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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. VI


Leith.] THE TOLBOOTH WYND. 1 0 marrow alley adjoining the latter, a house bearing the date 1688 has the two legends, ?Feir the Lord,? and ?The feir of the Lord is the beginning of a1 wisdome.? This part of the town-about the foot of St. Andrew?s Street-is said to have borne anciently the name of St. Leonard?s. There the Street diverges into two alleys : one narrow and gloomy, which bears the imposing title of Parliament Court ; and the other called Sheephead Wynd, in which there remains a very ancient edifice, the ground floor of which is formed of arches constructed like those of the old house described in the Kirkgate, and bearing the date 1579, with the initials D. W., M. W. Though small and greatly dilapidated, it is ornamented with string-courses and mouldings ; and it was not without some traces of old importance and grandeur amid its decay and degradation, until it was entirely altered in 1859. This house is said to have received the local name of the Gun Stone, from the circumstance of a stone cannon ball of considerable size having been fired into it during some invasion by an English ship of war. Local tradition avers that for many years this bullet formed an ornament on the summit of the square projecting staircase of the house. Near Cable?s Wynd, which adjoins this alley, and between it and King Street, at a spot called Meeting-house Green, are the relics of a building formerly used as a place of worship, and although it does not date farther back than the Revolution .of 1688, it is oddly enough called ?John Knox?s Church.? The records of South Leith parish bear that in 1692, ?? the magistrates of Edinburgh, and members of the Presbytery there, with a confused company of the people, entered the church by breaking open the locks of the doors and putting on new ones, and so caused guard the church doors with halberts, rang the bells, and possessed Mr. Wishart of the church, against which all irregular proceedings public protests were taken.? Previous to this he would seem to have officiated in a kind of chapel-of-ease established near Cable?s Wynd, by permission of James VII. in 1687. Soon after the forcible induction recorded, he came to the church with a guard of halberdiers, accompanied by the magistrates of Leith, and took possession of the Session House, compelling the ? prelatick Session ? to hold their meeting in the adjacent Kantore. More unseemly matters followed, for in December of the year 1692, when a meeting was held in South Leith Church to hear any objections that might be niade against the legal induction of the Rev. Mr. Wishart, an adherent of Mr. Kay, ?? one of the prelatick incumbents,? protested loudly against the whole proceedings. Upon this, ?Mr. Livingstone, a brewer at the Craigend (or Calton), rose up, and, in presence of the Presbytery, did most violently fall upon the commissioner, and buffeted him and nipped his cheeks, and had many base expressions to him.? Others now fell on the luckless commissioner, who was ultimately thrust into the Tolbooth of Leith by a magistrate, for daring to do that which the Presbytery had suggested. Mr. Kay?s session were next driven out of the Kantore, on the door of which another lock was placed. It has been supposed that the ousted episcopal incumbent formed his adherents into a small congregation, as he remained long iu Leith, and died at his house in the Yardheads there so lately as November, 1719, in the seventieth year of his age. His successor, tile Rev. Robert Forbes, was minister of an episcopal chapel in Leith, according to an anonymous writer, ?? very shortly after Mr: Kay?s death, and records a baptism as having been performed ? in my room in ye Yardheads.? ? The history of the Meeting-house near Cable?s Wynd is rather obscure, but it seems to have been generally used as a place of worship. The last occasion was during a visit of John Wesley, the great founder of Methodism. He was announced to preach in it; but so grcat a concourse of people assembled, that the edifice was incapable of accommodating them, so he addressed the multitude on the Meeting-house Green. LI house near it, says The Srofsinan in 1879, is pointed out as ?the Manse.? The Tolbooth TVynd is about five hundred an& fifty feet in length, from where the old signal-tower stood, at the foot of the Kirkgate, to the site of a now removed building called Old Babylon, which stood upon the Shore. The second old thoroughfare of Leith was undoubtedly the picturesque Tolbooth Wynd, as the principal approach to the harbour, after it superseded the more ancient Burgess Close. It was down this street that, in the age when Leith was noted for its dark superstitions and eccentric inhabitants, the denizens therein, regularly on stormy nights or those preceding a storm, heard with horror, at midnight, the thundering noise of ?the twelve o?clock coach,? a great oatafalque- looking vehicle, driven by a tall, gaunt figure without a head, drawn by black horses, also headless, and supposed to be occupied by a mysterious female. Near the eastern end of the wynd there stood ,
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228 OLD AND NEW EDINBURGH. [Leith for many generations an ancient and lofty signaltower, the summit of which was furnished with little port-holes, like the loops designed for arrows or musketry in our old Scottish fortalices, but which were constructed here for the more peaceable purpose of watching the merchant ships of the port as they bore up the Firth of Forth or came to anchor off the Mussel Cape. An unusually bold piece of sculpture, in a deep square panel, was above the archway that led into the courtyard behind. It was afterwards placed over the arched entrance leading from the Tolbooth Wynd to St. Andrew?s Street, and, as shown by Robertson, bears the date 1678, with the initials G. R., with two porters carrying a barrel slung between them, a ship with a lee-board and the Scottish ensign, an edifice resembling a mill or two-storeyed granary, and above it a representation of a curious specimen of mechanical ingenuity. The latter consists of a crane, the entire machinery of which ?was comprised in one large drum or broad wheel, made to revolve, like the wire cylinder of a squirrel?s cage, by a poor labourer, who occupied the quadruped?s place, and clambered up Sisyphus-like in his endless treadmill. The perspective, with the grouping and proportions of the whole composition, formed altogether an amusing and curious sample of both the mechanical and the fine arts of the seventeenth century.? A local writer in 1865 asserts-we know not upon what authority-that it is the tablet of the Association of Porters; and adds, that ?had the man in the wheel missed a step when hoisting up any heavy article, he must have been sent whirling round at a speed in nowise tending to his personal comfort.? Robertson also writes of it as ?The tablet of the Association of Porters, over the entrance to the old Sugar House Close.?? About the middle of the wynd, on the south side, stood the edifice used, until 1812, as the Customhouse of Leith. It was somewhat quadrangular, with a general frontage of about a hundred feet, with a depth of ninety. Riddle?s Close separated it from the old Tolbooth and Town Hall, on the same side of the wynd. It was built in 1565 by the citizens of Leith, though not without strenuous opposition by their jealous feudal over-lords the community of Edinburgh, and was a singularly picturesque example of the old Tolbooth of a Scottish burgh. Anxious to please her people in Leith Queen Mary wrote several letters to the Town Council of Edinburgh, hoping to soothe the uncompromising hostility of that body to the measure; and at length the required effect was produced by the following epistle, which we have somewhat divested of its obsolete orthography :- ?? To the Provost, Bailies, and Counsale of Edinburgh :- ?Forasmeikle as we have sent our requisite sundry times to you, to permit the inhabitants of our town of Leith to big and edifie ane hous of justice within the samyn, and has received no answer from you, and so the work is steyit and cessit in your default. ?t Wherefore we charge you, that ye permit our said town of Leith to big and editie ane said hous of justice within our said town of Leith, and make no stop or impediment to them to do the samyn; for it is our will that the samyn be biggit, and that ye desist from further molesting them in time coming, as we will answer to as thereupon. ? Subscribit with our hand at Holyrood House, the 1st day of March, this year of God 1563. ? MARIE R.? This mandate had the desired effect, and in two years the building was completed, as an ornamental tablet, with the Scottish arms boldly sculptured, the inscription, and date, ?IN DEFENS, M. R., 1565,? long informed the passer-by. This edifice, which measured, as Kincaid states, sixty feet by forty over the walls, had a large archway in the centre, above which were two windows of great. height, elaborately grated. On the west of it, an outside stair gave access to the first floor ; on, the east there projected a corbelled oriel, or turret; lighted by eight windows, all grated. Three elaborate string mouldings traversed the polished ashlar.fronr of the building, which nvas surmounted by an embrasured battlement, and in one part by a crowstepped gable. Few prisoners of much note have been incarcerated here, as its tenants were generally persons who had been guilty of minor crimes. Perhaps the most celebrated prisoner it ever contained was the Scottish Machiavel, ?Maitland of Lethington, who had fallen into the merciless hands of the Regent Morton after the capitulation of Edinburgh Castle in I 5 7 3, and who died, as it was said, ?? in the d d Roman fashion,? by taking poison to escape a public execution. This was on the 9th of July, as Calderwood records, adding that he lay so long unburied, ?that the vermin came from his corpse, creeping out under the door where he died.? Such an occurrence, it has been remarked, said little for the sanitary arrangements of the Leith Tolbooth, and it is to be hoped that it had few other prisoners on that occasion. ,
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