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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. IV


Currie?s, and Dewar?s Closes on the north side of the market, were all doomed to destruction by the late City Improvement Act. In the vicinity of the first-named alley, whose distinctive title implied its former respectability as a paved close, was a tenement, dated 1634, with a fine antique window of oak and ornamental leaden tracery, and an adjacent turnpike stair has the THE CORN EXCHANGE, GRASSMARKET. of December, 1793, so many members of the memorable British Convention were seized and made prisoners, with several English delegates, when holding a political meeting for revolutionary purposes and correspondence with the French Republic. In these transactions and meetings, Robert Watt, a wine merchant, and David Downie, became God . for , all . his . Giftis,? and the initials, ?L B. G. EL? . In Currie?s Close was an ancient door, only two feet nine inches broad, with the halfdefaced legend : GOD . GIVES THE . . . . RES . . . . and the initials, ? G. B.? and ?? B. F,? and a shield charged with a chevron and something like a boar?s head in base. In 1763 such a diversion as cockfighting was utterly unknown in Edinburgh, but in twenty years after, regular matches or maim, as they were technically termed, were held, and a regular cockpit for this school of gambling and cruelty was built in the Grassmarket, and there it was that, on the 12th death for high treason. After the dispersion of the British Convention in the Grassmarket, they became active members of a ? Committee of Union,? to collect the sense of the nation, and of another body styled the Committee of Ways and Means,? of which Downie, who was a goldsmith in the Parliament Close, and an office-bearer of his corporation, was appointed treasurer. In unison With the London Convention, the ?? Friends of the People ? in Edinburgh had lost all hope of redress for their alleged .political wrongs by constitutional means, and designs of a dangerous nature were considered-wild schemes, of which Watt was the active promoter. Their first attempt was to suborn the Hopetoun Fencibles, then at Dalkeith, and under orders for
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England, but they failed to excite mutiny ; yet a plan was formed by which it was expected that the Castle and city would both fall into the hands of the Friends of the People, who were secretly arming. The design was this :- ?A fire was to be raised near the excise office, which would require the attendance of the soldiers, who were to be met on their way by a body of the THE WHITE HART INN, GRASSMARKET. committee of ? Sense and Money? was formed to procure them. Two smiths, named Robert Orrock and William Brown, who had enrolled, received orders to make 4,000 pikes, some of which were actually completed, delivered to Watt, and paid for by Downie in his capacity as treasurer. Meanwhile the trials of Skirving, Margarot, and . Gerald, had taken place, for complicity to a certain to issue from the West Bow, confine the soldiers between two forces, and cut off all retreat. The Castle was next to be attempted, the judges and magistrates were to be,seized, and all the public banks to be secured. A proclamation was then to be issued, ordering all farmers to bring in their grain to the market as usual, and enjoining all country gentlemen unfriendly to the cause to keep within their houses, or three miles of them, under penalty of death. Then an address was to be sent to his Majesty, commanding him to put an end to the war, to change his ministers, or take the consequences ! ? Similar events were to take place in Dublin and London on the same night Before this startling scheme could be effected, arms of all descriptions were necessary, and a third until about the 15th of May, 1794 that Watt and Downie were apprehended. On that day it chanced that two sheriff officers when searching the house of the former for the secreted goods of a bankrupt, found some pikes, which they conveyed to the sheriff?s chambers. A warrant was issued to search the whole premises, and in the cellars a form of types from which the address to the troops had been printed, and a great quantity of pikes, were discovered, while in the house, thirty-three in various stages of completion were found. Hence, early on the morning of June and, Watt, Downie, and. Orrock, were conveyed from the old Tolbooth to the Castle, as State prisoners, and lodged in the strong apartment above the portcullis. True bills of indictment being found against
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