remark in the most recent history of Leith Were we to give credit to all the traditionary information we have received, Mary of Lorraine would appear to have had in Leith not one place of residence, but at least a score, there being scarcely an old house in the town without its claims to the honour of having been the habitation of the Queen Regent. The mortification, therefore, which certainly awaits him who sets out on an antiquarian excursion through Leith, particularly if the house of that illustrious personage be the object of his pursuit, will not proceed from any difficulty in discovering the former residence of her Majesty, but in the much more puzzling circumstance of finding by far too many ;-in short, that nearly all the existing antiquities of Leith are fairly divided between Cromwell and Queen Mary, between whom there would Beem to have been a sort of partnership in building houses. As might naturally be expected from this association, her Majesty and the Protector would appear to have lived on the most sociable footing. We have in more than one instance found them residing under one roof, Queen Mary occupying probably the first floor, and Cromwell living up-stairs.’” Such popular aptitude in the coining of traditions is by no means confined to Leith; but the antiquary may escape all further trouble in searching for the Queen’s mansion by consulting Naitland, who remarks, (‘ that Mary .of Lorraine having chosen Leith for her residence, erected a house to dwell in at the corner of Quality Street Wpd in the Rotten Row,” now known as Water Lane, ‘‘ but the same being taken down and rebuilt, the Scottish Arms which were in the front thereof are erected in the wall of a house opposite thereto on the southern side ; and the said Mary, for the convenience of holding councils, erected a handsome and spacious edifice for her Privy Council to meet in.”’ The curious visitor will look in vain now even for the sculptured arms that escaped the general destruction of the ancient edifice wherein the Queen Regent, Mary of Guise, spent the last years of her life, embittered by the strife of factions and the horrors of civil war ;-an ominous preparative for her unfortunate daughter’s assumption of the sceptre, which was then wielded in her name. One royal abode, however, still remains-if tradition is to be trusted-and forms a feature of peculiar interest among the antiquities of the Kirkgate. Entering by a low and narrow archway immediately behind the buildings on the east side, and about half way between Charlotte Street and Coatfield Lane, the visitor finds himself in a singular-looking, irregular little court, retaining unequivocal marks of former magnificence. A projecting staircase is thrust obliquely into the narrow space, and adapts itself to the irregular sides of the court by sundry corbels and recesses, such as form the most characteristic features of our old Bcottish domestic architecture, and might almost seem to a fanciful imagination to have been produced as it jostled itself into the straitened site. A richly decorated dormer 1 Ante, p. 54. Abridged from Campbell’a History of Leith, p. 312. Maitland, p. 496.
Volume 10 Page 395
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