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Kay's Originals Vol. 1


Volume 8 Page 89
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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. 63 Session he resigned his seat, to the surprise of many, in favour of Sir Adam Fergusson, Bart., as he found his professional avocations required an attendance quite incompatible with his Parliamentary duties. , At Michaelmas 1784, in compliance with the urgent request of the Town- Council, he was elected Lord Provost of Edinburgh ; and he speedily evinced his public spirit by setting on foot various projects for the improvement of the city, not the least important among which was the rebuilding of the College. The access to Edinburgh from the south, on account of the narrowness and steepness of the lanes, was not only very incommodious but even hazardous ; and, accordingly, it had been proposed to open a communication between the High Street and the southern parts of the city and suburbs by means of a bridge over the Cowgate. This scheme, although its great importance was abundantly obvious, appeared so expensive, and was attended with so many other difficulties, that every previous attempt had proved unsuccessful, and it required all the address and influence of the Lord Provost to carry it into execution. In order to defray the great expense, Sir James devised means which, to men of less discernment or knowledge in business, appeared very inadequate to the purpose. His scheme was this: The property which lay in the line of the intended communication, and to a considerable distance on each side of that line, was to be purchased at its real value at the time ; and after the communication was opened, such parts of the ground thus purchased as were not to be left vacant, were to be disposed of for the purpose of erecting buildings, according to a plan prepared for the purpose. Sir James conceived that the sale of these areas, in consequence of the great improvement of their situation, would raise money sufficient, not only to pay for the first purchase of the property, but also to defray the expense of building the bridge, and whatever else was necessary for completing the communication. But lest there should be any deficiency, and in order to afford security for borrowing the money which might be requisite, the trustees for carrying on the work were to be empowered to levy a sum not exceeding 10 per cent of the valued rents of the houses in Edinburgh and the environs ; and, to remove all cause of complaint, he proposed that if any of the owners of the property to be purchased should not agree with the trustees, the price of their property should be fixed by the verdict of a jury? consisting of fifteen persons, to be chosen by lot out of forty-five proprietors of houses or lands in the city or county, named by the Sheriff in each particular case. These proposals were published in November 1784, and met with the same reception which has often attended schemes of still greater importance and more extensive utility. They were censured and vigorously opposed. A man of less ardour and public spirit would have yielded to the discouragements which Sir James experienced on this occasion. Fortunately he was of such a temper that they served only to stimulate his exertions, without rendering him less prudent in his measures. An Act of Parliament was obtained for carrying into execution not only the plan which has been mentioned, but likewise several others, of great importance to the city ; His perseverance surmounted every opposition.
Volume 8 Page 90
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