Chapter 6 – The Canongate (concluded)., pp.38-41.

[Old & New Edinburgh Contents]

Lothian Hut – Lord Palmerston – St. Thomas’s Hospital – The Tennis Court and its Theatre – Queen Mary’s Bath – The Houses of Croft-an-Righ and Clockmill. 

   IN the map of the city engraved in 1787 for the quarto edition of “Arnot’s History” there is shown, on the west side of the Horse Wynd, adjoining the Abbey Close, an edifice called Lothian Hut, surrounded by trees. This was the small but magnificently finished town mansion of the Lothian family, and was built by William, the third Marquis, about the year 1750, when Lord Clerk Register of Scotland, and who for some years had been Commissioner to the General Assembly. In this house he died, 28th July, 1767, as recorded in the Scots Magazine, and was succeeded by his son, Major-General the Earl of Ancrum, Colonel of the 11th Light Dragoons (now Hussars). His second son, Lord Robert, had been killed at Culloden. 

   His marchioness, Margaret, the daughter of Sir Thomas Nicholson, Bart., of Kempnay, who survived him twenty years, resided in Lothian Hut till her death. It was afterwards occupied by the dowager of the fourth Marquis, Lady Caroline D’Arcy, who was only daughter of Robert Earl of Holderness, and great-grand-daughter of Charles Louis, the Elector Palatine, a lady whose character is remembered traditionally to have been both grand and amiable. Latterly the Hut was the residence of Professor Dugald Stewart, who, about the end of the last century, entertained there many English pupils of high rank. Among them, perhaps the most eminent was Henry Temple, afterwards Lord Palmerston, whose education, commenced at Harrow, was continued at the University of Edinburgh When he re-visited the latter city in 1865, during his stay he was made aware that an aged woman, named Peggie Forbes, who had been a servant with Dugald Stewart at Lothian Hut, was still alive, and residing at No. 1, Rankeillor Street. There the great statesman visited her, and expressed the pleasure he felt at renewing the acquaintance of the old domestic. 

   Lothian Hut, the scene of Dugald Stewart’s most important literary labours, was pulled down in 1825, to make room for a brewery; but a house of the same period, at the south-west corner of the Horse Wynd, bears still the name of Lothian Vale. 

   A little to the eastward of the present White Horse hostel and immediately adjoining the Water Gate, stood the Hospital of St. Thomas, founded in 1541 by George Crichton, Bishop of Dunkeld, “dedicated to God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the saints.” It consisted of an almshouse and chapel, the bedesmen of which were “to celebrate the founder’s anniversary obit. by solemnly singing in the choir of Holyrood church yearly, on the day of his death, ‘the Placebo and Dirige for the repose of his soul” and the soul of the King of Scotland. “Special care,” says Arnot, “was taken in allotting money for providing candles to be lighted during the anniversary mass of requiem, and the number and size of the tapers were fixed with a precision which shows the importance in which these circumstances were held by the founder. The number of masses, paternosters, ave-marias, and credos, to be said by the chaplain and bedesmen is distinctly ascertained.” 

   The patronage of the institution was vested by the founder in himself and a certain series of representatives named by him. 

   In 1617, with the consent of David Crichton of Lugton, the patron, who had retained possession of the endowments, the magistrates of the Canongate purchased the chapel and almshouse from the chaplains and bedesmen, and converted the institution into a hospital for the poor of the burgh. Over the entrance they placed the Canongate arms, supported by a pair of cripples, an old man and woman, with the inscription – 


JUNE 19, 1617. 

   The magistrates of the Canongate sold the patronage of the institution in 1634 to the Kirk Session, by whom its revenues “were entirely embezzled;” by 1747 the buildings were turned into coach-houses, and in 1787 were pulled down, and replaced by modern houses of hideous aspect. 

   On the opposite side of the Water Gate was the Royal Tennis Court, the buildings of which are very distinctly shown in Gordon’s map of 1647. Maitland says it was anciently called the Catchpel, from Cache, a game now called Fives, a favourite amusement in Scotland as early as the reign of James IV. The house, a long, narrow building, with a court, after being a weavers’ workhouse, was burned down in 1771, and rebuilt in the tasteless fashion of that period; but the locality is full of interest, as being connected not only with the game of tennis, as played there by the Duke of Albany, Law the great financial schemer, and others, but the early and obscure history of the stage in Scotland. 

   In 1554 there was a “litill farsche and play maid be William Lauder,” and acted before the Queen Regent, Mary of Guise, for which he was rewarded by two silver cups. Where it was acted is not stated. Neither are we told where was performed another play, “made by Robert Simple” at Edinburgh before the grim Lord Regent and others of the nobility in 1567, and for which the author was paid £66 13s. 4d. 

   The next record of a post-Reformation theatre is in the time of James VI. when several companies came from London for the amusement of the court, including one of which Shakspere was a member, though his appearance cannot be substantiated. In 1599 the company of English comedians was interdicted by the clergy and Kirk Session, though their performances, says Spottiswoode in his “Church History,” were licensed by king! This interdict was annulled by proclamation at the Market Cross. ln 1601 an English company, headed by Laurence Fletcher, “comedian to his Majestie,” was again in Scotland; and Mr. Charles Knight, in his “Life of Shakspere,” concludes that the illustrious dramatist must have been in Scotland with Fletcher, and thus sketched out the plan of his great Scottish tragedy. According to the same testimony, the name of Shakspere has been invariably associated with the Tennis Court Theatre; but from the departure of James VI. to England, in 1603, till the arrival of his grandson the Duke of Albany and York, in 1680, there are doubts if anything like a play was performed in the Edinburgh of that gloomy period; though Sir George Mackenzie mentions that in June, 1669, “Thomas Sydserf, having pursued Mungo Murray for invading him in his Playhouse, &c., that invasion was not punished as hamesucken, but with imprisonment;” and a “Playhouse,” kept at Edinburgh in the same month, when a thousand prisoners, after Bothwell Bridge, were confined in the Greyfriars Churchyard, is referred to in the Acts of Council in 1679. 

   Some kind of a drama, called “Marciano, or The Discovery,” was produced on the festival of St. John by Sir Thomas Sydserff (the same referred to), before His Grace the Earl of Rothes, High Commissioner, at his court at Holyrood, and soon after the theatre in the Tennis Court was in the zenith of its brief prosperity, in defiance of the city pulpits. ‘There, on the 15th November, 1681 “being the Queen of Brittain’s birthday,” as Fountainhall records, while bonfires blazed in the city and salutes were fired by cannon, there was performed, “before their Royall Hynesses,” a comedy, called “Mithridates, King of Pontus,” wherein the future Queen Anne and the ladies of honour were the only actresses. 

   The drama vanished from Scotland at the Revolution; and though a concert was given in 1705 in the Tennis Court, under the patronage of the Duke of Argyle, and “The Spanish Friar” is said to have been performed there before the members of the Union Parliament, no more is heard of it till 1714, when “Macbeth” was played at the Tennis Court, in presence of a brilliant array of Scottish nobles and noblesse, after an archery meeting. On this occasion many present called for the song, “The king shall enjoy his own again,” while others opposed the demand; whereupon swords were resorted to, and – as an anticipation of the battle of Dunblane – a regular mélée ensued. 

   A little to the north-eastward of the Tennis Court stands the singularly picturesque, but squat little corbelled tower called Queen Mary’s Bath, in what was of old the open garden ground attached to the palace. The tradition of its having been the Queen’s bath is of considerable antiquity. Pennant records an absurd story to the effect that she was wont to use a bath of white wine; but the spring of limpid water that now wells under the earthen floor attests that she resorted to no other expedient than aqua pura to exalt or shield her charms. And the story is also referred to in a poem called “Craigmillar,” published about 1770. 

“That chamber where the queen, whose charms divine 

Made wond’ring nations own the power of love, 

Oft bathed her snowy limbs in sparkling wine, 

Now proves a lonely refuge for the dove.” 

   In 1789, when a house was built adjoining this edifice, a turret staircase that led to the roof was demolished, and in the sarking thereof was found a richly-inlaid dagger of ancient workmanship, which was, not without much reason, supposed to have belonged to one of Rizzio’s murderers, some of whom made their escape through the royal gardens in that quarter. This house was entirely removed when the bath was completely repaired in 1852, and its ancient surroundings in some degree restored. 

   The old-fashioned suburb at the Abbey Hill that rose around the northern skirts of the palace, lies beyond what was of old the Artillery Park and this little tower, and possesses still some mansions that formed the residence of Scottish courtiers in the days of other years. The most remarkable of these is the ancient house of Croft-an-Righ, or the Field of the King. Corbelled turrets adorn its southern gable, and dormer windows its northern front, while many of the ceilings exhibit elaborate stucco details, including several royal insignia. Traditionally this house, which, in 1647, was approached from the Abbey burying-ground by an arched gate between two lodges, has been erroneously associated with Mary of Guise; but is supposed to be the mansion that was purchased by William Graham, the last Earl of Airth, who died in 1694, from the Earl of Linlithgow. By him it is described as being situated at the back of Holyrood, and having before belonged to Lord Elphinstone. 

   The “History of Holyrood,” published in 1821, states that the old house of Croft-an-Righ, an edifice of the sixteenth century, had been the residence of the Regent Moray, and with its garden was “gifted, along with several of the adjoining properties, by James VI. to a favourite servant of the name of French.” 

   For repairing the house and making it suitable for the keeper of the royal gardens, Government paid £420 in 1859. At the same time £840 was paid for the re-purchase of Queen Mary’s Bath, with the tenement thereunto adjoining and now removed. 

   Eastward of Croft-an–Righ House, there stood, until it was removed as unsightly, another old mansion, gloomy, dark, and quadrangular, named the Clockmill House, surrounded by ancient trees.1 Long anterior to its existence the locality is referred to in a process before the Supreme Court, 7th May, 1569, concerning the privilege of sanctuary, “fra the Girth Corse doun to the Clokisrwne Mylne.” Before that tribunal (as quoted from the Acta Dom. Concilii et Sessionis), it is stated that “our Soverane Lordis predecessouris, Kingis of Scotland, for the tyme, has of auld, at the foundation of the said Abbey of Halirudhouse, grantit the privilige of the Girth (protection and sanctuary) to the hail boundis of the said Abbey, and to that part of the burghe of the Cannogait, fra the Girth Corse (cross) down to the Clokisrwne Mylne, quhilk privilige has bene inviolablie observit to all manner of personis cumond wytin the boundes aforsaid, not committand the crymes expresslie exceptit for all maner of girth, and that in all tymes bigane past memorie of man.” 

1 An engraving of the Clockmill House will be found on p. 308.

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