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Chapter 37 – Leith Wynd., pp.300-309.

Leith Wynd – Our Lady’s Hospital – Paul’s Work – The Wall of 1540 – Its Fall in 1854 – The “Happy Land” – Mary of Gueldres – Trinity College Church – Some Particulars of its Charter – Interior View – Decorations – Enlargement of the Establishment – Privileges of its Ancient Officers – The Duchess of Lennox – Lady Jane Hamilton – Curious Remains – Trinity Hospital – Sir Simon Preston’s “Public Spirit” – Becomes a Corporation Charity – Description of Buildings – Provisions for the Inmates – Lord Cockburn’s Female Pensioner – Demolition of the Hospital – Other Charities.


THE connecting link between St. Mary’s Wynd and Leith Wynd was the Nether Bow Port, a barrier, concerning the strength of which that veteran marshal, the Duke of Argyle, spoke thus in the debate of 1736 in reference to the Porteous mob:- 

“The Nether Bow Gate, my Lords, stands in a narrow street; near it are always a number of coaches and carts. Let us suppose another insurrection is to happen. In that case, my Lords, should the conspirators have the presence of mind to barricade the street with these carriages, as may be done by a dozen of fellows, I affirm, and I appeal for the truth of what I advance to any man of my trade, who knows the situation of the place, if five hundred men may not keep out ten thousand for a longer time than that in which the mob executed their bloody designs against Porteous.” 

From the end of this gate, and bordered latterly on the west by the city wall, Leith Wynd, which is now nearly all a thing of the past, ran down the steep northern slope towards the base of the Calton Hill. 

In the year 1479, Thomas Spence, Bishop of Aberdeen, previously of Galloway, and Lord Privy Seal, founded, at the foot of Leith Wynd, and on the east side thereof, a hospital for the reception and entertainment of twelve poor men, under the name of “the Hospital of our Blessed Lady, in Leith Wynd;” and subsequently it received great augmentations to its revenues from other benefactors; but at first the yearly teinds did not amount to twelve pounds sterling, according to Arnot. From the name afterwards given to it, we are led to suppose that among the future benefactions there had been added a chapel or altarage, dedicated to St. Paul. 

The records of Parliament show that somewhere in Edinburgh there were a hospital and chapel dedicated to that apostle, and that there was a chapel dedicated to the Virgin in 1495, by Sir William Knolles, Preceptor of Torphichen, who fell with King James at Flodden. 

The founder of the hospital in Leith Wynd died at Edinburgh on the 15th of April, 1480, and was buried in the north aisle of Trinity College church, near his foundation.

The Town Council of Edinburgh became proprietors of this charity, according to their Register, in consequence of Queen Mary’s grant to them of all such religious houses and colleges in Edinburgh; and in 1582 they resolved to adapt the bishop’s college for other purposes than he intended, and issued an edict, that among the bedesmen entertained there should be “na Papistes,” but men of the “trew religion.” The buildings having become ruinous, were reconstructed under the name of Paul’s Work in 1619, and five Dutchmen were brought from Delft to teach certain boys and girls lodged therein the manufacture of coarse woollen stuffs. “They furnished the poor children whom they put to apprenticeship with clothes and bedding,” says Arnot, “and paid the masters of the work, thirteen pence and a third or a penny weekly, during the first year of their apprenticeship. This was considered as a very beneficial institution, and accordingly, many well-disposed people enriched it with donations;” but to the horror of the Edinburghers in 1621, as Calderwood records, on the 1st of May, certain profane and superstitious “weavers in Paul’s Worke, Englishe and Dutche, set up a highe May-pole, with garlants and bells,” causing a great concourse of people to assemble; and it seemed eventually that the manufacture did not succeed, or the Town Council grew weary of encouraging it; so they converted St. Paul’s Work into a House of Correction. 

In 1650 it was used as a hospital for the wounded soldiers of General Leslie’s army, after his repulse of Cromwell’s attack on Edinburgh. The building was decorated with the city arms, and, many carved devices on the pediments of its dormer windows, while above the doorway was the legend –

GOD  .  BLIS  . THIS  .  WARK  .  1619. 

In February, 1696, Fountainhall reports a “Reduction pursued by the town of Edinburgh against Sir William Binny (ex-Provost) and other partners of the linen manufactory, in Paul’s Work, of the tack set them in 1683. Insisted, that this house was founded by Thos. Spence, Bishop of Aberdeen, in the reign of James II., for discipline and training of idle vagabonds, and dedicated to St. Paul; and by an Act of Council in 1626, was destinate and mortified for educating boys in a woollen manufactory; and this tack had inverted the original design, contrary to the sixth Act of Parl. 1633, discharging the sacrilegious inversion of all pious donations.” Sir William Binny, Knight, was Provost of the city in 1675-6. It bears a prominent place in Rothiemay’s map, and stood partly within the Leith Wynd Port. In 1779 it was occupied by a Mr. Macdowal, “the present proprietor,” says Arnot, “who carries on in it an extensive manufacture of broad cloths, hardly inferior to the English.” The whole edifice was swept away by the operations of the North British Railway; and two very ancient keys found on its site were presented in 1849 to the Museum of Antiquities. 

It was at the foot of this wynd that, in February, 1592, John Graham, a Lord of Session, was slain in open day, by Sir James Sandilands of Calder, and others, not one of whom was ever tried or punished for the outrage. 

By an Act of the seventh Parliament of James V., passed in 1540, the magistrates were ordained to warn all proprietors of houses on the west side of Leith Wynd that were ruinous, to repair or rebuild them within a year and a day, or to sell the property to those who could do so; and if no one would buy them it was lawful for the said magistrates to cast down the buildings, “and with the stuffe and stanes thereof, bigge ane honest substantious wall, fra the Porte of the Nether-bow to the Trinity College; and it shall not be lawful in tyme cumming, to any manner of person to persew them, nor their successoures therefore… And because the east side of the said wynd pertains to the Abbot and Convente of Holyrude House, it is ordained that the baillies of the Canongate garre siklike be done upon the said east side,” &c. 

The line of this wall on the west side is distinctly shown in Rothiemay’s map of 1647, and also in Edgar’s plan of Edinburgh. In both the east side presents a row of closely-built houses, extending from the head of the Canongate to the site of the Leith Wynd Port, at Paul’s Work. 

In January, 1650, “John Wilsone, tailyour , in St. Marie Wynd, and John Sinclere, dag-maker (i.e., pistol-maker) in Leith Wynd,” were punished as false witnesses, in a plea between James Anderson, merchant in Calder, and John Rob in Easter Duddingston, for which they were sentenced by the Lords in Council and Session to be set upon the Tron, with a placard announcing their crime to the people pinned on the breast of each, and to have “thair eares nailed to the Trone, be the space of ane hour.” 

On the Leith Wynd Port, as on others, the quarters of criminals were displayed. In September, 1672, the Depute of Gilbert Earl of Errol (High Constable of Scotland) sentenced James Johnstone, violer, who had stabbed his wife, to be hanged, “and to have his right hand, which gave the stroak, cut off, and affixed upon Leith-wind Port, and ordained the magistrats of Edinburgh to cause put the sentence to execution upon the 9th of that month.” 

In February, 1854, the wall of James the Fifth’s time, on the west side of the wynd gave way, and a vast portion of it, which was about twenty feet high and four feet thick, fell with a dreadful crash, smashing in the doors and windows on the opposite side, and blocking the whole of the steep narrow thoroughfare, and burying in its débris four children, two of whom were killed on the instant, and two frightfully mangled. 

Its fall was supposed to have been occasioned by a new wall, seven feet in height, raised upon its outer verge, to form the outer platform in front of a building known as St. Andrew’s Hall, and afterwards the Training Institute of the Scottish Episcopal Society. 

As St. Mary’s Street, which lies in a line with this wynd, is in a direct line also from the Pleasance, to render the whole thoroughfare more completely available, it was deemed necessary by the Improvement Trustees to make alterations in Leith Wynd, by forming Jeffrey Street, which takes a semi-circular sweep, from the head of the Canongate behind John Knox’s house and church, onwards to the southern end of the North Bridge. Thus the whole of the west side of Leith Wynd and its south end have disappeared in these operations. One large tenement of great antiquity, and known as the “Happy Land,” long the haunt of the most lawless characters, has disappeared, and near its site stands one of the fine and spacious school houses erected for the School Board. 

At the foot of Leith Wynd, on the west side, there was founded on the 5th of March, 1462, by royal charter, the collegiate church of the Holy Trinity, by Mary, Queen of Scotland, daughter of Arnold Duke of Gueldres, grand-daughter of John Duke of Burgundy, and widow of James II., slain about two years before by the bursting of a cannon at Roxburgh. Her great firmness on that disastrous occasion, and during the few remaining years of her own life, proves her to have been a princess of no ordinary strength of mind. She took an active part in governing the stormy kingdom of her son, and died in 1463. Her early death may account for the nave never being built, though it was not unusual for devout persons in that age of church building, to erect as much as they could finish, and leave to the devotion of posterity the completion of the rest. Pitscottie tells us that she “was buried in the Trinitie College, quhilk she built hirself.” Her grave was violated at the Reformation. 

The church was dedicated “to the Holy Trinity, to the ever blessed and glorious Virgin Mary, to St. Ninian the Confessor, and to all the saints and elect people of God.” The foundation was for a provost, eight prebendaries, and two clerks, and with much minuteness several ecclesiastical benefices and portions of land were assigned for the support of the several offices; and in the charter there are some provisions of a peculiar character, in Scotland at least, and curiously illustrative of the age and its manners:- 

“And we appoint that none of the said prebendaries or clerks absent themselves from their offices without the leave of the Provost, to whom it shall not be lawful to allow any of them above the space of fifteen days at a time, unless it be on extraordinary occasions, and then not without consent of the chapter; and whosoever of the said prebendaries or clerks shall act contrary to this ordinance, his office shall be adjudged vacant, and the same shall, by the Provost and Chapter, with consent of the Ordinary, be conferred upon another. If any of the said prebendaries shall keep a fire-maker, and shall not dismiss her, after being therein admonished thereto by the Provost, his prebend shall be adjudged vacant, and conferred on another, by consent of the Ordinary as aforesaid. 
“The Provost of the said college, whenever the office of provostry shall become vacant, shall by us and our successors, Kings of Scotland, be presented to the Ordinary; and the vicars belonging to the out-churches aforesaid shall be presented by the Provost and Chapter of the said college to the Ordinary, from whom they shall receive canonical institution; and no prebendary shall be instituted unless he can read and sing plainly, count and discount, and that the boys may be found docile in the premises. And we further appoint and ordain, that whenever any of the said prebendaries shall read mass, he shall, after the same, in his sacerdotal habits, repair to the tomb of the foundress with hyssop, and there read the prayer De profundis, together with that of the faithful, and exhortation to excite the people to devotion.”

The choir of this church from the apse to the west enclosure of the rood tower was 90 feet long, and 70 feet from transept to transept window; the north aisle was 12 feet broad, and the south 9 feet. It is a tradition in masonry that the north aisles of all Catholic churches were wider than the south, to commemorate the alleged circumstance of the Saviour’s head, on the cross, falling on his right shoulder. In digging the foundation of the Scott monument, an old quarry 40 feet deep was discovered, and from it the stones from which the church was built were taken. With the exception of Holyrood, it was the finest example of decorated English Gothic architecture in the city, with many of the peculiarities of the age to which it belonged. Various armorial bearings adorned different parts of the building, among these; on a buttress, at the west angle of the southern transept, was a shield, with the arms of Alexander Duke of Albany, who, at Mary’s death, was resident at the Court of the Duke of Gueldres. Among the grotesque details of this church the monkey was repeated many times, especially among the gurgoyles, and crouching monsters, as corbels or brackets, seemed in agony under the load they bore. 

Uthrogal, in Monimail, was formerly a leper hospital, and with the lands of Hospital-Milne, in the adjoining parish off Cults, was (as the Statistical Account of Scotland says) given by Mary of Gueldres to the Trinity Hospital, and after the suppression, it went eventually to the Earls of Leven. According to Sir Robert Sibbald, the parish church of Easter Wemyss, in Fife, also belonged “to the Collegiata Sancta Trinitis de Edinburgh.” 

The parish churches of Soutra, Fala, Lampetlaw, Kirkurd, Ormiston, and Gogyr, together with the lands of Blance, were annexed to it in 1529. 

The tomb of the foundress lay in the centre of what was the Lady Chapel, or the sacristy of old, latterly the vestry; and therein her bones, with the entire teeth in the jaws, were found on the demolition of the church in 1840. They were placed in a handsome crimson velvet coffin, and re-interred at Holyrood. Portions of her original coffin are preserved in the Museum of Antiquities. Edinburgh could ill spare so fine an example of ecclesiastical architecture as this church, which was long an object of interest, and latterly of regret; for “it is with some surprise,” says a writer, “that the traveller, just as he emerges from the temporary-looking sheds and fresh timber and plaster-work of the railway offices, finds himself hurried along a dusky and mouldering collection of buttresses, pinnacles, niches, and Gothic windows, as striking a contrast to the scene of fresh bustle and new life, as could well be conceived; but the vision is a brief one, and the more usual concomitants of railways – a succession of squalid houses, and a tunnel – immediately succeed it.” 

In 1502 the establishment was enlarged by the addition of a dean and sub-dean, for whose support the college received a gift of the rectory of the parish church of Dunnottar; and owing to the unsettled state of the country, it would appear that Sir Edward Bonkel, the first Provost, had to apply to Parliament for assistance, to enforce the payment of his rents in Teviotdale. 

In June, 1526, its Provost sat in Parliament. In 1567 the Earl of Moray, then Regent of Scotland, gave to Sir Simon Preston of Craigmillar, then Provost of the City, the Trinity College church with all that belonged to it; and the latter bestowed it on the city. Robert Pont – an eminent churchman, judge, and miscellaneous writer, the son of John de Pont, an illustrious Venetian who came to Scotland in the train of Mary of Guise – the last Provost of Trinity, in 1585, sold all the remaining rights that he had in the foundation, which James VI. Confirmed by charter two years afterwards. When the old religion was abolished, the revenues of the church amounted to only £362 Scots yearly. 

Its seal, Scotland and Gueldres quarterly, is beautifully engraved among the Holyrood charters.

In May, 1592, Sophia Ruthven, the young Duchess of Lennox, was buried with great solemnity at the east end of the church. She was a daughter of the luckless Earl of Gowrie, who died in 1584, and was forcibly abducted from a house in Easter Wemyss, where she had been secluded to secure her from the violence of the Duke’s passion. But he carried her off on his own horse in the night, and married her in defiance of king and kirk. This was on the 19th of April, 1591, consequently she did not long survive her abduction.

Lady Jane Hamilton, youngest daughter of the Duke of Chatelherault, and Countess of the Earl of Eglinton, from whom she was divorced, in consequence of the parties standing in the fourth degree of consanguinity, who died at Edinburgh on the 18th of December, 1596, by her will, dated 9th of that month, bequeathed 100 merks to the Trinity College church, for a “buriall place” there.

The church and other prebendal buildings suffered with the other religious houses in the city during the tumults of the Reformation, and, according to Nicoll, in later years, at the hands of Cromwell’s soldiers. While trenching the edifice, seeking for the remains of the Queen, those of many others, all long before violated and disturbed, were found, together with numbers of bullocks’ horns, and an incredible quantity of sheep-head bones, and fragments of old Flemish quart bottles, the débris doubtless of the repasts of the workmen of 1462; and every stone in the building bore those marks with which all freemasons are familiar. 

The history of this old ecclesiastical edifice is intimately connected with that of the Trinity Hospital, founded by the same munificent queen, and though the original edifice has passed away, her foundation is still the oldest charitable institution in her adopted city of Edinburgh. According to her plan or desire, the collegiate buildings were built immediately adjoining the church; while the hospital for her bedesmen stood at first on the opposite side of Leith Wynd. It became ruinous and was demolished probably about 1567, when the whole of the collegiate buildings were bestowed upon Sir Simon Preston, who, within two days thereafter, bestowed them on the city by an act which received as much praise as if it had been a public-spirited disposal of his own property, and is thus recorded in the minutes of the Town Council:- 

“The quhilk day in the Counsall Houss of this Burgh, comperit Sir Simon Prestoun of Craigmillar, Knight, Provost of this Burgh, and shew and declarit to the said Baillies, Counsall, and Deakynes [Deacons], that he had obtained and impetrart at my Lord Regent’s hands, a gift of the Trinity College Kirk, housses, biggins, and yards adjacent thereto, and by and contigue [contiguous] to the samyn, to be ane Hospital to the Puir, and to be biggit and uphaldane by the Guid Toun and the Elemosinaries to be placet thairinto… and notwithstanding that he has laborit the samyn, it was not his mind to lauborit to his awin behuif, but to the Guid Toun as said is, and therefore, presentlie gaess (gives) the gift thereof to the Guid Toun, and transferit all right and tytill he had, hes or might have thereto, in to the Guid Toun, fra him and his airs for ever, and promisit that quhat right hereafter they desyrit him to make thereof, or suretie, he would do this samyn, and that he, nor his airs, would never pretend rycht thereto, and this of his awin free motive will, for the favour and luiff that he bears the Guid Toun.” 

Notwithstanding all this verbose minute, his grant was burdened with the existing interests, vested in the officials of the establishment, who had embraced the principles of the Reformation, and passed a series of new rules for their bedesmen, whom they required only to know the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and to be neither “drunkinsom tailyiours,” bouncers, nor swearers.  

Under the new régime, the first persons on record as being placed in it, are Robert Murdoch, James Gelly, John Muir, James Wright, John Wotherspoon, Isabel Bernard, and Janet Gate. 

In 1578, when Robert Pont had been seven years Provost of Trinity, and the establishment of a university in Edinburgh was contemplated, the magistrates endeavoured to arrange with him for having their new institution grafted on the old foundation of Mary Gueldres, and to be called the University of Trinity College; but the idea was abandoned. At length, as stated, Robert Pont, in 1585, resigned all his rights and interests in the establishment, for the sum of 300 merks down, and an annuity of £160 Scots. 

In 1587 and Act was passed revoking all grants made during the king’s minority, of hospitals, Maisons Dieu, and “lands or rentis appertaining thereto,” the object of which was, that they might be applied to this original purpose – the sustentation of the poor, and not to the aggrandisement of mere individuals; and in this Act it was specially ordained, that the rents of the Trinity College, “quhilk is now decayit,” be assigned to “the new hospitall erectit be the Provest, Baillies, and Counsall,” and thus it became for ever a corporation charity, for which a suitable edifice was found by simply repairing the ruinous buildings, occupied of old by the Provost and prebends, south of the church, and on the west side of the wynd. 

It was a fine specimen of the architecture and monastic accommodation of the age in which it was erected. It was two storeys high, and formed two sides of a square, and though far from ornamental, its air of extreme antiquity, the smallness and depth of its windows, its silent, melancholy, and deserted aspect, in the very heart of a crowded city, and latterly amid the uproar and bustle of the fast-encroaching railway, seldom failed to strike the passer with a mysterious interest. 

Along the interior of the upper storey of the longer side there was a gallery, about half the width of the house, lighted from the west, which served alike as a library (consisting chiefly of quaint old books of dry divinity), a promenade, and grand corridor, winged with a range of little rooms, some whilom [previously] the prebends’ cells, each of which had a bed, table, and chair, for a single occupant. The other parts of the building were more modern sitting rooms, the erection of the sixteenth century, when it became destined to support decayed burgesses of Edinburgh, their wives and unmarried children, above fifty years of age. “Five men and two women were first admitted into it,” says Arnot, “and, the number gradually increasing, amounted A.D. 1700 to fifty-four persons. It was found, however, that the funds of the hospital could not then support so many, and the number of persons maintained in it has frequently varied. At present (1779) there are within the hospital forty men and women, and, there are besides twenty-six out-pensioners. The latter have £6 a year, the former are maintained in a very comfortable manner. Each person has a convenient room. The men are each allowed a hat, a pair of breeches, a pair of shoes, a pair of stockings, two shirts, and two neckcloths, yearly; and every other year a coat and waistcoat. The women have yearly, a pair of shoes, pair of stockings, two shifts; and every other year a gown and petticoat. For buying petty necessaries the men are allowed 6s. 8d., the women 6s. 6d., yearly. Of food, each person has a daily allowance of twelve ounces of household bread; and of ale, the men a Scots pint each, the women two-thirds of a pint. For breakfast they have oatmeal-porridge, and for dinner, four days in the week, broth and boiled meat, two days roast meat, and each Monday, in lieu of flesh, the men are allowed 2d., the women 1½d. apiece.”

Such was this old charity towards the close of the eighteenth century. The inmates were of a class above the common, and whom a poor-house life would have degraded, yet quarrels, even riots, among them were so frequent, that the attention of the governors had more than once to be called to the subject, though they met only at meals and evening worship. Yet, occasionally, some belonged to the better classes of society. Lord Cockburn, writing in 1840, says:- “One of the present female pensioners is ninety-six. She was sitting beside her own fire. The chaplain shook her kindly by the hand, and asked her how she was. ‘Very weel – just in my creeping ordinary.’ There is one Catholic here, a merry little woman, obviously with some gentle blood in her veins, and delighted to allude to it. This book she got from Sir John Something; her great friend had been Lady something Cunningham; and her spinet [small harpsichord] was the oldest that had ever been made; to convince me of which she opened it, and pointed exultingly to the year 1776. Neither she nor the ninety-six-year-old was in an ark, but in a small room. On overhearing my name, she said she was once at Miss Brandon’s boarding-school, in Bristo Street, with a Miss Matilda Cockburn, ‘a pretty little girl.’ I told her that I remembered that school quite well, and that the little girl was my sister; and then I added as a joke, that all the girls at that school were said to have been pretty, and all light-headed, and given to flirtation; the tumult revived in the vestal’s veins. Delighted with the imputation, she rubbed her hands together, and giggled till she wept.” The octogenarian he refers to was a Miss Gibb, and the last nearly of the old original inmates. 

By 1850 the revenues amounted to about £2,000 per annum. 

At its demolition, in 1845, forty-two persons were maintained within the hospital, who then received pensions of £26 each. Those elected since that period receive £20 yearly each; one hundred and twenty others have an annual allowance of £10 each. The benefits of the endowments are still destined to “burgesses, their wives or children not married, nor under the age of fifty years.” Ten others have pensions of £10 each out of the funds bequeathed by the late Mr. William Lennie to the hospital, of which the magistrates and Town Council are perpetual governors.

According to Gordon of Rothiemay’s map, the water of the North Loch washed the western boundary-wall of its garden, in which he shows parterres and three rows of large trees, and also a square lantern and vane above the roof of the large hall; and in Edgar’s map, a hundred years later, the waters of the loch came no farther eastward than the line of the intended North Bridge, between which and the hospital lay the old Physic Gardens. “Its demolition brought to light many curious evidences of its former state,” says Wilson. “A beautiful large Gothic fireplace, with clustered columns and a low, pointed arch, was disclosed in the north gable, and many rich fragments of Gothic ornament were found built into the walls, remains no doubt of the original hospital buildings, used in the enlargement and repair of the college.” The whole area occupied by the church and collegiate buildings of the Holy Trinity was then included in the original termini of the Edinburgh and Glasgow, the North British, the Edinburgh, Perth, and Dundee lines of railway.

After the Trinity College Hospital, the next beneficent institution in Edinburgh (apart from the Craigcrook one, which dates from 1720), seems to have been the Horn Charity, of which we have the following succinct account in the Scots Magazine for 1805:-

“In 1741 Captain Alexander Horn, of the city of London, by his last will bequeathed £3,500, old and new South Sea Annuities, to be disposed of at the discretion of the Lord provost, Bailies, Dean of Guild, and Treasurer of the city of Edinburgh, on account of their early appearance and noble stand in the cause of liberty (was this a reference to the Porteous mob?) as follows:- The interest of £1,500 on Christmas-day yearly, to such day labourers of Edinburgh as by the inclemency of the weather may be set idle and reduced to want; interest of £1,000 to day labourers as aforesaid, in the Potter Row, Bristo, and West Port; and the interest of £1,000 to day labourers as aforesaid of the neighbouring parish of Liberton; £100 to the Royal Infirmary; £100 to the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge; and no family to receive above £5 sterling per annum, or under fifty shillings.” 
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