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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. VI


234 .OLD AND NEW EDINBURGH. [Leith But this ancient alley is the earliest thoroughhre in the seaport of which we have an authentic account, as towards the close of the fourteenth century it was granted, in a charter already quoted, by Logan of Restalng, the baronial over-lord of Leith, before it attained the dignity of a burgh, . to the burgesses of Edinburgh (hence its name) ; and at the time of its formation the whole imports and exports of the Leith shipping must have been conveyed to and fro on pack-horses or in wheelbarrows, as no larger means of conveyance could pas? through the Burgess Close. Its inconvenience appears to have been soon felt, and the Baron of Restalrig was compelled, under pressure, to grant his vassals a more commodious access to the shore. ?The inscription which now graces this venerable thoroughfare,? says Wilson in 1847, ?though of a date much later than its first construction, preserves a memorial of its gift to the civic council of Edinburgh, as we may reasonably ascribe the veneration of some wealthy merchant of the capital inscribing over the doorway of his mansion at Leith the very appropriate motto of the city arms. To this, the oldest quarter of the town, indeed, we must direct those who go in search of the picturesque.? The Humane Society of Leith, which was first instituted in 1788 for the recovery of persons apparently drowned or suffocated, had its rooms first in the Burgess Close and Bernard Street. Water?s Close, which adjoins, has several attractive features in a picturesque sense, and repulsive ones in its modern squalor. Tenements of stone and timber, and of great antiquity, are mingled together in singular disorder ; and one venerable tenement of hewn ashlar exhibits a broad projecting turnpike, with various corbellings, a half-circular turret, crowstepped gables, and massive chimneys, with ? every variety of convenient aberration from the perpendicular or horizontal which the taste or whim of its constructor could devise, and is one of the most singular edifices that the artist could select as a subject for his pencil.? Five low and square-headed doorways of great breadth show that the whole of the lower storey had been constructed as a warehouse. This edifice, with its vaults, is advertised as for sale in The Edinburgh Advertiser of 1789, and is described as being in ?Willie Water?s Close, Leith.? Its vaults are stated to be of stone, and ? the whole length and breadth of the subject completely catacombed.? CHAPTER XXVI. LEITH-ROTTEN ROW, BROAD WYND, BERNARD STREET, BALTIC STREET, AND QUALITY STREET. The Improvement Scheme-Water Lane, or Rotten Row-House of the Queen Regent-Old Sugar House Company-The Broad Wynd-The. King?s Wark-Its History-The Tennis Court-Bernard Lindsay-Little London-Bernard Street-Old Glass House-How of John Home-Home and MR. Siddons-Professor Jamieson. MUCH of what we have been describing in Leith will ere long be swept away, for after some years of negotiation, the great ? Leith Improvement Scheme? has been definitely arranged, and the loan necessary to carry it out has been granted. Early in 1877 the Provost drew attention to the insanitary condition of certain portions of the burgh, more especially the crowded and central area lying between St. Giles?s Street and the Coal Hill. In the area mentioned the death rate amounted to twentysix per thousand., or five per cent above that of any other part of Leith, while the infantile mortality reached the alarming rate of fifty-six per thousand. It had been found that the power conferred on the local authority of levying an improvement rate under the Police Act, was quite inadequate for the purpose of improving an area so extensive; thus attention was drawh to- the Artisans? Dwelling House Act, as a measure which might satisfy the requirements of the seaport, and two schemes, one of which included a large district, were condemned by the ratepayers as expensive and unsuitable. The Town Council then ordered the preparation of a plan likely to secure the objects in view, at a cost which would not prove oppressive to the inhabitants, and this scheme was ultimatelyapproved cf by the Home Secretary. Its main feature will be the ultimate opening up of a street fifty feet wide, from Great Junction Street to the Tolbooth Wynd, by the way of Yardheads, St Giles?s and St. Andrew?sStreets, andin the course ofits construdtion, three-quarters of a mile in length, no fewer than eighteen ancient closes will be removed, while the streets that run parallel ? to Yardheads will be widened and improved.
Volume 6 Page 234
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