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Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time


L UCKENBOOTHS AND PARLIAMENT CLOSE. I97 Bow, . . the buildings on each side of the way being all of squared stone, five, six, and seven stories high.” When I came first into the High Street,” says another traveller, writing more than a century after him, ‘‘ I thought I had never seen anything of the kind more magn3cent.” Gradually, however, the traveller learned, from his civic entertainers, to mingle suggestions of improvement with his admiration. ‘‘ You have seen,” says Topham, writing from Edinburgh in 1776, “the famous street at Lisle, la Rue Royale, leading to the port of Tournay, which is said to be the finest in Europe, but which, I can assure you, is not to be compared either in length or breadth to the High Street at Edinburgh.” He adds, however, ‘‘ would they be at the expense of removing some buildings which obstruct the view, nothing could be conceived . more magnificent.’’ ’ Similar remarks might be quoted from later travellers ; we shall only add that of our greatest living landscape painter, k n e r , expressed since the removal of the Luckenbooths, that ‘‘ the old High Street of Edinburgh was only surpassed in Europe by that of Oxford” Imposing as the effect of the High Street still is,- although scarcely a year passes without the loss of some one or other of its ancient and characteristic features,-we doubt if its broad and unencumbered thoroughfare will ever again meet with the praise that it received from travellers who had to pass through the narrow defile of the Purses, or thread their way along by the still more straitened Krames that clung on to the old church walls. So far as picturesque effect is concerned, this improvement very much resembles a reform effected of late years in Salisbury Cathedral. An ancient screen which divided the Lady Chapel from the choir had long been an eyesore to certain men of taste, who found in the glimpses of the little chapel that they caught beyond, far too much left to their imagination. It was accordingly demolished, under the direction of Mr Jamea Wyatt, when, to their surprise, much of the rich effect of the chapel vanished along with the screen, and they began to think that it might have been a part of the original designer’s intention to conceal the plain shafts of the pillars, while their capitals, and the rich groinings of the roof, alone appeared. We strongly suspect our city reformers fancied that every bit of the old church which the Luckenbooths concealed was to disclose features as rich as the fine Gothic crown they saw towering over the chimney-tops.’ The ancient buildings that occupied the middle of the High Street, between the Tolbooth and the Cross, formed a range of irregular and picturesque lands, nearly all with timber fronts and lofty peaked gables projecting into the street. Through one of these, an alley, sometimes called the Old-Kirk Style, led from the head of Advocates’ Close to the old north porch of St Giles’s Church, obliterated in the remodelling of that venerable edifice. This ancient alley is alluded to by the name it generally received to the last in Dunbar’s Address to the Merchants of Edinburgh, written about the year Letters from the North of Scotland, 1754. Topham’s Lettem, p. 8. There is an amusing tendency in many-minds to regard every near object aa obstructing the &U, without the least consideration of what liea beyond it. We heard lately of an English lady, who, on her arrival in Edinburgh, took up her abode in fashionable lodgings at the west end of Princea Street. On B friend inquiring how she liked the proapect from her window, she replied, that the view would really be very fine, were it not for that great castle standing in the way I The chief ornament of Edinburgh is St Giles’s Church, a magnificent Gothic pile, the beauties of which are almost wholly concealed by the Louses in ita near neighbourhood, particularly the Luckenbooths, which, it is expted, will shortly be pulled down.”-Campbell’s Journey, 1802, rol. 5. p. 125. a
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198 MEMORIALS OF EDINBURGH. 1490 ; and in the following century it was the scene of the assassination of M‘Lellan of Bombie, who in the year 1525, was waylaid and slain there in open day, with perfect impunity, by the lairds of Lochinvar and Drumlanrig, during the turbulent sway of the Douglases, in the minority of James V. Numerous personal encounters occurred at the same place in early times, consequent on its vicinity to the Parliament House and courts of law; and even after the fruits of many revolutions had put an end to such scenes of violence, this dark alley maintained somewhat of its old character, as a favourite resort of the thief and pickpocket,-degenerate successors of the cateran and moss-trooper ! The timber land immediately in front of St Giles’s steeple was only three stories high, and with a very low-pitched roof, so as to admit of the clock being seen by passers in the High Street; while the one adjoining it to the west, after rising to the height of five stories and finishing with two very steep overhanging gables in front, had a sixth reared above these, with a flat lead roof,-like a crow’s nest stuck between the battlements of some ancient peel tower.’ The two most easterly lands in the Luckenbooths differed from the rest in being tall and substantial erections of polished ashlar work. The first of these was surmounted with stone gables of unequal size, somewhat in the style of “ Gladstone’s land,” at the head of Lady Stair’s Close, and apparently built not later than the reign of Charles I. The other building, which presented its main front down the High Street, though evidently a more recent erection, yielded in interest to none of the private buildings of Edinburgh. ‘( Creech’s Land,” as it was termed, according to the fashion of the burgh, after one of its latest and most worthy occupants, formed the peculiar haunt of the muses during the last century. ”hither Allan Ramsay removed in 1725,-immediately after publishing the fist complete edition of his great pastoral poem,-from the sign of the Mercury’s Head, opposite Niddry’s Wynd, and there,-on the first floor, which had formerly been the London Coffee House, *-he substituted for his former celestial sign, the heads of Ben Jonson and Drummond of Hawthornden, and greatly extended his business with the profits of his successful devotion to the Muses. It was on his removal to this central locality that he established his circulating library,-the first institution of the kind known in Scotland, not without both censure and interference from some of the stricter leaders of society at that period. “ Profaneness,” says Wodrow, “ is come to a great height ; all the villanous, profane, and obscene books of plays, printed at London by Curle and others, are got down from London by Allan Ramsay, and lent out for an easy price to young boys, servant women of the better sort, and gentlemen; and vice and obscenity dreadfully propagated.” Ramsay’s fame and fortune progressed with unabating vigour after this period; and his shop became the daily resort of the leading wits and literati, as well as of every traveller of note that visited the Scottish capital. The buildings of the middle row were extremely irregular in character. Ante, p. 28. ’ Maitland informs us (p. 181) that the Krames were first erected against St cfiles’s Church in 1555. The Boothraw, or Luckenbooths, however, we have shown (ante, p. 172) was in existence 150 years before that, and probably much earlier. Maitland derives its latter name from a species of woollen cloth called Luken, brought from the Low Countries ; but Dr Jamieson assigns the more probable source in the old Scotch word Luckm, closed, or shut up ; signifying booths closed in, and admitting of being locked, in contradistinction to the open stands, which many still living can remember to have seen displayed in the Lawnmarket every market day.
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