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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. VI


THE FIRST THOROUGHFARE. Leith1 THE KIRKGATE. CHAPTER XXIII. LEITH - THE KIRKGATE. The Kirkgate-Eastside-Tavern Tragedy, 1691-Robed Watson-The Preceptmy of St. Anthony-Its Seal-King James's Hospital--% Mary's Church-Destruction of the Choir-First Protestant Miniister--Cromwell's Troops-The Rev. John Logan, Miniiter. ONE of the oldest and principal streets of Leith is the Kirkgate, a somewhat stately thoroughfare as compared with those off it, measuring eleven hundred feet in length from the foot of the Walk to the Water Reservoir (called of old The Pipes) at the head of Water Lane, by an average breadth of fifty feet. " Time and modern taste," says Wilson, " have slowly, but very effectually, modified its antique features. No timber-fronted gable now thrusts its picturesque fapde with careless grace beyond the line of more staid and formal-looking ashlar fronts. Even the crowstepped gables of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are becoming the exception ; it is only by the irregularity which still pertains to it, aided by the few really picturesque tenements which remain unaltered, that it now attracts the notice of the curious visitor as the genuine remains of the ancient High Street of the burgh. Some of these relics of former times are well worthy the notice of the antiquary, while
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214 OLD AND NEW EDINBURGH. [Leith. memorials of still earlier fabrics here and there meet the eye, and carry back the imagination to those stirring scenes in the history of this locality, \+hen the Queen Regent, with her courtiers and allies, made it their stronghold and chosen place of abode ; or when, amid a more peaceful array, the fair Scottish Queen Mary, or the sumptuous Anne of Denmark, rode gaily through the street on their way to Holyrood.? It is a street that carries back the mind to the days of Wood and the Bartons, when the port of Leith was in constant communication with Bordeaux and the Garonne, and when the Scots of those days were greater claret drinkers than the English ; and when commerce here was as we find it detailed in the ledger of Andrew Haliburton, the merchant of Middelburg and Conservator of Scot- ? tish Privileges there, between 1493 and 1505-a ledger that gives great insight to the imports at Leith and elsewhere in Scotland. Haliburton acted as agent for churchmen as well as laymen, receiving and selling on commission the raw products of the Netherlands, and sending home nearly every kind of manufactured article then in use. He appears often to have visited Edinburgh, settling old accounts and arranging new ventures ; and with that piety which in those days formed so much a part of the inner life of the Scottish people? the word JHESUS is inscribed on every account. Haliburton appears to have imported cloths, silk, linen, and woollen stuffs; wheelbarrows to build King?s College, Aberdeen ; fruit, dyugs, and plate ; Gascony, Rhenish, and Malvoisie mines ; pestles, mortars, brass basins, ?and feather beds ; an image of St. Thomas ZL Becket, from Antwerp, for John of Pennycuik ; tombstones from Middelburg ; mace, pepper, saffron, and materials for Walter Chapman, the early Scottish printer, if not the first in Scotland. We reproduce (p. 212) Wilson?s view of one of the oldest houses in the Kirkgate, which was only taken down in 1S45. The doorway was moulded; on the frieze was boldly cut in old English letters Pherrarr flaria, and above was a finely-moulded Gothic niche, protected by a sloping water-table. A stone gurgoyle projected from the upper storey. Local tradition asserted that the edifice was a chapel built by Mary of Lorraine ; but of this there is no evidence. In the niche, no doubt, stood an image, which would be destroyed at the Reformation. Above the niche there was a small square aperture, in which it was customary, as is the case now in Continental towns, to place a light after nightfall, in order that passers-by might see the shrine and ,make obeisance td it. Another very old house on the same side of the Kirkgate, the west, displays a handsome triple arcade of three round arches on squat pillars, with square moulded capitals, a great square chimney rising through the centre of the roof, and a staircase terminating a?crowstepped gable to the street. A tavern in the Kirkgate, kept by a man named John Brown, and which, to judge from the social position of its visitors, must have been a respectable house of entertainment, was the scene of a tragedy on the 8th of March, 1691. Sinclair of Mey, and a friend named James Sinclair, writer in Edinburgh, were at their lodgings in this tavern, when at a late hour the Master of Tarbet (afterwards Earl of Cromarty) and Ensign Andrew Mowat came to join them. ? There was no harm? meant by any one that night in the hostelry of John Brown, but before midnight the floor was reddened with slaughter.? The Master of Tarbet, son of a statesman of no mean note, was nearly related to Sinclair of Mey. He and the ensign are described in the subsequent proceedings as being both excited by the liquor they had taken, but not beyond self-control. A . pretty girl, named Jean Thompson, on bringing them a fresh supply, was laughingly invited by the Master to sit beside him, but escaped to her own room, and bolted herself in. Running in pursuit of her, he went blunderingly into a room occupied by a French gentleman, named George Poiret, who was asleep. An altercation took place between them, on which Ensign Mowat went to see what was the matter. The Frenchman had drawn his sword, but the two friends wrenched it out of his hand. A servant of the house, named Christian Erskine, now came on the scene of brawling, together with a gentleman who could not be afterwards identified. At her urgent entreaty, Mowat took away the Master and the stranger, who carried with him Poiret?s sword. Here the fracas would have ended, had not the Master deemed it his duty to return and apologise. Exasperated to find a new disturbance, as he deemed it, at his room door, the Frenchman knocked on the ceiling with tongs to summon to his assistance his two brothers, Isaac Poiret and Elias, surnamed the Sieur de la Roche, who at once came down, armed with their swords and pistols, and spoke with George, who was defenceless and excited, at his door; and in a moment there came about a hostile collision between them and the Master and Mowat in the hall. Jean Thompson roused Brown, the landlord, but he came too late. The Master and Mowat were
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