OF THE CANONGATE
Page 3 of 5
LIII.THE CANONGATE (continued).
Closes and Alleys on the South Side- Chesser's
Court -The Canongate Theatre-Riots Therein -"Douglas"
Performed-Mr. Digges and Mrs. Bellamy-St John's Close -St.John's
Street and its Residents-The Hammerman's Close - Hors e Wynd,Abbey-House
of Lord Napier.
most burghs in former ages, the Canongate had a piper, of whom
repeated notices occur in the treasurer's accounts, with reference
at times to his "claise and pascments thereto." This
official was superseded in 1587 by a drummer, whose duty it was
to beat through the streets at "four houres in the morning;"
and of the sanitary state of the community in those days some
idea may be gathered from the fact that swine ran loose in the
Canon-gate till 1583, when an attempt was made to put down the
nuisance. In the city this was done earlier, as we find that in
1490 the magistrates ordain "the lokman, quhairwer he fyndis
ony swyne betwix the Castell and the Netherbow upon the Gaitt,"
to seize them, with a fine of fourpence ,upon each sow taken.
Again, in 1506, swine found in the streets or kennels are to be
slaughtered by the " lokman" and escheated; and in 1513
swine were again forbidden ,to wander, under pain of the owners
being banished, -and each sow to be escheat. At the same time
fruit was forbidden to be sold on the streets, or in crames, "
holden thairupon, under the pain of escheitt "-that is, of
In 1562 no flesh was to be eaten or even cooked on Friday or Saturday,
under a penalty of ten pounds and in 1563 all markets were forbidden
in the streets upon Sunday.
Among the first operations of the Improvement Trust were the demolitions
at the head of St. Mary's Wynd, including with them the removal
of the Closes of Hume and Boyd, the first alleys at the head of
the street on the south side, and the erection on their site of
lofty and airy tenements in a species of Scottish style.
Four alleys to the eastward, Bell's, Gillon's, Gibbs and Pirie's
Closes, all narrow, dark, and filthy, have been without history
or record but Chessel's Court, numbered as 240, exhibits a very
superior style of architecture, and in 1788 was the scene of that
daring robbery of the Excise Office which brought to the gallows
the famous Deacon Brodie and his assistant, thus closing a long
career of secret villainy, his ingenuity as a mechanic giving
lam every facility in the pursuits to which he addicted himself.
" It was then customary for the shopkeepers of Edinburgh
to hang their keys upon a nail at the back of their doors, or
at least to take no pains in concealing them during the day. Brodie
used to take impressions of them in putty or clay, -a piece of
which he used to carry in the palm of his hand. He kept a blacksmith
in his pay, who forged exact copies of the keys he wanted, and
with these it was his custom to open the shops of his fellow tradesmen
during the night."
In a house of Chessel's Court there died, in I854, an aged maiden
lady of a very ancient Scottish stock-Elizabeth Wardlaw, daughter
of Sir William Wardlaw, Bart., of the line of Balmule and Pitreavie
the Playhouse Close, a cul-de-sac, and its neighbour the Old Playhouse
Close, a narrow and gloomy alley, we find the cradle of the legitimate
drama in Edinburgh.
In the former, in 1747, a theatre was opened, on such a scale
as was deemed fitting for the Scottish capital, where the drama
had skulked in holes and corners since the viceregal court had
departed from Holyrood, in the days of the Duke of Albany and
York. From 1727 till after 1753 itinerant companies, despite the
anathemas of the clergy, used with some success the Tailors' Hall
in the Cowgate, which held, in professional phraseology, from
£40 to £45 nightly. In the first-named year a Mr.
Tony Alston endeavoured to start a theatre, in the same house
which saw the failure of poor Allan Ramsay's attempt, but the
Society of High Constables endeavoured to suppress his "abomin-able
stage plays;" and when the clergy joined issue with the Court
of Session against him, his performances had to cease. But, according
to Wodrow, there had been some talk of building anotther theatre
as early as 1728
In 1746 the foundation of the theatre within a back area (near
St. John's Cross), now called the Playhouse Close, was laid by
Mr. John Ryan, a London actor of considerable repute in his day,
who had to contend with the usual opposition of the ignorant or
illiberal, and that lack of prudence and thrift incidental to
his profession generally. The house was capable of holding £70;
the box seats were half-a-crown, the pit one-and-sixpence ; and
for several years it was the scene of good acting under Lee, Digges,
Mrs. Bellamy, and Mrs. Ward.
After the affair of 1745 the audiences were apt to display a spirit
of political dissension. On the anniversary of the battle of Culloden,
in 1749, some English officers who were in the theatre commanded
the orchestra, in an insolent and unruly manner, to strike up
an obnoxious air known as Culloden ; but in a spirit of opposition,
and to please the people, the musicians played "You're welcome,
Charlie Stuart." The military at once drew their swords and
attacked the defenceless musicians and players, but were assailed
by the audience with torn-up benches and every missile that could
officers now attempted to storm the galleries ; but the doors
were secured. They were then vigorously attacked in the rear by
the Highland chairmen with their poles, disarmed, and most ignominiously
drubbed and expelled., but in consequence of this and similar
disturbances, bills were put up notifying that no music would
be played but such as the management selected.
Another disturbance ensued soon after, occa-sioned by the performance
of Garrick's farce, " High Life below Stairs.," which
the fraternity of footmen bitterly resented, and resolved to stop.
On the second night of its being announced, Mr. Love, one of the
management, came upon the stage and read a letter containing the
most bitter denuncia-tions of vengeance upon all concerned if
the piece should be performed. It was, nevertheless, proceeded
with, and the gentlemen who were in the theatre having provided
accommodation for their servants in the gallery, the moment the
farce began " a prodigious noise was heard from that quarter."
liverymen were ordered to be silent, but without success. Their
masters, as-sisted by some others of the audience, en-deavoured
to quiet them by force ; swords and sticks were freely re-sorted
to, but it was not until after a tough battle that the gentlemen
of the cloth were fairly expelled ; "and servants from this
time were deprived of the freedom of the theatre."
About 1752 Mr. Lee purchased the Canongate Theatre from the original
proprietors for £648 and £100 per annum during the
lives of the lessees ; but he failed in his engagement, and James
Callen-der, a merchant of the city, undertook to conduct the business,
with Mr. Digges as stage manager.
Callender soon after resigned his charge to Mr. David Beatt, another
citizen, who had ventured in the past time to read Prince Charles's
proclamations at the Cross, Mr. Love also withdrew from the charge,
and was succeeded by Mr. John Dawson of Newcastle ; but dissensions
arose among the performers themselves. two parties were formed
in the theatre, which, during a performance of " Ham-let,"
they utterly wrecked and demolished, and set on fire in a riot,
to the supreme delight of all opponents of the drama.
actions and counter-actions ensued; the house was again fitted
up, and nothing of interest occurred till the night of the 14th
December, 1756, when, to the dismay of all Scotland, there was
rought out the tragedy of "Douglas," written by the
pen of a minister of the kirk !
The original cast was thus :-Douglas, Mr. Digges; Lord Randolph,
Mr. Younger; Glenalvon, Mr. Love; Norval, Mr. Hayman- Lady Randolph,
Mrs. Ward; Anna, Mrs. Hopkins.
With redoubled zeal the clergy returned to the assault, and though
they could no more crush the players, they compelled John Home,
the author of the obnoxious tragedy, to "re-nounce the orders
that had been tarnished by a composition so, unwonted and un-clerical."
Ultimately he became captain in the Buc-cleuch Fencibles, and
lived long enough to see the prejudices of many of his countrymen
pass away; but he was long viewed with obloquy. "To account
for this extraordinary phenomenon," says Dr, Carlisle, "
so far down in the eighteenth cen-tury, it is to be observed that
not a few well-meaning people and all the zealots of the time
were seriously offended with a clergyman for writing a tragedy,
even with a virtuous tendency, and with his brethren for giving
him countenance. They were joined by others out of mere envy."
The Presbytery of Edinburgh suspended all clergymen who had witnessed
the representation of "Douglas," and at the same time
" emitted an admonition and exhortation, levelled against
all who frequented what they supposed to be the Temple of the
Father of Lies, and ordered it to be read in all the churches
within their bounds."
The personal elegance of Digges and the rare beauty of Mrs. Bellamy
were traditionally re-membered in the beginning of the present
century, and made them even objects of interest to those by whom
their scandalous life was regarded with just reprehension. They
lived in a small country house at Bonnington near Leith.
is remembered that Mrs. Bellamy was extremely fond of singing
birds, and when visiting Glasgow was wont to have them carried
by a porter all the way, lest they might suffer by the jolting
of a carriage, and people wondered to hear of ten guineas being
expended for such a purpose. " Persons under the social ban
for their irregular lives often win the love of individuals by
their benevolence and sweet-ness of disposition-qualities, it
is to be remarked, not unlikely to have been concerned in their
was the case with Mrs. Bellamy. Her waiting-maid, Anne Waterstone,
who is men-tioned in her 'Memoirs,' lived many years after in
Edinburgh and continued to the last to adore the memory of her
mistress. Nay, she was, from this -cause, a zealous friend of
all players, and would never allow a slighting remark upon them
to pass unreproved. It was curious to find in a poor old Scotchwoman
of the humbler class such a sympathy with the follies and eccentricities
of the children of Thespis."
The erection of the New Theatre Royal in the extended royalty
eclipsed its predecessor in the Canongate, which was deserted
in 1767. The front land, through which an arch gives access to
the old Playhouse Close, is a fine specimen of the Scottish street
architecture in the time of Charles I. It has a row of dormer
windows, with another of storm-windows on a steep roof, that reminds
one of those in Bruges and Antwerp. Over a doorway within the
close is an ornamental tablet, the inscription on which has become
defaced, and the old theatre itself has long since given place
to private dwellings. In one of these lived, in 1781, a man named
Wilson Gavin, whose name appears in " Peter Williamson's
Directory" as an " Excellent Shoemaker and Leather Tormentor."
The adjoining alley, St. John's Close, is open towards St. John's
Street, Narrow and ancient, it shows over a door-lintel on its
west side the legend, within a sunk panel, THE LORD IS ONLY MY
SUPORT. The doorway is but three feet wide.
Near this a spacious elliptical archway gives access to St. John's
Street, so named with reference to St. John's Cross, a broad,
airy, and handsome thoroughfare, " one of the heralds of
the New Town," and associated with the names of many of the
Scottish aristocracy who lingered in the old city, with judges
and country gentlemen. By a date over a doorway in it, this street
had been in progress in 1768.
At the head of the street, with its front windows overlooking
the Canongate, is the house on the first floor of which was the
residence of Mrs. Telfer of Scotstown, the sister of Trobias Smollett,
who was her guest in 1766, on his second and last visit to his
native country, and where, though in feeble health, be mixed with
the best society of the capital, the men and manners of which
he so graphically portrays in his last novel, " Humphrey
Clinker," a work in which fact and fiction are curiously
blended, and in which he mentions that he owed an introduction
into the literary circles to Dr. Carlyle, the well-known incumbent
Telfer, though then a widow with moder-ate means, moved in good
society. She has been described as a tall, sharp-visaged lady,
with a hooked nose and a great partiality for whist. Her brother
had then returned from that protracted Continental tour, the experiences
of which are given in his " Travels through France and Italy,"
in two volumes.
novelist has been described as a tall and hand-some man, somewhat
prone to satirical innuendo, but with a genuine vein of humour,
polished manners, and great urbanity. On the latter Dr. Carlyle
particularly dwells, and refers to an oc-casion when Smollett
supped in a tavern with himself, Hepburn of Keith, Home the author
of " Douglas," Commissioner Cardonel, and others. The
beautiful "Miss R--n," with whom, Jerry Milford is described
as dancing at the hunters' ball, was the grand-daughter of Susannah
Countess of Eglinton, whose daughter Lady Susan became the wife
of Renton of Lamerton in the Merse. The wlfe of the novelist,
Anne Lascelles, the Narcissa of " Roderick Random,"
was a pretty Creole lady, of a somewhat dark complexion, whom
he left at his death nearly destitute in a foreign land, and for
whom a benefit was procured at the old Theatre Royal in March,
sister of Miss Renton's was married to Smollett's eldest nephew,
Telfer, who inherited the family estate and assumed the name of
Smollett. She afterwards became the wife of Sharpe of Hoddam,
and, " strange to say, the lady whose bright eyes had flamed
upon poor Smollett's soul in the middle of the last century was
living so lately as 1836."
house in which Smollett resided with his sister in I766 was also
the residence, prior to 1788, of James Earl of Hopetoun, who in
early life had served in the Scots Guards and fought at Minden
and of whom it was said that he " maintained the dignity
and noble bearing of a Scottish baron with the humility of a Christian,
esteeming the religious character of his family to be it's highest
distinction. He was an indulgent landlord, a munificent benefactor
to the poor, and a friend to all.
"No. 1 St. John Street was the house of Sir Charles Preston,
Bart., of Valleyfield, renowned for his gallant defence of Fort
St. John against the American general Montgomery, when major of
the Cameronians. No. 3 was occupied by Lord Blantyre No. 5 by
George Earl of Dalhousie, who was Commissioner to the General
Assembly from 1777 to 1782 ; No. 8 was the house of Andrew Carmichael
the last Earl of Hyndford.
In No. 10 resided James Ballantyne, the friend, partner, and confidant
of Sir Walter Scott-when the Great Unknown-and it was the scene
of those assemblies of select and favoured guests to whom "
the hospitable printer read snatches of the forth-coming novel,
and whetted, while he seemed to gratify, their curiosity by many
a shrewd wink and mysterious hint of confidential insight into
the literary riddle of the age." No. 10 must have been the
scene of many a secret council connected with the publication
of the Waverley Novels.
himself, Lockhart who so graphically describes these scenes, Erskine,
Terry, Sir William Allan, George Hogarth, W.S. (Mrs. Ballantyne's
brother), and others, were frequent guests here. In this house
Mrs. Ballantyne died in 1829, and Ballantyne's brother John died
there on the 16th of June, 1821. The house is now a Day Home for
In No. 13 dwelt Lord Monboddo and his beau-tiful daughter, who
died prematurely of consumption at Braid on the 17th of June,
1790, and whom Burns-her father's frequent guest there-describes
so glowingly in his " Address to Edinburgh
Fair Burnet strikes the adoring eye,
Heaven's beauties on my fancy shine;
I see the sire of Love on high,
And own his work indeed divine!
The fair girl's early death he touchingly com-memorates in a special
ode. She was the ornament of the elegant society in which she
moved; she was her old father's pride and the comfort of his domestic
life. Dr. Gregory, whom she is said to have refused, also lived
in St. John Street, as did Lady Suttie, Sinclair of Barrock, Sir
David Rae, and Lord Eskgrove, one of the judges who tried the
Reformers of 1793, a man of high ability and in-tegrity. He removed
thither from the old Assem-bly Close, and lived in St. John Street
till his death in 1804.
Among the residents there in 1784 were Sir John Dalrymple and
Sir John Stewart of Allanbank, and afterwards the Earl of Aboyne.
The first house on the west side of the street was the meeting
place of the old Canongate Kilwinning lodge, where Burns was affiliated
and crowned as poet laureate, in presence of Lord Napier and many
other masonic worthies of the day.
house a little to the south of this, having a gable to the street
and a garden on the south, was, in 1780, the residence of the
Earl of Wemyss, whose brother, Lord Elcho, was attainted after
the battle of Culloden. A Lady Betty Charteris of this ancient
family occupied the farthest house to the south on the same side.
She had a romantic and melancholy history ; being thwarted in
an affair of the heart, she lay in bed for six-and-twenty years,
till removed by death.
No. 18 is the Royal Maternity Hospital, which was founded in 1835,
an institution the benefits of which are cordially extended to
all who come to it, though many patients are attended at their
Eastward of St. John's Street is the Bakehouse Close, on the east
side of which stands the mansion built and occupied by Sir Archibald
Acheson, Bart., of Glencairne, who was one of Charles I.'s Secretaries
of State for Scotland. An archway, ornamented, and having a pendant
keystone, gives access to the picturesque little quadrangle, three
sides of which are formed by his house, which is all built of
polished ashlar, with sculptured dormer windows, fine stringcourses,
and other architectural details of the period.
heavily moulded doorway, which measures only three feet by six,
is surmounted by the date 1633, and a huge monogram including
the initials of himself and his wife Dame Margaret Hamilton. Over
all is a cock on a trumpet and scroll, with the motto Vigilantibus.
He had been a puisne judge in Ireland, and was first knighted
by Charles I., for suggesting the measure of issuing out a commission
under the great seal for the sur-render of tithes. He was the
friend of Drummond of Hawthornden and of Sir William Alexander
Earl of Stirling.
A succession of narrow and obscure alleys follows till we come
to the Horse Wynd, on the east side of which lay the royal stables
at the time of Darnley's murder. In this street, on the site of
a school-house, &c., built by the Duchess of Gordon for the
inhabitants of the Sanctuary, stood an old tenement, in one of
the rooms on the first floor of which the first rehearsal of Home's
" Douglas " took place, and in which the reverend author
was assisted by several eminent lay and clerical friends, among
whom were Robertson and Hume the historians, Dr. Carlyle of Inveresk
and the author taking the leading male parts in the cast, while
the ladies were represented by the Rev. Dr. Blair and Professor
dinner followed in the Erskine Club at the Abbey, when they were
joined by the Lords Elibank, Kames, Milton, and Monboddo. To the
south of this house was the town mansion of Francas Scott Lord
Napier, who inherited that barony At the demise of his grandmother,
Lady Napier, in 1706, and assumed the name of Napier, and died
at a great old age in 1773.
At its southern end the wynd was closed by an arched gate in the
long wall, which ran from the Cowgate Port to the south side of
the Abbey Close.
CHAPTER LIV.THE CANONGATE (continued).
Separate or Detached Edifices therein-Sir
Walter Scott in the Canongate The Parish Church-How it came to
be built-Its Official Position -Its Burying Ground-The Grave of
Fergusson-Monument to Soldiers interred there-Eccentric Henry
Prentice-The Tolbooth Testimony as to its Age-Its later uses-Magdalene
Asylum-- Linen Hall-Moray House-Its Historical Associations-The
Winton House -Whiteford House-The Dark Story of Queensberry House.
THE advancing exigencies of the age and the necessity for increased
space and modern sanitary improvements have made strange havoc
among the old alleys and mansions of the great central street
of the court suburb, but there still remain some to which belong
many historical and literary associations of an interesting nature.
Scott never weary of lingering among them, and recalling the days
that were no more. " No funeral hearse," says Lockhart,
crept more leisurely than did his landau up the Canongate ; and
not a queer, totter-ing gable but recalled to him some long-buried
memory of splendour or bloodshed, which, by a few words, he set
before the hearer in the reality of life." The Canongate
church, a most unpicturesque- looking edifice, of nameless style,
with a species of Doric porch, was built in 1688.
The Abbey church of Holyrood had hitherto been the parish church
of the Canongate, but in July, 1687, King James VII. wrote to
the Privy Council, that the church of the Abbey " was the
chapel belonging to his palace of Holyrood, and that the knights
of the Most Noble Order of the Thistle, which he had now [re]erected,
could not meet in St. Andrews' church ( i.e. the cathedral in
Fife), being demolished in the Rebellion-, and so it was necessary
for them to have this church, and the Provost of Edinburgh was
ordained to see the keys of it given to them. After a long silence,"
says Fountainhall ' " the Archbishop of Glasgow told that
it was a mansal and patrimonial church of the Bishopric of Edinburgh
and though the see was vacant, yet it belonged not to the Provost
to deliver the keys."
the congregation were ordered to seek accommodation in Lady Yester's
church till other could be found for them, and the Canongate church
was accordingly built for them, at the expense, says Arnot, of
£2,400 sterling. A portion of this consisted Of 20,000 merks,
left, in 1649, by Thomas Moodie, a citizen, called by some Sir
Thomas Moodie of Sauchtonhall, to re-build the church partially
erected on the Castle Hill, and demolished by the English during
the siege of 1650. -Two ministers were appointed to the Canongate
church. The well-known Dr. Hugh Blair and the late Principal Lee
have been among the incumbents.
is of a cruciform plan, and has the summit of its ogee gable ornamented
with the crest of the burgh-the stag's head and cross of King
David's legendary adventure-and the arms of Thomas Moodie form
a prominent ornament in front of it "In our young days,"
says a recent writer in a local paper, "the Incorporated
Trades, eight in number, occupied pews in the body of the church,
these having the names of the occupiers painted on them; and in
mid-summer, when the Town Council visited it, as is still their
wont, the tradesmen placed large bouquets of flowers on their
pews, and as our sittings were near this display, we used to glance
with admiration from the flowers up to the great sword standing
erect in the front gallery in its splendid scabbard. This life
is full of contrasts ; so when the magistrates, in ermine and
gold, took their seats behind this sword of state in the front
gallery, on the right of the minister, and in the gallery, too,
were to be seen congregated the humble paupers from the Canongate
poorhouse, now divested of its inmates and turned into a hospital.
dear old Canongate, too, had its , Baron Bailie and Resident Bailies
before the Reform Bill in 1832 ruthlessly swept them away. Halberdiers,
or Lochaber-axe-men, who turned out on all public occasions to
grace the officials, were the civic body-guard, together with
a body in plain clothes, whose office is on the ground flat under
the debtors' jail."
But there still exists the convenery of the Canon-gate, including
weavers, dyers, and cloth-dressers, &c., as incorporated by
royal charter in 1630, under Charles I.
In the burying-ground adjacent to the church, and which was surrounded
by trees in 1765, lie the remains of Dugald Stewart, the great
philosopher, of Adam Smith, who wrote the " Wealth of Na-tions
" Dr. Adam Fergusson, the historian of the Roman Republic;
Dr. Burney, author of the " History of Music;" Dr. Gregory;
David Allan Lord Cromarty; and many others who have left their
" footprints on the sands of time."
There, too, is the grave of the ill-fated Fergusson the poet,
above which is the tombstone placed at the order of Robert Burns
by Gowans, a marble-cutter in the Abbey Hill, "to remain
for ever sacred to the memory of him whose name it bears,"
with the inscription Burns penned :-
" HERE LIES ROBERT FERGUSSON.
Born Sept. 5th, 1751. Died October 16th, 1774.
No sculptured marble here, nor pompous lay,
No storied urn nor animated bust;
This simple stone directs pale Scotia's way
To pour her sorrows o'er her poet's dust."
Here, on the 16th of June, 1821, Sir Walter Scott attended the
funeral of John Ballantyne, and displayed considerable emo-tion.
"He cast his eyes along the overhanging line of the Calton
Hill, with its gleaming walls and towers, and then turning to
the grave again, 'I feel,' he whispered in Lockhart's ear, "
I feel as if there would be less sun-shine for me from this day
In May 1880 there was erected here a monument of rose-coloured
granite, twenty-six feet high, by Mr. Ford of the Holyrood Glass
Works, "In memory of the soldiers who died in Edinburgh Castle,
situated in the Parish of Canongate, interred here from the year
1692 to 1880." It is very ornate, has on its base sculptured
trophies, and was inaugurated in presence of General Hope, his
staff, and the 71st Highlanders. Prior to its erection the spot
where so many soldiers have found their last home was only a large
square patch covered by grass.
In the " Domestic Annals " we find recorded the death,
ij 1788, of Henry Prentice, by whom the field culture of the potato
was first introduced into the county of Edinburgh, in 1746. He
had made a little money as a travelling merchant, was an eccentric
character, and in 1784 sunk £140 with the managers of the
Canongate poorhouse for a weekly subsistence. He had his coffin
made, with the date of his birth thereon, 1703, and long had his
gravestone conspicuously placed in the burgh churchyard, inscribed
Henry Prentice. Died..........
Be not curious to know how I lived
But rather how yourself should die."
He was, however, eventually interred at Restalrig.
At least three tenements of three Storeys each would seem to have
occupied the site of the church.
One of the picturesque relics of the past in Edinburgh is the
old Canongate Tolbooth, with its sombre tower and spire, Scoto-French
corbelled turrets, huge projecting clock, dark-mouthed arch-way,
its moulded windows, and many sculptured stones. Above the arch
is the inscription ; S.L.B. PATRAE ET POSTERIS 1591. and in a
niche are the usual insignia of the burgh, the stag's head and
cross, with the motto SIC ITUR AD ASTRA, while the appropriate
motto ESTO FIDUS surmounts the inner doorway to the courthouse.
At the south-east comer is the old shaft of the cross and pillory,
near the entrance to the police station.
Altogether it is a fine example of the polished edifices of the
reign of James VI. In the tower are two bells, one inscribed SOLI
DEO HONOR ET GLORIA, 1608, and a larger one, cast in 1796. Between
the stately windows of the Council Hall is a pediment sur-mounted
by a great thistle and the legend:-
J.R. 6. JUSTITIA ET PIETAS VALIDE SUNT PRINCIPIS ARCES.
Herein the magistrates who came as successors of the abbots of
Holyrood as over-lords of the burgh, held weekly courts for the
punishment of offenders, the adjustment of small debts, and the
affairs of the little municipality. That the building is older
than any of the dates upon it, or that it had a predecessor, the
following extracts from the " Burgh Records " attest
Vndecimo decembris, an: 1567.
The quhilk day it was concludit, be the Baillies and Counsall,
to pursew quhatsomever person that is known and brutit wt the
braking of the Tolbooth of this burcht, the tyme of the furth
letting of Janet Robertsoun, being werdit within the samyn, &c."
In 1572 the following item occurs:-
"To sax pynonis (pioneers?) att the Baillies command for
taking doun of the lintel-stone of the Auld Tolbooth window-iij-s
In 1654 several Scottish prisoners of war, confined here under
a guard of Cromwell's soldiers, effected their escape by rending
their blankets and sheets into strips. In January, 1675, the captain
of the Edinburgh Tolbooth complained to the Lords of Council that
his brother official in the Canongate used to set debtors at liberty
at his own free will, or by consent of the creditor by whom they
were imprisoned without permission accorded.
After the erection of the Calton gaol this edifice was used for
the incarceration of debtors alone ; and the number therein in
October, 1834, was only seventeen, so little had it come to be
wanted for that purpose.
Within a court adjoining the Tolbooth was the old Magdalene Asylum,
instituted in 1797 for the reception of about sixty females; but
the founda-tion-stone of a new one was laid in October, 18O5,
by the Provost, Sir William Fettes, Bart., in presence of the
clergy and a great concourse of citizens. In the stone was deposited
a sealed bottle, containing various papers relating to the rise,
progress, and present state of the asylum."
This institution was afterwards trans-ferred to Dalry.
A little below St. John Street, within a court, stood the old
British Linen Hall, opened in 1766 by the Board of Manufactures
for the Sale and Custody of Scottish Linens-an institution to
be treated of at greater length when we come to its new home on
the Earthen Mound. Among the curious booth-holders therein was
"old John Guthrie, latterly of the firm of Guthrie and Tait,
Nicholson Street," who figures in " Kay's Portraits,"
and whose bookstall in the hall-after he ceased being a travelling
chapman-was the resort of all the curious book collectors of the
time, till he removed to the Nether Bow.
A little below the Canongate Church there was still standing a
house, occupied in 1761 by Sir James Livingstone of Glentenan,
which pos-sessed stables, hay-lofts, and a spacious flower -garden.
By far the most important private edifice still remaining in this
region of ancient grandeur and modern squalor is that which is
usually styled Moray House, being a portion of the entailed pro-perty
of that noble family, in whose possession it remained exactly
200 years, having become the property of Margaret Countess of
Moray in 1645 by an arrangement with her younger sister, Anne
Home, then Countess of Lauderdale, by whom the mansion was built.
"It is old and it is magni-ficent, but its age and magnificence
are both dif-ferent from those of the lofty piled-up houses of
the Scottish aristocracy of the Stuart dynasty."
Devoid of the narrow, suspicious apertures, barred and loopholed,
which connect old Scottish houses with the external air, the entrances
and proportions of this house are noble, spacious, and pleasing,
though the exterior has little orna-ment save the balcony, on
enormous trusses, pro-jecting into the street, with ornate entablatures
over their great windows and the stone spires of its gateway.
There are two fine rooms within, both of them dome-roofed and
covered with de-signs in bas-relief.
The initials of its builder, M. H., surmounted by a coronet, are
sculp-tured on the south win-dow, and over another on the north
are the lions of Home and Dudley impaled in a lozenge, for she
was the daughter of Lord Dud-ley Viscount Lyle, and then the widow
of Alex-ander first Earl of Home, who accompanied James VI. into
England. She erected the house some years before the coronation
of Charles I. at Edinburgh. in 1633 ; and she contributed largely
to the enemies of his crown, as appears by a repayment to her
by the English Parlia-ment of £70,000 advanced by her in
aid of the Covenanters; and hence, no doubt, it was, that when
Cromwell gained his victory over the Duke of Hamilton in the north
of England, we are told, when the (then) Marquis of Argyle conducted
Cromwell and Lambert, with their army, to Edinburgh they kept
their quarters at the Lady Home's house in the Canongate, according
to Guthrie, and there, adds Sir James Turner, they came to the
terrible conclusion " that there was a necessitie to take
away the king's life; " so that if these old walls had a
tongue they might reveal dark conferences connected with the most
dreadful events of that sorrowful time.
In con-clave with Cromwell and Argyle were the Earls of Loudon
and Lothian, the Lords Arbuthnot, Elcho, and Burleigh, with Blair,
Dixon, Guthrie, and other Puritans. Here, two years subsequently,
occurred, on the balcony, the cruel and ungenerous episode connected
with the fallen Montrose, amid the joyous banquetings and revelry
on the occasion of Lord Lorne's marriage-that Lorne better known
as the luckless Earl of Argyle-with Lady Mary Stuart, of the House
In the highest terrace of the old garden an ancient thorn-tree
was pointed out as having, been planted by Queen Mary-a popular
delusion, born of the story that the house had belonged to her
brother, the subtle Regent; but there long remained the old stone
summer-house, surmounted by two greyhounds-the Moray supporters-wherein,
after a flight from " the Union cellar," many of the
sig-natures were affixed to the Act of Union, while the cries
of the exasperated mob rang in the streets without the barred
When James VII, so rashly urged those measures in 1686 which were
believed to be a prelude to the re-establishment of the Catholic
hierarchy, under the guise of toleration, a new Scottish ministry
was formed, but chiefly consisting of members of the king's own
faith. Among these was the proprietor of this old house, Alexander
Earl of Moray, a recent convert from Protestantism, then Lord
High Commissioner to the Parliament, and as such the representative
of royalty in festive hall as well as the Senate and his mansion,
being in the very centre of what was then the most aris-tocratic
quarter of the city, was admirably suited for his court receptions,
all the more so that about that period the spacious gardens on
the south were, like those of Heriot's Hospital, a kind of public
promenade or lounging place, as would appear chiefly from a play
called "'the Assembly," written by the witty Dr. Pitcairn
The union of the kingdoms is the next historical event connected
with Moray House; and that much of the intrigue and discussion,
and of the foul and degrading bribery connected with that event
took place within its walls, may safely be inferred from the fact
that it was the residence of the Earl of Seafield, then Lord High
Chancellor, and one of the commissioners for the negotiation of
the treaty, by which he pocketed £490, paid by the Earl
of Godolphin; and he it was who, on giving the royal assent by
touching the Act of Union with the sceptre, said, with a brutal
laugh, " There's an end of an auld sang."
From those days Moray House ceased, like many others, to be the
scene of state pageantries. For a time it became the office of
the British Linen Company's Bank. Then the entail was broken by
a clause in one of the Acts of the North British Railway; and
since 1847 it has fortunately become the property of the Free
Church of Scotland, by whom it is now used as a training college
or nor-mal school, managed by a rector and very efficient staff.
On the same side, but to the eastward, is Milton House, a large
and handsome mansion, though heavy and sombre in style, built
in what had been originally the garden of Lord Roxburghe's house,
or a portion thereof, during the eighteenth century, by Andrew
Fletcher of Milton, raised to the bench in 1724 in succession
to the famous Lord Fountainhall, and who remained a senator of
the Court of Session till his death. He was the nephew of the
noble and patriotic Fletcher of Salton, and was an able coadjutor
with his friend Archibald the great Duke of Argyle, during whose
administration he exercised a wise control over the usually-abused
Government patronage in Scotland. He sternly discouraged all informers,
and was greatly esteemed for the mild and gentle manner in which
he used his authority when Lord Justice Clerk after the battle
From the drawing-room windows on the south a spacious garden extended
to the back of the Canongate, and beyond could be seen the hill
of St. Leonard and the stupendous craigs. Its walls are still
decorated with designs and landscapes, leaving rich floral borders
painted in distemper, and rich stucco ceilings are among the decorations,
and " interspersed amid the ornamental borders there are
various grotesque figures, which have the appearance," says
Wilson, " of being copies from an illuminated missal of the
fourteenth century. They represent a cardinal, a monk, a priest,
other churchmen, painted with great humour and drollery of attitude
and expression. They so en-tirely differ from the general character
of the com-position, that their insertion may be conjectured to
have originated in a whim of Lord Milton's, which the artist has
contrived to execute without sacri-ficing the harmony of his design."
Lord Milton was the guardian of the family of Susannah Countess
of Eglinton for many years, and took a warm and friendly interest
in her beau-tiful girls after the death of the earl in 1729 ;
and the terms of affectionate intimacy in which he stood with
them are amusingly shown in " The petition of the six vestal
virgins of Eglinton," signed by them all, and addressed "
To the honourable Lord Mil-ton, at his lodgings, Edinburgh"
in 1735 -a curious and witty production, printed in the "
Lord Milton died at his house of Brunstane, near Musselburgh,
on the 13th of December, 1766,. aged seventy-four. Four years
after that event the Scots Magazine for 1770 gives us a curious
account of a remarkable mendicant that had long haunted his gates:-
"Edinburgh Sept. 29th. A gentle-man, struck with the uncommon
good appearance of an elderly man who generally sits bareheaded
under a dead wall in the Canongate, opposite to, Lord Milton's
house, requesting alms of those who pass, had the curiosity to
inquire into his. history, and learned the following melancholy
ac-count of him. He is an attainted baronet, named Sir John Mitchell
of Pitreavie, and had formerly a very affluent estate. In the
early part of his life he was a captain in the Scots Greys, but
was broke for sending a challenge to the Duke of Marlborough,
in consequence of some illiberal reflections thrown out by his
Grace against the Scottish nation.
Anne took so personal a part in his prose-cution that he was condemned
to transportation for the offence and this part of his sentence
was, with difficulty, remitted at the particular instance of John
Duke of Argyle. Exposed, in the hun-dredth year of his age, to
the inclemencies of the weather, it is hoped the humane and charitable
of this city will attend to his distresses, and relieve him from
a situation which appears too severe a, punishment for what, at
worst, can be termed his spirited imprudence. A subscription for
his annual support is opened at Balfour's coffee-house, where
those who are disposed to contribute towards it will receive every
satisfaction concerning the disposal of their charity and the
truth of the foregoing relation."
The aged mendicant referred to may have been a knight, but the
name of Mitchell is not to be found in the old list of Scottish
baronets, and Pit-reavie belonged to the Wardlaws.
In later years Milton House was occupied as a Catholic school,
under the care of the Sisters of Charity, who, with their pupils,
attracted consider-able attention in 1842, on the occasion of
the first visit of Queen Victoria to Holyrood, from whence they
strewed flowers before her up the ancient street. it was next
a school for deaf and dumb, anon a temporary maternity hospital,
and then the pro-perty of an engineering firm.
Where Whiteford House stands now, in Edgar's map for 1765 there
are shown two blocks of buildings (with a narrow passage between,
and a garden 150 feet long) marked, "Ruins of the Earl of
Winton's house," a stately edifice, which, no doubt, had
fallen into a state of dilapidation from its extreme antiquity
and abandonment after the attainder of George, fourth Earl of
Winton, who was taken prisoner in the fight at Preston in 1715,
-but who, after being sentenced to death, escaped to Rome, where
he died in 1749, without issue, ac-cording to Sir Robert Douglas
; and, of course, is the same house that has been mentioned in
history as the Lord Seton's lodging " in the Canongate "
wherein on his arrival from England, "Henrie Lord Dernlie,
eldest son of Matho, erle of Lennox," resided when, prior
to his marriage, he came to Edinburgh on the 13th of February,
1565, as stated in the " Diurnal of Occurrents."
In the same house was lodged, in 1582, accord-ing to Moyse, Mons.
De Menainville, who came as an extra ambassador from France, with
instruc-tions to join La Motte Fenelon. He landed at Burntisland
on the 18th of January, and came to Edinburgh where he had an
audience with James VI. on the 23rd, to the great alarm of the
clergy, -who dreaded this double attempt to revive French influence
in Scottish affairs. One Mr. James Lawson " pointed out the
French ambassaye" -as the mission of the King of Babylon,
and charac-terised Menainville as the counterpart of the -blaspheming
Upon the 10th February, says Moyse, "La Motte having received
a satisfying answer to his commis-sion, with a great banquet at
Archibald Stewart's lodgings in Edinburgh took his journey homeward,
and called at Seaton by the way. The said Mon-sieur Manzeville
remained still here, and lodging -at my Lord Seaton's house in
the Canongate, had daily access to the king's majesty, to whom
he imparted his negotiations at all times.
"In this house died, of hectic fever, in December, 1638,
Jane, Countess of Sutherland, grand-daughter -of the first Earl
of Winton. She "was interred at the collegiat churche of
Setton, without any funerall ceremoncy, by night."
In front of this once noble mansion, in which Scott lays some
of the scenes of the "Abbot," there sprang up a kind
of humble tavern, built chiefly of lath and plaster, known as
"Jenny Ha's," from Mrs. Hall, its landlady, famous for
her claret. Herein Gay, the poet, is said to "have boosed
,during his short stay in Edinburgh; " and to this tavern
it was customary for gentlemen to adjourn after dinner parties,
to indulge in claret from the butt.
On the site of the Seton mansion, and surrounded by its fine old
gardens, was raised the present edifice known as Whiteford House,
the residence of -Sir John Whiteford, Bart., of that ilk and Balloch-myle,
a locality in Ayrshire, on which the muse of Burns has conferred
celebrity, and whose father is said to have been the prototype
of Sir Arthur Wardour in the "Antiquary." Sir John was
one or the early patrons of Burns, who had been introduced to
him by Dr. Mackenzie, and the grateful bard never forgot the kindness
he accorded to him. The failure of Douglas, Heron, & Co.,
in whose bank he had a fatal interest, compelled him to dispose
of beautiful Ballochmyle, after which he resided permanently in
Whiteford House, where he died in 1803. To the last he retained
a military bearing, having served in the army, and been a major
Latterly, and for many years, Whiteford House was best known as
the residence of Sir William Macleod Bannatyne, who was raised
to the bench on the death of Lord Swinton, in 1799, and was long
remembered as a most pleasing example of the old gentleman of
Edinburgh "before its antique mansions and manners had fallen
under the ban of modern fashion."
One of the last survivors of the Mirror Club, in private life
his benevolent and amiable qualities of head and heart, with his
rich stores of literary and historical anecdote, endeared him
to a numerous and highly distinguished circle of friends.
Chambers speaks of breakfasting with him in Whiteford House so
late as 1832, "on which occasion the venerable old gentleman
talked as familiarly of the levees of the sous-ministre for Lord
Bute in the old villa at the Abbey Hill as I could have talked
of the Canning administration, and even recalled, as a fresh picture
of his memory, his father drawing on his boots to go to make interest
in London on behalf of some men in trouble for the '45, particularly
his own brother-in-law, the Clanranald of that day." He died
at Whiteford House on the 30th of November, 1833, in the ninety-first
year of his age. His mansion was latterly used as a type-foundry.
On the south side of the street, nearly opposite the site of the
Seton lodging, the residence of the Dukes of Queensberry still
towers up, a huge, dark, gloomy, and quadrangular mass, the scene
of much stately life, of low corrupt intrigue, and in one instance
of a horrible tragedy.
It was built by Lord Halton on land belonging to the Lauderdale
family; and by a passage in Lord Fountainhall's folios would seem
to have been sold by him, in June, 1686, to William first Duke
of Queensberry and Marquis of Dumfries-shire, Lord High Treasurer
and President of the Council, a noted money-lender and land-acquirer,
who built the castle of Drumlanrig, and at the exact hour of whose
death, in 1695, it is said, a Scottish skipper, being in Sicily,
saw one day a coach and six driving to flaming Mount Etna, while
a dia-bolical voice was heard to exclaim, " Way for the Duke
of Drumlanrig! " He died in Queensberry House.
His daughter, Anne Countess of Wemyss, died a miserable death
on the 16th of February, 1700. She set fire accidentally to her
apron, " night-rail, and stenikirk. Her nose was burnt off
and her eyes burnt out. Opening her mouth to call, the flame went
in and burnt her tongue and throat."
His son James, the second duke, resigned all his many appointments
under James VII., in-cluding the command of the Scots Horse Guards,
and was received by William of Orange with great cordiality. He
made him a captain in his Dutch Guards, and Lord of the Bedchamber
and Treasury,. He was one of the commissioners for the treaty
of Union, to achieve which the sum of £12,325 was paid hail
by the Earl of Godolphin, and then he fled from Edinburgh but
was elected as one of the peers to represent Scotland. On his
return to London he was met by a cavalcade of noblemen and gentlemen,
and was preceded to his house at Kensington by forty coaches and
four hundred horsemen. Next day he was presented to the queen,
who, to reward his services and servility, created him Duke of
Dover, Marquis of Beverley, and Baron Ripon.
Connected with his residence in Queensberry House, against which
the whole fury and male-dictions of the mobs were directed at
the time of the Union, there is a tale of awful mystery and horror,
His eldest son, James Earl of Drumlinrig, is simply stated in
the old peerages " to have died young." It is now proved,
however, that he was an idiot of the most wretched kind, rabid
and gluttonous as a wild animal, and grew to an enormous stature,
as his leaden and un-ornamented coffin in the family vault at
Durisdeer attests at this day. This monstrous and unfortunate
creature was always confined in a ground-floor room of the western
wing of Queensberry House; and "till within these few years
the boards, still remained by which the windows of the' dreadful
receptacle were darkened to prevent the idiot from looking out
or being seen."
On the day the Treaty of Union was passed all Edinburgh crowded
to the vicinity of the Parlia-ment House to await the issue of
the final debate, and the whole household of the duke-the High
Commissioner-went thither en masse for that pur-pose, and perhaps
to prevent him from being torn to pieces by the exasperated people,
and among them went the valet whose duty it was to watch and attend
the Earl of Drumlanrig.
Hearing all unusually still in the vast house, the latter contrived
to break out of his den, and roamed wildly from room to room till
certain savoury odours drew him into the great kitchen, where
a little turnspit sat quietly on a stool by the fire. He seized
the boy, took the meat from the fire, stripped and spitted him,
and he was found devouring the half-roasted body when the duke
returned with his train from his political triumph, to find dire
horror awaiting him. "The common people, among whom the dreadful
tale soon spread, in spite of the duke's endeavours to suppress
it, said that it was a judgment upon him for his odious share
in the Union. The story runs that the duke. who had previously
regarded his dreadful offspring with no eye of affection, immediately
ordered the creature to be smothered. But this is a mistake ;
the idiot is known to have died in England, and to have survived
his father many years, though he did not succeed him upon his
death in 171I, when the titles devolved upon Charles, a younger
The latter, who was born in Queensberry House, had been created
Earl of Solway in 1706, says Douglas, " when very young,
his elder brother being then alive." He married Catharine
Hyde, the second daughter of Henry Earl of Clarendon and rochester,
and they frequently resided in the old Canongate mansion. The
duchess was altogether an extraordinary woman, whose eccentricity
bordered on madness, and, indeed, prior to her marriage she had
been confined in a strait-waist--coat. Her beauty has been celebrated
coarsely by Pope, and her irrepressible temper by Prior:-
Thus Kitty, beautiful and young,
And wild as colt untamed,
Bespoke the fair from whom she sprung,
By little rage inflamed:
Inflamed with rage at sad restraint,
Which wise mamma ordained;
And sorely vexed to play the saint
Whilst wit and beauty reigned,"
After the duke and duchess had embroiled them-selves with the
Court in 1729, in consequence of patronising the poet Gay, they
came to Queensberry House, and brought him with them. Tradition
used to indicate an attic in an old mansion opposite, as the place
where--appropriate abode of a poet--Gay wrote the " Beggar's
Opera "--" an entirely gratuitous assumption,"
says Mr. Chambers. " In the history of his writings nothing
of consequence occurs at this time. He had finished the second
part of the opera some time before, and after his return to the
south he is found engaged in new writing a damned play, which
he wrote several years before, called " The Wife of Bath,"
a task which he -accomplished while living with the Duke of Queens-berry
in Oxfordshire, during the ensuing months of August, September,
The Duchess Catharine disliked the Scots and their manners, particularly
the use of a knife in lieu of a fork, on which she would scream
out and beseech them not to cut their throats. " To the lady
I live with," wrote Gay to Swift in 1729, " I owe my
life and fortune. Think of her with respect, value and esteem
her as I do, and never more despise a fork with three prongs."
When in Scot-land she always dressed herself as a peasant-girl,
to ridicule the stately dresses and demeanour of the Scottish
dames who visited Queensberry House or Drumlanrig, and this freak
of costume led to her being roughly repelled at a review. Her
eldest son, the Earl of Drumlanrig, was altogether mad, and contracted
himself to one lady while he mar-ried another, a daughter of the
Earl of Hopetoun, He served two campaigns under the Earl of Stair,
and commanded two battalions of Scots in the Dutch service.
But in 1754 the family malady proved so strong for him, that during
a journey to London he rode on before the coach in which the duchess
travelled, and shot himself with one of his pistols. It was given
out that it had gone off by accident. His brother Charles, after
narrowly escaping the earthquake at Lisbon in 1755, died in the
On the death of their father, in 1778, the title and estates devolved
on his cousin, the Earl of March, an old debauchee, better known
as "Old Q." In his time, and before it, Queensberry
House had other occupants than the Douglases,
In 1747 the famous Marshal Earl of Stair died there; and in 1784
it was the residence of the Right Hon, James Montgomery of Stanhop,
Lord Chief Baron of Exchequer-the first Scotsman who held that
office after the establishment of the Court at the Union. Prior
to his removal to Queensberry House (of which the duke gave him
gratuitous use) he had occupied the third flat of the Bishop's
Land, formerly occupied by the Lord President Dundas.
In 1801 the blasé "Old Q. " ordered Queens-berry
House to be stripped of its decorations, and sold. With fifty-eight
fire rooms, and a noble gallery seventy feet long, besides a spacious
garden, it was offered at the singularly low upset price of £900,
and was bought by Government as a barrack. It is now, and has
been since 1853, a House of Refuge for the Destitute, in which
upwards of 12,000 persons are relieved every year, or an average
of thirty-three nightly for the twelvemonth, while during the
same period nearly 40,000 meals of broth and bread are issued
from the soup kitchen. A very handsome building, in baronial style,
called Queensberry Lodge, adjoins it, for the reception and treatment
of inebriates-but ladies only.