Site icon Random Scottish History

Chapter 48 – The South Bridge., pp.373-382.

Marlin’s Wynd – Legend of the Pavior – Peebles Wynd – The Bridge Founded – Price of Sites – Laing’s Book Shop – The Assay Office and Goldsmith’s Hall – Mode of Marking the Plate – The Corporation, and old Acts concerning it – Hunter’s Square – Merchant Company’s Hall – The Company’s Charter – “The Stock of Broom” – Their Monopoly and Progress – The Great Schools of the Merchant Company – The Chamber of Commerce – Adam Square – Adam’s Houses – Dr. Andrew Duncan – Leonard Horner and the Watt Institution – Its Progress and Vitality.


NO sooner was the North Bridge completed than the utility of building one to the south appeared. So early as 1775 the idea of erecting such a bridge was contemplated, at the cost of £8,600 sterling, to raise which it was proposed to have a port at the southern end at which tolls were to be levied, in consequence of which, according to Kincaid, the idea was abandoned. 

No steps were taken in the matter till 1784, when Sir James Hunter Blair was elected Lord Provost, and he caused the site to be examined and a report made to the Council of the manner in which it would be proper to have the design carried out. Some time after this, a publication signed “A Citizen,” appeared, addressed to the public, containing proposals for the erection of a bridge across the Cowgate, and establishing a permanent fund for the support of the city poor, and this gave a great impetus to the undertaking. All parties concerned having met, the design was approved of, and an Act of Parliament obtained for carrying it on; and the necessary demolitions were forthwith made. In the course of these were swept away the old Poultry Market, which appears in Edgar’s plan in 1765, and two ancient thoroughfares, the Wynds of Marlin and Peebles, with the east side of Niddry’s Wynd. 

In Queen Mary’s time the corn-market was removed from the corner of Marlin’s Wynd to the east end of the Grass-market, where it continued to be held till the present century. This wynd led to the poultry-market, and ran south from the back of the Tron church to the Cowgate, and at the time of its demolition contained many book shops and stalls, the favourite lounge of all collectors of rare volumes, and had connected with it a curious legend, recorded by Maitland’s History in 1753. 

John Marlin, a Frenchman, is said to have been the first who was employed to pave or causeway the High Street, and was so vain of his work that, as a monument to his memory, he requested to be buried under it, and he was accordingly buried at the head of the wynd, which from that time took his name. The tradition was further supplemented by the fact that till the demolition of the wynd, a space in the pavement at that spot was always marked by six plat stones in the form of a grave. “According to more authentic information,” says Chambers, “the High Street was first paved in 1532, by John and Bartoulme Foliot, who appear to have had nothing in common with this legendary Marlin, except country. The grave of at least Bartoulme Foliot is distinctly marked by a flat monument in the chapel royal at Holyrood.” 

The pavior’s name is perhaps not quite “legendary” after all, as in the accounts of the Lord High treasurer we have a sum stated as being paid to “John Merlyoune,” in 1542, for building a Register House in the Castle of Edinburgh. 

The father of Sir William Stirling, Bart., who was Lord Provost of the city in 1792, and who has the merit of being the architect of his own fortunes, was a fishmonger at the head of the wynd, where his sign, a large clumsy wooden black bull, now preserved as a relic in the Museum of Antiquities, was long a conspicuous object as it projected over the narrow way. 

It was at the head of Peebles Wynd, the adjoining thoroughfare, in 1598, that Robert Cathcart, who ten years before had been with Bothwell, when the latter slew Sir William Stewart in Blackfriars Wynd, was slain by the son of the latter, according to Birrel.

During the demolitions for the projected bridge an ancient seal of block-tin was found, of which an engraving is given in the Gentleman’s Magazine for 1788, which says: “It is supposed to be the arms of Arnot, and is a specimen of the seals used for writings, impressions of which were directed to be given to the sheriffs’ clerks of the different counties in Scotland in the time of Queen Mary.” 

In digging the foundation of the central pier, which was no less than twenty-two feet deep, many coins of the three first English Edwards were found [1272-1377]. The old buildings, which were removed to make room for this public work, were, according to Stark, purchased at a trifling cost, their value being fixed by the verdict of juries, while the areas on which they stood were sold by the city for the erection of new buildings on each side of the bridge for £30,000. “It has been remarked,” he adds, “that on this occasion the ground sold higher in Edinburgh than perhaps ever was known in any city, even in Rome, during its most flourishing times. Some of the areas sold at the rate of £96,000 per statute acre; others at £109,000 per ditto; and some even so high as £150,000 per acre.” 

The foundation stone of the bridge was laid on the 1st of August, 1785, by George Lord Haddo, Grand Master Mason of Scotland, attended by the brethren of all the lodges in town, and the magistrates and council in their robes, who walked in procession from the Parliament House, escorted by the soldiers of the City Guard – those grim old warriors, who, says Lord Cockburn, “had muskets and bayonets, but rarely used them.” 

The bridge was carried on with uncommon dispatch, and was open for foot-passengers on the 19th of November, 1786, but only partially, for the author above quoted mentions that when he first went to the old High School, in 1787, he crossed the arches upon planks. In the following year it was open for carriages. It consists of nineteen arches. That over the Cowgate is thirty-one feet high by thirty wide; the others, namely, seven on the south and eleven on the north, are concealed by the buildings erected and forming it into a street. From the plan and section published by the magistrates at the time, it would appear that the descent from Nicolson Street is one foot in twenty-two to the south pier of the Cowgate arch; and from thence on the north, the ascent to the High Street is one foot in twenty-eight. From the latter to the southern end, where the town wall stood, extends South Bridge Street, “in length 1,075 feet by fifty-five wide,” says Kincaid, “including the pavement on each side.” 

The first house built here was that numbered as 1, forming the corner building at the junction with the High Street. It was erected by Mr. James Cooper, a jeweller, who resided in the upper flat, and died in 1818. 

Except at the central arch, which spans the narrow and picturesque old Cowgate, and where there are open railings, nothing is seen upon the bridge, but two lines of neat buildings with spacious shops, forming a level, a bustling, and in every respect ordinary street. 

The continuation of it, opposite the College, is erected on five then vacant storeys, exposed for sale by the trustees of the bridge in February, 1800, at the upset price of £1,500 each lot, which fetched £9,140. 

No. 49 on this bridge is somewhat celebrated as being intimately associated with the name of the late David Laing, librarian of the Signet Library, who, in October, 1878, closed a long, useful, and studious career, and the mere enumeration of whose contributions to Scottish history, antiquities, and literature, would form a long catalogue. In No. 49 he was long in partnership with his father (whose shop had formerly been at the Canongate-head, near St. Mary’s Wynd), under the designation of “William and David Laing,” in 1826; but long before that period he had become known to the frequenters of the shop as a young man possessing an immense amount of bibliographic information. John Gibson Lockhart gives us a descriptive account of the Laing’s establishment, which no doubt was a pleasant lounge for him and other literati of the day. 

In “Peter’s Letters to his Kinsfolk” he writes thus:- 

“As for shops of old books, classics, black-letter, foreign literature, and the like, I never was in a great town which possesses so few of them as this. There is, however, one shop of this sort which might cut a very respectable figure, even in places where attainments are more in request. It is situated, as it ought to be, in the immediate vicinity of the College, and consequently quite out of the way of all fashionable promenades and lounges; but, indeed, for anything that I have seen, it is not frequented much by young gentlemen of the University. The daily visitors of Mr. Laing seem rather to be a few scattered individuals of various classes and professions, among whom, in spite of the prevailing spirit and customs of the place, some love of classical learning is still found to linger – retired clergymen and the like, who make no great noise in the world, and, indeed, are scarcely known to exist by the most part, even by the literary people of Edinburgh. The shop, notwithstanding, is a remarkably neat and comfortable one, and even a lady might lounge in it without having her eye offended or her gown soiled. It consists of two apartments, which are both completely furnished with valuable editions of old authors; and I assure you the antique vellum bindings or oak boards of these ponderous folios are a very refreshing sight to me after visiting the gaudy and brilliant stores of such a shop as I have just described (referring to Messrs. Manners and Miller). Mr. Laing himself is a quiet, sedate looking old gentleman, who, although he has contrived to make very rich in his business, has still the air of being somewhat dissatisfied that so much more attention should be paid by his fellow-citizens to the flimsy novelties of the day than to the solid and substantial articles which his magazine displays. But his son is the chief enthusiast – indeed, he is by far the most genuine specimen of the true old-fashioned bibliopole that I ever saw exhibited in the person of a young man. My friend Wastle (Lockhart) has a prodigious liking for him. Here Wastle commonly spends one or two hours every week he is in Edinburgh, turning over, in the company of his young friend, all the Aldines, Elzevirs, Wynkin de Wordes, and Caxtons, in the collection, nor does he often leave the shop without taking some little specimen of its treasures home with him. David Laing is still a very young man, but Wastle tells me that he possesses a truly remarkable degree of skill and knowledge in almost all departments of bibliography. Since Lunn’s death, he says, he does not think there is any of the booksellers in London superior to him in this way. He publishes a catalogue almost every year, and thus carries on a very extensive trade with all parts of the island. I believe he has no rival in the whole country. This old gentleman and his son are distinguished by their classical taste in regard to other things besides books. They give an annual dinner to Wastle, and he carried me with him the other day to one of these anniversaries. I have seldom seen a more luxurious display. David and Wastle entertained us with a variety of stories about George Buchanan, the admirable Crichton,* and all the more forgotten heroes of the Deliciæ Poetarum Scotorum.”

William Laing was the first Edinburgh bookseller who introduced Continental works to any extent into the country, and he broke up a trade ring which then existed in Holland. David’s book lore brought him into frequent intercourse with Sir Walter Scott; and when, in 1823, the Bannatyne Club (on the model of the Roxburghe) started, he was made secretary, and speedily raised its members from thirty-one to one hundred. Over thirty-eight years he worked in the literary interests of the club, and was the intimate friend of Scott, Thomas Thomson, Lord Chief Commissioner Adam, Lords Cockburn, Jeffrey, and others, who belonged to it. In 1837 he succeeded Professor Macvey Napier as Librarian to the Signet Library; and when the new and noble library of the University was opened he volunteered to arrange it, which he did with all the ardour of a bibliomaniac. He was made LL.D. of his native university in 1864, and is believed to have edited and annotated fully 250 rare works on Scottish history, and antiquities. True to its old tradition, No. 49 is still a bookseller’s shop, held by the old firm of Ogle and Murray. 

In No. 98 of the Bridge Street are the Assay Office and Goldsmith’s Hall. The former is open on alternate days, when articles of gold and silver that require to be guaranteed by the stamp of genuineness, are sent in and assayed. The assay master scrapes a small quantity of metal off each article, and submits it to a test in order to ascertain the quality. The duty charged here on each ounce of gold plate is 17s. 6d., and on silver plate 1s. 6d. 

One of the earliest incorporated trades of Edinburgh was that of the hammermen, under which were included the goldsmiths, who, in 1586, were formed into a separate company. By the articles of it, apprentices must serve for a term of seven years, and masters are obliged to serve a regular apprenticeship of three years or more to make them more perfect in their trade. They were, moreover, once bound to give the deacon of the craft sufficient proof of their knowledge of metals, and of their skill in the working thereof. By a charter of James VI., all persons not of the corporation are prohibited from exercising the trade of a goldsmith within the liberties of Edinburgh. 

King James VII. incorporated the company by a charter, with additional powers for the regulation of its trade. Those were granted, so it runs, “because the art and science of goldsmiths is exercised in the city of Edinburgh, to which our subjects frequently resort, because it is the seat of our supreme Parliament, and of the other supreme courts, and there are few goldsmiths in other cities.” 

In virtue of the powers conferred upon it, the company, from the date of its formation, tested and stamped all the plate and jewellery made in Scotland. The first stamp adopted was the triple-towered castle, or city arms. “In 1681,” says Bremner, in his “Industries of Scotland,” “a letter representing the date was stamped on as well as the castle. The letter A indicates that the article bearing it was made in the year between the 29th of September, 1681, and the same day in 1682; the other letters of the alphabet, omitting j and w, representing the succeeding twenty-three years. Each piece bore, in addition to the castle and date letter, the assay-master’s initials. Seven alphabets of a different type have been exhausted in recording the dates; and the letter of the eighth alphabet, for 1869, is an Egyptian capital M. In 1759 the standard mark of a thistle was substituted for the assay-master’s initials, and is still continued. In 1784 a ‘duty-mark’ was added, the form being the head of the sovereign. The silver mace of the city of Edinburgh is dated 1617; the High Church plate, 1643.” 

The making of spoons and forks was at one time an extensive branch of the silversmith trade in Edinburgh; but the profits were so small that it has now passed almost entirely into the hands of English manufacturers. 

The erection of this bridge led to the formation of Hunter’s Square and Blair Street, much about the same time and in immediate conjunction with it. The square and street (where the King’s printing-office was placed) were both named from Sir James Hunter Blair, who was Provost of the city when the bridge was commenced, but whose death at Harrogate, in 1789, did not permit him to see the final completion of it. 

Number 4 in this small square, the north side of which is entirely formed by the Tron Church, contains the old hall of the Merchant Company of Edinburgh, which was formed in 1681. 

But long previous to that year the merchants of the city formed themselves into a corporation, called the guildry, from which, for many ages, the magistrates were exclusively chosen; and, by an Act of Parliament passed in the reign of James III., each of the incorporated trades in Edinburgh was empowered to choose one of their number to vote in the election of those who were to govern the city, and this guildry was the parent of the Merchant Company. “It was amidst some of the most distressing things in our national history – hangings of the poor ‘hill folk’ in the Grassmarket, trying of the patriot Argyle for taking the test-oath with an explanation, and so forth – that this company came into being. Its nativity was further heralded by sundry other things of a troublous kind affecting merchandise and its practitioners.” 

The merchants of Edinburgh, according to Arnot, were erected into a body-corporate by royal charter, dated 19th October, 1681, under the name of The Company of Merchants of the City of Edinburgh. By this charter they were empowered to choose a Preses, who is called “The Master,” with twelve assistants, a treasurer, clerk, and officer. The company were further empowered to purchase land, and to make bye-laws for their good government, &c. But a saving clause was inserted of the rights of the different incorporations of the city. 

The money payable to the funds of this Company was, upon admission of a member, ten shillings, his yearly quota two shillings, and by a lad entering apprentice with a member, five shillings; but the funds arising from these payments were chiefly designed for the support of their own poor – decayed members and their widows and children. 

Eighty-two of these merchants, so called, but who were chiefly “concerned in the business of cloth or clothing alone,” on the 1st of December, 1681, met the Provost, Sir James Fleming, and the magistrates in the High Council House, to hear read the royal charter which had been granted to them by Charles II., forming them into a society for the promotion of commerce and other useful purposes. 

That the whole affair was of humble origin is apparent from the smallness of the sum each was to contribute. As their badge, or symbol, the constituent members adopted a Stock of Broom, “a modest shrub,” says Chambers, “but with a great tendency to increase. As such they regarded their society and plan of charity, and ever since ‘the Stock of Broom’ has been the first toast at all the convivial meetings of the company.” It was ruled in their constitution that none who had not entered their company should be permitted to trade as a merchant in the city, and they were empowered to pound all goods exposed to sale in contravention of their monopolising bye-laws. 

One of the first proceedings of the company was to invite the Episcopal Dean of Edinburgh to compose a prayer to be said at all their meetings. The prayer was prepared in due course, and though the company resolved to reward the dean for it, it was not until August, 1686, that they directed Hugh Blair, one of their number, to furnish him with six ells of fine black cloth for a gown, at twenty shillings sterling the ell, if paid within twelve months; and if not, the price was to be augmented till paid, at the discretion of the company – so small were its beginnings. 

On the 9th of January, 1688, they realised £36 13s. Scots, by pounding certain goods which had been exposed in the market contrary to law, oblivious of their prayer against “pride, passion, prejudice, and covetousness,” and Hugh Blair was then paid for the dean’s gown. This Hugh Blair was the grandson of the eminent Covenanting clergyman Robert Blair, who accompanied the Scottish army into England in 1640, and assisted at the negotiations which led to the Peace of Ripon; and he was the grandfather of his namesake, author of the famous Sermons and Lectures on Belles-Lettres

One of the earliest movements of any importance in the history of the company was its acquisition of a hall. Bailie Robert Blackwood, who was master in 1691, found a large mansion in the Cowgate, belonging to Robert Macgill, Viscount Oxenford, the price of which would be about 12,000 merks, or £670 sterling; and this house the company purchased with subscriptions. It was a large quadrangle, surrounding a courtyard, and in a portion of it several persons of rank and position had apartments, including the widow of the terrible old “persecutor,” Sir Thomas Dalyell of Binns. It contained one large apartment, that was adopted as a hall, which one of the company, Alexander Brand, a bailie of the city – who had a manufactory for stamping Spanish leather with gold, then used for the decoration of rooms, before paper-hangings were known – liberally offered to decorate, and only to charge what was due over and above his own contribution of £150 Scots. “Ten years afterwards, when accounts came to be settled with the then Sir Alexander Brand, it appeared that a hundred and nineteen skins of gold leather with a black ground had been used, at a total expense of £253 Scots, including the manufacturer’s contribution. There was also much concernment about a piece of waste ground behind; but the happy thought occurred of converting it into a bowling-green for the use of the members in the first place, and the public in the second. Many years afterwards we find Allan Ramsay making Horatian allusions to this place of recreation, telling us that now in winter, douce folk were no longer seen using the biassed bowls on Thomson’s Green (Thomson being a subsequent tenant). It is not unworthy of notice,” continues Dr. Chambers, “that from the low state of the arts in Scotland, the bowls required for this green had to be brought from abroad. It is gravely reported to the company on the 6th of March, 1693, that the bowls are ‘upon the sea homeward.’ Ten pairs cost £6 4s. 3d. Scots.” 

Brand got himself into trouble in 1697 for making what were called “donations” to the Privy Council. In 1693, he, together with Sir Thomas Kennedy of Kirkhill, Provost in 1685, and Sir William Binning, Provost in 1676, had contracted with the national Government for a supply of 5,000 stand of arms at a pound each; but when abroad for their purchase, he alleged that the arms could not be got under twenty-six shillings a stand. To obtain payment of the extra sum £1,500), the two knights bribed the Earls of Linlithgow and Breadalbane by a gift of 250 guineas. Hence, when the affair was discovered, the then contractors, “for the compound fault of contriving bribery and defaming the nobles in question,” were cast in heavy fines – Kennedy in £800, Binning in £300, and Brand in £500, “and to be imprisoned till payment was made.” 

It is long since the company’s connection with the Cowgate ceased, and even the house they occupied there has passed away, being removed to make room for a pier of George IV.’s Bridge; and in that quarter no memorial of the company now remains but the name of Merchant Street, applied to a petty line of buildings behind the Cowgate; but the company has still a title to ground rents in that part of the city. 

Rich members died, leaving bequests to the company for the relief of decayed brethren; but so wealthy and prosperous was the body, that when a legacy of £3,500 was left to them in 1693 by Patrick Aikinhead, a Scottish merchant of Dantzig, they had not a single member in need of monetary aid; and soon after, the company became engaged in the erection of a hospital for the education of the daughters of the less prosperous members, on the ground now occupied by the Industrial Museum. Though originally designed by Mrs. Mary Erskine, a scion of the House of Mar, the principal expense of the institution fell on the company, and the governors were made a body corporate by an Act of Parliament in 1707. 

In 1723, a merchant named George Watson, who, in 1696, had commenced life as a clerk with Sir John Dick, died and left the company £12,000 sterling for children of the other sex, and enabled them to found the hospital which still bears his name. 

After the Union, long years followed ere national enterprise or industry found a fair field for action, and produced the results that created the Edinburgh of to-day; and it was not till the reign of George III. that her merchants, like those elsewhere, had ceased in any degree to depend upon prohibitions and the exclusive rights of dealing in merchandise. 

In the eighteenth century a considerable aristocratic element was infused into mercantile life in Edinburgh. “To take the leading firms,” says Chambers, “among the silk mercers: Of John Hope and Company, the said John Hope was a younger son of Hope of Rankeillour, in Fife. Of Stewart and Lindsay, the former was the son of Charles Stewart of Ballechin, and the latter a younger son of Lindsay of Wormiston. Among the leading drapers: In the firm of Lindsay of Eaglescairnie, and the latter of Douglas of Garvaldfoot. Of Dundas, Inglis, and Callender, the first was a son of Dundas of Fingarth, in Stirlingshire, the family from which the Earl of Zetland and Baron Amesbury are descended; the second was a younger son of Sir John Inglis of Cramond, and succeeded to that baronetage, which, it may be remarked, took its rise in an Edinburgh merchant of the seventeenth century. Another eminent cloth-dealing firm, Hamilton and Dalrymple, comprehended John Dalrymple, a younger brother of the well-known Lord Hailes and a grandson of the first Lord Stair. He was at one time Master of the Merchant Company. In a fourth firm, Stewart, Wallace, and Stoddart, the leading partner was a son of Stewart of Dunearn.” 

The Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce and Manufactures is an offshoot of the old Merchant Company in 1786, and consists of a chairman and deputy, with about thirty directors and other officers, and has led the van in patronising and promoting liberal measures in trade and commerce generally. 

The schools of the Edinburgh Merchant Company are among the most prominent institutions of the city at this day.

More than twenty years before the erection of the South Bridge, the celebrated Mr. Robert Adam, of Maryburgh in Fifeshire, from whose designs many of the principal edifices in Edinburgh were formed, and who was appointed architect to the king in 1762, built, on that piece of ground whereon the south-west end of the Bridge Street abutted, two very large and handsome houses, each with large bow-windows, which, being well recessed back, and having the College buildings on the south, formed what was called Adam Square. In those days the ground in front of these was an open space, measuring about 250 feet one way by 200 the other, nearly to Robertson’s Close in the Cowgate, which was concealed by double rows of trees.

In one of these houses there resided for many years, and died on the 28th July, 1828, Dr. Andrew Duncan, First Physician to His Majesty for Scotland, and an eminent citizen in his day, so much so that his funeral was a public one. “The custom of visiting Arthur’s Seat early on the morning of the 1st of May is, or rather was, observed with great enthusiasm by the inhabitants of Edinburgh,” says the editor of “Kay’s Portraits.” “Dr. Duncan was one of the most regular in his devotion to the Queen of May during the long period of fifty years, and to the very last he performed his wonted pilgrimage with all the spirit, if not the agility, of his younger years. On the 1st of May, 1826, two years before his death, although aged eighty-two, he paid his annual visit, and on the summit of the hill read a few lines of an address to Alexander Duke of Gordon, the oldest peer then alive.” The Doctor was the originator of the Caledonian Horticultural Society, and the first projector of a lunatic asylum in Edinburgh. 

Latterly the houses of Adam were occupied by the Edinburgh Young Men’s Christian Association, and the Watt Institution and School of Arts, which was founded by Mr. Leonard Horner, F.R.S., a native, and for many years a citizen, of Edinburgh, the son of Mr. John Horner, of Messrs. Inglis and Horner, merchants, at the Cross. The latter years of his useful life were spent in London, where he died in 1864, but he always visited Edinburgh from time to time, and evinced the deepest interest in its welfare. In 1843 he published the memoirs and correspondence of his younger brother, the gifted Francis Horner (the friend of Lansdowne, Jeffrey, and Brougham), who died at Pisa, yet won a cenotaph in Westminster Abbey.

To an accidental conversation in 1821, in the shop of Mr. Bryson, a watchmaker, the origin of the school has been traced. Mr. Horner asked whether the young men brought to Mr. Bryson’s trade received any mathematical education, and the latter replied that, “it was seldom, if ever, the case, and that daily experience showed the want of this instruction; but that the expense and usual hours of teaching mathematical classes put it out of the power of working tradesmen to obtain such education.” The suggestion then occurred to Mr. Horner to devise a plan by which such branches of science as would benefit the mechanic might be taught at convenient hours and at an expense within his reach; and the idea was the more favourably entertained because such a scheme was already in full operation at Anderson’s Institution in Glasgow, and the foundation of the Edinburgh School of Art in the winter of 1821 was the immediate result.

With Mr. Horner many gentlemen well-known in the city cordially co-operated; among these were Sir David Brewster, Principal of the University, Dr. Brunton, Mr. (afterwards Lord) Murray, Professor Pillans, Mr. Playfair, architect, Mr. Robert Bryson, and Mr. James Mylne, brassfounder. 

To enable young tradesmen to become acquainted with the principles of chemistry and mechanics, and such other branches of science as were necessary in their various crafts, an association was formed, and with this general object in view the School of Arts was duly inaugurated on the 16th of October, 1821, by a meeting at which the Lord Provost, afterwards Sir William Arbuthnot, Bart., presided. The two leading classes then established, and which continue to this day to be fundamental subjects of education in the school, were Chemistry and Mechanical or Natural Philosophy. The first meetings of the school were in a humble edifice in Niddry Street, but after a time it was moved to one of the large houses described in Adam Square. 

Continued success attended the school from its opening; it had the support of all classes of citizens, particularly those connected with the learned professions; the subscription list showing a sum of £450 yearly, and from this the directors, by thrifty management, were able to put aside money from time to time, as a future building fund. 

For the purpose of erecting a memorial in honour of James Watt at Edinburgh, a meeting was held in July, 1824. On the motion of the late Lord Cockburn, seconded by the Solicitor-General Hope, it was resolved that an edifice should be erected with that view, appropriate to the name and character of Watt, and that it should be employed for the accommodation of the School of Arts and to promote the interests of the class from which he sprang. 

The directors had by them £400, which they resolved to add as a subscription for this memorial, to the end that their school should have a permanent building of its own; but it was not till 1851 that arrangements were completed, by which, instead of erecting a new house, the old one in Adam Square, which had been occupied by the school for nearly thirty years, was purchased, when the accumulated fund amounted to £1,700, and the directors adding £800, obtained the house for £2,500, after which it took the name of The Watt Institution and School of Arts

In May, 1854, the directors placed a statue of James Watt, on a granite pedestal, in the little square before the school, where both remained till 1871, when the building in Adam Square, which had become too small for the requirements of the institution, was pulled down, with those which adjoined it, to make way for the broad and spacious thoroughfare named Chambers Street, to which the school was transferred in the winter of 1873-4. 

The new edifice cost £3,000, but the accommodation is more suitable and ample than that of the old. Though for many years the directors adhered to their original plan of confining the subjects of instruction to Chemistry, Natural Philosophy, and Mathematics, in later years, at the request of a number of students, the range of education was greatly enlarged. Hence, classes for English Language and Literature were instituted in 1837; for History and Economic Science in 1877; for Physiology in 1863; for French in 1843; German in 1866; Latin in 1874; Botany in 1870; Pitman’s Short-hand in 1873; Greek in 1875; Geology in 1872; Biology, Free-hand Drawing, and the Theory of Music, in 1877. In April, 1879, the institution was handed over to the Heriot Trust, as a People’s College, at a meeting presided over by the Hon. Lord Shand, a patron of the school. 


*  The 2-part article on the Admirable Crichton can be found in ‘Scot’s Lore’, pp.181-192 & 238-252
Exit mobile version