[Old & New Edinburgh Contents]
Bristo Street – The Darien House – The Earl of Rosebery – Old Charity Workhouse – A Strike in 1764 – Old George Inn – U. P. Church – Dr. Peddie – Sir Walter Scott’s First School – The General’s Entry and the Dalrymples of Stair – Burns and Clarinda – Crichton Street – Alison Rutherford of Farnielee – The Eastern Portsburgh – The Duke of Lennox Men – The plague – The Covenanters’ Gun Foundry – A Witch – A Contumacious Barber – Tailors’ Hall – Story of Jean Brown – Duke of Douglas’s House – Thomas Campbell the Poet – Earl of Murray’s House – Charles Street and Field.
THOSE who see Forrest Road now – a broad and handsome thoroughfare – can form no conception of the features of its locality for more than a hundred years before 1850.
A great archway, in a modern addition to the city wall, led from the Bristo Port by a winding pathway, a hundred yards long, and bordered by trees to a wicket, or klinket-gate, in the city wall, opposite the centre walk of the meadows. On its west side rose the enormous mass of the old Charity Workhouse, with a strong box at its gate, inscribed, “He that giveth unto the poor lendeth unto the Lord,” and having an orifice, wherein the charitable passer might drop a coin. On its east side were the ancient offices of the Darien Company, the Correction House, and Bedlam, to which another pathway diverged south-eastward from before the Workhouse gate. On the east and south rose the mass of the embattled city wall, black with smoke and years, and tufted with grass.
A group of mansions of vast antiquity, their dark chimneys studded by glistening oyster-shells, were on the west side of the Bristo Port, the name of which is still retained by two or three houses of modem construction.
In 1647 the whole of the area referred to here was an open grass park of oblong form, about 250 paces long by 200 broad, according to Gordon’s map.
Till lately the west side of Bristo Street, from the Port to Teviot Row, was entirely composed of the dead angle of the city wall. Immediately within this, facing the south, stood the office of the Darien Company, a two-storeyed and substantial edifice, built of polished freestone, with the high-pitched roof that came into fashion with William of Orange; but till the last “it was a melancholy and desolate memorial of that unfortunate enterprise.” A row of eight arched niches were along its upper storey, but never held busts in them, though intended for such.
This edifice was built in 1698, as an ornamental tablet above the main entrance bore, together with a sun-dial, and within, a broad flight of handsome stairs, guarded by balustrades, led to the first floor. Here, then, was transacted the business of that grand national project, the Darien Expedition, formed for establishing a settlement on the isthmus of that name, and fitting out ships to trade with Africa and the Indies. By this the highest anticipations were raised; the then large sum of £400,000 was subscribed, and an armed expedition sailed from Scotland for the new settlement.
Apart from people of all ranks who were subscribers to this scheme, we may mention that the Faculty of Advocates, the Merchant Company of Edinburgh, with Sir Robert Christie the Provost, the Cities of Edinburgh and Perth, joined it as communities; but “meanwhile, the furious denunciations of the English Parliament proved a thorough discouragement to the project in London, and nearly the whole of the stockholders there silently withdrew from it. Under the same influence the merchants of Hamburg were induced to withdraw their support and co-operation, leaving Scotland to work out her own plans by, herself. She proceeded to do so with a courage to be admired.” (“Dom. Ann.,” Vol. III.) The house described was built, and schemes for trade with Greenland, Archangel, and the Gold Coast, were considered, and, under the glow of a new and great national object, all the old feuds and antipathies of Covenanter and Cavalier were forgotten, till pressure from without crushed the whole enterprise.
When intelligence reached Edinburgh that the company had planted the Scottish flag on Darien, formed Fort St. Andrew, and successfully repulsed the Spaniards, who were urged to the attack by William of Orange, thanksgivings were offered up in St. Giles’s and all the other churches; the city was illuminated; but the mob further testified their joy by seizing all the ports, setting fire to the Tolbooth door, and liberating all the prisoners incarcerated there for issuing seditious prints against the king and the English Court.
No less vehement was the fury of the populace on the destruction of this national enterprise, than their joy at its first brief success. The Tolbooth was again forced, the windows of all adherents of King William were broken, and such rage was exhibited, that his commissioner and the officers of State had to fly the city to escape from the exasperated people.
In the days of its declension, the Darien House was abandoned to the uses of a lunatic asylum for the paupers of the adjoining workhouse. South of it stood a square edifice, which was latterly used for the same purpose. In the early part of the eighteenth century this was the mansion house of a wealthy quaker, named Buntin (or Bontein), whose daughter was locally known as “the beautiful Mally.” To see her leave the meeting-house in the Pleasance, all the bucks and gay fellows of the city were wont to crowd; but from her father’s house, at Bristo (in its last years a dispensary), she eloped with Mr. Craig, the minister of Currie, in the churchyard of which her tombstone still remains.
To this latter house, as a Bedlam, a peculiarly melancholy interest attached, as it was there that Robert Fergusson, the ill-fated poet, died a raving lunatic in his twenty-fourth year, in 1774, after a contusion received by a fall down-stairs; and when his last hours came, his piteous shrieks for his “mother” often rang out upon the night. This house was removed about the same time as the Darien House, in 1871, and the site of both is now occupied by several blocks of new buildings, in making the excavations for which the labourers found that nearly the whole area had been an ancient and forgotten cemetery, the bones and coffins in which lay at an average depth of six feet below the surface.
The first Merchant Maiden Hospital was built in 1707, on the east side of Bristo Street; and in 1739 we find James, second Earl of Rosebery, living in Denham’s Land, in the same thoroughfare. This peer was one who carried the follies and fantastic vices of the age to such an extravagant length as led people to doubt his sanity. During the lifetime of his father, Earl Archibald, he had been frequently a debtor in the Tolbooth, and on the 28th January, 1726, was incarcerated there for “deforcement, riot, and spulzie.”
In 1739 there occurs in the public journals a singular advertisement, issued by this ornament to the Scottish peerage, relative to the elopement of one Polly Rich, who had been engaged by him for a year. She is described as being about eighteen five feet six inches high, “fine-shap’d, blue-ey’d, with black hair or nut-brown; all her linnen or cambrick” bears the earl’s coronet above his initial R. Three guineas’ reward was offered for any one who would return Polly “to her owner,” either at John’s Coffee House, “or the Earl of Roseberrie at Denham’s Land, Bristow, and no questions will be asked. She is a London girl, and what they call a Cockney.” There are in the advertisement a great many arguments and inducements used by the earl to induce the fair one to return, and the whole are wound up by the following elegant couplet:-
“My Lord desires Polly Rich,
To mind on Lord Roseberrie’s dear little Fish.”
(Scottish Journal, Vol. I.)
Westward of Bristo Street, in the large open field described, there was erected in 1743 the Workhouse. It was four storeys in height, very spacious, but plain, massive, and dingy, with a pedimented or gabled centre, whereat hung a huge bell, and in which there were three tall arched windows of the chapel or hall. It stood 200 feet south-west of the Bristo Port, on a part of the ground then denominated the High Riggs, and the expense of the edifice was defrayed by the voluntary contributions of the inhabitants; and for its use, “among other subjects, was a park called Forglens Park, upon part of which the New Bridge is built,” says a writer in 1775, “and the rest feued out by the magistrates to different persons, upon which there are now many good houses erected. This park used to pay £10 yearly.”
At midsummer, in 1743, this house was opened for the reception of the poor, who were employed according to their ability, and allowed twopence out of every shilling they earned. The annual expense of maintaining each person in those days amounted to £4 10s., and was defrayed by a tax of two per cent, on the valued rents of the city, the dues of the dead, or the passing bell, burial warrants, green turfs, half the profits of the Ladies’ Assembly Room, the collections at the church doors, and other voluntary contributions. It was early proposed to establish a permanent poor rate, but this was opposed by the members of the College of Justice, on the plea that they were not liable to local burdens.
The number maintained in this now defunct edifice from the 1st of January, 1777, to the 1st of January, 1778, was only 484 adults, of both sexes, of whom 52 died; 180 children, of whom 9 died; but Scotland was not then, nor for long after, subjected to the incessant immigration of the Irish poor. The government of this house was vested in ninety-six persons, who met quarterly, and fifteen managers, who met weekly. There were also a treasurer, chaplain, surgeon, and other officials.
This unsightly edifice survived the Darien House for some years, but was eventually removed to make way for the handsome street in a line with George IV. Bridge, containing the Edinburgh Rifle Volunteer Hall, and the hall of the Odd Fellows.
At the acute angle between Forrest Road and Bristo Street is the New North Free Church, erected in 1846. It presents Gothic fronts to both thoroughfares, and has a massive projecting front basement, adorned with a small Gothic arcade.
In 1764 we first hear of something like a trade strike, when a great number of journeyman masons met in July in Bristo Park (on the open side of the street, near Lord Ross’s house), where they formed a combination “not to work in the ensuing week unless their wages were augmented. This, it seems, they communicated to their masters on Saturday night, but had no satisfactory answer. Yesterday morning they came to work, but finding no hopes of an augmentation, they all, with one consent, went off. The same evening the master-masons of the city, Canongate, Leith, and suburbs, met in order to concert what measures may be proper to be taken in this affair.” (Edin. Advert., Vol. II.)
They resolved not to increase the wages of the men, and to take legal advice “to prevent undue combinations, which are attended with many bad effects.” The sequel we have no means of knowing. The same print quoted records a strike among the sweeps, or tronmen, in the same park, and elsewhere adds that “an old soldier has lately come to town who sweeps chimneys after the English manner, which has so disgusted the society of chimney-sweepers that they refuse to sweep any unless this man is obliged to leave the town, upon which a number of them have been put in prison to-day. They need not be afraid of this old soldier taking the bread from them, as few chimneys in this place will admit of a man going through them.” (Edin. Advert., Vol. III.)
In the Bristo Port, or that portion of the street so called, stood long the Old George Inn, from whence the coaches, about 1788, were wont to set forth for Carlisle and London, three weekly – fare to the former, £1 10s., to the latter, £3 10s. 6d. – and from whence, till nearly the railway era, the waggons were despatched every lawful day to London and all parts of England; “also every day to Greenock, Glasgow, and the west of Scotland.”
Southward of where this inn stood is now St. Mary’s Roman Catholic school, formerly a church, built in 1839. It is a pinnacled Gothic edifice, and was originally dedicated to St. Patrick, but was superseded in 1856, when the great church in the Cowgate was secured by the Bishop of Edinburgh.
Lothian Street opens eastward from this point. In a gloomy cul-de-sac on its northern side is a circular edifice, named Brighton Chapel, built in 1835, and seated for 1,257 persons. Originally, it was occupied by a relief congregation. The continuation of the thoroughfare eastward leads to College Street, in which we find a large United Presbyterian church.
In a court off the east side of Bristo Street, a few yards south from the east end of Teviot Row, is another church belonging to the same community, which superseded the oldest dissenting Presbyterian church in Edinburgh. In a recently-published history of this edifice, we are told that early in the century, “when the old church was pulled down, within the heavy canopy of the pulpit” (the sounding-board) “were found three or four skeletons of horses’ heads, and underneath the pulpit platform about twenty more. It was conjectured that they had been placed there from some notion that the acoustics of the place would be improved.”
The church was built in 1802, at a cost of £4,084, and was enlarged afterwards, at a further cost of £1,515, and interiorly renovated in 1872 for £1,300. It is a neat and very spacious edifice, and was long famous for the ministry of the Rev. Dr. James Peddie, who was ordained as a pastor of that congregation on the 3rd April, 1783. On his election, a large body of the sitters withdrew, and formed themselves into the Associate Congregation of Rose Street, of which the Rev. Dr. Hall subsequently became minister; but the Bristo Street congregation rapidly recruited its numbers under the pastoral labours of Dr. Peddie, and from that time has been in a most flourishing condition.
In 1778, when six years of age, Sir Walter Scott attended the school of Mr. John Luckmore, in Hamilton’s Entry, off Bristo Street, a worthy preceptor, who was much esteemed by his father, the old Writer to the Signet, with whom he was for many years a weekly guest. The school-house, though considerably dilapidated, still exists, and is occupied as a blacksmith’s shop. It is a smalt cottage-like building with a red-tiled roof, situated on the right-hand side of the court called Hamilton’s Entry, No. 36, Bristo Street. As to the identity of the edifice there can be no doubt, as it was pointed out by Sir Walter himself to the late Dr. Robert Chambers. In 1792 Mr. Luckmore was appointed one of the four English masters of the High School on the city’s establishment, and continued to hold that office till his death, in 1811. Sir Walter Scott, on leaving his school in Hamilton’s Entry, was placed under the domestic tutelage of Mr. James French, who prepared him to join Mr. Luke Fraser’s second class at the High School, in October, 1779.
Another interesting locality in Bristo Street, at its junction with the Potterrow, was long known as the General’s Entry, No. 58, though now it exists but in name. This was a desolate-looking court of ancient buildings. The south and east sides of the quadrangle were formed by somewhat ornate edifices. The crowstepped gable at the south-east angle bore an antique sun-dial, with the quaint legend –
“WE SHALL DIE ALL;”
and beyond this was a row of circular-headed dormer windows, in the richly decorated style of James VI. One of these bore a shield, charged with a monkey and three mullets-in-chief, surrounded by elaborate scroll-work of the same reign and bearing the initials J.D.
Unvarying tradition has assigned this mansion to General Monk as a residence while commanding in Scotland, but there is not much probability to support it. The house was furnished with numerous out-shots and projections, dark, broad, and bulky stacks of chimneys, reared in unusual places, all blackened by age and encrusted by the smoke of centuries. It is said to have been built by Sir James Dalrymple, afterwards first Viscount Stair, one of the Breda Commissioners, and who continued his practice at the bar with great reputation after the battles of Dunbar and Worcester.
That he was a particular favourite with General Monk, and even with Cromwell, to whom the former recommended him as the fittest person for the bench in 1657, is well known; and under such circumstances, it may be supposed that Monk would be his frequent visitor when he came from his quarters at Dalkeith to the capital Tradition has assigned the house as the permanent residence in those days of the Commander of the Forces in Scotland. But there is sufficient proof that it was the town abode of the Stair family, till, like the rest of the Scottish nobility, they abandoned Edinburgh, after the Treaty of Union. “It is not unlikely,” says Wilson, “that the present name of the old court is derived from the more recent residence there of John, second Earl of Stair, who served during the protracted campaigns of the Duke of Marlborough, and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general after the bloody victory of Malplaquet. He shared in the fall of the great duke, and retired from Court until the accession of George I., during which interval it is probable that the family mansion in the Potterrow formed the frequent abode of the disgraced favourite.”
But General’s Entry is perhaps now most intimately associated with one of Burns’s heroines, Mrs. McLehose, the romantic Clarinda of the notorious correspondence, in which the poet figured as Sylvander. He was introduced to her in the house of a Miss Nimmo, on the first floor of an old tenement on the north side of Alison Square.
A little parlour, a bed-room, and kitchen, according to Chambers, constituted the accommodation of Mrs. Agnes McLehose, “now the residence of two, if not three, families in the extreme of humble life.”
In December, 1787, Burns met at a tea-party this lady, then a married woman of great beauty, about his own age, and who, with her two children, had been deserted by a worthless husband. She had wit, could use her pen, had read “Werther” and his sorrows, was sociable and flirty, and possessed a voluptuous loveliness, if we may judge by the silhouette of her in Scott Douglas’s edition of the poet’s works. She and Burns took a fancy to each other on the instant. She invited him to tea, but he offered a visit instead. An accident confined him for about a month to his room, and this led to the famous Clarinda and Sylvander correspondence. At about the fifth or sixth exchange of their letters she wrote: “It is really curious, so much fun passing between two persons who saw each other only once.”
During the few months of his fascination for this fair one in General’s Entry, Burns showed more of his real self, perhaps, than can be traced in other parts of his published correspondence. In his first letter to her after his marriage, he says, in reply to her sentimental reproaches, “When you call over the scenes that have passed between us, you will survey the conduct of an honest man struggling successfully with temptations the most powerful that ever beset humanity, and preserving untainted honour in situations where the severest virtue would have forgiven a fall.” But had Clarinda been less accessible, she might have discovered eventually that much of the poet’s warmth was fanciful and melodramatic. From their correspondence it would appear that she was in expectation of Burns visiting her again in Alison Square in 1788.
She was the cousin-german of Lord Craig, who, at his death in York Place, in 1813, left her an annuity, and thirty years after still found her living in Edinburgh.
“She is now nearly eighty years of age, but enjoys excellent health,” says Kay’s editor in February, 1837. “We found her sitting in the parlour, with some papers on the table. Her appearance at first betrayed a little of that languor and apathy which attend age and solitude; but the moment she comprehended the object of our visit, her countenance – which even yet retains the lineaments of what Clarinda may be supposed to have been – became animated and intelligent. ‘That,’ said she, rising up, and pointing to an engraving over the mantelpiece, ‘is a likeness of my relative (Lord Craig), about whom you have been inquiring. He was the best friend I ever had.’ After a little conversation about his lordship, she directed our attention to a picture of Burns by Horsburgh, after Taylor. ‘You will know who that is; it was presented to me by Constable and Co., for having simply declared what I know to be true – that the likeness was good.’ We spoke of the correspondence between the poet and Clarinda, at which she smiled, and pleasantly remarked on the great change which the lapse of so many years had produced in her personal appearance. Indeed, any observation respecting Burns seemed to afford her pleasure. Having prolonged our intrusion to the limits of courtesy, and conversed on various topics, we took leave of the venerable lady, highly gratified by the interview. To see and talk with one whose name is so indissolubly associated with the fame of Burns, and whose talents and virtues were so much esteemed by the bard – who has now (in 1837) been sleeping the sleep of death for upwards of forty years – may well give rise to feelings of no ordinary description. In youth Clarinda must have been about the middle size. Burns, she said, if living, would have been about her own age, probably a few months older.”
Off Bristo Street there branches westward Crichton Street, so named from an architect of the time, a gloomy, black, and old-fashioned thoroughfare, where, in the days of her widowhood, as Mrs. Cockburn of Ormiston, resided Alison Rutherford of Fairnielee, Roxburghshire, authoress of the modem version of the “Flowers of the Forest” and other Scottish songs – in her youth a “forest flower of rare beauty.” She removed hither from Blair’s Close in the Castle-hill, and her house was the scene of many happy and brilliant reunions. Even in age her brown hair never grew grey, and she wore it combed over a toupee, with a lace band tied under her chin, and her sleeves puffed out in the fashion of Mary’s time. “She maintained,” says Scott, “that rank in the society of Edinburgh which French women of talent usually do in that of Paris; and in her little parlour used to assemble a very distinguished and accomplished circle, among whom David Hume, John Home, Lord Monboddo, and many other men of name, were frequently to be found.”
Now she lies not far from Crichton Street, in the north-east corner of the old burying-ground of the Chapel of Ease; her tombstone is near the graves of the poet Blacklock and old Rector Adam of the High School.
“Except a mean street called Potterrow, and a very short one called Bristo, there were, till within these twelve years, hardly any buildings on the south side of the town,” says Arnot in 1779; and with these lines he briefly dismisses the entire history of one of the oldest thoroughfares in Edinburgh – the Eastern Portsburgh, which lies wholly to the eastward of Bristo Street, and may be described as comprehending the east side of that street from the Bristo Port southward, the Potterrow, Lothian and South College Streets, Drummond Street to opposite Adam Street, and Nicolson Street to nearly the entry to the York Hotel on the west, and to the Surgeons’ Hall on the east. But jurisdictions had long ceased to be exercised in either of the Portsburghs by the baron or resident bailies; yet there are eight incorporated trades therein, who derive their rights from John Touris of Inverleith.
In Edgar’s map the main street of the Potterrow is represented as running, as it still does, straight south from the Potterrow Port in the city wall, adjacent to the buildings of the old college, its houses on the east overlooking the wide space of Lady Nicolson’s Park, between which and the west side of the Pleasance lay only a riding-school and some six or seven houses, surrounded by gardens and hedgerows.
It has always been a quaint and narrow street, and the memorabilia thereof are full of interest. A great doorway on its western side, only recently removed, in 1870, measured six feet six inches wide, and was designed in heavy Italian rustic-work, with the date 1668, and must have given access to an edifice of considerable importance.
In 1582 the Potterrow, together with the West Port, Restalrig, and other suburbs, was occupied by the armed companies of the Duke of Lennox, who, while feigning to have gone abroad, had a treasonable intention of seizing alike the palace of Holyrood and the city of Edinburgh; but “strain watche,” says Calderwood, “was keeped both in the toun and the abbey.”
In November, 1584, it was enacted by the Council that none of the inhabitants of the city, the Potterrow, West Port, Canongate, or Leith, harbour, stable, or lodge strangers, for dread of the plague, without reporting the same within an hour to the commissary within whose quarter or jurisdiction they dwell. (“Privy Council Register.”)
In the year 1639 a gun foundry was established in the Potterrow to cast cannon for the first Covenanting war, by order of General Leslie. These guns were not exclusively metal. The greater part of the composition was leather, and they were fabricated under the eye of his old Swedish comrade, Sir Alexander Hamilton of the Red House, a younger son of the famous “Tam o’ the Cowgate,” and did considerable execution when the English army was defeated at Newburnford, above Newcastle, on the 28th August, 1640.
These cannon, which were familiarly known among the Scottish soldiers as “Dear Sandie’s stoups,” were carried slung between two horses.
About the same time, or soon after this period, witches and warlocks began to terrify the locality, and in 1643 a witch was discovered in the Potterrow – Agnes Fynnie, a small dealer in groceries, who was tried and condemned to be “worried at the stake,” and then burned to ashes – a poor wretch, who seems to have had no other gifts from Satan than a fierce temper and a bitter tongue. Among the charges against her, the fifth was, while “scolding with Bettie Currie about the changing of a sixpence, which she alleged to be ill (bad), ye in great rage threatened that ye would make the devil take a bite of her.”
The ninth is that, “ye ending a compt with Isabel Atchesone, and because ye could not get all your unreasonable demands, ye bade the devil ride about the town with her and hers; whereupon the next day she broke her leg by a fall from a horse, and ye came and saw her and said, ‘See that ye say not I have bewitched ye, as the other neighbours say.’ ” The eighteenth clause in her dittay is, “that ye, having fallen into a controversie with Margaret Williamson, ye most outrageously wished the devil to blaw her blind; after which, she, by your sorcerie, took a grievous sickness, whereof she went blind.” The nineteenth is, “for laying a madness on Andrew Wilson conform to your threating, wishing the devil to rive the soul out of him.” (Law’s “Memorialls,” 1638-84.)
At the utmost, this unfortunate creature had only been guilty of bad wishes towards certain neighbours, and if such had any sequel, it must have been through superstitious apprehensions. It is fairly presumable, says a writer, that while the community was so ignorant as to believe that malediction would have actively evil results, it would occasionally have these effects by its influence on imagination, and thus become a positive evil. Her indictment consisted of twenty articles, all similar to those given, and “she confest before the Kirk Session that for twenty-eight years past she has been defamed for a witch.”
There was a learned argument upon the relevancy of her indictment, but it was, as may be supposed, unsuccessful. The jury, says Pitmedden, was composed “of cordiners, tailyeors, and other inhabitants of the Potterrow,” where she lived, and who must have known her well. Rosehaugh notices this case, and concurs in thinking her sentence to the stake a hard one.
In 1650, when an English invasion was expected, many houses in Potterrow, as well as the West Port, were demolished by order of the magistrates, that the guns of the castle, and those on the city wall might have free action to play upon the enemy; and we are told that “the four prickes bigged on the Neddir Bow, quhilk was ane verry great ornament,” were demolished, and cannon put in their places. (“Nicolls’ Diary.”)
In July, 1671, William Wood, a barber in the Portsburgh, was found to have transgressed his act of admission by working as a barber within Heriot’s Hospital, which was without the bounds of the Portsburgh, and having been disobedient to the Deacon, he was incarcerated in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh, so sharp was the practice of those days; and afterwards he persisted “malitiouslie in his disobedience without making application unto the calling; therefore the saidis deacon, masters, and brethren suspends the said William Wood from the exercise of his calling, and ordains his signe to be taken down during the callings’ pleasure.” (“Hist. R. Coll. Surgeons.”)
Two years after this, the Hall of the Incorporation of Tailors in the Eastern Portsburgh was built, on the east side of the street. Above the entrance-door of the turnpike stair are the shears of the craft within a wreath, and a large open volume, well carved in stone, bearing the following inscription on its leaves:-
and how be-
In the revenue of the city for 1690, the tolls collected at the Society and Potterrow Ports amounted to £66 13s. 4d. sterling; but the tolls taken at the West Port nearly doubled that sum.
That the Potterrow was not, at one time, deemed an unaristocratic quarter may be inferred from the fact that, so lately as 1716, Robert, seventh Earl of Morton, a man who, Douglas says, “was well versed in the knowledge of the antiquities of our country,” had his residence there; and later still, in 1760, Archibald, Duke of Douglas, had a stately mansion, surrounded by extensive grounds, immediately on the west side of the Potterrow, near the north end of which was his carriage entrance, a gate within a recess, overlooked by the city wall. Lady Houston lived in the Potterrow in 1784.
In the Diary of Lord Grange, we are told of Jean Brown, a woman in humble life, residing in the Potterrow in 1717, who had some curious experiences, which, while reminding us of those of St. Teresa, the Castilian, the foundress of the Barefooted Carmelites, were not, singular to say, inconsistent with orthodox Presbyterianism.
Being taken, together with Mr. Logan, the incumbent of Culross, to see this pious woman, at Lady Aytoun’s lodging behind the College, he found her to be between thirty and forty years of age; when, having Communion administered to her at Leith, in the October of that year, she had striven to dwell deeply on the thought of Christ and all His sufferings. Then she had a vision of Him extended on the cross and in His rocky sepulchre, “as plainly as if she had been actually present when these things happened, though there was not any visible representation thereof made to her bodily eyes. She also got liberty to speak to Him, and asked several questions at Him, to which she got answers, as if one had spoken to her audibly, though there was no audible voice.”
Lord Grange admits that all this was somewhat like delusion or enthusiasm, but deemed it far from him to say it was either. Being once at Communion in Kirkcaldy, a voice called to her, “Arise and eat; for thou hast a journey to make – a Jordan to pass through.”
The latter proved to be the Firth of Forth, where she was upset in the water, but floated till rescued by a boat. Lord Grange called frequently to see her at her little shop in the Potterrow, but usually found it so crowded with children buying her wares that his wishes were frustrated. “Afterwards,” he states, “I employed her husband (a shoemaker) to make some little things for me, mostly to give them business, and that I might thereby get opportunity now and then to talk with such as, I hope, are acquainted with the ways of God.”
Middleton’s Entry, which opened westward off the Potterrow, was associated with another of Burns’s heroines, Miss Jean Lorimer, the flaxen-haired Chloris of some of his finest lyrics, the daughter of a prosperous farmer at a place called Kemmis Hall, on the banks of the Nith, and who, after undergoing many vicissitudes, and having for a time “had her portion with weeds and outworn faces,” was seized with consumption, and retired to an obscure abode in that narrow and gloomy lane. There she lingered long in loneliness and suffering, supported by the charity of strangers, till she found a final home in Newington burying-ground.
Alison Square, which lay farther south, and through which a street has now been run, was built in the middle of the eighteenth century, upon a venture, by Colin Alison, a joiner, who in after life was much reduced in circumstances by the speculation. In his latter days he erected two boards on different sides of his buildings, whereon he had painted a globe in the act of falling, with this inscription:-
“If Fortune smile, be not puffed up,
And if it frown, be not dismayed;
For Providence governeth all,
Although the world’s turned upside down.”
It was in Alison Square that Thomas Campbell, the poet, resided when writing the “Pleasures of Hope.” He occupied the second floor of a stair on the north side of the central archway, with windows looking partly into the Potterrow, and partly into Nicolson Street. The poem is said to have been written here in the night, his master’s temper being so irritable that it was then only he could find peace for his task.
Alison Square was completely transformed in 1876, when Marshall Street was constructed through it. A Baptist church, in a most severe Lombardic style, stands on the north side of this new street. It was built in 1876-7, at the cost of £4,000.
Between 1773 and 1783, Francis, eighth Earl of Moray, who died in 1810, lived in the Potterrow, in a large mansion, which was entered through a garden “at the east end of the row, and another by Chapel Street.” An advertisement, offering it for sale in 1783, says the earl had occupied it “for these ten years past;” that it consists of fifteen apartments, with servants’ hall, vaulted cellar, and ample stabling. This was, in all probability, the house formerly occupied by the Duke of Douglas.
The Original Seceder Congregation, afterwards located in Richmond Street, was established in the Potterrow about 1794, and removed to the former quarter in 1813.
We get an idea of the class of humble Edinburgh taverns of the old school from the description that Chambers gives us of a famous one, Mrs. Flockhart’s – otherwise “Lucky Fykie’s” – in the Potterrow, at the close of the last century.
It was a small as well as obscure edifice, externally having the appearance of a huckster’s shop. Lucky Fykie was a neat little elderly woman, usually clad in an apron and gown of the same blue-striped stuff, with a black silk ribbon round her mutch, the lappets of which were tied under her chin. “Her husband, the umquhile John Flucker, or Flockhart, had left her some ready money, together with his whole stock-in-trade, consisting of a multifarious variety of articles – ropes, tea, sugar, whipshafts, porter, ale, beer, yellow-sand, camstane, herrings, nails, cotton-wicks, thread, needles, tapes, potatoes, lollipops, onions, and matches, &c., constituting her a respectable merchant, as the phrase was understood in Scotland. On Sundays, too, Mrs. Flockhart’s little visage might have been seen in a front gallery seat in Mr. Pattieson’s chapel in the Potterrow. Her abode, situated opposite to Chalmers’ Entry, in that suburban thoroughfare, was a square, about fifteen feet each way.”
A mere screen divided her dwelling-house from her tavern, and before it, every morning, the bottles containing whisky, rum, and brandy, were placed on the bunker-seat of a window, with glasses and a salver of gingerbread biscuits. Anon an elderly gentleman would drop in, saluting her with “Hoo d’ye do, mem?” and then proceed to help himself from one of the bottles; another and another would drop in, till the tiny tavern was full, and, strange to say, all of them were men of importance in society, many of them denizens of George Square – eminent barristers or wealthy bankers – so simple were the habits of the olden time.
In No. 7, Charles Street, which runs into Crichton Street, near the Potterrow, Lord Jeffrey, the eminent critic, was born in 1773, in the house of his father, a Depute-Clerk of Session, though some accounts have assigned his birthplace to Windmill Street. Lady Duffus was resident in Charles Street in 1784. Where this street is now, there was an old locality known as Charles’s Field, which on Restoration Day, 1712, was the scene of an ingenious piece of marked Jacobitism, in honour of the exiled Stuarts.
There was then in Edinburgh a merchant, named Charles Jackson, to whom Charles II. had acted as godfather in the Kirk of Keith, and Jackson was a name assumed by Charles after his escape in the Royal Oak. In consideration of all this, by an advertisement in the Courant, Mr. Jackson, as being lineally descended from a stock of royalists. “invited all such to solemnise that memorable day (29th May) at an enclosure called Charles’s Field, lying a mile south from this city (where he hath erected a very useful bleaching-field), and there entertained them with a diversity of liquors, fine music, &c.”
He had a huge bonfire lighted, and a tall pole erected, with a large banner displayed therefrom, and the royal oak painted on it, together with the bark in which his sacred majesty made his escape, and the colonel who accompanied him. “The company around the bonfire drank Her Majesty Queen Anne’s health, and the memory of the happy Restoration, with great mirth and demonstrations of loyalty. The night concluded with mirth, and the standard being brought back to Mr. Jackson’s lodgings, was carried by loyal gentlemen bareheaded, and followed by several others with trumpets, hautboys, and bagpipes playing before them, where they were kindly entertained.” (Reliquiez Scoticæ.)