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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. VI


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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