Broughton – The Village and Barony – The Loan – Broughton first mentioned – Feudal Superiors – Witches Burned – Leslie’s Headquarters – Gordon of Ellon’s Children Murdered – Taken Red Hand – Tolbooth of the Burgh – The Minute Books – Free Burgesses – Modern Churches erected in the Bounds of the Barony.
ACROSS the once well-tilled slope where now York Place stands, a narrow and secluded way between hedgerows, called the Loan of Broughton, led for ages to the isolated village of that name, of which but a few vestiges still remain.
In a memoir of Robert Wallace, D.D., the eminent author of the “Essay on the Numbers of Mankind,” and other works, an original member of the Rankenion Club – a literary society instituted at Edinburgh in 1716 – we are told, in the Scots Magazine for 1809, that “he died 29th of July, 1771, at his country lodgings in Broughton Loan, in his 75th year.”
This baronial burgh, or petty town, about a mile distant by the nearest road from the ancient city, stood in hollow ground southward and eastward from the line of London Street, and had its own tolbooth and court-house, with several substantial stone mansions and many thatched cottages, in 1780, and a few of the former are still surviving.
Bruchton, or Broughton, according to Maitland, signified the Castle-town. If this place ever possessed a fortalice or keep, from whence its name seems to be derived, all vestiges of it have disappeared long ago. It is said to have been connected with the Castle of Edinburgh, and that from the lands of Broughton the supplies for the garrison came. But this explanation has been deemed by some fanciful.
The earliest notice of Broughton is in the charter of David I. to Holyrood, circa A.D. 1143-7, wherein he grants to the monks, “Hereth, et Broctunam cum suis rectis divisis,” &c.; thus, with its lands, it belonged to the Church till the Reformation, when it was vested in the State. According to the stent roll of the abbey, the Barony of Broughton was most ample in extent, and, among many other lands, included those of “Lochflatt, Pleasance, St. Leonards, Hillhousefield, Bonnytoun. and Pilrig,” &c.
This ancient barony and the surrounding lands comprehended within its jurisdiction were granted by James VI., in 1568, to Adam Bothwell, Bishop of Orkney, in whose time the village tolbooth would seem to have been erected; it remained intact till 1829, and stood at the east of the present Barony Street, a quaint edifice, with crowstepped gables and dormer windows. Over its north door, to which a flight of thirteen steps gave access, was the date 1582. It was flanked on one side by a venerable set of stocks, a symbol of justice rare in Scotland, where the iron jougs were always used.
The bishop surrendered these lands to the Crown in 1587, in favour of Sir Lewis Bellenden of Auchnoul, Lord Justice Clerk and Keeper of the Palace of Linlithgow, who obtained a charter uniting them into a free barony and regality. Sir Lewis died in 1591, and was succeeded by his son, who is designated in the public archives as Jacobo Ballenden de Broughton, filio et heredi apparenti domini Ludovici Ballenden de Auchnoule.
Broughton was the scene of some encounters between the Queen’s-men and King’s-men in the time of the Regent Morton. The latter were in the habit of defying Kirkaldy’s garrison in the Castle, by riding about the fields in range of his guns with handkerchiefs tied to the points of their swords. One of these parties, commanded by Henry Stewart, second Lord Methven, in 1571, “being a little too forward, were severely reprimanded for their unreasonable bravery; for, as they stood at a place called Broughton, a cannon bullet knocked his lordship and seven men on the head; he was reputed a good soldier, and had been more lamented had he behaved himself more wisely.” (Crawford of Drumsoy.)
Like other barons, the feudal superior of Broughton had powers of “pit and gallows” over his vassals – so-called from the manner in which criminals were executed – hanging the men upon a gibbet, and drowning women in a pit as it was not deemed decent to hang them. Sir Lewis Bellenden and his successors had the power of appointing bailies and holding courts within the limits of the barony. Sir Lewis, a noted trafficker with wizards, died on the 3rd of November, 1606, and was succeeded by his son Sir William Bellenden, as Baron of Broughton, which in those days was notorious as the haunt of reputed witches and warlocks, who were frequently incarcerated in its old tolbooth. An execution of some of these wretched creatures is thus recorded in the minutes of the Privy Council: “1608, December 1. The Earl of Mar declared to the Council that some women were taken in Broughton as witches, and being put to an assize and convicted, albeit they persevered in their denial to the end, yet they were burned quick (alive) after such a cruel manner that some of them died in despair, renouncing and blaspheming (God); and others, half burned, brak out of the fire, but were cast alive in it again, till they were burned to the death.” In 1623 Sir William borrowed a sum of 3,000 merks Scots from George Heriot, and in security assigned the lands of Dishingflat, Meadowflat, the mills of Canonmills, and other portions of land in the barony of Broughton.
In October, 1627, as the Privy Council was sitting in its chamber at the palace of Holyrood, a strange outrage took place. John Young, a poulterer, attacked Mr. Richard Bannatyne, bailie-depute of Broughton, at the Council-room door, and struck him in the back with his sword, nearly killing him on the spot. In great indignation the Council sent off Young to be tried on the morrow at the tolbooth, with orders: “If he be convict, that his Majesty’s justice and his depute cause doom to be pronounced against him, ordaining him to be drawn upon ane cart backward frae the tolbooth to the place of execution at the market cross, and there hangit to the deid and quartered, his head to be set upon the Nether Bow, and his hands to be set upon the Water Yett.”
Sir William Bellenden, in 1627, disposed of the whole lands to Robert, Earl of Roxburgh, and by an agreement between him and Charles I. this ancient barony passed by purchase to the Governors of Heriot’s Hospital in 1636, to whom the superiority of Broughton was yielded by the Crown, partly in payment of debts due by Charles I. to the hospital. Thenceforward the barony was governed by a bailie, named by the Governors of the Hospital, who possessed to the full the baronial powers of pit and gallows over their tenants therein.
Prior to this, in 1629, Kincaid of Warriston was pursued before the Baron-bailie, but the case was remitted to the Lord Justice General and the Judges, who remitted the affair to the Council.
In 1650, during some portions of the campaign that preceded the battle of Dunbar, General Leslie made Broughton his head-quarters, when he threw up those lines of defence from the base of the Calton Hill to Leith, and so completely baffled Cromwell’s advance upon the city.
After the barony came into the possession of Heriot’s Hospital, the Common Council of the city, on the 17th of July, 1661, gave a grant to William Johnstone, then Baron-bailie, “of the goods and chattels of women condemned for witchcraft, and which were thereby escheated to the said bailie.”
On this remarkable grant, Maitland observes in his History: “Wherefore, it is not to be wondered at that innocent persons should be convicted of a crime they could not be guilty of, when their effects fall to the judge or judges.”
In 1715, during the insurrection, a party of Highlanders marching through Broughton were cannonaded from the Castle, and a six-pound shot that went through a barn on this occasion, is preserved in the Antiquarian Museum.
In 1717 Broughton was the scene of the trial and execution in a remarkable case of murder, which made famous the old pathway known as Gabriel’s Road. By some strange misconception, in “Peter’s Letters to his Kinsfolk,” the murderer is called “Gabriel,” and in a work called “Celebrated Trials” (in six volumes), he is called the Rev. Thomas Hunter, whereas in reality his name was Robert Irvine. Of this road, to which we have already referred, Chambers gives us the following description:- “Previous to 1767 the eye of a person perched in a favourable situation in the Old Town surveyed the whole ground on which the New Town was built. Immediately beyond the North Loch was a range of grass fields called Bearford’s Parks, from the name of the proprietor, Hepburn of Bearford, in East Lothian. Bounding these on the north, in the line of the subsequent Princes Street, was a road enclosed by two dry stone walls, called the Lang Dykes.
The main mass of ground, originally rough with whins and broom, but latterly forming what was called Wood’s Farm, was crossed obliquely by a road extending between Silver Mills, a rural hamlet on the mill course of the Leith, and the passage into the Old Town at the bottom of Halkerston’s Wynd. There are still some traces of this road. You will see it leave Silver Mills behind West Cumberland Street. Behind Duke Street, on the west side, the boundary wall of the Queen Street garden is oblique, in consequence of its having passed that way. Finally, it terminates in a short oblique passage behind the Register House, wherein stood till lately Ambrose’s Tavern. This short passage bore the name of Gabriel’s Road, and was supposed to do so in connection with a remarkable murder of which it was the scene.”
Mr. James Gordon, of Ellon, in Aberdeenshire, a rich merchant of Edinburgh, and once a bailie there, in the early part of the eighteenth century had a villa on the north side of the city, somewhere between this road and the village of Broughton. His family consisted of his wife, two sons, and a daughter, these being all of tender age. He had a tutor for his two boys – John and Alexander – a licentiate of the Church, named Robert Irvine, who was of respectable attainments, but had a somewhat gloomy disposition. Views of predestination, drawn from some work of Flavel’s, belonging to the college library, had taken possession of his mind, which had, perhaps, some infirmity ready to be acted upon by external circumstances and dismal impulses.
Having cast eyes of admiration on a pretty servant-maid in Mr. Gordon’s house, he was tempted to take some liberties with her, which were observed, and mentioned incidentally by his pupils. For this he was reprimanded by Mr. Gordon, but on apologising, was forgiven. Into Irvine’s morbid and sensitive nature the affront, or rebuke, sank deeply, and a thirst for revenge possessed him. For three days he revolved the insane idea of cutting off Mr. Gordon’s three children, and on the 28th of April, 1717, he found an opportunity of partially accomplishing his terrible purpose.
It was Sunday, and Mr. and Mrs. Gordon went to spend the afternoon with a friend in the city, taking their little daughter with them. Irvine, left with the two boys, took them out for a walk along the then broomy and grassy slope, where now York Place and St. Andrew Square are situated. While the boys ran about gathering flowers and pursuing butterflies, he sat whetting the knife with which, he meant to destroy them!
“Calling the two boys to him, he upbraided them with their informing upon him, and told them that they must suffer for it. They ran off, but he easily overtook and seized them. Then keeping one down upon the grass with his knee, he cut the other’s throat, after which he dispatched in like manner the remaining one.”1
By a singular chance a gentleman enjoying his evening stroll upon the Castle Hill obtained a perfect view of the whole episode – most probably with a telescope – and immediately gave an alarm. Irvine, who had already attempted, but unsuccessfully, to cut his own throat, now fled from his pursuers towards the Water of Leith, thinking to drown himself, but was taken, brought in a cart to the tolbooth of Broughton, and there chained down to the floor like a wild beast.
In those days there was a summary process in Scotland for murderers, taken as he was – red hand. It was only necessary to bring him next day before the judge of the district and have sentence passed upon him. Irvine was tried before the Baron-bailie upon the 30th of April, and received sentence of death.
In his “dying confession,” supposed to be unique, it is recorded that “he desired one who was present to take care of his books and conceal his papers, for he said there were many foolish things in them. He imagined that he was to be hung in chains, and showed some concern on that account. He prayed the parents of the murdered children to forgive him, which they, very christianly, consented to. At sight of the bloody clothes in which the children were murdered, and which were brought to him in the prison a little before he went to the place of execution, he was much affected, and broke into groans and tears. When he came to the place of execution the ministers prayed for him, and he also prayed himself, but with a low voice… Both his hands were struck off by the executioner, and he was afterwards hanged. While he was hanging the wound he gave himself in the throat with the penknife broke out afresh, and the blood gushed out in great abundance.”
He was hanged at Greenside, and his hands were stuck upon the gibbet with the knife used in the murders. His body was then flung into a neighbouring quarry-hole.
In February, 1721, John Webster, having committed a murder upon a young woman named Marion Campbell, daughter of Campbell of Kevenknock, near the city wall, but on Heriot’s Hospital ground, was taken to Broughton, and condemned to death by the Baron-bailie; and in the same year the treasurer of the hospital complains of the expense incurred in prosecuting offenders in some other cases of murder committed within the barony; but these onerous and costly privileges were eventually abrogated in 1746, by the Act which abolished all hereditable jurisdictions, and a few years afterwards the governors granted the use of the ancient tolbooth to one of their tenants as a storehouse, “reserving to the hospital a room for holding their Baron Courts when they shall think fit.” (Steven’s “Hist. Heriot’s Hospital.”)
Though demolished, some fragments of the old edifice still remain in the shape of cellars, in connection with premises occupied as a tavern in Broughton Street.
The minute books of this ancient barony are still preserved, and contain a great number of names of persons of note who were made free burgesses of the burgh, several of these having received that honour in return for good deeds conferred upon it.
During the insurrection of 1715 the inhabitants of the regality obtained leave to form a night-guard for their own protection, but to be under the orders of the captain of the Canongate Guard.
The magistracy of this burgh consisted of a Baron-bailie, a senior and junior bailie, high sheriff, treasurer, clerk, dean of guild, surgeon, bellman, and captain of the tolbooth. The first-named official, “on high occasions, dons a crimson robe and cocked hat, displaying at the same time a grand official chain with medal attached. These, with a bell, ancient musket, sword, and some other articles, compose the moveable property of the corporation.”
The lodge of Free Gardeners of the Barony of Broughton was instituted in the year 1845, by a number of citizens of the ward, and as regards the number of its members and finance is said to be one of the most successful of the order in Scotland.
In 21 Broughton Street, there resided about the year 1855 a hard-working and industrious literary man, the late William Anderson, author of “Landscape Lyrics,” “The Scottish Biographical Dictionary,” “The Scottish Nation,” in three large volumes, and other works; but who died old, poor, unpensioned, and neglected.
The village, or little burgh, appears to have been situated principally to the north of where Albany Street stands, comprising within its limits Broughton Place and Street, Barony Street and Albany Street. The houses, with few exceptions, were two-storeyed though small, having outside stairs, thatched roofs, and crow-stepped gables, each having a little garden or kailyard in front. They seem to have been placed along both sides of a road that ran east and west; those on the south being more detached, spread away upward nearly to York Place. The western end of the hamlet was demolished when the present Broughton market was constructed. From that portion, which had been a kind of square, a path led through the fields, where now London Street stands, to Canonmills.
One by one the cottages have disappeared, in their rude construction, with forestairs and loop-hole windows, contrasting strongly with the new and fashionable streets that have replaced them.
In the modern Broughton Street is a plain Ionic edifice, long used as a place of worship by the disciples of Edward Irving, and near it, at the south-east angle of Albany Street, the Independent church was built in 1816, at a cost of £4,000, and improved in 1867 at a cost of more than £200; a plain and unpretending edifice.
The Gaelic church, which adjoins the Independent church, is the old Catholic Apostolic, which was bought in 1875 for about £5,000, improved for about £2,000, and opened in October 1876.
St. Mary’s Free church is a beautiful Gothic building with a graceful spire 180 feet high. It was erected on the site of an ancient quarry, 1859-61, after designs by J. F. Rocheid, at the cost of £13,000, and is in a mixed later English and Tudor style.
Heriot’s school, also on the west side of the street, is one of the elementary institutions which the governors of George Heriot’s Hospital were empowered by Act of Parliament to erect from their surplus revenues. It is attended by about 3,400 boys and girls, and rises from a spacious and airy arcade, under which they can play in wet weather.
At the south-west corner of Broughton Place is St. James’s Episcopal chapel, which, in architecture externally, is assimilated with the houses of the street. It was built in 1829, and has attached to it, on the north, a neat school, built in 1869. Fronting Broughton Place, and at the eastern end thereof, stands the United Presbyterian church, built in 1821, at the cost of £7,095. It is a spacious edifice, with a very handsome tetrastyle Doric portico, and underwent repairs in 1853 and 1870, at the united cost of.£4.000. It is chiefly remarkable as the scene of the ministrations of the late Dr. John Brown.
The new Catholic and Apostolic church, a conspicuous and spacious edifice, stands north of all those mentioned at the corner of East London Street. It was founded in November, 1873, and opened with much ceremony in April, 1876. It is in a kind of Norman style, after designs by R. Anderson, and measures 200 feet long, is 45 feet in height to the wall-head, and 64 to the apex of the internal roof. It comprises a nave, chancel, and baptistry. The nave measures 100 feet in length, by 45 in breadth; is divided into five bays, marked externally by buttresses, and has at each corner a massive square turret surmounted by a pinnacle rising as high as the ridge of the roof. The chancel measures 61½ feet, and communicates with the nave.
1 “Domestic Annals,” vol. iii.