Chapter 17 – Princes Street., pp.119-131.

[Old & New Edinburgh Contents]

A Glance at Society – Change of Manners, &c. – The Irish Giants – Poole’s Coffee-house – Shop of Constable & Co. – Weir’s Museum, 1794 – The Grand Duke Nicholas – North British Insurance Life Association – Old Tax Office and New Club – Craig of Riccarton – “The White Rose of Scotland” – St. John’s Chapel – Its Tower and Vaults, &c. – The Scott Monument and its Museum – The Statues of Professor Wilson, Allan Ramsay, Adam Black, Sir James Simpson, and Dr. Livingstone – The General Improvements in Princes Street. 

   IN 1774 a proposal to erect buildings on the south side of Princes Street – a lamentable error in taste it would have proved – led to an interdict by the Court of Session, which ended in a reference to the House of Lords, on which occasion Lord Mansfield made a long and able speech, and the result was, that the amenity of Princes Street was maintained, and it became in time the magnificent terrace we now find it. 

   Of the city in 1783 some glimpses are given us in the “Letters of Theophrastus,” appended to the second edition of “Arnot.” In that year the revenue of the Post Office was only £40,000. There were four coaches to Leith, running every half hour, and there were 1,268 four-wheeled carriages and 338 two-wheeled paying duty. The oyster-cellars had become numerous, and were places of fashionable resort. A maid-servant’s wages were about £4 yearly. In 1763 they wore plain cloaks or plaids; but in 1783 “silk, caps, ribbons, ruffles, false-hair, and flounced petticoats.” 

   In 1783 a number of bathing-machines had been adopted at Leith. People of the middle class and above it dined about four o’clock, after which no business was done, and gentlemen were at no pains to conceal their impatience till the ladies retired. Attendance at church was much neglected, and people did not think it “genteel” to take their domestics with them. “In 1783 the daughters even of tradesmen consume the mornings at the toilet (to which rouge is now an appendage) or in strolling from the perfumer’s to the milliner’s. They would blush to be seen at market. The cares of the family devolve upon a housekeeper, and Miss employs those heavy hours when she is disengaged from public or private amusements in improving her mind from the precious stores of a circulating library.” In that year a regular cock-pit was built for cock-fighting, where all distinctions of rank and character were levelled. The weekly concert of music began at seven o’clock, and mistresses of boarding-schools, &c., would not allow their pupils to go about unattended; whereas, twenty years before “young ladies might have walked the streets in perfect security at all hours.” In 1783 six criminals lay under sentence of death in Edinburgh in one week, whereas in 1763 three was an average for the whole kingdom in a year. A great number of the servant-maids still continued “their abhorrence of wearing shoes and stockings in the morning.” The Register House was unfinished, “or occupied by pigeons only,” and the Records “were kept in a dungeon called the Laigh Parliament House.” 

   The High Street alone was protected by the guard. The New Town to the north, and all the streets and new squares to the south, were totally unwatched; and the soldiers of the guard still preserved “the purity of their native Gaelic, so that few of the citizens understand, or are understood by them;” while the king’s birthday and the last night of the year were “devoted to drunkenness, outrage, and riot, instead of loyalty, peace, and harmony,” as of old. 

   One of the earliest improvements in the extended royalty was lighting it with oil lamps; but in the Advertiser for 1789 we are told that “while all strangers admire the beauty and regularity of the New Town, they are surprised at its being so badly lighted and watched at night. The half of the North Bridge next the Old Town is well lighted, while the half next the New remains in total darkness. London and Westminster are lighted all the year through.” Among the improvements in the same year, we read of two hackney-coach stands being introduced by the magistrates – one at St. Andrew’s Church and another at the Register House; but sedans were then in constant use, and did not finally disappear till about 1850. 

   “In Edinburgh there is no trade,” wrote a German traveller – said to be M. Voght, of Hamburg, in 1795; “but from this circumstance society is a gainer in point both of intelligence and of eloquence… It is but justice to a place in which I have spent one of the most agreeable winters of my life to declare, that nowhere more completely than there have I found realised my idea of good society, or met with a circle of men better informed, more amicable, greater lovers of truth, or of more unexceptionable integrity. During six months I heard no invectives uttered, no catching at wit practised, no malignant calumnies invented or retailed; and I seldom left a company without some addition to my knowledge or new incitements to philanthropy. To name and to describe the persons composing this society, and to introduce them to your readers, is a pleasure which I cannot deny myself.” 

   Among those whom he met in the Edinburgh of that day M. Voght mentions Dugald Stewart, “the Bacon of Metaphysics”; Fraser Tytler, Lord Woodhouselee; Mackenzie, “The Man of Feeling;” Drs. Black, Blair, Munro, and Coventry the lecturer on agriculture; Professor Playfair, Dr. Gregory, and the amiable Sir William Forbes; Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster, and Colonel Dirom, the historian of Tippoo Sahib, and Sir Alexander Mackenzie; adding:- “What makes the society in Edinburgh particularly attractive is the crowd of Scotsmen who have been long in the East and West Indies, and have returned thither – old officers who have served in the army and navy, and all of whom in their youth have had the advantage of academical instruction.” 

   Lady Sinclair, he tells us, “is one of the prettiest women in all Scotland,” and that Creech, the bookseller, was one of his “most valuable acquaintances.” Among others, he enumerates Sir James Hall of Dunglass, Lords Eskgrove, Ancrum, and Fincastle, Professor Rutherford the botanist, Lord Monboddo, and many more, as those making up the circle of a delightful and intellectual society in a city, the population of which, including Leith, was then only 81,865, of whom 7,206 were in the New Town. 

   At the close of the century the first academy for classical education was opened there by William Laing, A.M., father of Alexander Gordon Laing, whose name is so mournfully connected with African discovery. In that establishment Mr. Laing laboured for thirty-two years, and was one of the most popular teachers of his day. 

   In 1811 the population of the city and Leith had increased to 102,987, and exclusive of the latter it was 82,624. By 1881 the estimated population was 290,637. 

   It was in the year 1805 that the Police Act for the city first came into operation, when John Tait, Esq., was appointed Judge of the Court. Prior to this the guardianship of the city had been entirely in the hands of the old Town Guard, which was then partially reduced, save a few who were retained for limited and special service. The Commissioners of Police first substituted gas for oil lamps; and in 1823 the papers announce that these officials had “fitted up 341 new gas pillars, chiefly in the New Town; they are in progress with other forty-two, and have given orders for other 245 gas lights, chiefly in the Old Town. They are to sell the superseded lamp-irons and globes, from which they may realise about £600.” 

   By that time the last traces of ancient manners had nearly departed. “The old claret-drinkers,” says a writer in 1824, “are brought to nothing, and some of them are under the sod. The court dresses, in which the nobility and gentry appeared at the balls and first circles in Edinburgh, together with their dress swords or rapiers, are all ‘have beens,’ for there has been introduced a half-dress – and it is a half-dress: nay, some ladies make theirs less than half; while the swords of the well-dressed men have been dropped for the fist, and the dashing blades of the present day learn to mill, to fib, and to floor, and to give a facer with their ‘mawlies,’ and other equally gentleman-like accomplishments.” Elsewhere he says:- “To prove the more tenacious adhesion of the Scotch to French manners and old fashions, I can assert that for one cocked hat which appeared in the streets of London within the last forty years, a dozen passed current in Auld Reekie.” 

   The houses first numbered in Princes Street were in the south portion, which caused the legal contention in 1774, and the continuation of which was so fortunately arrested by the Court of Session, and there the numbers run from 1 to 9. 

   No. 2 was occupied in 1784 by Robertson, “a ladies’ hairdresser,” where, as per advertisement, two Irish giants – twin brothers – exhibited themselves to visitors at a shilling per head, from four till nine every evening, Sundays excepted. “These wonderful Irish giants are but twenty-three years of age, and measure nearly eight feet high,” according to the newspapers. “These extraordinary young men have had the honour to be seen by their majesties and the royal family at Windsor, in November, 1783, with great applause, and likewise by gentlemen of the faculty, Royal Society, and other admirers of natural curiosity, who allow them to surpass anything of the kind ever offered (sic) to the public. Their address is singularly pleasing; their persons truly shaped and proportioned to their height, and afford an agreeable surprise. They excel the famous Maximilian Miller, born in 1674, shown in London in 1733 (six feet ten inches high); and the late Swedish giant will scarce admit of comparison.” 

   Of these Irish giants, whose advent is among the first notabilia of Princes Street, Kay gives us a full-page drawing in his first volume, including, by way of contrast, Lord Monboddo, Bailie Kyd, a wine merchant in the Candlemaker Row, who died in 1810, Andrew Bell, an engraver (who died in Lauriston Lane in 1809), and others of very small stature. 

   In 1811 this house and No. 1 were both hotels, the former being named “The Crown,” and from them both, the “Royal Eagle” and “Prince Regent” Glasgow stage-coaches started daily at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. “every lawful day.” 

   Taking the houses of note as they occur seriatim, the first on the north side, No. 10 – for some time a famous china emporium – has had many and various occupants. In 1783, and before that period, it was Poole’s Coffee-house, and till the days of Waterloo was long known as a rendezvous for the many military idlers who were then in Edinburgh – the veterans of Egypt, Walcheren, the Peninsula, and India – and for the officers of the strong garrison maintained there till the general peace. In July, 1783, by an advertisement, “Mathew Poole returns his most grateful acknowledgments to the nobility and gentry for their past favours, and begs leave respectfully to inform them that he has taken the whole of the apartments above his coffee-house, which he has fitted up in the neatest and most genteel manner as a hotel. The airiness of the situation and the convenience of the lodgings, which are perfectly detached from each other, render it very proper for families, and the advantage of the coffee-house and tavern adjoining must make it both convenient and agreeable for single gentlemen.” 

   In the Post Office Directory for 1811, Nos. 3 and 14 appear as the hotels of Walker and Poole; the latter is now, and has been for many years, a portion of the great establishment of Messrs. William Renton and Co. 

   When, in the summer of 1822, Mr. Archibald Constable, the eminent publisher, returned from London to Edinburgh, he removed his establishment from the Old Town to the more commodious and splendid premises, No. 10, Princes Street, which he had acquired by purchase from the connections of his second marriage, and in that year he was included among the justices of the peace for the city. “Though with a strong dash of the sanguine,” says Lockhart – “without which, indeed, there can be no great projector in any walk of life – Archibald Constable was one of the most sagacious persons that ever followed his profession… Indeed, his fair and handsome physiognomy carried a bland astuteness of expression not to be mistaken by any one who could read the plainest of nature’s handwriting. He made no pretensions to literature, though he was, in fact, a tolerable judge of it generally, and particularly well skilled in the department of Scotch antiquities. He distrusted himself, however, in such matters, being conscious that his early education had been very imperfect; and, moreover, he wisely considered the business of a critic quite as much out of his proper line as authorship itself. But of that ‘proper line,’ and his own qualifications for it, his estimation was ample; and as often as I may have smiled at the lofty serenity of his self-complacence, I confess that I now doubt whether he rated himself too highly as a master in the true science of the book-seller. He was as bold as far-sighted, and his disposition was as liberal as his views were wide.” 

   In January, 1826, the public was astonished by the bankruptcy at No. 10, Princes Street, when Constable’s liabilities were understood to exceed £250,000 – a failure which led to the insolvency of Ballantyne and Co., and of Sir Walter Scott, who was connected with them both; and when it became known that by bill transactions, &c., the great novelist had rendered himself responsible for debts to the amount of £120,000, of which not above a half were actually incurred by himself. Constable’s failure was the result of that of Messrs. Hunt, Robinson, and Co., of London, who had suspended payment of their engagements early in the January of the same fatal year. 

   At the time of his bankruptcy Constable was meditating a series of publications, which afterwards were issued under the title of “Constable’s Miscellany,” the precursor of that now almost universal system of cheap publishing which renders the present era one as much of reprint as of original publication; but soon after its commencement he was attacked by a former disease, dropsy, and died on the 21st of July, 1827, in the fifty-third year of his age. His portrait by Raeburn is one of the most successful likenesses of him. 

   No. 16, farther westward, was, in 1794, occupied as Weir’s Museum, deemed in its time a wonderful collection “of quadrupeds, birds, fishes, insects, shells, fossils, minerals, petrifaction, and anatomical preparations… One cannot help,” says Kincaid, “admiring the birds from Port Jackson, New South Wales, for the extreme beauty of their plumage; their appearance otherwise exhibits them as not deprived of life.” 

   It is of this collection that Lord Gardenstone wrote, in his “Travelling Memoranda”:- “I cannot omit to observe that in the whole course of my travels I have nowhere seen the preservation of quadrupeds, birds, fishes, and insects executed with such art and taste as by Mr. Alexander Weir of Edinburgh. He is a most ingenious man, and certainly has not hitherto been so much encouraged by the public as his merit deserves.” 

   No. 27, a corner house, was in 1789 the abode of the Honourable Henry Erskine, who figures prominently in the remarkable collection of Kay; and in the same year No. 47 was occupied by Lady Gordon of Lesmore, in the county of Aberdeen, an old family, created baronets in 1625. It now forms a portion of the great premises of Kennington and Jenner, the latter of whom is brother of Sir William Jenner, Bart., the eminent physician. 

   Princes Street contains most of the best-stocked, highest-rented, and most handsome business premises and shops in the city. From its magnificent situation it is now, par excellence, the street for hotels; and as a proof of the value of property there, two houses, Nos. 49 and 62, were publicly sold on the 12th of February, 1879, for £26,000 and £24,500 respectively. 

   No. 53 at an early period became the Royal Hotel. In December, 1817, when it was possessed by a Mr. Macculloch, the Grand Duke Nicholas, brother of Alexander I., Emperor of Russia, resided there with a brilliant suite, including Baron Nicolai, Sir William Congreve, Count Kutusoff, and Dr. Crichton – the latter a native of the city, who died so lately as 1856. He was a member of the Imperial Academy of St. Petersburg and that of Natural History at Moscow, K.G.C. of St. Anne and St. Vladimir. He was a grandson of Crichton of Woodhouselee and Newington. A guard of the 92nd Gordon Highlanders was mounted on the hotel, and the Grand Duke having expressed a wish to see the regiment – the costume of which had greatly impressed him – it was paraded before him for that purpose on the 22nd of December, on which occasion he expressed his high admiration of the corps. 

   No. 64 is now the North British and Mercantile Insurance Company, established in 1809, and incorporated by royal charter, with the Duke of Roxburgh for its present president, and the Dukes of Sutherland and Abercorn, as vice-presidents. A handsome statue of St. Andrew, the patron of Scotland, on his peculiar cross, adorns the front of the building, and is a conspicuous object from the street and opposite gardens. 

   The Life Association of Scotland, founded in 1839, occupies No. 82. It is a magnificent palatial edifice, erected in 1855-8, after designs by Sir Charles Barry and Mr. David Rhind, and consists of three double storeys in florid Roman style, the first being rusticated Doric, the second Ionic, and the third Corinthian. Over its whole front it exhibits a great profusion of ornament – so great, indeed, as to make its appearance somewhat heavy. 

   In 1811, and before that period, the Tax Office occupied No. 84. The Comptroller in those days was Henry Mackenzie, author of the “Man of Feeling,” who obtained that lucrative appointment from Mr. Pitt, on the recommendation of Lord Melville and Mr. George Rose, in 1804. With No. 85, it now forms the site of the New Club, a large and elegant edifice, with a handsome Tuscan doorway and projecting windows, erected by an association of Scottish nobles and gentlemen for purposes similar to those of the clubs at the west end of London. 

   No. 91, which is now occupied as an hotel, was the residence of the aged Robert Craig, Esq., of Riccarton, of whom Kay gives us a portrait, seated at the door thereof, with his long staff and broad-brimmed, low-crowned hat, while his faithful attendant, William Scott, is seen behind, carefully taking “tent” of his old master from the dining- room window. Mr. Craig had been in early life a great pedestrian, but as age came upon him his walks were limited to the mile of Princes Street, and after a time he would but sit at his door and enjoy the summer breeze. He wore a plain coat without any collar, a stock in lieu of a neckcloth, knee-breeches, rough stockings, and enormous brass shoe-buckles. He persisted in wearing a hat with a narrow brim when cocked-hats were the fashion in Edinburgh, until he was so annoyed by boys that he adopted the head-dress in which he is drawn by Kay. He always used a whistle in the ancient manner, and not a bell, to summon his servant. He died on the 13th of March, 1823. Pursuant to a deed of entail, Mr. James Gibson, W.S. (afterwards Sir James Gibson-Craig, Bart., of Riccarton and Ingliston), succeeded to the estate, and assumed the name and arms of Craig; but the house, No. 91, went to Colonel Gibson. 

   The record of his demise in the papers of the time is not without interest:- “Died at his house in Princes Street (No. 91), on the 13th March, in the 93rd year of his age, Robert Craig, Esq., of Riccarton, the last male heir of Sir Thomas Craig of Riccarton, the great feudal lawyer of Scotland. Mr. Craig was admitted advocate in 1754, and was one of the Commissaries of Edinburgh, the duties of which situation he executed to the entire satisfaction of every one connected with it. He resigned the office many years ago, and has long been the senior member of the Faculty of Advocates. It is a remarkable circumstance that his father’s elder brother succeeded to the estate of Riccarton in January, 1681, so that there has been only one descent in the family for 142 years.” 

   No. 100, now occupied as an hotel, was for many years the house of Lady Mary Clerk of Pennicuick, known as “The White Rose of Scotland.” 

   This lady, whose maiden name was Dacre, was the daughter of a gentleman in Cumberland, and came into the world in that memorable year when the Highland army was in possession of Carlisle. While her mother was still confined to bed a Highland party, under a chieftain of the Macdonald clan, came to her house, but the commander, on learning the circumstances, not only chivalrously restrained his men from levying any contribution, but took from his bonnet his own white rose or cockade, and pinned it on the infant’s breast, “that it might protect the household from any trouble by others. This rosette the lady kept to her dying day.” In after years she became the wife of Sir James Clerk of Pennicuick, Bart, and from time to time, on special occasions, always wore this white rose of the house of Stuart. 

   Another and more valuable relic of the ‘45 came into her possession – the pocket-knife, fork, and spoon which Prince Charles used in all his marches and subsequent wanderings. The case is a small one, covered with black shagreen; for portability, the knife, fork, and spoon are made to screw upon handles, so that the three articles form six pieces for close packing. They are all engraved with an ornament of thistle-leaves, and the fork and spoon have the prince’s initials, c. s: all have the Dutch plate stamp, showing that they were manufactured in Holland. 

It is supposed that this case, with its contents, came to Lady Mary Clerk through Miss Drelin- court, daughter of the Dean of Armagh, in Ireland, who became wife of Hugh, third Viscount Primrose, in whose house in London the loyal Flora Macdonald found a shelter after liberation from the long confinement she underwent for her share in promoting the escape of the prince, who had given it to her as a souvenir at the end of his perilous wanderings. 

   In the Edinburgh Observer of 1822 it is recorded that when George IV. contemplated his visit to Scotland, he expressed a wish to have some relic of the unfortunate prince, on which Lady Clerk commissioned Sir Walter Scott to present him with the travelling case, which he accordingly did on the king’s arrival in Leith Roads, when he went off to the royal yacht to present him with the silver cross badge, the gift of “the ladies of Scotland.” 

   From the king, the case, with its contents, passed to the Marquis of Conyngham, and from him to his son Albert, first Lord Londesborough, and they are now preserved with great care amidst the valuable collection of ancient plate and bijouterie at Grimston Park, Yorkshire. (“Book of Days.”) 

   Sir Walter Scott was a frequent visitor at No. 100, Princes Street, as he was on intimate terms with Lady Clerk, who died several years after the king’s visit, having attained a green old age. Till past her eightieth year she retained an erect and alert carriage, together with some old-fashioned peculiarities of costume, which made her one of the most noted street figures of her time. 

   The editor of “The Book of Days” says that he is enabled to recall a walk he had one day with Sir Walter, ending in Constable’s shop, No. 10, Princes Street, “when Lady Clerk was purchasing some books at a side counter. Sir Walter, passing through to the stairs by which Mr. Constable’s room was reached, did not recognise her ladyship, who, catching sight of him as he was about to ascend, called out, ‘Oh, Sir Walter! are you really going to pass me?’ He immediately turned to make his usual cordial greetings, and apologised with demurely waggish reference to her odd dress: ‘I’m sure, my lady, by this time I might know your back as well as your face.’ ” 

   No. 104 is now connected with the first attempt in arcades in Edinburgh. It forms a six-storey edifice, comprising an hotel, and is an elegant glass-roofed bazaar hall, 105 feet long by 30 feet high. It was completed in 1876. In 1830, No. 105 was the residence of the Honourable Baron Clerk Rattray. It is now a warehouse; and some fifteen years before that, No. 110 was the residence of Drummond of Blair Drummond. It is now Taylor’s Repository. Drummond of Gairdrum occupied No. 117. 

   The University Club, to the westward, was erected in 1866-7, from designs by Peddie and Kinnear, in an ornate Italian style, with Grecian decoration, at the cost of £14,000, and has ample accommodation for 650 members. The new Conservative Club, a minor edifice, stands a little to the east of it. 

   Nos. 129 and 130 are now extensive shop-premises. In 1811 the former was the residence of Sir Alexander Charles Gibson-Maitland of Clifton Hall, in Lothian, the first baronet of the name, who died in 1820; and in No. 136 dwelt Mr. Henry Siddons of the Theatre Royal. 

   No. 146 was latterly the Osborne Hotel, which was nearly destroyed by fire in 1879. In the following year it was opened as the Scottish Liberal Club, inaugurated by the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone, M.P. for Midlothian. 

   At the extreme west end of the street, and at its junction with the Lothian Road, stands St. John’s Episcopal Chapel, erected in 1817, after a design, in the somewhat feeble modern Gothic of that day, by William Burn, though modelled from and partially detailed after St. George’s Chapel at Windsor. It is an oblong edifice, consisting of a nave and aisles, 113 feet long by 62 feet wide, and has at its western extremity a square pinnacled tower, 120 feet high. The whole cost, at first, about £18,000.  

   The tower, as originally designed, terminated in an open lantern, but this fell during a tempest of wind in January, 1818. In a letter to his friend, Willie Laidlaw, Sir Walter Scott refers to the event thus:- “I had more than an anxious thought about you all during the gale of wind. The Gothic pinnacles were blown from the top of Bishop Sandford’s Episcopal chapel at the end of Princes Street, and broke through the roof and flooring, doing great damage. This was sticking the horns of the mitre into the belly of the church. The devil never so well deserved the title of Prince of Power of the Air since he has blown down this handsome church, and left the ugly mass of new buildings standing on the North Bridge.” 

   The bishop referred to was the Rev. Daniel Sandford, father of the accomplished Greek scholar, Sir Daniel Keyte Sandford, D.C.L., who was born at Edinburgh in February, 1798, and received all the rudiments of his education under the venerable prelate, who died in 1830. 

   The interior of St. John’s Church is beautiful, and presents an imposing appearance; it contains a very fine organ, and is adorned with richly-coloured stained-glass windows. The great eastern window, which is thirty feet in height, contains the figures of the twelve apostles, by Eggington of Birmingham, acquired in 1871. There is also a magnificent reredos, designed by Peddie and Kinnear. 

   In this church ministered for years the late Dean Ramsay, the genial-hearted author of “Reminiscences of Scottish Life and Character.” A small cemetery, with two rows of ornamented burial vaults, adjoin the south side of this edifice, the view of which is very striking from the West Churchyard. In these vaults and the little cemetery repose the remains of many persons eminent for rank and talent. Among them are the prince of Scottish portrait painters, Sir Henry Raeburn, the Rev. Archibald Alison, the well-known essayist on “Taste,” Dr. Pultney Alison, his eldest son, and brother of the historian, Sir Archibald. The Doctor was professor successively of the theory and practice of physic in the university, author of several works of great authority in medical science, and was one of the most philanthropic men that ever adorned the medical profession, even in Edinburgh, where it has ever been pre-eminently noble in all works of charity; and he was the able antagonist of Dr. Chalmers in advocating the enforcement of a compulsory assessment for the support of the poor in opposition to the Doctor’s voluntary one. 

   There, too, lie James Donaldson, founder of the magnificent hospital which bears his name; the Rev. Andrew Thomson, first minister of St. George’s Church in Charlotte Square, in his day one of the most popular of the city clergy; Sir William Hamilton, professor of moral philosophy in the university, and a philosopher of more than European name; Catherine Sinclair, the novelist; Macvey Napier, who succeeded Lord Jeffrey as editor of the Edinburgh Review, and, together with James Browne, LL.D., conducted the seventh edition of the “Encyclopaedia Britannica”; Sir William Arbuthnot, who was Lord Provost in 1823; Mrs. Sligo of Inzievar, the sister of Sir James Outram, “the Bayard of India”; and many more of note. 

   Nearly opposite is a meagre and somewhat obstructive edifice of triangular form, known as the Sinclair Fountain, erected in 1859 at the expense of Miss Catherine Sinclair, the novelist, and daughter of the famous Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster, a lady distinguished for her philanthropy, and is one of the memorials of her benefactions to the city. 

   Among the many interesting features in Princes Street are its monuments, and taken seriatim, according to their dates, the first – and first also in consequence and magnificence – is that of Sir Walter Scott. This edifice, the design for which, by G. M. Kemp (who lost his life in the canal by drowning ere its completion), was decided by the committee on the 30th of April, 1840, bears a general resemblance to the most splendid examples of monumental crosses, though it far excels all its predecessors in its beauty and vast proportions, being 180 feet in height, and occupying a square area of 55 feet at its base. 

   The foundation stone was laid in 1840, and in it was deposited a plate, bearing the following inscription by Lord Jeffrey, remarkable for its tenor:- 

   “This Graven Plate, deposited in the base of a votive building on the fifteenth day of August, in the year of Christ 1840, and never likely to see the light again till all the surrounding structures have crumbled to dust by the decay of time, or by human or elemental violence, may then testify to a distant posterity that his countrymen began on that day to raise an effigy and architectural monument, TO THE MEMORY OF SIR WALTER SCOTT, BART., whose admirable writings were then allowed to have given more delight and suggested better feeling to a larger class of readers in every rank of society, than those of any other author, with the exception of Shakespeare alone, and which were therefore thought likely to be remembered long after this act of gratitude on the part of the first generation of his admirers should be forgotten. 



   Engravings have made us familiar with the features of this beautiful and imposing structure, the design of a self-taught Scottish artisan. The four principal arches supporting the central tower resemble those beneath the rood-tower of a cruciform church, while the lower arches in the diagonal abutments, with their exquisitely-cut details, resemble the narrow north aisle of Melrose. 

   The groined roof over the statue is of the same design as the roof of the choir of that noble abbey church so much frequented and so enthusiastically admired by Sir Walter. The pillars, canopies of niches, pinnacles, and other details, are chiefly copied from the same ruin, and magnificent views of the city in every direction are to be had from its lofty galleries. 

   It cost £15,650, and from time to time statuettes of historical and other personages who figure in the pages of Scott have been placed in its numerous niches. Among these are Prince Charles Edward, who directly faces Princes Street, in the Highland dress, with a hand on his sword; the Lady of the Lake; the Last Minstrel and Meg Merrilies – these are respectively on the four centres of the first gallery; Mause Headrigg, Dominie Sampson, Meg Dods, and Dandie Dinmont, are respectively on the south, the west, the north, and the east, of the fourth gallery; King James VI., Magnus Troil, and Halbert Glendinning, occupy the upper tier of the south-west buttress; Minnie Troil, George Heriot, and Bailie Nicol Jarvie, are on the lower tier of it; Amy Robsart, the Earl of Leicester, and Baron Bradwardine, are on the upper tier of the north-west buttress; Hal o’ the Wynd, the Glee Maiden, and Ellen of Lorn, are on the lower tier thereof; Edie Ochiltree, King Robert I., and Old Mortality, are on the upper tier of the north-east buttress; Flora Maclvor, Jeanie Deans, and the Laird of Dumbiedykes, are on the lower tier of it; the Sultan Saladin, Friar Tuck, and Richard Cœur de Lion, are on the upper tier of the south-east buttress; and Rebecca the Jewess, Diana Vernon, and Queen Mary, are on its lower tier. 

   On the capitals and pilasters supporting the roof are some exquisitely cut heads of Scottish poets: those of Robert Burns, Robert Fergusson, James Hogg, and Allan Ramsay, are on the west front; those of George Buchanan, Sir David Lindsay, Robert Tannahill, and Lord Byron, are on the south front; those of Tobias Smollett, James Beattie, James Thomson, and John Home, adorn the west front; those of Queen Mary, King James I., King James V., and Drummond of Hawthornden, are on the north front. 

   The white marble statue of Scott, from the chisel of Sir John Steel, procured at the cost of £2,000, was inaugurated under the central arches in 1846. 

   Sir Walter is represented sitting with a Border plaid over his left shoulder, and his favourite highland staghound, Maida, at his right foot. 

   A staircase in the interior of the south-west cluster of pillars leads to the series of galleries to which visitors are admitted on the modest payment of twopence. It also gives access to the Museum room, which occupies the body of the tower, and therein a number of interesting relics were deposited at its inauguration in April, 1879. These are too numerous to give in detail, but among them may be mentioned a statuette of Sir Walter, by Steel, a bust of George Kemp, the ill-fated architect, with his first pencil sketch of the monument, and a number of models and paintings of historical interest; and on the walls are placed eight alto-relievo portraits in bronze (by J. Hutchison, R.S.A.) of Scottish characters of mark, including James V., James VI., Queen Mary, John Knox, George Buchanan, the Regent Moray, the Marquis of Montrose, and Charles I. 

   In the collection are some valuable letters in the handwriting of Sir Walter Scott; and the walls are adorned with some of the old flint muskets, swords, and drums of the ancient City Guard. 

   The statue of Professor John Wilson, “Christopher North,” at the western corner of the East Gardens, is the result of a subscription raised shortly after his death in 1854. A committee for the purpose was appointed, consisting of the Lord Justice General (afterwards Lord Colonsay), Lord Neaves, Sir John Watson Gordon, and others, and three years after Sir John Steel executed the statue, which is of bronze, and is a fine representation of one who is fresh in the recollection of thousands of his countrymen. The careless ease of the professor’s ordinary dress is adopted; a plaid which he was in the habit of wearing supplies the drapery, and the lion-like head and face, full of mental and muscular power, thrown slightly upward and backward, express genius, while the figure, tall, massive, and athletic, corresponds to the elevated expression of the countenance. At its inauguration the Lord President Inglis said, happily, that there was “in John Wilson every element which gives a man a claim to this personal form of memorial – namely, great genius, distinguished patriotism, and the stature and figure of a demi-god.” To his contemporaries this statue vividly recalls Wilson in his every-day aspect, as he was wont to appear in his classroom or on the platform in the fervour of his fiery oratory; and to succeeding times it will preserve a vivid “representation of one who, apart from all his other claims to such commemoration, was universally recognised as one of the most striking, poetic, and noble-looking men of his time.” 

   About the same period there was inaugurated at the eastern corner of the West Gardens a white marble statue of Allan Ramsay. A memorial of the poet was suggested in the Scots Magazine as far back as 1810, and an obelisk to his memory, known as the Ramsay monument, was erected near Pennicuick, nearly a century before that time. The marble statue is from the studio of Sir John Steel, and rather grotesquely represents the poet with the silk nightcap worn by gentlemen of his time as a temporary substitute for the wig, and was erected by the late Lord Murray, a descendant and representative of Ramsay’s. It rises from a pedestal, containing on its principal side a medallion portrait of Lord Murray, and on the reverse side one of General Ramsay (Allan’s grandson), on the west one of Mrs. Ramsay, and on the east similar representations of the general’s two daughters, Lady Campbell and Mrs. Malcolm. “Thus we find,” says Chambers, “owing to the esteem which genius ever commands, the poet of the Gentle Shepherd in the immortality of marble, surrounded by the figures of relatives and descendants who so acknowledged their aristocratic rank to be inferior to his, derived from mind alone.” 

   Next in order was erected, in 1877, the statue to the late Adam Black, the eminent publisher, who represented the city in Parliament, held many municipal offices, and was twice Lord Provost. It is from the studio of John Hutchison, R.S.A. In the same year there was placed in West Gardens the bronze statue of the great and good physician, Sir James Simpson, Bart. It is from the studio of his friend, William Brodie, R.S.A., and is admitted by all to be an excellent likeness, but is unfortunately placed as regards light and shadow. 

   Another monument erected in these gardens of Princes Street is the bronze statue of Dr. Livingstone, which was inaugurated in August, 1876. It is from the hands of Mrs. D. O. Hill (widow of the well-known artist of that name), sister of Sir Noel Paton. It has the defect of being – though an admirable likeness of the great explorer – far too small for the place it occupies, and is more suitable for the vestibule of a public building. 

   In the spring of 1877 great improvements were begun in this famous street. These included the widening of the foot pavement along the north side by four feet, the removal of the north line of tramway rails to the south of the previous south lire, the consequent inclusion of a belt of gardens about ten feet broad, the shifting of the parapet wall with its iron railing ten feet back, and the erection of an ornamental rail along the whole line of gardens about two feet from the north edge of the sloping bank, at the estimated cost of about £6,084 from St. Andrew Street to Hanover Street, and £12,160 from thence to Hope Street. 

   The width of the new carriage-way is sixty-eight feet, as compared with some fifty-seven feet before these improvements commenced, while the breadth of the pavement on the south side has been increased from seven and nine feet, to a uniform breadth of twelve feet, and that on the north to eighteen feet. The contract price of the carriage road was £20,000, a fourth of which was payable by the Tramway Company and the remainder by the Town Council. 

   Some idea of the extent of this undertaking may be gathered from the fact that about one million of whinstone blocks, nine inches in length, seven in depth, and three thick, have been used in connection with the re-paving of the thoroughfare, which is now the finest in the three kingdoms. On either side of the street square dressed channel stones, from three to four feet in length by one foot in breadth, slightly hollowed on the surface, have been laid down, the water in which is carried into the main sewers by surface gratings, placed at suitable intervals along the whole line of this magnificent street. 

One thought on “Chapter 17 – Princes Street., pp.119-131.

  1. ‘I’m sure, my lady, by this time I might know your back as well as your face.’
    Nice save? Well, a left-handed one perhaps.

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