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Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time


362 MEMORIAL S OF EDINB URG H. old oaken chair remained till recently an heirloom, bequeathed by its patrician occupants to the humble tenants of their degraded dwellings. A recent writer on the antiquities of Leith, conceives it probable that this may have been the residence of the Regent Lennox; but we have been baffled in our attempts to arrive at any certain evidence on the subject by reference to the titles. “ Mary,” says Maitland, “ haviug begun to build in the town of Leith, was followed therein by divers of the nobility, bishops, and other persons of distinction of her party; several of whose houses are still remaining, as m y be seen in sundry places, by their spacious rooms, lofty ceilings, large staircases, and private oratories or chapels for the celebration of mass.” Beyond the probable evidence afforded by such remains of decaying splendour and former wealth, nothing more can now be ascertained. The occupation of Leith by nobles and dignitaries of the Church was of a temporary nature, and under circumstances little calculated to induce them to leave many durable memorials of their presence. A general glance, therefore, at such noticeable features as still remain, will suffice to complete our survey of the ancient seaport. The earliest date that we have discovered on any of the old private buildings of the burgh, occurs on the projecting turnpike of an antique tenement at the foot of Burgess Close, which bears this inscription on the lintel, in Roman characters :-NISI DNS FRUSTBA, 1573. This ancient alley is the earliest thoroughfare in the burgh of which we have any account. It was granted to the burgesses of Edinburgh, towards the close of the fourteenth century, by Logan of Restalrig, the baronial over-lord of Leith, before it acquired the dignity of a royal burgh, and the owner of nearly all the lands that extended along the banks of the harbour of Leith. We are led to infer from the straitened proportions of this narrow alley, that the whole exports and imports of the shipping of Leith were conveyed on pack-horses or in wheel-barrows, as it would certainly prove impassable for any larger wheeled convejance. Its inconvenience, however, appears to have been felt at the time, and the Laird of Restalrig was speedily compelled to grant a more commodious access to the shore. The inscription which now graces this venerable thoroughfare, though of a date so much later than its first construction, preserves a memorial of its gifts to the civic Council of Edinburgh, as we may reasonably ascribe to the veneration of some wealthy merchant of the capital the inscribing over the doorway of his mansion at Leith the very appropriate motto of the City Arms. To this, the oldest quarter of the town, indeed, we must direct those who go “in search of the picturesque.” Watera’ Close, which adjoins Burgess Close, is scarcely surpassed by any venerable alley of the capital, either in its attractive or repulsive features. Stone and timber lands are mixed together in admired disorder ; and one antique tenement in particular, at the corner of Water Lane, with a broad projecting turnpike, contorted by corbels and string courses, and every variety of convenient aberration from the perpendicular or horizontal, which the taste or whim of its constructor could devise, is one of the most singular edifices that the artist could select as a subject for his pencil. The custom of affixing sententious aphorisms to the entrances of their dwellings appears to have pertained fully as much to the citizens of Leith as of Edinburgh. BLISSIT . BE . GOD . OF . HIS . GIFTIS . 1601., I. W., I. H., is boldly cut on a large square panel on the front of an old house at the head of Sheriff Brae; and the same favourite motto
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LEITH, AND THE NEW TOWN. 363 frequently occurs with slight variations. The earliest instance of it is on the front of an ancient tenement at the head of Binnie’s Close, St Giles’ Street, where it is accompanied with a large and finely cut shield, with two coats of arms impaled, and the date 1594. Near to this, in Muckle’s Close, is the following:-~m . BLISSING .) OF . GOD . IS . GRIT . RICHES . M . S. 1609. In Vinegar Close,, an ancient building, now greatly modernised, is adorned with a large sculptured shield, containing the armorial bearings represented in the vignette at the head of the chapter. In St Andrew Street, over a window on the first floor of a house fronthg Smeaton’s Close, is the common Iegend-Tm FEIR OF THE LORD IS THE BEGINNING OF AL VISDOME; and on the same building within the close, another window bears the brief inscription and -date :-FEIR THE LORD, 1688 ; the year of the Revolution. The lintel of the ancient doorway of a house in Water Lane, demolished in 1832, bore the following pious couplet, with the date 1574 :- THEY AR WELCOME HERE, QUHA TEE LORD DO FEIR. And over another doorway in Queen Street, there is cut, in more ancient and ornamental characters-cREDENTI . NIHIL . LINGU~E:. A fine old building near the head of Queen Street, which was only demolished a few years since, was generally believed to be the mansion which had been honoured as the residence of the Queen Regent ; but the name of the street, which probably suggested the tradition, is of recent origin, and superseded the more homely one of the Paunch Market; and there is no evidence in its favour sufficient to overturn the statement of Maitland, who wrote at a period when there was less temptation to invent traditions than now. The ancient tenement, however, was evidently one of unusual magnificence. Several large portions of very richly carved oak panelling were removed from it at the time of its demolition, the style of which leaves little doubt of their being fully as old as the date of the Queen Regent’s abode in Leith ; and its walls were decorated with well executed paintings, some of which are said to have had the appearance of considerable antiquity.’ The house was highly decorated on the exterior with sculptured dormer windows’ and other ornaments common to the buildings of the period; and the oak window frames were richly carved in the style so frequently described among the features of oyr earlier domestic architecture. Many such are still to be met with about Leith, carved in different styles, according to the period of their execution ; the most common ornament on those of later date being the egg and arrow. Frequent mention is made by early historians of the King’s Work, an extensive building that appears to have occupied the whole ground between the Broad Wynd and Bernard Street. The exact purpose for which it was maintained is not clearly defined in any of the early allusions, but it probably included an arsenal, with warehouses, and resident officials, for storing the goods and managing the revenues of the port. This idea is confirmed by the reddendum in the charter, by which James VI. afterwards conferred it on a favourite attendant-viz., that he was to keep one of the cellars in the King’s Work in repair for holding wines and other provisions for his Majesty’s use.8 That some funds 1 Now in the poasession of C. B. Sharpe, Esq. ’ Campbell’s Hkbry of Leith, p. 314. Arnot, p. 672.
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