Edinburgh Bookshelf

Old and New Edinburgh Vol. II


318 OLD AND NEW EDINBURGH. [The West Bow. Jambites pointing t a it with mingled howls and jeers, as a proof of the enslavement of Scotland.?? Outside the archway of the Bow Port, and on the west side of the street, was the house of Archibald Stewart, Lord Provost of Edinburgh in the ever memorable year 1745. Its upper windows overlooked the Grassmarket, and it was as full of secret stairs, trap-doors, little wainscoted closets, and concealed recesses, as any haunted mansion in a nursery tale. In one apartment there stood a cabinet, or what appeared to be such, but which in reality was the entrance to a trap-stair. It is unknown whether Provost Stewart-whose Jacobite proclivities are well known, as they brought him before a court on charges of treason-contrived this means of retreat, or whether (which is more probable) it had been a portion of the original design of the house ; but local tradition avers that he turned it to important use on one occasion. , It is said that during the occupation of Edinburgh by the Highland army in 1745 he gave a secret entertainment to Prince Charles and some of the chiefs of his army ; and it was not conducted so secretly but that tidings of it reached the officer commanding in the adjacent Castle, which was then garrisoned chiefly by the 47th or Lascelles Regiment. A party of the latter was sent to seize the Prince if possible, and, to do so, came down the Bow from the street of the Castle Hill. Fortunately, their own appearance created an alarm, and before they gained admission the guests of the Provost had all disappeared by the?secret stair. Tradition has never varied in the relation of this story, but the real foundation of it is difficult of discovery, This house stood at the foot of Donaldson?s Close, and Archibald Stewart was th(! third chief magistrate of Edinburgh who had inhabited it. In subsequent years it came into possession of Alexander. Donaldson, the well-known bookseller, .whose litigation with the trade in London made much noise at one time, as he was in the habit of deliberately reprinting the most modem English works in Edinburgh, where, before his epoch, both printing and publishing were at the lowest ebb. Refemng to the state of this branch of industry at the time he wrote (1779), Arnot says:--?Till within these forty years, the printing of newspapers and of school-books, of the fanatic effusions of Presbyterian clergymen, and the law-papers of the Court of Session, joined to the patent Bible printing, gave a scanty employment to four printinghouses. Such, however, has been the increase of this trade by the reprinting of English books, that there are now no fewer than twenty-seven printingoffices in Edinburgh.? In our own time there are about eighty. From his printing-house in the Castle Hill, Alexander Donaldson issued the first number of his once famous newspaper, The Edinburgh Advertiser, on the 3rd of January, 1764. It was a large quarto, and was also issued and sold from his shop, ?I near Norfolk Street in the Strand, London ;?, and, his first number contains the following curious. advertisement, among others :- ?Any young woman not under IS, nor much over 30 years of age, that is tolerably handsome, and would incline to give her hand to a Black Prince, upon directing a letter to F. Y., care of the Publisher, will be informed particularly as to this. matrimonial scheme, which they may be assured is a good one in every respect, the colour of the husband only excepted. If desired, secresy may be depended on.? For a long course of years this journal, prominent as a Conservative organ, proved a most lucrative speculation; and as all his other undertakings prospered, he left, together with his old house in the Bow, a rich inheritance to his son, the late Mr. James Donaldson, who eventually realised a large fortune, the mass of which (about ;t;240,000) at his death, in 1840, he bequeathed to found the magnificent hospital which bears his name at the west end of the city. Six years before his death the old house in the Bow, where he and his father had resided for so many years, and wherein they had entertained most of the literati of their time, was burned to the ground. Lower down than the house of the Donaldsons was an ancient edifice, with a timber front of picturesque aspect, in former times the town mansion of the Napiers of Wrightshouse-a family which passed away about the close of the 17th century, but was of some importance in its time. Alexander Napier of Wrightshouse appears as one of an inquest in 1488. His coat armorial was a bend, charged with a crescent between two mullets. He married Margaret Napier of Merchiston, whose father, Sir Alexander, was slain at Flodden, and whose brother (his heir) was slain at. Pinkie. In 1581, among the names of the Commissioners appointed by James VI., ?anent the cuinze,? that of William Napier of the Wrightshouse appears; and in 1590 his sister Barbara. Napier was accused of witchcraft on the 8th of Mayr and of being present at the great meeting of Scottish witches held by the devil in North Berwick. The wife of Archibald Douglas (brother of the Laird of Carshoggil), her trial was one of great
Volume 2 Page 318
  Enlarge Enlarge  
BARBARA NAPIER 3?9 The West Bow.] tlength, involving that of many others; but a portion of the charges against her will suffice as a sample of the whole, from U Pitcairn?s Trials.? ?? Satan had informed the witches that James VI. sf Scotland was the greatest enemy he had, and the latter?s visit to Norway, to bring over his queen, seemed to afford an opportunity for his destrucition. Accordingly, Dr. Fiar of Tranent, the .devil?s secretary, summoned a great gathering of witches on Hallow Eve, when zoo of them embarked, each in a riddle or sieve, with much mirth .and jollity; and after cruising about somewhere on the ocean with Satan, who rolled himself before them on the waves, dimly seen, but resembling a huge haystack in size and aspect, he delivered to -one of the company, named Robert Grierson, a cat, which had been drawn previously nine times through a crook, giving the order to ?cast the same into the sea.? ? This remarkable charm was intended to raise such a furious tempest as would infallibly drown the king and queen, then on their homeward lroyage from Christiania, which, if any credit may be given to the declaration of James (who greedily swallowed the story), was not without some effect, as the ship which conveyed him encountered a furious contrary wind, while all the rest of the fleet .had a fair one and a smooth sea. On this, Barbara Napier and her infernal companions, after regaling themselves with wine out of their sieves, landed, and proceeded in procession t o North Berwick Kirk, where the devil awaited them in the pulpit, singing as they went- ?? Cummer go ye before, cummer go ye ; Cif ye winna gang before, cummer let me.? Sir James Melville gives us a most distinct account -of the devil?s appearance on this auspicious ocusion. His body was like iron; ?his faice was terrible; his nose like the bek of an egle;? he had claws like those of a griffin on his hands and >feet. He then called the roll to see that all were present, and all did him homage in a manner .equally humiliating and indecorous, which does not admit of description here. All this absurdity being proved against Barbara Napier, she was sentenced, with many others, on the 11th of May, 1590, to be burnt ?at a stake sett on the Castle HiU, with barrells, coales, heather, and powder;? but when the torch was about to be applied, pregnancy was alleged, according to ? Calderwood?s Historie,? as a just and sufficient Cause for staying proceedings; the execution was delayed, and ultimately the unfortunate creature was set at liberty by order of James VI, Now nothing remains of these Napiers but their tomb and burial-place on the north side of the choir of St. Giles?s. In the basement of the house which was once theirs was the booth from which the rioters, on the night of the 7th September, 1736, obtained the rope with which they hanged Porteous. It was then rented by a woman named Jeffrey, a dealer in miscellaneous wares, who offered them the rope gratis when she learned for what purpose it was required, but one of the conspirators threw a guinea on the counter as payment. The house of the Napiers was demolished in 1833. Opposite the mansion of Provost Stewart, and also outside the Bow Port, but on the east side of the bend, was a tenement known as ?the Clockmaker?s Land,? which was demolished in 1835, to make way for what is now Victoria Street, but which ?took its name from an eminent watchmaker, a native of France, named Paul ,Romieu, who is said to have occupied it from the time of Charles 11. (about 1675) till the beginning of the eighteenth century. In front of the house there remained, until its demolition, one of the wonders of the Bow-a curious piece of mechanism, which formed the sign of the ingenious Paul Romieu. It projected over the street from the third storey-a gilded ball representing the moon, which was made to revolve by means of clockwork. A large iron key of antique form, which was found among the ruins of this house, is preserved in the hfuseum of Antiquities. Among the oldest edifices in ]this part of the street was one which bore the singular name of the ?? Mahogany Land,? having an outer stair protected by a screen of wood. There was no date to record its erection, but its ceilings were curiously adorned by paintings precisely similar to those which were found in the palace of Mary of Guise in the Castle Hill ; and no record remained of its generations of inmates, save that, like others about to be mentioned, it bore the iron cross of the Temple, and also the legend-which, from being a simply moral apophthegm, and not Biblical, was supposed to be anterior to the Reformation-22 . yt. fhZis . overcommis, (i.e., ?He that bears overcomes.?) There was also a half-obliterated shield. For ages the Bow was famous as the chief place for whitesmiths, and till about the time of its demcr lition there was scarcely a shop in it occupied by any other tradesmen, and even on Sunday the ceaseless clatter of their hammers on all hands rang from morning till night. Behind the Mahogany Land ? lay several steep, narrow, and gloomy closes, containing the most
Volume 2 Page 319
  Enlarge Enlarge