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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. II


314 OLD AND NEW EDINBURGH. (The West Bow. thundering back again; being neither more nor less than Satan come in one of his best equipages to take home the major and his sister after they had spent a night?s leave of absence in their terrestrial dwelling.? Scott also tellsus inhis ?Letters on Demonology,? that bold indeed was the urchin who approached the gloomy house, at the risk of seeing thC major?s enchanted staff parading the desolate apartments, .or hearing the hum of the necromantic wheel which procured for his sister such a reputation as a spinner. About the beginning of the present century, according to the author above quoted, when Weir?s house was beginning to be regarded with less superstitious terror, an attempt was made by the luckless proprietor to find one bold enough to ;become his tenant, and such an adventurer was yrocured in the person of a dissipated old soldier named William Patullo, whose poverty rendered him glad to possess a house at any risk, on the low terms at which it was offered; and the greatest interest was felt by people of all ranks in the city, on its becoming known that Major Weir?s house was about to have a mortal tenant at last ! Patullo and his spouse felt rather flattered by the interest they excited ; but on the first night, as the venturesome couple lay abed, fearful and wakeful, ?a dim uncertain light proceeding from the sathered embers of their fire, and all being silent around them-they suddenly saw a form? like that of a calf, which came forward to the bed, and setting its fore-feet upon the stock, looked steadfastly at the unfortunate pair. When it had contemplated them thus for a few minutes, to their great relief it took itself away, and, slowly retiring, vanished from their sight. As might be expected, they deserted the house next morning; and for another half century no other attempt was made to embank this part of the world of light from the aggressions of the world of darkness.? But even the world of spirits could not withstand the Improvement Commission, and the spring of 1878 saw the house of the wizard numbered with the things that are no more in this quarter of Edinburgh, and to effect the removal of which the Commissioners gave freely the sum of ~ 4 0 0 , 0 0 0 . Behind the abode of the major in the West Bow, but entered from Johnstone?s Close, Lawnmarket, was another very remarkable old house which was demolished about the same time. Memorials,? that it exhibits an interior ?? abounding with plain arched recesses and corbelled projections, scattered throughout in the most irregular and lawless fashion, Of this building Wilson says in his and with narrow windows thrust into the oddest corners, or up even above the very cornice of the ceiling, in order to catch every wandering ray of light, amid the jostling of its pent-up neighbourhood. A view of the largest apartment is given in the Abbotsford edition of the Waverley novels, under the name of the ? Hall of the Knights of St. John, St John?s Close, Canongate.? ? But he adds that he had failed in every attempt to obtain any clue to the early history of this mysterious edifice which tradition thus associated with the soldier-monks of Torphichen. Discoveries made in the course of its demolition added to the mystery concerning it. In the stair leading from the court to the hall there was a quaint holy-water font; and in clearing out the interior, it was found that the ceiling had at one time been beautifully painted with flowers and geometric designs. In the great open chimney-place of the hall there were, singularly enough, two mall windows; and in the heart of the massive walls were found secret stairs that led from the hall to rooms above it In addition to these secret passages, the walls disclosed four recesses that had been faced with stone, and which concealed the relics of more than one crime or mystery that will never be unravelled. One held the skeleton of a child, with its cap and part of its dress; and in the other there were quantities of human bones. In a built-up cupboatd a large vertebral bone of a whale was discovered. ?? The beams of the hall,? says the Scotsman of 8th February, 1878, ?( and indeed of the whole house, were of oak, which, according to tradition, was grown on the Burghmuir, and, with the exception of the ends which had been built into the wall, the wood was found to be perfectly sound and beautifully grained.? Immediately opposite the close that led to the house of Major Weir, and occupying nearly the site of the present St John?s Free Church, stood an old tenement, which bore the date 1602, with the arms of the Somerville family, and the initials P. S. and J. W., being those of a once worthy and wealthy magistrate and his wife, whose son Bartholomew Somerville was a benefactor to the University of Edinburgh, when that institution was in its infancy. The architrave of the door bore also the legend IN. DOMINO. CONFIDO. A narrow spiral stair led to a lofty wainscoted room, with a fine carved oak ceilipg, on the second floor. This was the first Edinburgh Assembly Room, off which was a closet or recess, forming an out-shot over the street, wherein the musickm
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The West Bow.] A BITTER personal quarrel had existed for some years between James Johnstone of Westerhall and Hugh (from his bulk generally known as Braid Hugh) Somerville of the Writes, and they had often fought with their swords and parted on equal temis. Somerville, in the year 1596, chancing to be in Edinburgh on private business, was one day loitering about the head of the Bow, when, by chance, Westerhall was seen ascending the steep and winding street, and at that moment some officious person said, ? There is Braid Hugh Somerville of the Writes.? THE OLD ASSEMBLIES. 3?5 Westerhall, conceiving that his enemy was lingering there either in defiance, or to await him, drew his sword, and crying, ?Turn, villain!? gave Somerville a gash behind the head, the most severe. wound he had ever inflicted, and which, according to the ? Memoirs of the Somervilles,? was ? much regrated eftirwards by himselt? Writes, streaming with blood, instantly drew his sword, and ere Westerhall could repeat the stroke, put him sharply on his defence, and being the taller and stronger man of the two, together with the advantage given by the slope, he pressed him could retire for refreshments, or to rosin their bows. Here then did the fair dames of Queen Anne?s time, in their formal stomachers, long gloves, ruffles and lappets, meet in the merry country dance, or the stately minuef de la (our, the beaux of the time, with their squarecut velvet coats and long-flapped waistcoats, with sword, ruffles, and toupee in tresses, when the news was all about the battle of Almanza, the storming of Barcelona, or the sinking of the Spanish galleons by Benbow in the West Indies, or it might be-in whispers-of the unfurling of the standard on the Braes of Mar. The regular assembly, according to Arnot, was . first held in the year 17 10, and it continued entirely hnder private management till 1746, but though the Scots as a nation are passionately fond of dancing, the strait-laced part of the community bitterly inveighed against this infant institution. In the Library of the Faculty of Advocates there is a curious little pamphlet, entitled, a ?Letter from a Gentleman iti the Country to his Friend in the City, with an Answer thereto concerning the New Assembly,? which affords a remarkable glimpse of the bigotry of the time :- ?I am informed that there is lately a society erected in your town, which I think is called an Assembly. The speculations concerning this meeting have of late exhausted the most part of the public conversation in this countryside :. some are pleased to say that ?tis only designed to cultivate polite conversation, and genteel behaviouramong the better sort of folks, and to give young people an opportunity of accomplishing themselves in both ; while others are of opinion that it will have quite a different effect, and tends to vitiate and deprave the: minds and inclinations of the younger sort.? The author, who might have been Davie Deans himself, and who writes in 1723, adds that he had been much stirred on this matter by the approaching solemnity of the Lord?s Supper, and that he had been ?informed that the design of this (weekly) meeting was to afford some ladies an opportunity to alter the station that they had long fretfully continued in, and to set off others as they should prove ripe for the market.? The old Presbyterian abhorrence of ?? promiscuous dancing? was only held in check by the less strait-laced spirit of the Jacobite gentry; but so great was the opposition to the Edinburgh Assembly, as Jackson tells us in his ?History of the Stage,? that a furious rabble once attacked the rooms, and perforated the closed doors with red-hot spits. Arnot says that the lady-directress sat at the head of the room, wearing the badge of heroffice, a gold medal with a motto and device, emblematic of charity and parental tenderness. After several years of cessation, under the effect. of local mal-influence, when the Assembly was re-constituted in 1746, among the regulations hung up in the hall, were tko worth quoting :- ?No lady to be admitted in a nz$f-gowr (negl&i?), and no gentleman in boots.? ?? No misses in skirts and jackets, robe-coats, nor. staybodied-gowns, to be allowed to dance in country dances, but in a set by themselves.?
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