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Chapter 35 – Some of the New Streets Within the Area of the Flodden Wall (concluded)., pp.291-296.

Victoria Street and Terrace – The India Buildings – Mechanics’ Subscription Library – George IV. Bridge – St. Augustine’s Church – Martyrs’ Church – Chamber of the Highland and Agricultural Society – Sheriff Court Buildings and Solicitors’ Hall – Johnstone Terrace – St. John’s Free Church – The Church of Scotland Training College.


VICTORIA STREET, which opens from the west side of George IV. Bridge, and was formed as the result of the same improvement scheme by which that stately bridge itself was erected, from the north end of the Highland and Agricultural Society’s Chambers curves downward to the north-east corner of the Grassmarket, embracing in that curve the last remains of the ancient West Bow. Some portions of its architecture are remarkably ornate, especially the upper portion of its south side, where stands the massive pile, covered in many parts with rich carving, named the India Buildings, in the old Scottish baronial style, of unique construction, consisting of numerous offices, entered from a series of circular galleries, and erected in 1867-8, containing the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture, which was instituted in November, 1864. Its objects are to watch over the interests of practical agriculture, to promote the advancement of that science by the discussion of all subjects relating to it, and to consider questions that may be introduced into Parliament connected with it. The business of the Chamber is managed by a president, vice-president, and twenty directors, twelve of whom are tenant farmers. It holds fixed meetings at Perth in autumn, and at Edinburgh in November, annually; and all meetings are open to the press. 

In the centre of the southern part of the street is St. John’s Established Church, built in 1838, in a mixed style of architecture, with a Saxon doorway. 

It is faced on the north side by a handsome terrace, portions of which rise from an open arcade, and include a Primitive Methodist church, or Ebenezer chapel, and an Original Secession church. Victoria Terrace is crossed at its western end by a flight of steps, which seem to continue the old line of access afforded by the Upper West Bow. 

No. 5 Victoria Terrace gives access to one of the most valuable institutions in the city – the Edinburgh Mechanics’ Subscription Library. It was established in 1825, when its first president was Mr. Robert Hay, a printer, and Mr. John Dunn, afterwards a well-known optician, was vice-president, and it has now had a prosperous career of more than half a century. 

The library is divided into thirteen sections:- 1, Arts and Sciences; 2, Geography and Statistics; 3, History; 4, Voyages, Travels, and Personal Adventures; 5, Biography; 6, Theology; 7, Law; 8, Essays; 9, Poetry and the Drama; 10, Novels and Romances; 11, Miscellaneous; 12, Pamphlets; 13, Periodicals. Each of these sections has a particular classification, and they are all constantly receiving additions, so as to carry out the original object of the institution -“To procure an extensive collection of books on the general literature of the country, including the most popular works on science.” 

Thus every department of British literature is amply represented on its shelves, and at a charge so moderate as to be within the reach of all classes of the community: the entry-money being only 2s. 6d., and the quarterly payments 1s. 6d.

The management of this library has always been vested in its own members, and few societies adhere so rigidly to their original design as the Mechanics’ Library has done. It has, from the first, adapted itself to the pecuniary circumstances of the working man, and from the commencement it has been a self-supporting institution; though in its infancy its prosperity was greatly accelerated as its records attest, by liberal donations of works in almost every class of literature. Among the earliest contributors in this generous spirit, besides many of its own members, were Sir James Hall, Bart., of Dunglas, so eminent for his attainments in geological and chemical science; his son, Captain Basil Hall, R.N., the well-known author; Mr. Leonard Horner; and the leading publishers of the day – Messrs. Archibald Constable, William Blackwood, Adam Black, Waugh and Innes, with John Murray of London. Some of them were munificent in their gifts, “besides granting credit to any amount required – an accommodation of vital service to an infant institution.” 

The property of the library is vested in trustees, who consist of two individuals chosen by vote every fifth year, in addition to “the Convener of the Trades of the City of Edinburgh, the principal librarian to the Faculty of Advocates, and the principal librarian to the Society of Writers to Her Majesty’s Signet, for the time being.” 

The right of reading descends to the heirs of subscribers, and is transferable under certain rules. 

Judging from the large number of books lent during the year, the interest in this Institution is not only real, but steadily maintained. The ordinary members on the roll number more than 600, an average that seldom varies. Though the chief entrance is from Victoria Terrace, the library is the proprietor of the whole property in Riddell’s Close behind, from the basement to the attics. The first, or principal floor, is occupied by the library (and the rest is let to tenants) and is in the house of Bailie Macmoran, who, as we have related, was shot by William Sinclair, a High School boy, in the reign of James VI. 

In recording the destruction of Mauchine’s Close, Liberton’s Wynd, and other old alleys, we referred to the erection of Melbourne Place. Here George IV. Bridge goes southward at right angles from the Lawnmarket, and stretches across the Cowgate, opposite Bank Street, to a point near the south end of the Candlemaker Row. 

The foundation-stone of this magnificent bridge, which was projected in 1825, was laid on the 15th of August, 1827; but after being begun, and for some time left in an unfinished state, through a failure of funds, it was finally completed in 1836. It occasioned the demolition of many picturesque specimens of the city’s ancient edifices, but forms a spacious thoroughfare three hundred yards in length, including the splendid groined open arches over the Cowgate, and seven others which are concealed. It is now edificed with houses on both sides, and presents the aspect of a stately street; but, where open, commands from its lofty parapets a clear and striking view of the narrow Cowgate far down below, together with the new western approach round the south-west face of the Castle rock, which joins Johnstone Terrace. It cost about £400,000. 

On the east side of it stands the St. Augustine’s Independent (or Congregational) church, built in 1857, after designs by Hay, a Scottish architect settled in Liverpool. It cost £14,000, and rises from a deep and massive basement in the old sunk transverse thoroughfare of Merchant Street. The main building is after the Byzantine style, with a handsome tower and steeple above a hundred feet in height; and is somewhat of an innovation even on the new architecture of the city. 

The Martyrs of Reformed Presbyterian church stands on the west side of George IV. Bridge, and nearly opposite St. Augustine’s church. This congregation was established in Lady Lawson’s Wynd in 1834. In No. 17, on the same side, a little farther north, are the chambers of the Protestant Institute, and of the Scottish Reformation Society, erected about 1860, springing partly from previously organised efforts against the increase of Catholicism in Britain, and partly from the tri-centenary celebration of the Reformation in Scotland. The former contains a hall for courses of lectures to students on subjects specially connected with Roman controversy. But the two most important buildings on this new bridge are the Sheriff Court Buildings on the west side, and those of the Highland and Agricultural Society on the east. 

Of the several patriotic institutions formed for the improvement of the country generally, and of the Highlands in particular, this has been the most useful, powerful, and extensive in its operations. It has steadily directed its great energies to the promotion of the immediate and most tangible interests of the Highlands, and to the introduction, extension, and adaptation of whatever promises most efficiently to work out their temporal prosperity. A noble institution, it embodies the genuine patriotism with the patronage and skill of most of the nobility, landed gentry, and gentlemen farmers throughout Scotland, and not a few of the men most distinguished in science and learning. 

Previous to its promotion there existed in Edinburgh two similar associations. The first was named “The Honourable the Society of Improvers in the Knowledge of Agriculture,” and is believed to have been the earliest in Britain, being founded in 1723. It ended with the battle of Culloden. The second was formed in 1755, and existed for ten years, under the auspices of the “Select Society.” 

“The Highland Society of Scotland,” says Henry Mackenzie, one of the directors, in his introduction to the first volume of its “Transactions,” “derives its origin from a number of gentlemen, native of, or connected with the Highlands, assembled in Edinburgh in 1784. That meeting ‘conceiving (as the words of their own resolutions express) that the institution of a Highland Society at Edinburgh would be attended with many good consequences to the country, as well as to individuals,’ determined to take the sense of their countrymen on the propriety of such an institution. A numerous meeting of such gentlemen as residence in or near Edinburgh allowed of being called together was assembled. They warmly approved of the measure, agreed to become members of such a Society, proceeded to the nomination of a president, vice-president, and committee, and having thus far embodied themselves, wrote circulars to such noblemen and gentlemen as birth, property, or connection, qualified, and, as they supposed, might incline to join the formation of such an establishment, inviting them to become members of the proposed society.” 

Though thus instituted in 1784, it was not incorporated by royal charter till 1787. Candidates for admission must be proposed by a member, and are elected at the general meetings which take place in January and June or July. They pay in advance £1 3s. 6d. Per annum, or a life subscription of twelve guineas, except tenant-farmers, who are admissible on an annual payment of 10s., or life subscription of £5 5s. The members of the original Society were about 100; in 1787, 150; in 1797, 400. Since its institution 11,000 members have been elected, and now the present number enrolled at the office in George IV. Bridge is above 4,650. 

There is a powerful staff of office-bearers, and fifteen chairmen of committees, whose cares embrace – 1, Agricultural Reports; 2, the Argyle Naval Fund; 3, Chemical Department; 4, Cottages; 5, District Shows; 6, Finance; 7, Forestry Department; 8, General Shows; 9, Hall and Chambers; 10, Law; 11, Machinery; 12, Ordnance Survey; 13, Publications; 14, Steam Cultivation; 15, Veterinary Department. 

By a charter under the great seal in 1856 the Society is empowered to grant diplomas and certificates in agriculture, and has regular boards of highly qualified examiners, on every point of which it takes cognisance. It grants annually ten bursaries of £20 each, and five of £10 each, to be competed for by pupils of schools approved of by the directors. 

The Society’s vested capital now amounts to £70,000, and its annual revenue reaches more than £4,500, besides the receipts for general shows. The Argyle Fund, for the education of young Highland gentlemen for the navy, now amounts to £5,639, and was instituted by John fifth Duke of Argyle, the original president of the Society. 

From its chambers, No. 3, George IV. Bridge, surveying a width of range and multiplicity of objects worthy of its wealth and intellect, its opulence of power and resource, the Society promotes the erection of towns and bridges, the formation of roads, the experiments and enterprises of agriculture, the improvement of farm stock, the sheltering processes of planting, the extension of fisheries, the introduction of manufactures, the adaptation of machinery to all useful arts, the ready co-operation of local influence with legislative and public measures, the diffusion of practical knowledge of all that may tend to the general good of the Scottish nation, and the consolidation of the Highlanders and Lowlanders into one great fraternal community.

“The Society awards large and numerous premiums to stimulate desiderated enterprises, and in 1828 began the publication of the Quarterly Journal of Agriculture, for prize essays and the dissemination of the newest practical information; it patronises great annual cattle shows successively in different towns, and by means of them excites and directs a stirring and creditable spirit of emulation among graziers, and, in general, it keeps in play upon the community, a variety of influences which, as far as regards mere earthly well-being, have singularly transformed and beautified its character.”

Its arms are a figure of Caledonia on a pedestal, between two youths – one a Highland reaper, the other a ploughboy – being crowned, The motto is, Semper armis nunc et industria. The Highland Society’s hall and chamber form a very symmetrical and also ornamental edifice, with a beautiful sculpture of its coat of arms from the chisel of A. H. Ritchie. It formerly contained a most interesting agricultural museum, which has been removed elsewhere. Similar societies on the same model have since been established – by England in 1838, and by Ireland in 1841. 

The other edifice referred to, the Sheriff’s Court Buildings, contiguous to the open arches over the Cowgate, was erected in 1865-8, from the designs by David Bryce, at a cost of more than £44,000. It rises from a low basement, with an extensive and imposing flank to the south, and presents in its façade an ornate variety of the Italian style of architecture; but within exhibits simply the usual features of legal courts, with three subordinate official chambers, unless we except the Society hall of the Solicitors-at-law, a minor legal body in Edinburgh, which was incorporated by royal charter in 1780, and only certain members of which are qualified to act as agents before the Supreme Courts. 

Johnstone Terrace, King’s Road, and Castle Terrace crossing the King’s Bridge, the foundation stone of which was laid in 1827, unitedly extend about 900 yards along the southern limb, or south-western skirt of the Castle Rock, connecting the head of the Lawnmarket with the Lothian Road, at a point about 180 yards south of the west end of Princes Street. These were formed between 1825 and 1836, to afford improved access to the Old Town from the westward. They are collectively called the New Western Approach, and apart from being a very questionable improvement as regards artistic taste, have destroyed the amenity of the Castle Rock, and lessened its strength as a fortress. 

In Johnstone Terrace, to which we shall confine ourselves for the present, at the eastern end, resting at the corner of the Old West Bow, is St. John’s Free Church, a handsome edifice in a mixed style of early Gothic. It was built from designs furnished by Robert Hamilton in 1847, and is chiefly famous for its congregation having enjoyed for some years the ministry of the celebrated Dr. Guthrie, and of Dr. William Hannah, a graduate of the University of Glasgow, who was ordained to the ministry of the Presbyterian Church in 1835, and who is so well known as the author of “Wycliffe and the Huguenots,” and as the affectionate biographer of Chalmers. 

Westward of this edifice is St. Columba’s Episcopal church, also a Gothic structure, but of an earlier style, with a low, square battlemented tower, built in 1845. 

At the cost of about £10,000, the Normal School of the Church of Scotland was built westward of it, in 1845, and is a large and handsome edifice. 

It is called the Normal School, or Church of Scotland Training College. It is a double college, and like that in Glasgow, trains both masters and mistresses. The course of training extends over two years, and none are admitted as students but those who have passed a preliminary examination; but the committee exercise their discretion in making their selection, without regard to the Government order of merit. The programme of instruction is prescribed by the Education Department; but the Education Committee of the Scottish Church are not limited by it, and give religious instruction on the basis of the Bible and Shorter Catechism, while promoting the study of Latin and elementary science. The students do not enter until they are eighteen years of age at least, and the principles and practice of teaching have a prominent place among the subjects of instruction. 

Bursaries of the average value of £21 per annum, in addition to free education, are given to all the male students; while a considerable number of the average value of £12 is given to the female students, from whom alone a fee for education is expected. 

All students pay annually £2 each, a contribution to the book fund of the Training College, in return for which all necessary books are given to them by the committee; and this payment must be made by all, whether the books are taken or not. 

These colleges date from about the year 1840. That in Johnstone Terrace was built to succeed an older (and less suitably equipped) edifice, which stood in what used to be called Market Street, near the Waverley Station, and near the Bank of Scotland. 

Westward of the Training College, on the Castle-bank, and facing the Grassmarket, a barrack for married soldiers stands, and there any soldier passing through Edinburgh, on obtaining permission, may pass the night. 

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