Site of the Parliament House – The Parliament Hall – Its External Aspect of Old – Pictures and Statues – The Great South Window – The Side Windows – Scots Prisoners of War – General Monk Feasted – A Scene with Gen. Dalyell – The Fire of 1700 – Riding of the Parliament – The Union – Its dire Effects and ultimate good Results – Trial of Covenanters.
NO building in Edinburgh possesses perhaps more interest historically than the Parliament House, and yet its antiquity is not great, as it was finished only in 1639 for the meetings of the Estates, and was used for that purpose exclusively till the Union in 1707.
Previous to its erection in St. Giles’s churchyard, the national Parliaments, the Courts of Justice, and the Town Council of Edinburgh, held their meetings in the old Tolbooth, and the circumstance of such assemblies taking place constantly in its vicinity must have led to the gradual abandonment of the old churchyard of St. Giles’s as a place of sepulture, for when the readiest access to the Tolbooth was up the steep slope from the chapel of the holy rood in the Cowgate, among the grassy tumuli and old tombstones, and the burial-place became the lounge of lackeys, grooms, and armed servitors, waiting for their masters during the sittings of the House, all the sacred and secluded character of the place must have been destroyed. “Queen Mary granted the gardens of the Greyfriars’ monastery to the citizens in the year 1566, to be used as a cemetery, and from that period the old burial-place seems to have been gradually forsaken, until the neglected sepulchres of the dead were at length paved over, and the citizens forgot that their Exchange was built over their fathers’ graves.” Yet within six years after Queen Mary’s grant, Knox was interred in the old burial-ground. “Before the generation had passed away that witnessed and joined in his funeral service,” says the author of “Memorials f Edinburgh,” “the churchyard in which they laid him had been converted into a public thoroughfare! We fear this want of veneration must be regarded as a national characteristic which Knox assisted to call into existence, and to which we owe much of the reckless demolition of those time-honoured monuments of the past which it is now thought a weakness to deplore.”
As a churchyard in name it last figures in 1596 as the scene of a tumult in which John Earl of Mar, John Bothwell, Lord Holyroodhouse, the Lord Lindsay, and others, met in their armour, and occasioned some trouble ere they could be pacified. It was the scene of all manner of rows, when club-law prevailed; where exasperated litigants, sick of “the law’s delays,” ended the matter by appeal to sword and dagger; and craftsmen and apprentices quarrelled with the bailies and deacons. It has been traditionally said that many of the tombstones were removed to the Greyfriars’ churchyard; if such was the case no inscriptions remain to prove this.
The Parliament Hall, which was finished in 1639, at the expense of the citizens, costing £11,600 of the money of that time, occupies a considerable portion of the old churchyard, and possesses a kind of simple grandeur belonging to an anterior age. Its noblest feature is the roof, sixty feet in height, which rests on ornamental brackets consisting of boldly sculptured heads, and is formed of dark oak tie-and-hammer beams with cross braces, producing a general effect suggestive of the date of Westminster or of Crosby Hall. Modern corridors that branch out from it are in harmony with the old hall, and lead to the various court rooms and the extensive libraries of the Faculty of Advocates and the Society of Writers to the Signet. The hall measures 122 feet in length by 49 in breadth, and was hung of old with tapestry and portraits of the kings of Scotland, some by Sir Godfrey Kneller. These were bestowed, in 1707, by Queen Anne, on the Earl of Mar, and are now said to be among the miscellaneous collection at Holyrood. Begun in 1632, the hall with its adjacent buildings took seven years to erect; but subsequently the external portions of the edifice were almost totally renewed. Howell, in his “Familiar Letters,” writing from Edinburgh in 1639, says, “there is a fair Parliament House built here lately,” and regretting that Charles I. did not inaugurate it in person, he adds that “they did ill who advised him otherwise.” The time had come when old Scottish raids were nearly past, and when revolutions had their first impulse, not in the battle-field, but in deliberative assemblies; thus the Parliament that transferred its meetings from the old Tolbooth to the new House in 1639 had to vote “the sinews of war” for an army against England, under Sir Alexander Leslie, and was no less unprecedented in its constitution and powers than the place in which it assembled was a new edifice. Outside of a wooden partition in the hall was an oak pulpit, where a sermon was preached at the opening of Parliament; and behind was a small gallery, where the public heard the debates of the House.
To thousands who never saw or could have seen it the external aspect of the old Parliament House has been rendered familiar by Gordon’s engravings, and more particularly by the view of it on the bank notes of Sir William Forbes and Co. Tradition names Inigo Jones as the architect, but of this there is not a vestige of proof. It was highly picturesque, and possessed an individuality that should have preserved it from the iconoclastic “improvers” of 1829. “There was a quaint stateliness about its irregular pinnacles and towers,” we are told, “and the rude elaborateness of its decorations, that seemed to link it with the courtiers of Holyrood in the times of the Charleses, and its last gala days under the Duke of York’s vice-regency. Nothing can possibly be conceived more meaningless and utterly absurd than the thing that superseded it” – a square of semi-classic buildings, supported by a narrow arcade, and surmounted by stone sphinxes.
Above the old main entrance, which faced the east, and is now completely blocked up and hidden, were the royal arms of Scotland, beautifully sculptured, supported on the right by Mercy holding a crown wreathed with laurel, and on the left by Justice, with a palm branch and balance, with the inscription, Stant his felicia regna, and underneath the national arms, the motto, Uni unionum. Over the smaller doorway, which forms the present access to the lofty lobby of the House, were the arms of the city, between sculptured obelisks, with the motto Dominus custodit introitum nostrum. The destruction of all this was utterly unwarrantable.
The tapestries with which the hall was hung were all removed about the end of the last century, and now its pictures, statues, and decorations of Scotland’s elder and latter days replace them.
Of the statues of the distinguished Scottish statesmen and lawyers, the most noticeable are a colossal one of Henry first Viscount Melville in his robes as a peer, by Chantrey; on his left is Lord Cockburn, by Brodie; Duncan Forbes of Culloden, in his judicial costume as President of the Court, by Roubiliac (a fine example); the Lord President Boyle, and Lord Jeffrey, by Steel; the Lord President Blair (son of the author of “The Grave”), by Chantrey.
On the opposite or eastern side of the hall (which stands north and south) is the statue of Robert Dundas of Arniston, Lord Chief Baron of the Scottish Exchequer, also by Chantrey; portraits, many of them of considerable antiquity, some by Jameson, a Scottish painter who studied under Rubens at Antwerp. But the most remarkable among the modern portraits are those of Lord Brougham, by Sir Daniel Macnee, P.R.S.A.; Lord Colonsay, formerly President of the Court, and the Lord Justice-Clerk Hope, both by the same artist. There are also two very fine portraits of Lord Abercrombie and Professor Bell, by Sir Henry Raeburn.
Light is given to this interesting hall by four windows on the side, and the great window on the south. It is of stained glass, and truly magnificent. It was erected in 1868 at a cost of £2,000, and was the work of two German artists, having been designed by Wilhelm von Kaulbach, and executed by the Chevalier Ainmiller of Munich. It represents the inauguration of the College of Justice, or the Supreme Court of Scotland, by King James V., in 1532. The opening of the court is supposed by the artist to have been the occasion of a grand state ceremonial, and the moment chosen for representation is that in which the young king, surrounded by his nobles and great officers of state, is depicted in the act of presenting the charter of institution and of confirmation by Pope Clement VII. to Alexander Mylne, Abbot of Cambuskenneth, the first Lord President, who kneels before him to receive it, surrounded by the other judges in their robes, while the then Lord Chancellor of Scotland, Gavin Dunbar, Archbishop of Glasgow, and afterwards of St. Andrews, with upraised hand invokes a blessing on the act.
In 1870 the four side windows on the west of the hall were filled in with stained glass of a heraldic character, under the superintendence of the late Sir George Harvey, president of the Royal Scottish Academy. Each window is twenty feet high by nine wide, divided by a central mullion, the tracery between being occupied by the armorial bearings and crests of the various Lord Justice-Clerks, the great legal writers of the Faculty of Advocates, those of the Deans of Faculty, and the Lords Advocate.
This old hall has been the scene of many a great event and many a strange debate, and most of the proceedings that took place here belong to the history of the country; for with the exception of the Castle and the ancient portion of Holyrood, no edifice in the city is so rich in historic memories.
Beneath the old roof consecrated to these, says one of its latest chroniclers, “the first great movements of the Civil War took place, and the successive steps in that eventful crisis were debated with a zeal commensurate to the important results involved in them. Here Montrose united with Rothes, Lindsay, Loudon, and others of the covenanting leaders, in maturing the bold measures that formed the basis of our national liberties; and within the same hall, only a few years later, he sat with the calmness of despair, to receive from the lips of his old compatriot, Loudon, the barbarous sentence, which was executed with such savage rigour.”
After his victory at Dunbar, some of Cromwell’s troopers in their falling bands, buff coats, and steel morions, spent their time alternately in preaching to the people in the Parliament Hall and guarding a number of Scottish prisoners of war who were confined in “the laigh Parliament House” below it. On the 17th of May, 1654, some of these contrived to cut a hole in the floor of the great hall, and all effected their escape save two; but when peace was established between Cromwell and the Scots, and the Courts of Law resumed their sittings, the hall was restored to somewhat of its legitimate uses, and there, in 1655, the leaders of the Commonwealth, including General Monk, were feasted with a lavish hospitality.
In 1660, under the auspices of the same republican general, came to pass “the glorious Restoration,” when the magistrates had a banquet at the cross, and gave £1,000 sterling to the king; and his brother, the Duke of Albany and York, who came as Royal Commissioner, was feasted in the same hall with his Princess Mary d’Este and his daughter, the future Queen Anne, surrounded by all the high-born and beautiful in Scotland. But dark days again awaited the latter, when the insane Cavalier persecution began in a cruel and retributive spirit. For in the same place where he had been so nobly feasted the royal duke was compelled to preside to try by torture, with the iron boot and thumb-screws, the passively heroic and high-spirited adherents of that Covenant which the king had broken, while one of Scotland’s most able lawyers, Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh, acted his part of King’s Advocate with such unpitying zeal as to gain him the abhorrence of the people, among whom he is still remembered as the “Bluidy Mackenzie.”
The rooms below the Parliament Hall, which are still dark – one being always lighted with gas, the other dimly and surrounded by a gallery – were the places where the Privy Council met, and torture went on, too often, almost daily at one time. Though long dedicated now “to the calm seclusion of literary study, they are the same that witnessed the noble, the enthusiastic, and despairing, alike prostrate at the feet of tyrants, or subjected to their merciless sword. There Guthrie and Argyle received the barbarous sentence of their personal enemies without form of trial, and hundreds of less note courageously endured the fury of their persecutors.”
Lord Fountainhall gives us one scene acted in this chamber, which will suffice as an illustration, and so powerfully shows the spirit of the time that we are tempted to quote it at length. It refers to the trial or examination of a man named Garnock and five other Covenanters on the 7th of October, 1681:-
“The King’s Advocate being in Angus, sent over a deputation to me to pursue; but God so ordered it that I was freed, and Sir William Purves eased me of the office. In fortification of what they said before the Duke and Council, they led the clerks and macers as witnesses, who deponed that they uttered those or the like words: ‘They declined the king, denied him to be their lawful sovereign, and called him a tyrant and covenant-breaker.’ And Forman had a knife with this posie graven on it – This is to cut the throats of tyrants; and said ‘if the king be a tyrant, why not also cut his throat, and if they were righteous judges, they would have the same on their swords, like Buchanan’s motto borrowed from the great Emperor Trajan, Pro me, sin mereor, in me.’ Garnock having at a Committee of Council railed at General Dalyell, calling him (with reference to his service in Russia) a Muscovia beast who used to roast men, the general in a passion struck him with the pommel of his shable on the face till the blood sprung. Garnock gave in a protestation signed with his own hand, calling them ‘all bloody murderers and papists, and charging all the Parliamenters to reverse the wicked laws they had made, and that Popish test they had been taking, and to put away that sinful man (the duke) or else the judgments of God were ready to break upon the land. Lapsley was wiser than the other five, for he owned the king, so far as he owned the ‘Covenant which he swore at his coronation at Scone.'” Lapsley was sent in fetters to the Thieves’ Hole, but the other five were found guilty by jury of being present at a field conventicle, “and condemned to be hanged at the Gallowlee, betwixt Edinburgh and Leith, on the 10th of October; their heads to be struck off and set upon pricks upon the Pleasance Port; Forman’s hand, who had the said knife, to be cut off (while) alive; all of which was accordingly done; and they died obstinately without acknowledging any fault or retracting their errors, reviling and condemning their judges and all that differed from them. Their bodies were stolen up by some of their party from under the gibbet, and re-buried in the west kirkyard.”
To understand the courage of the man who in such a place would defy the terrible old colonel of the Greys – whose ghost is at this day supposed to haunt his house of Binns – we must keep in mind the superstition of the time, which led the people to believe him bullet-proof; that if he spat, a hole was burned in the earth, and that water, if poured into his jack-boots, rose at once to boiling heat!
This magnificent hall and the buildings connected with it had a narrow escape in the “Great Fire” of 1700. It broke out in Lord Crossrig’s lodging, at Mr. John Buchan’s, near the meal-market, on a night in February; and Duncan Forbes of Culloden asserts (“Culloden Papers”) in a letter to his brother the colonel, that he never beheld a more vehement fire; that 400 families were burned out, and that from the Cowgate upwards to the High Street scarcely one stone was left upon another.
“The Parliament House very hardly escapt,” he continues, “all registers confounded; clerks, chambers, and processes, in such a confusion, that the lords and officers of state are just now met in Rosse’s taverne in order to adjourning of the sessione by reason of the dissorder. Few people are lost, if any at all; but there was neither heart nor hand left amongst them for saveing from the fyre, nor a drop of water in the cisterns; 20,000 hands flitting their trash they knew not wher, and hardly 20 at work; these babells of ten and fourteen story high, are down to the ground, and their fall very terrible. Many rueful spectacles, such as Crossrig, naked, with a child under his oxter, hopping for his lyffe; the Fish Mercate, and all from the Cowgate to Pett-streets Close, burnt; the Exchange, vaults and coal-cellars under the Parliament Close, are still burning.”
Many of the houses that were burned on this occasion were fourteen storeys in height, seven of which were below the level of the Close on the south side. These houses had been built about twenty years before, by Thomas Robertson, brewer, thriving citizen, whose tomb in the Greyfriars’ Churchyard had an inscription, given in Monteith’s Theatre of Morality, describing him as “remarkable for piety towards God, loyalty to his king, and love to his country.” He had given the Covenant out of his hand to be burned at the Cross in 1661 on the Restoration; and now it was remembered exultingly “that God in his providence had sent a burning among his lands.”
But Robertson was beyond the reach of earthly retribution, as his tomb bears that he died on the 21st of September, 1686, in the 63rd year of his age, with the addendum, Vivit post funera virtus – “Virtue survives the grave.”
Before we come to record the great national tragedy which the Parliament House witnessed in 1707 – for a tragedy it was then deemed by the Scottish people – it may be interesting to describe the yearly ceremony, called “the Riding of the Parliament,” in state, from the Palace to the Hall, as described by Arnot and others, on the 6th of May, 1703.
The central streets of the city and Canongate, being cleared of all vehicles, and a lane formed by their being inrailed on both sides, none were permitted to enter but those who formed the procession, or were officers of the Scottish regulars, and the trained bands in full uniform. Outside these rails the streets were lined by the Scottish Horse Grenadier Guards, from the Palace porch westwards; next in order stood the Scottish Foot Guards (two battalions, then as now), under General Sir George Ramsay, up to the Netherbow Port; from thence to the Parliament House, and to the bar thereof, the street was lined by the trained bands of the city, the Lord High Constable’s Guards, and those of the Earl Marischal. The former official being seated in an arm-chair, at the door of the House, received the officers, while the members being assembled at the Palace of Holyrood, were then summoned by name, by the Lord Clerk Registrar, the Lord Lyon King of Arms, and the heralds, with trumpets sounding, after which the procession began, thus:-
Two mounted trumpeters, with coats and banners, bareheaded.
Two pursuivants in coats and foot mantles, ditto.
Sixty-three Commissioners for burghs on horseback, two and two, each having a lackey on foot; the odd number walking alone.
Seventy-seven Commissioners for shires, mounted and covered, each having two lackeys on foot.
Fifty-one Lord Barons in their robes, riding two and two, each having a gentleman to support his train, and three lackeys on foot, wearing above their liveries velvet coats with the arms of their respective Lords on the breast and back embossed on plate, or embroidered in gold or silver.
Nineteen Viscounts as the former.
Four trumpeters, two and two.
Four pursuivants, two and two.
The heralds, Islay, Ross, Rothesay, Albany, Snowdon, and Marchmont, in their tabards, two and two, bareheaded.
The Lord Lyon King at Arms, in his tabard, with chain, robe, bâton, and foot mantle.
The Sword of State, borne by the Earl of Mar.
The Sceptre, borne by the Earl of Crawford.
Borne by the Earl of Forfar.
The purse and commission, borne by the Earl of Morton.
THE DUKE OF QUEENSBERRY, LORD HIGH COMMISSIONER,
With his servants, pages, and footmen.
Four Dukes, two and two.
Gentlemen bearing their trains, and each having eight lackeys.
Six Marquises, each having six lackeys.
The Duke of Argyle, Colonel of the Horse Guards.
A squadron of Horse Guards.
The Lord High Commissioner was received there, at the door of the House, by the Lord High Constable and the Earl Marischal, between whom he was led to the throne, followed by the Usher of the White Rod, while, amid the blowing of trumpets, the regalia were laid upon the table before it.
The year 1706, before the assembling of the last Parliament, in the old hall, was peculiarly favourable to any attempt for the then exiled House of Stuart to regain the throne; for the proposed union with England had inflamed to a perilous degree the passions and the patriotism of the nation. In August the equivalent money sent to Scotland as a blind to the people for their full participation in the taxes and old national debt of England, was pompously brought to Edinburgh in twelve great waggons, and conveyed to the Castle, escorted by a regiment of Scottish cavalry, as Defoe tells us, amid the railing, the reproaches, and the deep curses of the people, who then thought of nothing but war, and viewed the so-called equivalent as the price of their Scottish fame, liberty, and honour.
In their anathemas, we are told that they spared not the very horses which drew the waggons, and on the return of the latter from the fortress their fury could no longer be restrained, and, unopposed by the sympathising troops, they dashed the vehicles to pieces, and assailed the drivers with volleys of stones, by which many of them were severely injured.
“It was soon discovered, after all,” says Dr. Chambers, “that only £100,000 of the money was specie, the rest being in Exchequer bills, which the Bank of England had ignorantly supposed to be welcome in all parts of Her Majesty’s dominions. This gave rise to new clamours. It was said the English had tricked them by sending paper instead of money. Bills, payable 400 miles off, and which if lost or burned would be irrecoverable, were a pretty price for the obligation Scotland had come under to pay English taxes.”
In the following year, during the sitting of the Union Parliament, a terrible tumult arose in the west, led by two men named Montgomery and Finlay. The latter had been a sergeant in the Royal Scots, and this enthusiastic veteran burned the articles of Union at the Cross of Glasgow, and with the little sum he had received on his discharge, enlisted men to march to Edinburgh, avowing his intention of dispersing the Union Parliament, sacking the House, and storming the Castle. In the latter the troops were on the alert, and the guns and beacons were in readiness. The mob readily enough took the veteran’s money, but melted away on the march; thus, he was captured and brought in a prisoner to the Castle, escorted by 250 dragoons, and the Parliament continued its sitting without much interruption.
The Articles of Union were framed by thirty commissioners acting for England and thirty acting for Scotland; and though the troops of both countries were then fighting side by side on the Continent, such were their mutual relations on each side of the Tweed, that, as Macaulay says, they could not possibly have continued for one year more “on the terms on which they had been during the preceding century, and that there must have been between them either absolute union or deadly enmity; and their enmity would bring frightful calamities, not on themselves alone, but on all the civilised world. Their union would be the best security for the prosperity of both, for the internal tranquillity of the island, for the just balance of power among European states, and for the immunities of all Protestant countries.”
As the Union debates went on, in vain did the eloquent Belhaven, on his knees and in tears, beseech the House to save Scotland from extinction and degradation; in vain did the nervous Fletcher, the astute and wary Lockhart, plead for the fame of their forefathers, and denounce the measure which was to close the legislative hall for ever. “Many a patriotic heart,” says Wilson, “throbbed amid the dense crowd that daily assembled in the Parliament Close, to watch the decision of the Scottish Estates on the detestable scheme of a union with England. Again and again its fate trembled in the balance, but happily for Scotland, English bribes outweighed the mistaken zeal of Scottish patriotism and Jacobitism, united against the measure.”
On the 25th of March, 1707, the treaty of union was ratified by the estates, and on the 22nd of April the ancient Parliament of Scotland adjourned, to assemble no more. On that occasion the Chancellor Seafield made use of a brutal jest, for which, says Sir Walter Scott, his countrymen should have destroyed him on the spot.
It is, of course, a matter of common history, that the legislative union between Scotland and England was carried by the grossest bribery and corruption; but the sums actually paid to members who sat in that last Parliament are not perhaps so well known, and may be curious to the reader.
During some financial investigations which were in progress in 1711 Lockhart discovered and made public that the sum of £20,540 17s. 7d. had been secretly distributed by Lord Godolphin, the Treasurer of England, among the baser members of the Scottish Parliament, for the purpose of inducing them to vote for the extinction of their country, and in his “Memoirs of Scotland from the Accession of Queen Anne,” he gives the following list of the receivers, with the actual sum which was paid to each, and this list was confirmed on oath by David Earl of Glasgow, the Treasurer Deputy of Scotland.
Ere the consummation, James Duke of Hamilton and James Earl of Bute quitted “the House in disgust and dispair, to return to it no more.”
The corrupt state of the Scottish peerage can scarcely excite surprise when we find that, according to Stair’s Decisions, Lord Pitsligo, but a few years before this, purloined Lord Cupar’s watch, they at the time “being sitting in Parliament!”
Under terror of the Edinburgh mobs, who nearly tore the Chancellor and others limb from limb in the streets, one half of the signatures were appended to the treaty in a cellar of a house, No 177, High Street, opposite the Tron Church, named “the Union Cellar;” the rest were appended in an arbour which then adorned the Garden of Moray House in the Canongate; and the moment this was accomplished, Queensberry and the conspirators – for such they really seem to have been – fled to England before daybreak, with the duplicate of the treaty.
A bitter song, known as “The Curses,” was long after sung in every street.
“Curs’d be the Papists who withdrew
The king to their persuasion;
Curs’d be the Covenanting crew
Who gave the first occasion.
Curs’d be the wretch who seized the throne,
And marred our Constitution;
And curs’d be they who helped on
That wicked Revolution.
“Curs’d be those traitorous traitors who
By their perfidious knavery,
Have brought our nation now unto
An everlasting slavery.
Curs’d be the Parliament that day,
Who gave their confirmation;
And cursed be every whining Whig,
For they have damned the nation!”
We have shown what the representation of Scotland was, in the account of the Riding of the Parliament. By the Treaty of Union the number was cut down to sixty-one for both Houses, and the general effects of it were long remembered in Scotland with bitterness and reprehension, and generations went to their grave ere the long-promised prosperity came. Ruin and desolation fell upon the country; in the towns the grass grew round the market-crosses; the east coast trade was destroyed, and the west was as yet undeveloped; all the arsenals were emptied, the fortresses disarmed, and two royal palaces fell into ruin.
The departure of the king to London in 1603 caused not the slightest difference in Edinburgh; but the Union seemed to achieve the irreparable ruin of the capital and of the nation. Of the former Robert Chambers says:- “From the Union, up to the middle of this century, the existence of the city seems to have been a perfect blank! No improvements of any sort marked the period. On the contrary, an air of gloom and depression pervaded the city, such as distinguished its history at no former period. A tinge was communicated even to the manners and fashions of society, which were remarkable for stiff reserve, precise moral carriage, and a species of decorum amounting almost to moroseness, sure indications, it is to be supposed, of a time of adversity and humiliation… In short, this may be called, no less appropriately than emphatically, the dark age of Edinburgh.”
Years of national torpor and accepted degradation followed, and to the Scot who ventured south but a sorry welcome was accorded; yet from this state of things Scotland rose to what she is to-day, by her own exertions, unaided, and often obstructed. A return made to the House of Commons in 1710 shows that the proportion of the imperial revenue contributed by Scotland was only 2¼ per cent., whereas, by the year 1866, it had risen to 14½ per cent. During that period the revenue of England increased 800 per cent., while that of Scotland increased 2,500 per cent., thus showing that there is no country in Europe which has made such vast material progress; and to seek for a parallel case we must turn to Australia or the United States of America; but it is doubtful if those who sat in the old Parliament House on that 25th of March, 1707, least of all such patriots as Lord Banff, when he pocketed his £11 2s., could, in the wildest imagery, have forseen the Edinburgh and the Scotland of to-day!
Till so lately as 1779 the Parliament House, retained the divisions, furnishing, and – save the royal portraits – other features, which it had borne in the days when Scotland had a national legislature. Since that time the associations of this hall – the Westminster Hall of Edinburgh – are only such as relate to men eminent in the College of Justice, for learning or great legal lore, among whom we may note Duncan Forbes, Lords Monboddo and Kames, Hume, Erskine, and Mackenzie, and, indeed, nearly all the men of note in past Scottish literature. “Our own generation has witnessed there Cockburn, Brougham, Horner, Jeffrey, and Scott,, sharing in the grave offices of the court, or taking part in the broad humour and wit for which the members of ‘the Faculty’ are so celebrated; and still the visitor to this learned and literary lounge cannot fail to be gratified in a high degree, while watching the different groups who gather in the Hall, and noting the lines of thought or humour, and the infinite variety of physiognomy for which the wigged and gowned loiterers of the Law Courts are peculiarly famed.”
The Hall is now open from where the throne stood to the great south window. Once it was divided into two portions – the southern separated from the rest by a screen, accommodated the Court of Session; the northern, comprising a subsection used for the Sheriff Court, was chiefly a kind of lobby, and was degraded by a set of little booths, occupied as taverns, booksellers’ shops, and toy shops, like those in the Krames. Among others, Creech had a stall; and such was once the condition of Westminster Hall. Spottiswoode of that ilk, who published a work on “Forms of Process,” in 1718, records that there were then “two keepers of the session-house, who had small salaries to do the menial offices there, and that no small part of their annual perquisites came from the kramers in the outer hall.”
The great Hall is now used as a promenade and waiting-room by the advocates and other practitioners connected with the supreme courts, and during the sitting of these presents a very animated scene; and there George IV. was received in kingly state at a grand banquet, on his visit to the city in 1822.
10 thoughts on “Chapter 17 – The Parliament House., pp.157-166.”