Chapter 15 – The Calton Hill., pp.100-114.

[Old & New Edinburgh Contents]

Origin of the Name – Gibbet and Battery thereon – The Quarry Holes – The Monastery of Greenside Built – The Leper Hospital – The Tournament Ground and Playfield – Church of Greenside – Burgh of Calton – Rev. Rowland Hill – Regent Bridge Built – Observatory and Astronomical Institution – Bridewell Built – Hume’s Tomb – The Political Martyrs’ Monument – The Jews’ Place of Burial – Monument of Nelson – National Monument, and those of Stewart, Playfair, and Burns – The High School – Foundation Laid – Architecture and Extent – The Opening – Instruction – Rectors of the New School – Lintel of the Old School – Lord Brougham’s Opinion of the Institution. 

   THE Calton Hill, till the erection of the Regent Bridge, was isolated from the line of Princes Street, and rises to the altitude of 355 feet above the level of the sea, presenting an abrupt and rocky face to the south-west, and descending in other directions by rapid but not untraversable declivities. “Calton, or Caldoun, is admitted to be a hill covered with bushes,” according to Dalrymple’s “Annals”; but with reference to the forest of Drumsheugh, by which it was once surrounded, it is more likely to be Choille-dun. 

   In the oldest views we possess of it, the hill is always represented bare, and denuded of all trees and bushes, and one lofty knoll on the south was long known as the Miller’s Knowe. In some of the earlier notices of this hill, it is called the Dow Craig. The Gaelic Dhu, or Black Craig, is very appropriate for this lofty mass of trap rock, and it is rendered by Gordon of Rothiemay in his view, in 1647, by its Latin equivalent, Nigelli Rupes. “In a title-deed of the eighteenth century,” says Wilson, “the tenement of land in Calton, called the Sclate Land, is described as bounded on the east by McNeill’s Craigs, possibly a travesty of Gordon’s Nigelli Rupes.” 

   Concerning an execution there in September, 1554, we have the following items in the City Accounts:- 

   “Item, the… day of… 1554, for taking of ane gret gibet furth of the Nether Tolbooth, and beiring it to the hecht of the Dow Craig to haif hangit hommill [beardless] Jok on, and bringing it again to Sanct Paullis Wark, xijd. [12 pence]” 

   “Item, for cords to bynd and hang him with, viijd. [8 pence]” 

   Again, in the Diurnal of Occurrents, under date 1571, we read of a battery erected on “the Dow Craig above Trinitie College, to ding and siege the north-east quarter of the burgh” during the contest against the Queen’s-men. 

   Among many old superstitions peculiar to Leith was one of the Fairy Boy, who acted as drummer to certain elves that held a weekly rendezvous at midnight on the bare and desolate scalp of the Calton Hill. 

   The Lords Balmerino were superiors of the hill, until the Common Council purchased the superiority from the last lord of that loyal and noble family, who presented the old Calton burying-ground to his vassals as a place of sepulchre, and it is said, offered them the whole hill for £40. 

   At the extreme eastern end of the hill were the Quarry Holes, some places where stone had been excavated. This lonely spot was famous as a rendezvous for those who fought duels and private rencontres, and there it was, that during the wars of the Reformation, in 1557, a solemn interview took place between the Earls of Arran and Huntly and certain leaders of the Congregation, including the Earls of Argyll and Glencairn, and the Lord James Stewart, with reference to the proceedings of the Queen Regent. 

   At the western side of the hill stood the Carmelite monastery of Greenside, the name of which is still preserved in a street there, and which must have been derived from the verdant and turfy slope that overhung the path to Leith. Though these White Friars were introduced into Scotland in the thirteenth century, it was not until 1518, when the Provost James, Earl of Arran, and the Bailies of the city, conveyed by charter, under date 13th April, to John Malcolme, Provincial of the Carmelites, and his successors, their lands of Greenside, and the chapel or kirk of the Holy Cross there. The latter had been an edifice built at some remote period, of which no record now remains, but it served as the nucleus of this Carmelite monastery, nearly the last of the religious foundations in Scotland prior to the Reformation. 

   In December, 1520, the Provost (Robert Logan of Coatfield), the Bailies and Council, again conferred the ground and place of “the Greensyde to the Freris Carmelitis, now beand in the Ferry, for their reparation and bigging to be maid,” and Sir Thomas Cannye was constituted chaplain thereof. From this it would appear that the friary had been in progress, and that till ready for their reception the priests were located at the Queensferry, most probably in the Carmelite monastery built there in 1380 by Sir George Dundas of that ilk. In October, 1525, Sir Thomas, chaplain of the place and kirk of the Rood of Greenside, got seisin “thairof be the guid town,” and delivered the keys into the hands of the magistrates in favour of Friar John Malcolmson, “pro marerall (sic) of the ordour.” 

   In 1534, two persons, named David Straiton and Norman Gourlay, the latter a priest, were tried for heresy and sentenced to be burned at the stake. On the 27th of August they were carried to the Rood of Greenside, and there suffered that terrible death. After the suppression of the order, the buildings must have been tenantless until 1591, when they were converted into a hospital for lepers, founded by John Robertson, a benevolent merchant of the city, “pursuant to a vow on his receiving a signal mercy from God.” “At the institution of this hospital,” says Arnot, “seven lepers, all of them inhabitants of Edinburgh, were admitted in one day. The severity of the regulations which the magistrates appointed to be observed by those admitted, segregating them from the rest of mankind, and commanding them to remain within its walls day and night, demonstrate the loathsome and infectious nature of the distemper.” A gallows whereon to hang those who violated the rules was erected at one end of the hospital, and even to open its gate between sunset and sunrise ensured the penalty of death. 

   It is a curious circumstance that, though not a stone remains of the once sequestered Carmelite monastery, there is still perpetuated, as in the case of the abbots of Westminster, in the convent of the Carmelites at Rome, an official who bears the title of Il Padre Priore di Greenside. (“Lectures on the Antiquities of Edin.,” 1845.) 

   In the low valley which skirts the north-eastern base of the hill, now occupied by workshops and busy manufactories, was the place for holding tournaments, open-air plays, and revels. 

   In 1456 King James II. granted under his great seal, in favour of the magistrates and community of the city and their successors for ever, the valley and low ground lying betwixt the rock called Cragingalt on the east, and the common way and passage on the west (now known as Greenside) for performing thereon tournaments, sports, and other warlike deeds, at the pleasure of the king and his successors. This grant was dated at Edinburgh, 13th of August, in presence of the Bishops of St. Andrews and Brechin, the Lords Erskine, Montgomery, Darnley, Lyle, and others. 

   This place witnessed the earliest efforts of the dramatic muse in Scotland, for many of those pieces in the Scottish language by Sir David Lindesay, such as his “Pleasant Satyre of the Three Estaits,” were acted in the play field there, “when weather served,” between 1539 and 1544; but in consequence of the tendency of these representations to expose the lives of the Scottish clergy, by a council of the Church, held at the Black Friary in March, 1558, Sir David’s books were ordered to be burned by the public executioner. 

   “The Pleasant Satyre” was played at Greenside, in 1544, in presence of the Queen Regent, “as is mentioned,” says Wilson, “by Henry Charteris, the bookseller, who sat patiently nine hours on the bank to witness the play. It so far surpasses any effort of contemporary English dramatists, that it renders the barrenness of the Scottish muse in this department afterwards the more apparent.” 

   Ten years subsequent a new place would seem to have been required, as we find in the “Burgh Records” in 1554, the magistrates ordaining their treasurer, Robert Grahame, to pay “the Maister of Werke the soume of xlij li xiij s iiij d [£42 13s. 4d.], makand in hale the soume of 100 merks, and that to complete the play field, now bigging in the Greensid.” 

   This place continued to be used as the scene of feats of arms until the reign of Mary, and there, Pennant relates, Bothwell first attracted her attention, by leaping his horse into the ring, after galloping “down the dangerous steeps of the the adjacent hill” – a very apocryphal story. Until the middle of the last century this place was all unchanged. “In my walk this evening,” he writes in 1769, “I passed by a deep and wide hollow beneath the Caltoun Hill, the place where those imaginary criminals, witches, and sorcerers in less enlightened times were burned; and where at festive seasons the gay and gallant held their tilts and tournaments.” 

   On the north-western shoulder of the hill stands the modern Established Church of Greenside, at the end of the Royal Terrace, a conspicuous and attractive feature among the few architectural decorations of that district. Its tower rises 100 feet above the porch, is twenty feet square, and contains a bell of 10 cwt. 

   The main street of the old barony of the Calton was named, from the ancient chapel which stood there, St. Ninian’s Row, and a place so called still exists; and the date and name St. Ninian’s Row, 1752, yet remains on the ancient well. Of old, the street named the High Calton, was known as the Craig End. 

   In those days a body existed known as the High Constables of the Calton, but the new Municipality Act having extinguished the ancient boundaries of the city, the constabulary, in 1857, adopted the following resolution, which is written on vellum, to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland:- 

   “The district of Calton, or Caldton, formed at one time part of the estate of the Elphinstone family, one of whom – Sir James, third son of the third Lord Elphinstone – was created Lord Balmerino in 1603-4. In 1631 the then Lord Balmerino granted a charter to the trades of Calton, constituting them a society or corporation; and in 1669 a royal charter was obtained from Charles II., erecting the district into a burgh of barony. A court was held by a bailie appointed by the lord of the manor, and there was founded in connection therewith, the Society of High Constables of Calton, who have been elected by, and have continued to act under, the orders of succeeding Baron Bailies. Although no mention is made of our various constabulary bodies in the ‘Municipality Extension Act, 1856,’ the venerable office of Baron Bailie has thereby become extinct, and the ancient burghs of Canongate, Calton, Eastern and Western Portsburgh, are now annexed to the city. Under these circumstances the constabulary of Calton held an extraordinary meeting on the 17th of March, 1857, at which, inter alia, the following motion was carried with acclamation, viz.: ‘That the burgh having ceased to exist, the constabulary, in order that some of the relics and other insignia belonging to this body should be preserved for the inspection of future generations, unanimously resolve to present as a free gift to the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Scotland the following, viz:- Constabulary bâton, 1747, moderator’s official bâton, marble bowl, moderator’s state staff, silver-mounted horn with fourteenmedals, members’ small bâton; report on the origin and standing of the High Constables of Calton, 1855, and the laws of the society, 1847.’ ” 

   These relics of the defunct little burgh are consequently now preserved at the museum in the Royal Institution. 

   A kind of round tower, or the basement thereof, is shown above the south-west angle of the Calton cliffs in Gordon’s view in 1647; but of any such edifice no record remains; and in the hollow where Nottingham Place lies now, a group of five isolated houses, called “Mud Island,” appears in the maps of 1787 and 1798. In 1796, and at many other times, the magistrates ordained that “All-hallow fair be held on the lands of Calton Hill,” as an open and unenclosed place, certainly a perilous one, for tipsy drovers and obstinate cattle. An agriculturist named Smith farmed the hill and lands adjacent, now covered by great masses of building, for several years, till about the close of the 18th century; and his son, Dr. John Smith, who wasborn in 1798, died only in February, 1879, after being fifty years physician to the old charity workhouse in Forrest Road. 

   In 1798, when the Rev. Rowland Hill (the famous son of Sir Rowland Hill, of Shropshire) visited Edinburgh for the first time, he preached in some of the churches every other day, but the crowds became so immense, that at last he was induced to hold forth from a platform erected on the Calton Hill, where his audience was reckoned at not less than 10,000, and the interest excited by his eloquence is said to have been beyond all precedent. On his return from the West, he preached on the hill again to several audiences, and on the last of these occasions, when a collection was made for the charity workhouse, fully 20,000 were present. Long years after, when speaking to a friend of the multitude whom he had addressed there, he said, pleasantly, “Well do I remember the spot; but I understand that it has now been converted into a den of thieves,” referring to the gaol now built on the ground where his platform stood. 

   The first great change in the aspect of the hill was effected by the formation of the Regent Road, which was cut through the old burying-ground, the soil of which avenue was decently carted away, covered with white palls, and full of remnants of humanity, to the new Calton burying-ground on the southern slope; and the second was the opening of the Regent Bridge, the foundation stone of which was laid in 1815, forming a magnificent entrance to the New Town from the east. The arch is fifty feet wide, and about the same in height, having on the top of the side ledges, arches, and ornamental pillars, connected with the houses in Waterloo Place. The whole was finished in 1819, and formally opened on the visit of Prince Leopold, afterwards King of Belgium; but the bridge must have been open for traffic two years before, as it was crossed by the 88th Connaught Rangers, in 1817, on their return from the Army of Occupation in France, under Colonel Wallace. 

   One of the last feasts of St. Crispin was held in the Calton Convening Rooms, in 1820, when six hundred of the ancient Corporation of Cordiners, bearing St. Crispin with regal pomp, marched from Holyrood. “On reaching the Cross,” says the Weekly Journal for that year, “it was found impossible to proceed farther, from the mass of people collected; the procession therefore filed off into the Royal Exchange, until a guard of the 13th Foot arrived from the Castle; then it proceeded along the mound to the New Town.” It is added that forty-four years had elapsed since the last procession of the kind. 

   The same paper, in 1828, records that a mighty mass of rock, fully fifty tons in weight, fell from under Nelson’s monument with a great crash from a height of twenty-five feet, and carrying all before it, rolled on the roadway below. 

   On the 15th September, 1834, there occurred the only local event of interest since the visit of George IV. – the Grey banquet. A great portion of the citizens had signalised themselves in their zeal for the Reform Bill, the passing of which, in August, 1832, they celebrated by a grand procession of the trades, amounting to more than 15,000 men, and about the date above mentioned, Earl Grey entered the city amid a vast concourse of admirers. He was presented with the freedom of the city in a gold box, and was afterwards entertained at a public banquet, in a pavilion erected for the occasion, 113 feet long by 101 broad, in the eastern compartment of the High School on the south side of the Calton Hill. Archibald, Earl of Rosebery, K.T., in absence of the Duke of Hamilton, occupied the chair. 

   On the north-west shoulder of the hill is the old observatory, a rough, round-buttressed tower, three storeys in height. The scheme for the erection of a building of this kind was first projected in 1736, but the local commotions occasioned by the Porteous mob caused it to be relinquished till 1741, when it was again revived, and the patriotic Earl of Morton gave a sum for the purpose, leaving the management thereof to Colin Maclaurin, Professor of Mathematics, and others of the Senatus Academicus. Maclaurin, with his characteristic liberality, added to the earl’s gift by the profits arising from a course of lectures on experimental philosophy; but his death, in 1746, put a stop a second time to the execution of the project. 

   In 1776 there came to Edinburgh Mr. Short, brother and executor to Mr. James Short, F.R.S., formerly an optician in Leith, and who brought with him all his brother’s optical apparatus, particularly a large reflecting telescope that magnified 1,200 times, “and is,” says the Weekly Magazine for that year, “superior to any in Europe, but one in possession of the King of Spain.” Mr. Short intended to erect an observatory, which was to be his own private property, and from which he expected to draw considerable emoluments; but Dr. Alexander Monro, Professor of Anatomy, one of Lord Morton’s trustees, showed that an observatory unconnected with the Council and University would conduce but little to the progress of science, and proposed to give Mr. Short the funds at their disposal for the purpose of building an observatory, and to allow him to draw the whole emoluments arising from the use of his apparatus for a certain number of years; “but,” says Arnot, “on condition that the students should, in the meantime, have access to the observatory for a small gratuity, and that the building, with all the instruments, should be vested in the Town Council for ever, as trustees for the public, and become their absolute property after a certain period. Mr. Short readily agreed, and the Council were applied to for their concurrence and patronage.” 

   It appears from their Register that in the summer of 1776 the Council granted to Mr. Short, his sons and grandsons, a life-rent lease of half an acre on the Calton Hill. A plan of the intended building was made by James Craig, architect, and the foundation-stone was laid by Provost James Stodart, in presence of the Senatus, 25th July, 1776; and upon the suggestion of Adam, the famous architect, in consequence of the high and abrupt nature of the site, the whole edifice was constructed to have the aspect of a fortification. In the partial execution of this faulty design, the money appropriated for the work was totally exhausted, and the luckless observatory was once more left to its fate, and when thus abandoned, was the scene of a singular disturbance in 1788. It was assailed by ten armed persons, who severely wounded a gentleman who endeavoured to oppose them in capturing the place, which was next literally stormed by the City Guard, “without any killed or wounded,” says Kincaid, “but in the hurry of conducting their prisoners to the guard-house, they omitted to take a list of the stores and ammunition found there.” On the 26th February, 1789, there were arraigned by the Procurator Fiscal these ten persons, among whom were Jacobina, relict of Thomas Short, optician in Edinburgh, John McFadzean, medical student, for forcibly entering, on the 7th November, “the observatory formerly possessed by Thomas Short, optician, in order to dispossess therefrom James Douglas, grandson of the said Thomas Short, with pistols, naked swords, cutlasses, and other lethal weapons, attacking and wounding Robert Maclean, accountant of Excise,” &c. For this, eight were dismissed from the bar, and two were imprisoned and fined 500 merks each. (Edin. Advert., 1789.) 

   In 1792 the observatory was completed by the magistrates, but in a style far inferior to what the utility of such an institution deserved; and being without proper instruments, or a fund for procuring them, it remained in this condition till 1812, when a more fortunate attempt was made to establish an observatory on a proper footing by the formation in Edinburgh of an Astronomical Institution, and the old edifice is now used for a self-registering anemometer, or rain-gauge, in connection with the new edifice. 

   The latter had its origin in a few public-spirited individuals, who, in 1812, formed themselves into the Astronomical Institution, and circulated an address, written by their President, Professor Playfair, urging the necessity for its existence and progress. “He used to state,” says Lord Cockburn, “in order to show its necessity, that a foreign vessel had been lately compelled to take refuge in Leith, and that before setting sail again, the master wished to adjust his timepiece, but found that he had come to a large and learned metropolis, where nobody could tell him what o’clock it was.” 

   A little to the east of the old institution, the new observatory was founded on the 25th April, 1818, by Sir George Mackenzie, Vice-President, from a Grecian design by W. H. Playfair, after the model of the Temple of the Winds, and consists of a central cross of sixty-two feet, with four projecting pediments supported by six columns fronting the four points of the compass. The central dome, thirteen feet in diameter, contains a solid cone or pillar nineteen feet high, for the astronomical circle. To the east are piers for the transit instrument and astronomical clock; in the west end are others for the mural circle and clock. 

   “The original Lancastrian School,” says Lord Cockburn, “was a long wood and brick erection, stretched on the very top of the Calton Hill, where it was then the fashion to stow away anything that was too abominable to be tolerated elsewhere.” 

   The great prison buildings of the city occupy the summit of the Dow Craig, to which we have referred more than once. 

   The first of these, the “Bridewell,” was founded 30th November, 1791, by the Earl of Morton, Grand Master of Scotland, heading a procession which must have ascended the hill by the tortuous old street at the back of the present Convening Rooms. The usual coins and papers were enclosed in two bottles blown at the glass-house in Leith, and deposited in the stone, with a copper plate containing a long Latin inscription. The architect was Robert Adam. 

   Prior to this the city had an institution of a similar kind, named the House of Correction, for the reception of strolling poor and loose characters. It had been projected as far back as 1632, and the buildings therefor had been situated near Paul’s Work. Afterwards a building near the Charity Workhouse was used for the purpose, but being found too small, after a proposal to establish a new one at the foot of Forrester’s Wynd, the idea was abandoned, the present new one projected and carried out. It was finished in 1796, at the expense of the city and county, aided by a petty grant from Government. In front of it, shielded by a high wall and ponderous gate, on the street line, is the house for the governor. Semicircular in form, the main edifice has five floors, the highest being for stores and the hospital. All round on each floor, at the middle of the breadth, is a corridor, with cells on each side, lighted respectively from the interior and exterior of the curvature. Those on the inner are chiefly used as workshops, and can all be surveyed from a dark apartment in the house of the governor without the observer being visible. On the low floor is a treadmill, originally constructed for the manufacture of corks, but now mounted and moved only in cure of idleness or the punishment of delinquency. 

   The area within the circle is a small court, glazed overhead. The house is under good regulations, and is made as much as possible the scene rather of the reclamation and the comfortable industry of its unhappy inmates than of the punishment of their offences. 

   At one time a number of French prisoners of war were confined here. 

   At the east end of Waterloo Place, and adjoining Bridewell, is the town and county gaol. It was founded in 1815 and finished in 1817, when the old “Heart of Midlothian” was taken down. In a Saxon style of architecture, it is an extensive building, and somewhat castellated – in short, the whole masses of these buildings, with their towers and turrets overhanging the steep rocks, resemble a feudal fortress of romance, and present a striking and interesting aspect. Along the street line are apartments for the turnkeys. Behind these, with an area intervening, is the gaol, 194 feet long by 40 wide, four storeys high, with small grated windows. In the centre is a chapel, with long, ungrated windows. Along the interior run corridors, opening into forty-eight cells, each 8 feet by 6, besides other apartments of larger dimensions. 

   From the lower flat behind a number of small airing yards, separated by high walls, radiate to a point, where they are all overlooked and commanded by a lofty octagonal watch-tower, occupied by the deputy governor. Farther back, and perched on the sheer verge of the precipice which overhangs the railway, is the castellated tower, occupied by the governor. The whole gaol is classified into wards, is clean and well managed, and possesses facilities for the practice of approved prison discipline, but is seriously damaged in some of its capacities by being a gaol for both criminals and debtors, thus lacking the proper accommodation for each alike. 

   From the Calton Hill the view is so vast, so grand, and replete with everything that in either city, sea, or landscape can thrill or delight, that it has been said he is a bold artist who attempts to depict it with either pen or pencil; for far around the city, old and new, there stretches a panorama which combines in its magnificent expanse the richest elements of the sublime and beautiful, while the city itself is opulent, beyond all parallel, in the attractions of the picturesque. 

   Prior to the erection of the Regent Bridge, Princes Street, says Lord Cockburn, was closed at its east end “by a mean line of houses running north and south. All to the east of these was a burial-ground, of which the southern portion still remains; and the way of reaching the Calton Hill was to go by Leith Street to its base (as may yet be done), and then up a narrow, steep street, which still remains, and was then the only approach. Scarcely any sacrifice could be too great that removed the houses from the end of Princes Street and made a level to the hill, or, in other words, produced the Waterloo Bridge.” 

   On the south side of the narrow street referred to is the old entrance to the burying-ground, which Lord Balmerino gifted to his vassals, and through which the remains of David Hume must have been borne to their last resting-place, in what is now the southern portion of the cemetery, and in the round tower of Roman design at the south-eastern corner thereof. Near it is the great obelisk, called the Martyrs’ Monument, erected to the memory of those who were tried and banished from Scotland in 1793 for advocating parliamentary reform. It is inscribed, in large Roman letters:- “TO THE MEMORY OF THOMAS MUIR, THOMAS FYSSHE PALMER, WILLIAM SKIRVING, MAURICE MARGAROT AND JOSEPH GERALD. ERECTED BY THE FRIENDS OF PARLIAMENTARY REFORM IN SCOTLAND AND ENGLAND, 1844.” 

   In this burying-ground lie the remains of Professor George Wilson and many other eminent citizens. 

   On the northern slope of the hill is a species of cavern or arched vault in the rock, closed by a gate, and known as the Jews’ burial-place. It is the property of the small Jewish community, but when or how acquired, the Rabbi and other officials, from their migratory nature, are quite unable to state, and only know that two individuals, a man and his wife, lie in that solitary spot. Concerning this place, a rare work by Viscount D’Arlincourt, a French writer, has the following anecdote, which may be taken for what it is worth. “A Jew, named Jacob Isaac, many years ago asked leave to lay his bones in a little corner of this rock. As it was at that time bare of monuments, he thought that in such a place his remains ran no risk of being disturbed by the neighbourhood of Christian graves. His request was granted for the sum of 700 guineas. Jacob paid the money without hesitation, and has long been at rest in a corner of the Calton. But, alas! he is now surrounded on all sides by the tombs of the Nazarenes.” 

   Though not correct at its close, this paragraph evidently points to the cave in the rock where one Jew lies. 

   On the very apex of the hill stands the monument to Lord Viscount Nelson, an edifice in such doubtful taste that its demolition has been more than once advocated. Begun shortly after the battle of Trafalgar, it was not finished till 1816. A conspicuous object from every point of view, by sea or land, with all its defects it makes a magnificent termination to the vista along Princes Street from the west. The base is a battlemented edifice, divided into small apartments and occupied as a restaurant. Above its entrance is the crest of Nelson, with a sculpture representing the stern of the San Joseph, and underneath an inscription, recording that the grateful citizens of Edinburgh “have erected this monument, not to express their unavailing sorrow for his death, nor yet to celebrate the matchless glories of his life, but by his noble example to teach their sons to emulate what they admire, and like him, when duty requires it, to die for their country.” 

   From this pentangular base rises, to the height of more than 100 feet, a circular tower, battlemented at the top, surmounted by the time-ball and a flag-staff, where a standard is always hoisted on the anniversary of Trafalgar, and used also to be run up on the 1st of August in memory of the battle of Aboukir. Around the edifice are a garden and plots of shrubbery, from amid which, peeping grimly forth, are three Russian trophies – two cannon from Sebastopol and one from Bomarsund, placed there in 1857. The precipice from the edge of which the monument rises possesses an outline which, by a curious coincidence, presents a profile of Nelson, when viewed from Holyrood. 

   The time-ball, which is in electric communication with the time-gun at the Castle, falls every day at one o’clock simultaneously with the discharge of the gun which is fired from Greenwich. A common joke of the High School boys is that the Duke of Wellington gets off his horse in front of the Register House when he hears the gun, lunches, and re-mounts his statuesque steed at two o’clock! 

   A little to the north of it, on a flat portion of the hill, stand twelve magnificent Grecian Doric columns, the fragment of the projected national monument to the memory of all Scottish soldiers and sailors who fell by land and sea in the long war with France; and, with a splendour of design corresponding to the grandeur of the object, it was meant to be a literal restoration of the Parthenon at Athens. The contributors were incorporated by Act of Parliament. 

   The foundation stone was laid on the 27th August, 1822, the day on which George IV. visited Melville Castle. Under the Duke of Hamilton, Grand Master of Scotland, the various lodges proceeded in procession from the Parliament Square, accompanied by the commissioners for the King, and a brilliant concourse. The foundation-stone of the edifice (which was to be 228 feet long, by 102 broad) weighed six tons, and amid salutes of cannon from the Castle, Salisbury Craigs, Leith Fort, and the royal squadron in the roads, the inscription plates were deposited therein. One is inscribed thus, and somewhat fulsomely:- 

   “To the glory of God, in honour of the King, for the good of the people, this monument, the tribute of a grateful country to her gallant and illustrious sons, as a memorial of the past and incentive to the future heroism of the men of Scotland, was founded on the 27th day of August in the year of our Lord 1822, and in the third year of the glorious reign of George IV., under his immediate auspices, and in commemoration of his most gracious and welcome visit to his ancient capital, and the palace of his royal ancestors; John Duke of Atholl, James Duke of Montrose, Archibald Earl of Rosebery, John Earl of Hopetoun, Robert Viscount Melville, and Thomas Lord Lynedoch, officiating as commissioners, by the special appointment of his august Majesty, the patron of the undertaking. The celebrated Parthenon of Athens being model of the edifice.” The Scots Greys and 3rd Dragoons formed the escorts. Notwithstanding the enthusiasm displayed when the undertaking was originated, and though a vast amount of money was subscribed, the former subsided, and the western peristyle alone was partially erected. In consequence of this remarkable end to an enterprise that was begun under the most favourable auspices, the national monument is often referred to as “Scotland’s pride and poverty.” The pillars are of gigantic proportions, formed of beautiful Craigleith stone; each block weighed from ten to fifteen tons, and each column as it stands, with the base and frieze, cost upwards of £1,000. As a ruin it gives a classic aspect to the whole city. According to the original idea, part of the edifice was to be used as a Scottish Valhalla. 

On the face of the hill overlooking Waterloo Place is the monument of one of Scotland’s greatest philosophers. It is simply inscribed:- 



DIED JUNE 11TH, 1828. 

   It was finished in 1832, and is a beautiful restoration, with some variations, of the choragic monument of Lysicrates, from a design by W. H. Playfair. 

   The chaste Greek monument of Professor Playfair, at the south-east angle of the new observatory serves also to enhance the classic aspect of the hill, and was designed by his nephew. This memorial to the great mathematician and eminent natural philosopher is inscribed thus, in large Roman characters:- 









   Passing the eastern gate of the new prison, and Jacob’s Ladder, a footway which, in two mutually diverging lines, each by a series of steep traverses and Mights of steps, descends the sloping face of the hill, to the north back of the Canongate, we find Burns’s monument, perched over the line of the tunnel, built in 1830, after a design by Thomas Hamilton, in the style of a Greek peripteral temple, its cupola being a literal copy from the monument of Lysicrates at Athens. The original object of this edifice was to serve as a shrine for Flaxman’s beautiful statue of Burns, now removed to the National Gallery, but replaced by an excellent bust of the poet, by William Brodie, R.S.A., one of the best of Scottish sculptors. This round temple contains many interesting relics of Burns. 

   The entire length of the upper portion of the hill is now enclosed by a stately terrace, more than 1,000 yards in length, with Grecian pillared doorways, continuous iron balconies, and massive cornices, commanding much of the magnificent panorama seen from the higher elevations; but, by far the most important, interesting, and beautiful edifice on this remarkable hill is the new High School of Edinburgh, on its southern slope, adjoining the Regent Terrace. 

   The new High School is unquestionably one of the most chaste and classical edifices in Edinburgh. It is a reproduction of the purest Greek, and in every way quite worthy of its magnificent site, which commands one of the richest of town and country landscapes in the city and its environs, and is in itself one of the most striking features of the beautiful scenery with which it is grouped. 

   When the necessity for having a new High School in place of the old, within the city wall – the old which had so many striking memories and traditions (and to which we shall refer elsewhere) – came to pass, several situations were suggested as a site for it, such as the ground opposite to Princes Street, and the then Excise Office (now the Royal Bank), in St. Andrew Square; but eventually the magistrates fixed on the green slope of the Calton Hill, to the eastward of the Miller’s Knowe. In digging the foundations copper ore in some quantities was dug out, together with some fragments of native copper. 

   The ceremony of laying the foundation stone took place amid great pomp and display on the 28th of July, 1825. All the public bodies in the city were present, with the then scholars from the Old School, the senators, academicians, clergy, rector, and masters, and, at the request of Lord Provost Henderson, the Rev. Dr. Brunton implored the Divine blessing on the undertaking. The stone was laid by Viscount Glenorchy, Grand Master of Scotland, and the building was proceeded with rapidly. It is of pure white stone, designed by Thomas Hamilton, and has a front of 400 feet, including the temples, or wings, which contain the writing and mathematical class-rooms. The central portico is a hexastyle, and, having a double range of twelve columns, projects considerably in front of the general facade. The whole edifice is of the purest Grecian Doric, and, even to its most minute details, is a copy of the celebrated Athenian Temple of Theseus. A spacious flight of steps leading up to it from the closing wall in front, and a fine playground behind, is overlooked by the entrances to the various class-rooms. The interior is distributed into a large hall, seventy-three feet by forty-three feet; a rector’s class-room, thirty-eight feet by thirty-four feet; four class-rooms for masters, each thirty-eight feet by twenty-eight feet; a library; and two small rooms attached to each of the class-rooms. On the margin of the roadway, on a lower site than the main building, are two handsome lodges, each two storeys in height, one occupied by the janitor, and the other containing class-rooms. The area of the school and playground is two acres, and is formed by cutting deep into the face of the hill. The building cost when finished, according to the City Chamberlain’s books, £34,199 11s. 6d. There are a rector, and ten teachers of classics and languages, in addition to seven lecturers on science. 

   The school, the most important in Scotland, and intimately connected with the literature and progress of the kingdom, although at first only a classical seminary, now furnishes systematic instruction in all departments of a commercial as well as liberal education. Every branch of literature, including reading, orthography, recitation, grammar, and composition, together with British history, forms the prominent parts of the system; while the entire curriculum of study – which occupies six years – embraces the Latin, Greek, French, and German languages, history, geography, physiology, chemistry, natural philosophy, zoology, botany, algebra, geometry, drawing, fencing, gymnastics, and military drill. In the library are seven thousand volumes. 

   The building was completed in 1829, and the pupils proceeded thither on the 23rd of June from the time-honoured old school, in a procession arranged by Sir Patrick Walker of Coates, preceded by the band of the 17th Lancers, each class marching with a master at its head, followed by the High Constables, the magistrates, professors of the university, and all “those noblemen and gentlemen who had attended the High School, in fours.” 

   A long and elaborate Latin inscription on the front of the buildings commemorates the founding of the edifice, with a reference to the Old School, founded 300 years before; but two statues, which formed a part of Hamilton’s design, and were to have been in front of the portico, have never been placed there, and in all likelihood never will be. 

   In the long roll of its scholars are the names of the most distinguished men of all professions, and in every branch of science and literature, many of whom have helped to form and consolidate British India. It also includes three natives of Edinburgh, “High School callants,” who have been Lord Chancellors of Great Britain – Wedderburn, Erskine, and Brougham. 

   The annual examinations always take place in presence of the Lord Provost and magistrates, a number of the city clergy and gentlemen connected with the other numerous educational establishments in the city. There is also a large concourse of the parents and friends of the pupils. The citizens have ever rejoiced in this ancient school, and are justly proud of it, not only for the prominent position it occupies, but from the peculiarity of its constitution, as its classes embrace all sects and grades of society – the peer and peasant sit together in the same form, each possessing no advantage over his schoolfellow. “Edinburgh has reason to be proud of this noble institution,” said Lord Provost Black at the examination in 1845, “as one which has conferred a lustre upon our city, and which has given a tone to the manners and intellect of its inhabitants. Whether they remain in Edinburgh or betake themselves to other lands, and whatever be the walk of life in which they are led, I believe the students of this seminary will be found everywhere, and at all times, ably sustaining the character of the city, and the institution in which they spent their youthful years.” 

   In 1834 a French master – M. Senebier – was first appointed to teach the French language; and in 1845 Dr. Carl E. Aue became the first teacher of German. In 1849 Mr. William Rhind was elected Lecturer on Natural History, and Dr. John Murray on Chemistry. 

   The first Rector in the present or New School was Aglionby-Ross Carson, M.A., LL.D., a native of Dumfries-shire, who obtained a mastership in the Old School in 1806, and was made Rector in 1820, when his predecessor, James Pillans, M.A. (the “paltry Pillans” of Byron’s savage “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers”), became Professor of Humanity. Dr. Carson held the office till October, 1845, when feeble health compelled him to resign, and he was succeeded by Dr. Leonhard Schmitz (as twenty-sixth Rector, from D. Vocat, Rector in 1519), the first foreigner whoever held a classical mastership in the High School. He was a graduate of the University of Bonn, and a native of Eupen, in Rhenish Prussia. He was the author of a continuation of Niebuhr’s “History of Rome,” in three volumes, and many other works, and in 1844 obtained from his native monarch the gold medal for literature, awarded “as a mark of his Majesty’s sense of the honour thereby conferred on the memory of Niebuhr, one of the greatest scholars of Germany.” In 1859 he was selected by her Majesty the Queen to give a course of historical study to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, and during the winter of 1862-3, he gave a similar course to the Duke of Edinburgh, when both were resident in the city. 

   On his removal to London in 1866 he was succeeded as Rector by James Donaldson, LL.D., one of the ablest preceptors that Scotland has produced. Dr. Donaldson was born at Aberdeen on the 26th of April, 1831, and was educated at the Grammar School and Marischal College and University of his native city, and the University of Berlin. In 1852 he was appointed Greek tutor in Edinburgh University, Rector of the High School of Stirling in 1854, classical master in the High School of Edinburgh in 1856, and Rector of the same school in 1866, in succession, as has been seen, to Dr. Leonhard Schmitz. During his rectorship the High School conspicuously sustained the world-wide reputation which it has always enjoyed for the all-round excellence of its education. Though Dr. Donaldson devoted himself to the watchful guidance of the great institution over which he presided with rare zeal and affectionate solicitude for its interests and those of the scholars entrusted to his care, he found time to enrich the classical and educational stores of his country by various works exhibiting alike profound scholarship and liberal views. Particularly has he distinguished himself by his exhaustive study of the early Christian Fathers, and his “Critical History of Christian Literature and Doctrine from the Death of the Apostles to the Nicene Council” (3 vols.), is a standard work on the important subject with which it deals; while the “Ante-Nicene Christian Library,” of which he is joint-editor, affords further proof of the great and permanent interest which Dr. Donaldson has manifested in this department of Christian history and theology. Dr. Donaldson was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and received the degree of LL.D. from Aberdeen University; he has edited at different times various periodical journals, and has contributed several articles to the “Encyclopaedia Britannica.” In 1881 he was appointed professor of Humanity in the University of Aberdeen. 

   Among other eminent classical masters in the new High School were John Macmillan, a native of Dumfries-shire, and John Carmichael, a native of Inverness, who was succeeded in 1848 by his nephew, also named John Carmichael, who had won classical distinction both in the Edinburgh Academy and at the University, and who was one of the most brilliant conversationalists and the kindest-hearted of men in Edinburgh. 

   Among the prizes competed for are the gold medal, value ten guineas, given in 1825 by the Writers to the Signet to the dux of the Senior Humanity Class, and first awarded to Mr. William M. Gunn, classical master of the school in 1843; a gold medal given by Lieut.-Colonel Peter Murray, Adjutant-General in Bengal in 1794, and the name of which was changed to the Macgregor medal in 1831; a gold medal presented by the city for Greek in the Rector’s class; the Ritchie gold medal, presented in 1824, by Mr. William Ritchie, for twenty-three years a master of the school; the Macdonald, a third class medal, given by Colonel John Macdonald, of the regiment of Clan Alpine, son of the celebrated Flora Macdonald, and presented for the first time in 1824. 

   The College Bailie silver medal for writing, the personal gift of the gentleman holding that office for the year, was first presented in 1814, and for the last time in 1834. 

   “The head boy or dux of the school, at the yearly examination, till about the close of the eighteenth century,” says Dr. Steven, “usually received from the city, as a prize, a copy of the best edition of one of the classics. This was prior to 1794, when a gold medal was first awarded.” The appendix to Stevens’s history of the famous school contains a most interesting list of 180 boys, medallists or duxes after 1776, with notes, when ascertainable, of their future. His valuable history also contains a catalogue of the persons of eminence and rank educated at this seminary. 

   Of the distinguished men in every department of life who conned their studies in the class-rooms, even of the new High School, it is impossible to attempt to give a list here; but perhaps no educational institution in the kingdom has ever sent forth so many pupils who have added fresh laurels to the glory of their country. 

   In it is still preserved as a relic the carved stone which was over the principal entrance of the first school from 1578 to 1777. It bears within a panel the triple castle of the city, with the initials I. S., and, under the thistle, the date and legend:- 


FLORET. 1578. 

   Above this in a pediment is an imperial crown, with two thistles and the initials I. R. 6. 

   The High School Club, composed of old scholars, was first instituted in 1849. 

   At a great entertainment given in the city to Mr. (afterwards Lord) Brougham, on the 25th of April, 1825, presided over by Henry (afterwards Lord) Cockburn, the former spoke thus affectionately of the High School:- 

   “In this town it was, as was truly observed by our worthy chairman, that I first imbibed the noble principles of a liberal Scottish education; and it is fit that I should tell you, as many of you may not have heard what I have frequently told to others, in other places, and in other meetings, that I have seen no other plan of education so efficient as that which is established in this city. With great experience and opportunity of observation, I certainly have never yet seen any one system so well adapted for training up good citizens, as well as learned and virtuous men, as the old High School of Edinburgh and the Scottish Universities. Great improvements may, and no doubt will be made, even in these seminaries. But what I have to say of the High School of Edinburgh, and, as the ground of the preference I give it over others, and even over another academy, lately established in this city, on what is said to be a more improved principle – what I say is this: that such a school is altogether invaluable in a free State – in a State having higher objects in view, by the education of its youth, than a mere knowledge of the Latin and Greek languages, and the study of prosody. That in a State like this, higher objects should be kept in view, there can be no doubt; though I confess I have passed much of my time in these studies myself. 

   “Yet a school like the old High School of Edinburgh is invaluable, and for what is it so? It is because men of the highest and lowest rank of society send their children to be educated together. The oldest friend I have in the world, your worthy vice-president (Lord Douglas Gordon Halyburton of Pitcur, M.P.) and myself were at the High School of Edinburgh together, and in the same class along with others, who still possess our friendship, and some of them in a rank in life still higher than us. One of them was a nobleman who is now in the House of Peers; and some of them were the sons of shopkeepers in the lowest part of the Cowgate – shops of the most inferior description – and one or two of them were the sons of menial servants in the town. They were sitting side by side, giving and taking places from each other, without the slightest impression on the part of my noble friends of any superiority on their parts to the other boys, or any ideas of the inferiority on the part of the other boys to them; and this is my reason for preferring the old High School of Edinburgh to other and what may be termed more patrician schools, however well regulated or conducted.” 

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