Niddry’s Wynd – Provost Edward’s House – Lockhart’s Court – St. Mary’s Chapel – Masonic Lodge Meetings – Viscountess Glenorchy – The Story of Lady Grange – St. Cecilia’s Hall – Its Old-fashioned Concerts – The Belles of the Eighteenth Century – The Name Niddry.
OF the house of Provost Nicol Edward (or Udward, to which we have referred) a very elaborate description is given in the work entitled “Minor Antiquities.” On a mantlepiece within it were carved his arms, with an anagram upon his name thus:-
“VA D’UN VOL À CHRIST” –
“Go with one flight to Christ,” which only can be made out by Latinising his name into Nicholaus Edwartus. It occupied the western side of Lockhart’s Court, and was accessible only by a deep archway.
In an Act passed in 1581, “Anent the Cuinzie,” Alexander Clark of Balbirnie, Provost of Edinburgh, and Nicol Edward, whose houses were both in this wynd, are mentioned with others. The latter appears in 1585 in the Parliament as Commissary for Edinburgh, together with Michael Gilbert; and in 1587 he appears again in an Act of Parliament in favour of the Flemish craftsmen, whom James VI. was desirous of encouraging; but, lest they should produce inferior work at Scottish prices, his Majesty, with the advice of Council, “hes appointit, constitute, and ordainit, ane honest and discreit man, Nicolas Uduart, burgess of Edinburgh, to be visitor and overseer of the said craftsmen’s hail warks, steiks, and pieces… the said Nicolas sal have sic dueties as is contenit within the buke, as is commonly usit to be payit therfore in Flanderis, Holland, or Ingland;” in virtue of all of which Nicholas was freed from all watching, warding, and all charges and impositions.
In that court dwelt, in 1753-1761, George Lockhart of Carnwath. One of the thirteen rooms in his house contained a mantelpiece of singular magnificence, that reached the lofty ceiling; but the house had a peculiar accessory, in the shape of “a profound dungeon, which was only accessible by a secret trap-door, opening through the floor of a small closet, the most remote of a suite of rooms extending along the south and west sides of the court. Perhaps at a time then to be rich was neither so common nor so safe as now, Provost Edward might conceal his hoards in this massy more.”
The north side of Lockhart’s Court was long occupied by the family of Bruce of Kinnaird, the celebrated traveller.
In Niddry’s Wynd, a little below Provost Edward’s house on the opposite side, stood St. Mary’s Chapel, dedicated to God and the Blessed Virgin Mary, according to Arnot, in 1505. Its foundress was Elizabeth, daughter of James, Lord Livingstone, Great Chamberlain of Scotland, and Countess of Ross – then widow of John Earl of Ross and Lord of the Isles, who, undeterred by the miserable fate of his father, drew on him, by his treasonable practices, the just vengeance of James III., and died in 1498.
Colville of Easter Wemyss, and afterwards Richardson of Smeaton, became proprietors and patrons of this religious foundation; and about the year 1600, James Chalmers, a macer before the Court of Session, acquired a right to the chapel, and in 1618 the Corporations of Wrights and Masons, known by the name of the United Incorporations of Mary’s Chapel, purchased this subject, “where they still possess, and where they hold meetings,” says Arnot, writing in 1779.
In the Caledonian Mercury for 1736 we read that on St. Andrew’s Day the masters and wardens of forty masonic lodges met in St. Mary’s Chapel, and unanimously elected as their grand-master William Sinclair of Roslin, the representative of an ancient though reduced family, connected for several generations with Scottish freemasonry.
For this ancient chapel a modern edifice was substituted, long before the demolition of Niddry’s Wynd; but the masonic lodge of Mary’s Chapel still exists, and we believe holds its meetings there.
Religious services were last conducted in the new edifice when Viscountess Glenorchy hired it. She was zealous in the cause of religion, and conceived a plan of having a place of worship in which ministers of every orthodox denomination might preach; and for this purpose she had St. Mary’s Chapel opened on Wednesday, the 7th March, 1770, by the Rev. Mr. Middleton, the minister of a small Episcopal chapel at Dalkeith; but she failed to secure the ministrations of any clergyman of the Established Church, though in 1779 the Rev. William Logan, of South Leith, a poet of some eminence in his time, gave his course of lectures on the philosophy of history in the chapel, prior to offering himself as a candidate for the chair of civil history in the University.
On the east side of Niddry’s Wynd, nearly opposite to Lockhart’s Court, was a handsome house, which early in the eighteenth century was inhabited by the Hon. James Erskine, a senator, better known by his legal and territorial appellation of Lord Grange, brother of John Earl of Mar, who led the great rising in 1715 on behalf of the Stuarts. He was born in 1679, and was called to the Scottish bar in 1705. He took no share in the Jacobite enterprise which led to the forfeiture of his brother, and the loss, ultimately of the last remains of the once great inheritance in the north from which the ancient family took its name.
He affected to be a zealous Presbyterian and adherent of the House of Hanover, and as such he figures prominently in the “Diary” of the industrious Wodrow, supplying that writer with many shreds of the Court gossip, which he loved so dearly; but Lord Grange is chiefly remembered for the romantic story of his wife, which has long filled an interesting page in popular literature, and been the theme of more than one work of fiction.
She was Rachel Chiesley, the daughter of that Chiesley of Dalry who, in a gust of passionate resentment, shot down the Lord President Lockhart, and she inherited from him a temper prompt to ire. She and her husband had been married upwards of twenty years, and had several children, when a separation was determined upon between them. “Some portion of her father’s violent temper appears to have descended to the daughter,” says the editor of Lord Grange’s Letters, “and aggravated by drunkenness, rendered her marriage for many years miserable, and led at last, in the year 1730, to her formal separation from her husband.”
According to Lady Grange’s account there had been love and peace for twenty years between her and Lord Grange, when he conceived a sudden dislike, and would live with her no longer; while he, on the other hand, asserted that he had long been tortured by her “unsubduable rage and madness,” and had failed in every effort to soothe or bring her to reason. She was a woman of more than common beauty. Another account has it that in her girlhood Grange had seduced her, and she compelled him to marry her by threatening to pistol him, and reminding him that she was Chiesley’s daughter.
In effecting the separation, he allowed her £100 a year so long as she lived peacefully apart from him; but his frequent journeys to London, and rumours of certain amours there, inflamed her jealousy, and after being for some time in the country, she returned and took a lodging near her husband’s house in Niddry’s Wynd, as she herself touchingly relates, “that I might have the pleasure to see the house he was in, and to see him and my children when going out; and I made his relations and my own speak to him, and was always in hopes that God would show him his sin of putting away his wife contrary to the laws of God and man; and this was no secret, for the President of the Session, and some of the Lords, the Solicitor-General, and some of the advocates and ministers of Edinburgh, know all this to be truth. When I lost all hopes, then I resolved to go to London.
Lord Grange’s account is somewhat different. She tormented him and the children by reproachful cries from her windows; and he states that “in his house, at the bottom of Niddry’s Wynd, where there is a court, through which one enters the house, one time among others, when it was full of chairs, chairmen, and footmen, who attended the company that were with himself, or his sister Lady Jane Paterson (wife of Sir Hugh Paterson of Bannockburn), then keeping house together, she came into this court, and among that mob shamelessly cried up to the windows injurious reproaches, and would not go away, though intreated, till hearing the late Lord Lovat’s voice” she would seem then to have retired. He also asserts that one day she assailed him in church; on another, she compelled him to take refuge in a tavern, and threatened even to assault him on the Bench.
Tradition asserts that Lord Grange was dissipated, restless, intriguing, and was concerned in some Jacobite plots subsequently to the battle of Sheriffmuir; that in revenge his wife threatened to inform the Government; and there is proof, from one of his own letters, that she had actually taken her seat in one of the occasional stages which then ran between Edinburgh and London, and he bribed her to give her seat to another traveller, after which he would seem to have resolved upon “sequestrating her,” as he phrased it; and in a long letter written by herself, and dated January 26th, 1741, she gives an ample detail of how this was effected.
The plot was concerted between Lord Grange and some west Highland chiefs, among whom was the unscrupulous old Lord Lovat. A party of Highlanders, wearing the livery of the latter, made their way into her lodgings in Niddry’s Wynd on the evening of the 22nd January, 1730, seized her with violence, knocking out some of her teeth, and, tying a cloth over her head, bore her forth, as if she had been a corpse.
“I heard voices about me,” she relates; “but being blindfolded I could not discover who they were. They had a [sedan] chair at the stair-foot, which they put me in; and there was a man in the chair who took me on his knee, and I made all the struggle I could; but he held me fast in his arms, and hindered me to put my hands to my mouth, which I attempted to do, being tied down. The chair carried me off very fast, and took me without the ports; and when they had opened the chair and taken the cloth off my head to let me get air, I perceived, it being clear moonlight, that I was a little way from the Multer’s Hill,1 and the man on whose knee I sat was Alexander Foster, of Carsebonny, who had there six or seven horses and men with him, who said all these were his servants, though I knew some of them to be my Lord Lovat’s servants, who rode along. One of them was called Alexander Frazer, and the other James Frazer, and his groom, whose name I know not.”
From that night Niddry’s Wynd knew her no more. She had two sons grown to manhood at the time she was so mysteriously spirited away; her daughter was married to John Earl of Kintore; yet none of her relations ever made the slightest stir in the matter, though the Aberdeenshire seat of the Earl was once suggested as a place of residence for her.
Leaving the vicinity of Edinburgh by the Lang Gate, a ride of twenty miles brought her, with her captors, to Muiravonside, where she was secured, under guard, in the house of John Macleod, advocate; but a man being posted near her bed, she could neither enter it nor take repose. Next night she was secured farther off, in an old solitary tower, at Wester Polmaise, where for fourteen weeks she was kept in a room, the windows of which were boarded over, access to the garden even being denied her.
On the 12th of August a Highlander named Alexander Grant suddenly appeared, and announced that she must prepare for the road again; and by her captors, who gave out that she was insane, she was conveyed by rough and secluded ways, where she could neither ride nor walk, but had to be borne in their arms, sleeping at night in a bothy, till she found herself on the shore of Loch Hourn, an arm of the sea, in the land of Glengarry. Then “bitterly did she weep and implore compassion, but the Highlanders understood not her language, and though they had done so, a departure from the orders which had been given them was not to be expected from men of their character,” and she was hurried on board of a ship.
There she learned that she was now in the custody of Alexander Macdonald, tacksman of Heiskar [Haskeir], a small island three leagues westward of North Uist, belonging to Sir Alexander Macdonald of Sleat, and so named probably from the vast resort and slaughter of seals formerly made on its bleak and desolate rocks. Few or none, we are told, who have not seen the black deep bosom of Loch Hourn, its terrific rampart of mountain turrets, and the long, narrow gulf in which it sleeps in the cradle of its abyss, can conceive its profound and breathless stillness when undisturbed by the wild gusts of the coires, or gales, that sweep through its narrow gorge. It was in such an interval of peace that Lady Grange embarked, and for nine days her vessel lay becalmed. Two miserable years she abode in Heiskar.
In June, 1734, a sloop, commanded by a Macleod, came to Heiskar to convey the victim of all these strange precautions to the most remote portion of the British Isles, St. Kilda, “far amid the melancholy main,” where she was placed in a cottage composed of two small apartments, with a girl to wait upon her, and where, except for a short time in the case of Roderick Maclennan, a Highland clergyman, there was not a human being who understood the language she spoke.
No newspapers, letters, or intelligence, came hither from the world in which she had once dwelt, save once yearly, when a steward came to collect, in kind, birds’ feathers and so forth, the rent of the poor islanders. In St. Kilda she spent seven years, and how she spent them will never be known, yet they were not passed without several mad and futile efforts to escape.
Meanwhile all Edinburgh knew that she had been forcibly abducted from Niddry’s Wynd by order of her husband, but the secret of her whereabouts was sedulously kept from all; but now the latter had resigned his seat on the bench, and entered political life, as a friend of the Prince of Wales and opponent of Sir Robert Walpole.
At length, in the gloomy winter of 1740-1, a communication from Lady Grange for the first time reached those in Edinburgh, who had begun to wonder and denounce the singular means her husband had taken to ensure domestic quiet. It was brought by the minister Maclennan and his wife Katharine MacInnon, both of whom had quitted St. Kilda in consequence of a quarrel with the steward of Macleod of that ilk, Maclennan was provided with letters for Lady Grange’s law-agent, Mr. Hope, of Rankeillor, who made all the necessary precognitions, including those of people at Polmaise and elsewhere; after which he made application to the Lord Justice-Clerk for warrants empowering a search to be made, and the Laird of Macleod and others to be arrested; and when Mr. John Macleod, advocate, was cited, he declared that he had no authority to appear for Lord Grange, “but repelled the charges against his chief and clansmen, claiming that no warrant should be granted upon the evidence of such scandalous and disreputable persons as Maclennan and his wife;” and Rankeillor was ordered to produce letters of evidence that those shown were actually written by Lady Grange, and being found to be in the writing of Maclennan, they were dismissed as insufficient, and warrants, were refused.
Undeterred by this, Hope, on the 12th of February, fitted out a sloop, commanded by William Gregory, with twenty-five well-armed men, and sent him, with Mr. Maclennan on board, “to search for and rescue Lady Grange wherever she could be found;” but Macleod, on hearing of the departure of the sloop – which got no farther than Horse Shoe Harbour, in Lorn (where the master quarrelled with his guide, Mrs. Maclennan, and put her ashore) – had Lady Grange removed, and secluded in Assynt, at a farm-house, closely watched. There she became enfeebled in mind and body, the result of violent passions, intoxication, and latterly sea-sickness, which produced settled imbecility; and the unhappy lady thus treated was the wife of a man who, “not to speak of his office of a judge in Scotland, moved in English society of the highest character. He must have been the friend of Lyttelton, Pope, Thomson, and other ornaments of Frederick’s Court; and, as the brother-in-law of the Countess of Mar, who was sister of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, he would figure in the brilliant circle which surrounded that star of the age of the second George. Yet he does not appear to have ever felt a moment’s compunction at leaving the mother of his children to fret herself to death in a half-savage wilderness.”
In a letter of his, dated Westminster, in June, 1749, in answer to an intimation of her death, he wrote thus callously:- “I most heartily thank you, my dear friend, for the timely notice you gave me of the death of that person. It would be a ridiculous untruth to pretend grief for it; but as it brings to my mind a train of various things for many years back, it gives me concern… I long for the particulars of her death, which you are pleased to tell me I am to have by the next post.”
After her removal to Skye her mind sunk to idiocy. She exhibited a restless desire to ramble, and no motive now remaining for restraint, she was allowed entire freedom, and the poor wanderer strolled from place to place, supported by the hospitality and tenderness which, in the Highlands, have ever given a sacred claim to the idiot poor. In this state she lingered for seven years, and in June, 1749, died in a cottar’s humble dwelling at Idragal, seventeen years after her abduction on that evening of January from her house in Niddry’s Wynd.
On the east side of Niddry’s Wynd, at the foot thereof, and resting on the Cowgate, was St. Cecilia’s Hall, an oval edifice, having a concave ceiling, and built in 1762 by Robert Mylne, the architect of Blackfriars Bridge (lineal descendant of the royal master-masons) “after the model of the opera at Parma,” says Kincaid. The orchestra was placed over the north end, and therein was placed a fine organ. It was seated for 500 persons.
The Musical Society of Edinburgh, whose weekly concerts formed one of the most delightful entertainments in the old city, dated back to the otherwise gloomy era of 1728. Yet from “Fountainhall’s Decisions” we learn that so far back as 1694 an enterprising citizen named Beck “erected a concert of music” somewhere in the city, which involved him in a lawsuit with the Master of the Revels. Even before 1728 several gentlemen, who were performers on the harpsichord and violin, had taken courage, and formed a weekly club at the Cross Keys tavern, “kept,” says Arnot, “by one Steil, a great lover of musick, and a good singer of Scots songs.” Steil is mentioned in the Latin lyrics of Dr. Pitcairn, who refers to a subject of which he was fully master – the old Edinburgh taverns of Queen Anne’s time. At Pate Steil’s the common entertainment consisted in playing the concertos and sonatas of Corelli, then just published, and the overtures of Handel. A governor, deputy-governor, treasurer, and five directors, were annually chosen to direct the affairs of this society, which consisted of seventy members. They met in St. Mary’s Chapel from 1728 till 1762, when this hall was built for them.
For some years the celebrated Tenducci, who is mentioned in O’Keefe’s “Recollection” in 1766 as a famous singer of Scottish songs, was at the head of the band; and one great concert was given yearly in honour of St. Cecilia, when Scottish songs were among those chiefly sung. When the Prince of Hesse came over, in 1745, with his 6,000 mercenaries, to fight against the Jacobites, he was specially entertained here by the then governor of the Musical Society, Lord Drummore, Hugh Dalrymple. The prince was not only a dilettante, but a good performer on an enormous violoncello. “Few persons now living,” says Dr. Chambers in 1847, “recollect the elegant concerts that were given many years ago in what is now an obscure part of our ancient city, known by the name of St. Cecilia’s Hall,” and still fewer may remember them now.
On the death of Lord Drummore, in 1755, the society performed a grand concert in honour of his memory, when the numerous company were all dressed in the deepest mourning.
In 1763 the concerts began at six in the evening; in 1783 an hour later.
To the concertos of Corelli and Handel in the new hall, were added the overtures of Stamitz, Bach, Abel, and latterly those of Haydn, Pleyel, and the magnificent symphonies of Mozart and Beethoven. The vocal department of these old concerts consisted of the songs of Handel, Arne, Gluck, and Guglielmi, with a great infusion of Scottish songs, for as yet the fashionables of Edinburgh were too national to ignore their own stirring music, and among the amateurs who took the lead as choristers were the wealthy Gilbert Innes of Stow, Mr. Alexander Wight, advocate, Mr. John Russell, W.S., and the Earl of Kellie, who on one occasion acted as leader of the band when performing one of six overtures of his own composition; and though last, not least, Mr. George Thomson, the well-known editor of the “Melodies of Scotland.”
A supper to the directors and their friends at Fortune’s tavern always followed an oratorio, where the names of the chief beauties who had graced the hall were toasted in bumpers from glasses of vast length, for exuberant loyalty to beauty was a leading feature in the convivial meetings of those days.
“Let me call to mind a few of those whose lovely faces at the concerts gave us the sweetest zest for music,” wrote George Thomson, who died in 1851, in his ninety-fourth year:- “Miss Cleghorn of Edinburgh, still living in single blessedness; Miss Chalmers of Pittencrief, who married Sir William Miller of Glenlee, Bart.; Miss Jessie Chalmers of Edinburgh, who married Mr. Pringle of Haining; Miss Hay of Hayston, who married Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo, Bart.; Miss Murray of Lintrose, who was called the Flower of Strathmore, and upon whom Burns wrote the song,
‘Blythe, blythe, and merry was she,
Blythe was she but and ben;
Blythe by the banks of Earn,
And blythe in Glenturit glen.’
She married David Smith, Esq., of Methven, one of the Lords of Session; Miss Jardine of Edinburgh, who married Home Drummond of Blairdrummond, their daughter, if I mistake not, is now Duchess of Athole; Miss Kinloch of Gilmerton, who married Sir Foster Cunliffe of Acton, Bart.; Miss Lucy Johnston of East Lothian, who married Mr. Oswald of Auchincruive; Miss Halket of Pitfirran, who became the wife of the celebrated Count Lally-Tollendal; and Jane, Duchess of Gordon, celebrated for her wit and spirit as well as her beauty. These, with Miss Burnet and Miss Home, and many others whose names I do not distinctly recollect, were indisputably worthy of all the honours conferred upon them.”
These and other Edinburgh belles of the past all shed light of their beauty on the old hall in Niddry’s Wynd, now devoted to scholastic uses.
We first hear of a “Teacher of English” in 1750, when a Mr. Philip opened an educational establishment in the wynd in that year. In widening the wynd into a street, there was swept away Dalgleish’s Close, which is referred to in the “Diurnal of Occurents” in 1572, and which occupied the site of the present east side of Niddry Street.
From whom this old thoroughfare took its name we know not; but it is an old one in Lothian, and, with various adjuncts, designates several places near the city. In the charters of David II. Henry Niddry is mentioned in connection with Niddry-Marshal, and Walter, son of Augustine, burgess of Edynbourgh, has the lands of Niddry in that county, quam Johannes de Bennachtyne de le Corrokys resignavit, 19th sept. an. Reg. 33; and under Robert III. John Niddry held lands in Cramond and also Pentland Muir.