[Old & New Edinburgh Contents]
Ross House – The last Lord Ross – Earlier Residents in the Square – House of Walter Scott, W.S. – Sir Walter’s Boyhood – Bickers – Green Breeks – The Edinburgh Light Horse – The Scots Brigade – Admiral Duncan – Lord Advocate Dundas – The Grants of Kilgraston – Baron Dundas – Sedan Chairs – Campbells of Succoth – Music Class Room – The Eight Southern Districts – Chapel of Ease – Windrmill Street – Buccleuch Place – Jeffrey’s First House there – The Burgh Loch – Society of Improvers – The Meadows.
ROSS PARK and House, a massive suburban mansion, belonging to the Lords Ross and to the age of stately ceremony and stately manners, occupied till the middle of the eighteenth century the site of this square, which is one of the largest in the city. In those days the mansion, which was a square block with wings, was approached by an avenue through a plantation upwards of sixty yards long, from where the north-east end of Teviot Row was latterly. There were the stable offices; in front of the house was a tree of great size, while its spacious garden was bordered by Bristo Street.
When offered for sale, in March, 1761, it was described in a newspaper of the period as “Ross House, with the fields and gardens lying around it, consisting of about twenty-four acres, divided as follows: About an acre and a half in a field and court about the house; seventeen acres in one field lying to the south-west, between it and Hope Park; the rest into kitchen-gardens, running along Bristo Street and the back of the wall. The house consists of dining, drawing, and dressing rooms, six bed-chambers, several closets and garrets; in the ground storey, kitchen, larder, pantry, milk-house, laundry, cellars, and accommodation for servants, &c.”
This house, which was latterly used as a lying-in hospital, was occupied for some time prior to 1753 by George Lockhart of Carnwath, during whose time it was the scene of many a gay rout, ball, and ridotto; but it was, when the family were in Edinburgh, the permanent residence of the Lords Ross of Halkhead, a family of great antiquity, dating back to the days of King William the Lion, 1165.
In this house died, in June, 1754, in the seventy: third year of his age, George, twelfth Lord Ross, Commissioner of the Customs, whose body was taken for interment to Renfrew, the burial-place of the family. His chief seats were Halkhead and Melville Castle. He was succeeded by his son, the Master of Ross, who was the last lord of that ilk, and who died in his thirty-fourth year, unmarried, at Mount Teviot, the seat of his uncle, the Marquis of Lothian, in the following August, and was also taken to Renfrew for purposes of interment. His sister Elizabeth became Countess of Glasgow, and eventually his heiress, and through her the Earls of Glasgow are also Lords Ross of Halkhead, by creation in 1815.
Another sister was one of the last persons in Scotland supposed to be possessed of an evil spirit – Mary, who died unmarried. A correspondent of Robert Chambers states as follows:- “A person alive in 1824 told me that, when a child, he saw her clamber up to the top of an old-fashioned four-post bed. In her fits it was impossible to hold her.”
At the time Ross House was offered for sale the city was almost entirely confined within the Flodden Wall, the suburbs being of small extent – Nicolson Street and Square, Chapel Street, the southern portion of Bristo Street, Crichton Street, Buccleuch Street, and St. Patrick Square; though some were projected, the sites were nearly all fields and orchards. The old Statistical Account says that Ross Park was purchased for £1,200, and that the ground-rents of the square yield now (i.e., in 1793) above £1,000 sterling per annum to the proprietor.
James Brown, architect, who built Brown Square, having feued from the city of Edinburgh the lands of Ross Park, built thereon most of the houses of the New Square, which measures 220 yards by 150, and is said to have named it, not for the king, but Brown’s elder brother George, who was the Laird of Lindsaylands and Elliestown. It speedily became a more popular place of residence than Brown Square, being farther from town, and possessing houses that were greatly superior in style and accommodation.
Among the early residents in the square in 1784, and prior to that year, were the Countesses of Glasgow and Sutherland, the Ladies Rae and Philiphaugh, Anthony, Earl of Kintore, eighth Lord Falconer of Halkertoun, Sir John Ross Lockhart, and the Lords Braxfield, Stonefield, and Kennet; and in 1788, Major-General Sir Ralph Abercrombie, who died of his wounds in Egypt.
It has been recorded as an instance of Lord Braxfield’s great nerve that during the great political trials in 1793-4, when men’s blood was almost at fever heat, after each day’s proceedings closed, usually about midnight, he always walked home, alone and unprotected, through the dark or ill-lighted streets, to his house in George Square, though he constantly commented openly upon the conduct of the Radicals, and more than once announced in public that “They wad a’ be muckle the better o’ bein’ hung!”
Here, too, resided in 1784 the Hon. Henry Erskine (brother of the Earl of Buchan), the witty advocate, who, after being presented to Dr. Johnson by Mr. Boswell, and having made his bow in the Parliament House, slipped a shilling into Boswell’s hand, whispering that it was for the sight of his English bear.
To those named, Lord Cockburn, in his “Memorials,” adds the Duchess of Gordon, Robert Dundas of Arniston, Lord Chief Baron of Exchequer, the hero of Camperdown, Lord President Blair, Dr. John Jamieson, the Scottish lexicographer, and says, “a host of other distinguished people all resided here. The old square, with its pleasant trim-kept gardens, has still an air of antiquated grandeur about it, and retains not a few traces of its former dignity and seclusion.”
Among the documents exhibited at the Scott Centenary celebration in 1872 was a “Contract between James Brown, architect in Edinburgh, and Walter Scott, W.S., to feu and build a dwelling-house, with cellars, coach-house, &c., on the west side of the great square, called George Square (No. 25), at the annual feu of £5 14s., the first payment to commence on Whit Sunday, 1773. Six pages, each signed Walter Scott.”
In this house, then, with its back windows overlooking the Meadow Walk, beneath its happy parental roof, were spent the bright young years of Scott, who there grew up to manhood under the eye of his good mother. Among his papers, after death, there was found a piece of verse, penned in a boyish hand, endorsed in that of his mother, “My Walter’s first lines.”
“My father’s house in George Square,” says Scott, “continued to be my most established place of residence (after my return from Prestonpans in 1776) till my marriage in 1797.”
Writing of an incident of his childhood, he says:- “Every step of the way (the Meadow Walk, behind George Square) has for me something of an early remembrance. There is the stile at which I recollect a cross child’s maid upbraiding me with my infirmity (his lameness) as she lifted me coarsely and carelessly over the flinty steps which my brother traversed with a shout and bound. I remember the suppressed bitterness of the moment, and, conscious of my own infirmity, the envy with which I regarded the elastic steps of my more happily-formed brethren.”
In No. 25 Scott received, from private tutors, the first rudiments of education; and he mentions that “our next neighbour, Lady Cumming, sent to beg that the boys might not be all flogged at the same hour, as though she had no doubt the punishment was deserved, yet the noise was dreadful!”
There, too, he had that long illness which confined him to bed, and during which the boy, though full of worldly common sense, was able to indulge in romantic and poetical longings after a mediæval age of his own creation, and stored his mind with those treasures of poesy and romance which he afterwards turned to such wondrous account.
During the weary weeks of that long illness he was often enabled to see the vista of the Meadow Walk by a combination of mirror’s so arranged that while lying in bed he could witness the troops marching out to exercise in the Links, or any other incident which occurred in that then fashionable promenade.
It was in this square, and in the adjoining suburbs of Bristo Street, the Potterrow, and Cross Causeway, that those “bickers” of stones, or street fights between boys of different ranks and localities – New Town and Old Town boys, Herioters and Watsoners – took place – juvenile exploits, to which he refers in his general preface to the “Waverley Novels.” These dangerous rows were difficult of suppression, as the parties always kept pretty far apart, and the fight was often a running one, till the Town Guard came on the ground, and then all parties joined against that force as a common foe, and clouds of stones were hurled at them. These bickers, as an Edinburgh feature, were of great antiquity, and we have already cited an act of the Town Council published anent them in 1529; and Calderwood tells us that “upon the Lord’s Day, the 20th (January, 1582-3), the Lord Heries departed this life suddonlie, in time of the afternoone’s preaching, going to an upper chamber in William Fowllar’s lodging to see the boyes bicker.”
Scott has told us an anecdote of his share in the bickers which took place between the aristocratic youths of George Square and the plebeian fry of its vicinity, and it runs thus:- “It followed, from our frequent opposition to each other, that, though not knowing the names of our enemies, we were yet well acquainted with their appearance, and had nicknames for the most remarkable of them. One very active and spirited boy might be considered leader in the cohort of the suburbs. He was, I suppose, thirteen or fourteen years old, finely made, tall, blue-eyed, with long fair hair, the very picture of a Goth. This lad was always the first in the charge and last in retreat – the Achilles and Ajax of the Cross Causeway.” From an old pair of green livery breeches which he wore, he was named Green Breeks. “It fell once upon a time,” he added, “when the combat was at the thickest, this plebeian champion headed a sudden charge, so rapid and furious that all fled before him. He was several paces before his comrades, and had actually laid his hands on the patrician standard, when one of our party, whom some misjudging friend had entrusted with a couteau de chasse, inspired with a zeal for the honour of the corps worthy of Major Sturgeon himself, struck poor Green Breeks over the head with sufficient strength to cut him down. When this was seen, the casualty was so far beyond what had ever taken place before that both parties fled different ways, leaving poor Green Breeks, with his bright hair plentifully dabbled in blood, to the care of the watchman, who (honest man) took care not to know who had done the mischief. The bloody hanger was flung into one of the meadow ditches, and solemn secrecy sworn on all hands; but the remorse and terror of the actor were beyond all bounds, and his apprehensions of the most dreadful character. The wounded hero was for a few days in the infirmary, the case being only a trifling one; but though inquiry was strongly pressed on him, no argument could make him indicate the person from whom he had received the wound, though he must have been perfectly well known to him. When he recovered, the author and his brother opened a communication with him, through the medium of a popular gingerbread baker, with whom both parties were customers, in order to tender a subsidy in the name of smart-money. The sum would excite ridicule were I to name it; but I am sure that the pockets of the noted Green Breeks never held so much money of his own. He declined the remittance, saying he would not sell his blood; but at the same time repudiated the idea of being an informer, which he said was clam – that is, base or mean. With much urgency he accepted a pound of snuff for the use of some old woman – aunt, grandmother, or the like – with whom he lived. We did not become friends, for the bickers were more agreeable to both parties than any other pacific amusement; but we conducted them ever after under mutual assurances of the highest consideration for each other.”
Lockhart tells us that it was in No. 25 that, at a later period, an acquaintance took place which by degrees ripened into friendship with Francis Jeffrey, born, as we have said, at No. 7, Charles Street, about 150 yards distant from Scott’s house. Here one evening Jeffrey found him in a small den on the sunk floor, surrounded by dingy books, and from thence they adjourned to a tavern and supped together. In that “den” he was collecting “the germ of the magnificent library and museum of Abbotsford.” “Since those days,” says Lockhart, “the habits of life in Edinburgh have undergone many changes; and ‘the convenient parlour’ in which Scott first showed Jeffrey his collection of minstrelsy is now, in all probability, thought hardly good enough for a menial’s sleeping-room.”
There it was, however, that his first assay-piece as a poet – his bold rendering of Burger’s weird Lenore – was produced; and there it was, too, that by his energy his corps of Volunteer Horse was developed. The Edinburgh Herald and Chronicle for 20th February, 1797, announced the formation of the corps thus:-
“An offer of service, subscribed by sixty gentlemen and upwards of this city and neighbourhood, engaging to serve as a Corps of Volunteer Light Dragoons during the present war, has been presented to His Grace the Duke of Buccleuch, Lord Lieutenant of the county, who has expressed his high approbation of the plan. Regular drills have in consequence been established.
“Such gentlemen as wish to become members of this corps will make their application through Mr. Walter Scott, Advocate, George Square, secretary to the committee of management.
“The service is limited to Midlothian, unless in case of actual invasion or the imminent hazard, when it extends to all Scotland. No member of the corps can be required to join unless during his residence within the county.”
In one of his notes to “Wilson’s Memorials,” the cynical C. K. Sharpe says:- “My grand-aunt, Mrs. Campbell of Monzie, had the house in George Square that now belongs to Mr. Borthwick (of Crookston). I remember seeing from the window Walter limping home in a cavalry uniform, the most grotesque spectacle that can be conceived. Nobody then cared much about his two German ballads. This was long before I personally knew him.”
In 1797 Scott ceased to reside in No. 25 on his marriage, and carried his bride to a lodging in the second floor of No. 108, George Street; however, the last roof he was under in his “own romantic town” was that of the Douglas Hotel, St. Andrew Square, where, on his return from Italy, on the 9th of July, 1832, he was brought from Newhaven in a state of unconsciousness, and after remaining there two nights, was taken home to Abbotsford to die. His signature, in a boyish hand, written with a diamond, still remains on a pane in one of the windows in 25, George Square, or did so till a recent date.
On the 19th of June, 1795, Lord Adam Gordon, Commander of the Forces in Scotland, had the honour of presenting, in George Square, a new set of British colours to the ancient Scots Brigade of immortal memory, which, after being two hundred years in the Dutch service, had – save some fifty who declined to leave Holland – joined the British army as the 94th Regiment, on the 9th October in the preceding year, under Francis Dundas.
Lord Adam, who was then a very old man, having entered the 18th Royal Irish in 1746, said, with some emotion:- “General Dundas and officers of the Scots Brigade, I have the honour to present these colours to you, and I am very happy in having this opportunity of expressing my wishes that the brigade may continue by good conduct to merit the approbation of our gracious sovereign, and to maintain that high reputation which all Europe knows that ancient and respectable corps has most deservedly enjoyed.”
His address was received with great applause, and many of the veterans who had served since their boyhood in Holland were visibly affected.
We have already referred to the tragic results of the Dundas riots in this square during 1792, when the mob broke the windows of the Lord Advocate’s house, and those of Lady Arniston and Admiral Duncan, who, with a Colonel Dundas, came forth and assailed the rabble with their sticks, but were pelted with stones, and compelled to fly for shelter.
The admiral’s house was No. 5, on the north side of the square, and it was there his family resided while he hoisted his flag on board his ship the Venerable, and blockaded the Texel, till the mutiny at the Nore and elsewhere compelled him to bear up for the Yarmouth Roads; and in the October of that year (1797) he won the great battle of Camperdown, and with it a British peerage. The great ensign and sword of the Dutch admiral he brought home with him, and instead of presenting them to Government, retained them in his own house in George Square; and there, if we remember rightly, they were shown by him to Sir James Hall of Dunglass, and his son, the future Captain Basil Hall, then an aspirant for the navy, to whom the admiral said, with honest pride, as he led him into the room where the Dutch ensign hung –
“Come, my lad, and I’ll show you something worth looking at.”
The great admiral died at Kelso in 1804, but for many years after that period Lady Duncan resided in No. 5.
It was while the Lord Advocate Dundas was resident in the square that, at the trial of Muir and the other “political martyrs,” he spoke of the leaders of the United Irishmen as “wretches who had fled from punishment.” On this, Dr. Drennan, as president, and Archibald Hamilton Rowan of Killileagh, demanded, in 1793, a recantation of this and other injurious epithets. No reply was accorded, and as Mr. Rowan threatened a hostile visit to Edinburgh, measures for his apprehension were taken by the Procurator Fiscal.
Accompanied by the Hon. Simon Butler, Mr. Rowan arrived at Dumbreck’s Hotel, St. Andrew Square, when the former, as second, lost no time in visiting the Lord Advocate in George Square, where he was politely received by his lordship, who said that, “although not bound to give any explanation of what he might consider proper to state in his official capacity, yet he would answer Mr. Rowan’s note without delay.” But Mr. Butler had barely returned to Mr. Rowan when they were both arrested on a sheriff’s warrant, but were liberated on Colonel Norman Macleod, M.P., becoming surety for them, and they left Edinburgh, after being entertained at a public dinner by a select number of the Friends of the People in Hunter’s Tavern, Royal Exchange.
In No. 30 dwelt Lord Balgray for about thirty years, during the whole time he was on the bench, one of the last specimens of the old race of Scottish judges; and there he died in 1837.
In No. 32 lived for many years Francis Grant of Kilgraston, whose fourth son, also Francis, became President of the Royal Academy, and was knighted for great skill as an artist, and whose fifth son, General Sir James Hope Grant, G.C.B., served with such distinction under Lord Saltoun in China, and subsequently in India, where he led the 9th Lancers at Sobraon, and who further fought with such distinction in the Punjaub war, and through- out the subsequent mutiny, under Lord Clyde, and whose grave in the adjacent Grange Cemetery is now so near the scenes of his boyhood.
In No. 36 lived Admiral Maitland of Dundrennan, and in No. 53 Lady Don, who is said to have been the last to use a private sedan chair.
No. 57 was the residence of the Lord Chief Baron Dundas, and therein, on the 29th of May, 1811, died, very unexpectedly, his uncle, the celebrated Lord Melville, who had come to Edinburgh to attend the funeral of his old friend the Lord President Blair, who had died a few days before, and was at that time lying dead in No. 56, the house adjoining that in which Melville expired.
No. 58 was the house of Dr. Charles Stuart of Dunearn in the first years of the present century. His father, James Stuart of Dunearn, was a great-grandson of the Earl of Moray, and was Lord Provost of the city in 1764 and 1768. The doctor’s eldest son, James Stuart of Dunearn, W.S., a well-known citizen of Edinburgh, died in 1849.
The private sedan, so long a common feature in the areas or lobbies of George Square, is no longer to be seen there now. In the Edinburgh of the eighteenth century there were far more sedans than coaches in use. The sedan was better suited for the narrow wynds and narrower closes of the city, and better fitted, under all the circumstances, for transporting a finely-dressed lady in a powdered toupee. The public sedans were, for the most part, in the hands of Highlanders, who generally wore short tartan coats, and whose strange jargon and fiery irritability of temper, amid the confusion of a dissolving assembly or a dismissed theatre, were deemed highly amusing. Now there is no such thing as a private sedan in Edinburgh any more than in London, and the use of public ones has entirely ceased.
North of George Square, No. 1, Park Place (now removed to make way for the new university Medical Schools), was the town house of the Campbells of Succoth. Sir Islay, the first baronet, was Lord President of the Court of Session, under the title of Lord Succoth, and was descended from the house of Argyle, and his mother was the only daughter and heiress of John Wallace of Elderslie. He was one of the counsel for the defence in the great Douglas cause, and brought to Edinburgh the first tidings of Lord Douglas’s victory in the House of Lords. A baronetcy was conferred upon the Lord President when he retired from office in 1808, and he died in 1823, after being long resident on his estate of Garscube, whither his son, Sir Archibald – who in 1809 became a senator under the title of Lord Succoth – also retired in 1824; and his great house in Park Place was latterly occupied as the Edinburgh Ladies’ Institution for Education, and near it was the new Jewish Synagogue.
In Park Place (where Dr. Tait, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, was born) stands, about ninety yards west of Charles Street and the same distance from the east end of Teviot Row, the class-room of the chair of music. This handsome hall, though inadequate to the purposes for which it is required, is in the Italian style, and is the finest of the university class-rooms. It was erected by order of the Court of Session, in 1861, from funds which were bequeathed for the purpose by General John Reid, the composer of the spirited march, “The Garb of Old Gaul,” to words written by General Sir Harry Erskine, and it has a museum containing an almost unique collection of instruments, both acoustic and musical, together with various other objects of interest. There is also a library of musical compositions and treatises, which is one of the most complete at present existing.
Perhaps the special feature is the magnificent organ by Messrs. Hill and Son, which in some points is unsurpassed. It contains four manuals and sixty-six stops, of which latter eleven belong to the “pedal organ.” In this department of the instrument are two specimens, both in wood and in metal, of the rare register of “32 feet.” These pedal stops, and several on the manuals, of the most exquisite softness and delicacy, are the great points of this renowned instrument, which has been completed by the present occupant of the chair of music, Professor Sir Herbert Oakeley, who, during the university term, gives fortnightly open “recitals,” which are much prized by students and citizens. During late years the interior of the hall has been much improved. Under ten panels the name and date of the ten greatest composers have been inscribed. Figures of two of these – Mozart and Beethoven – have been already painted by a Munich artist, and it is understood to be Sir Herbert’s hope that the remaining eight will be added.
Towards the middle of the eighteenth century an attempt was made to have the royalty extended over all the southern suburbs of Edinburgh; but, as that was strenuously opposed, they were afterwards, by an Act of George III. in 1771, divided into eight districts in the following manner: –
I. The road leading from Bristo Street westward by Teviot Row and Lauriston, “to the Twopenny Custom” (in Old Toll Cross), to be called the district of Lauriston.
II. The streets of Bristo and Potterrow, from their two ports to where they join (near the General’s Entry), and the cross streets between them, to be the district of Bristo and Potterrow.
III. George Square, with Charles and Crichton Streets (exclusive of the corner house of the latter), with other thoroughfares leading into it, to be George Square district.
IV. Nicolson Park, including the cross-ways intersecting it, from the Chapel Street to the Pleasance, and the street along the back of the City Wall from Potterrow to Pleasance, to be Nicolson Park district.
V. The Cross Causeway, from the south end of the Potterrow to the east end of the said cause way, and from thence along the Gibbet Street northward, to where it is divided from the burgh of the Canongate, to be the Cross Causeway district. By a subsequent Act of George III. there was added to it all the tract on the north-east of the road leading from the Wright’s-houses to the Grange Toll-bar, and from thence along the Mayfield Loan to the old Dalkeith Road, and from thence in a straight line eastward to the March Dyke of the King’s Park nearest to the said loan; and the whole ground west of the dyke to where it joins the Canongate – all to be called the Causeway-side district.
VI. From the east end of the Cross Causeway southward to the Gibbet Toll, including the Gibbet Loan, to be called Gibbet Street district.
VII. From the chapel of ease south to the Grange Toll, including the Sciennes, to be the Causeway-side district.
VIII. From the south end of the property of the late Joseph Gavin on the west, and that of John Straiton in Portsburgh on the east of the road leading from the Twopenny Custom southward to the Wright’s-house Toll, to be the Toll Cross district.
The chapel of ease in Chapel Street, originally a hideous and unpretending structure, was first projected in January, 1754, when the increasing population of the West Kirk parish induced the Session to propose a chapel somewhere on the south side of it. The elders and deacons were furnished with subscription lists, and these, by March, 1755, showed contributions to the amount of £460; and in expectation of further sums, “a piece of ground at the Wind Mill, or west end of the Cross Causeway, was immediately feued,” and estimates, the lowest of which was about £700, were procured for the erection of a chapel to hold 1,200 persons. By January, 1756, it was opened for divine service, and a bell which had been used in the West Church was placed in its steeple in 1763; it weighs nineteen stone, cost £366 Scots, and bears the founder’s name, with the words, “For the Wast Kirk, 1700.”
In 1866 this edifice was restored and embellished by a new front at the cost of more than £2,000, and has in it a beautiful memorial window, erected by the Marquis of Bute to the memory of his ancestress, Flora Macleod of Raasay, who lies interred in the small and sombre cemetery attached to the building. There, too, lie the remains of Dr. Thomas Blacklock “the Blind Poet,” Dr. Adam of the High School, Mrs. Cockburn the poetess, and others.
Buccleuch Free Church is situated at the junction of the Cross Causeway and Chapel Street. It was built in 1850, and has a fine octagonal spire, erected about five years after, from a design by Hay of Liverpool.
Lady Dalrymple occupied one of the houses in Chapel Street in 1784; Sir William Maxwell, Bart., of Springkell, who died in 1804, occupied another; and in the same year Lady Agnew of Lochnaw was resident in the now obscure St. Patrick Street, close by.
In this quarter there is an archway at the top of what is now called Gray’s Court, together with an entrance opposite the chapel of ease. These were the avenues to what was called the Southern Market, formed about 1820 for the sale of butcher- meat, poultry, fish, and vegetables; but as shops sprang into existence in the neighbourhood, it came to an end in a few years.
The Wind Mill – a most unusual kind of mill in Scotland – from which the little street in this quarter takes its name, was formed to raise the water from the Burgh Loch to supply the Brewers of the Society, a company established under James VI. in 1598; and near it lay a pool or pond, named the Goose Dub, referred to by Scott in the “Fortunes of Nigel.” From this mill the water was conveyed in leaden pipes, on the west side of Bristo Street as far as where Teviot Row is now, and from thence in a line to the Society, where there was a reservoir that supplied some parts of the Cowgate. In 1786, when foundations were dug for the houses from Teviot Row to Charles Street, portions of this pipe were found. It was four-and-a-half inches in diameter and two-eighths of an inch thick. The Goose Dub was drained about 1715, and converted into gardens.
In the year 1698 Lord Fountainhall reports a case between the city and Alexander Biggar, brewer, heritor of “the houses called Gairnshall, beyond the Wind Mill, and built in that myre commonly called the Goose-dub,” who wished to be freed from the duties of watching and warding, declaring his immunity from “all burghal prestations,” in virtue of his feu-charter from John Gairns, who took the land from the city in 1681, “bearing a reddendo of ten merks of feu-duty pro omni alio onere, which must free him from watching, warding, outreiking militia, or train bands, &c.” The Lords found that he was not liable to the former duties, but as regarded the militia, “ordained the parties to be further heard.”
In February, 1708, he reports another case connected with this locality, in which Richard Howison, minister at Musselburgh, “having bought some acres near the Wind-milne of Edinburgh,” took the rights thereof to himself and his wife in liferent, and to his children in fee, and a dispute in law occurred about the division of the property.
Buccleuch Place, branching westward off the old Carlisle Road, as it was named, was formed between 1766 and 1780, as part of a new and aristocratic quarter, and in rivalry to the New Town. Among the first residents there was Elizabeth Fairlie, dowager of George, fifth Lord Reay, who died in 1768. She died in Buccleuch Place on the 10th November, 1800.
The street is of uniform architecture, 270 yards long, but has a chilling and forsaken aspect. The large and isolated tenement facing the south-east entrance to George Square was built, and used for many years as Assembly Rooms for the aristocratic denizens of this quarter. “In these beautiful rooms,” says Lord Cockburn, “were to be seen the last remains of the stately ball-room discipline of the preceding age.” Now they are occupied as dwelling-houses.
Jeffrey, on marrying a second cousin of his own in 1801, began housekeeping in the third flat of a common stair here, No. 18, at a time when, as he wrote to his brother, his profession had never brought in a hundred a year; and there he and his wife were living in 1802, when in March, Brougham and Sydney Smith met at his house, and it was proposed to start the Edinburgh Review; and these, the first three, were joined in meeting with Murray, Horner, Brown, Lord Webb Seymour, and John and Thomas Thomson, and negotiations were opened with Manners and Millar, the publishers in the Parliament Close; and – as is well known – Jeffrey was for many years the editor of, as well as chief contributor to, that celebrated periodical.
Where the Meadows now lie there lay for ages a loch coeval with that at Duddingstone, some three-quarters of a mile long from Lochrin, and where the old house of Drumdryan stands on the west, to the road that led to the convent of Sienna on the east, and about a quarter of a mile in breadth1 – a sheet of water wherein, in remote times, the Caledonian bull, the stag, and the elk that roamed in the great oak forest of Drumsheugh, were wont to quench their thirst, and where, amid the deposit of marl at its bottom, their bones have been found from time to time during trenching and draining operations. The skull and horns of one gigantic stag (Cervus elephas), that must have found a grave amidst its waters, were dug up below the root of an ancient tree in one of the Meadow Parks in 1781, and are now in the Antiquarian Museum.
In 1537 the land lying on its south bank was feued by the sisters of the Cistercian convent, and in July, 1552, the provost, bailies, and council, ordered that no person should “wesch ony claithis at the Burrow Loch in tyme cummyng, and dischargis the burnmen to tak ony burn at ony wells in the burgh under sic pains as the jugis pies imput to them.” (“Burgh Records.”)
On the 25th of May, 1554, the magistrates and council ordained that the Burgh Loch should be inclosed, “biggit up” in such a manner as would prevent its overflow (Ibid). In April, 1556, they again ordained the city treasurer to build up the western end of it, “and hold the watter thairof,” though in the preceding January they had ordered its water “to be lattin forth, and the dyke thairof stoppit, so that it may ryn quhair it ran before” (into Dairy Burn, doubtless), “quhill the first of Pasche nixt to cum,” when they should consider whether the water, which seemed to occasion some trouble to the bailies, “be lattin furth or holden in as it is now.”
In 1690 the rental of the loch and its “broad meadows” is given at £66 13s. 4d. sterling, in common good of the city. Early in the seventeenth century an attempt was boldly made to drain this loch, and so far did the attempt succeed that in 1658 the place, with its adjacent marshes, was let to John Straiton, on a lease of nineteen years, for the annual rent of £1,000 Scots, and from him it for a time received the name of Straiton’s Loch, by which it was known in 1722, when it was let for £800 Scots to Mr. Thomas Hope of Rankeillor, on a fifty-seven years’ lease.
Hope was president of “The Honourable Society of Improvers in the Knowledge of Agriculture in Scotland,” who met once a fortnight in a house near what is now called Hope Park, where they received and answered queries from country people on farming subjects. Mr. Hope had travelled in Holland, France, and England, where he picked up the best hints on agriculture, and was indefatigable in his efforts to get them adopted in Scotland.
In consideration of the moderate rent, he bound himself to drain the loch entirely, and to make a walk round it, to be enclosed with a hedge, a row of lime-trees, and a narrow canal, nine feet broad, on each side of it; and in this order the meadows remained unchanged till about 1840, always a damp and melancholy place, even in summer, though much frequented as a public walk.
The western end obtains still the name of Hope Park, and a more modern street close by bears the name of his Fifeshire estate – Rankeillor – now passed to another family.
Among these Improvers were the Earls of Stair, Islay, and Hopetoun, the Lords Cathcart and Drummore, with Dalrymple of Cousland and Cockburn of Ormiston. Lord Stair was the first to raise turnips in the open fields, and so laid the foundation of the most important branch of the store-husbandry of modern times.
The Meadows were long a fashionable promenade. “There has never in my life,” says Lord Cockburn, “been any single place in or near Edinburgh which has so distinctly been the resort at once of our philosophy and our fashion. Lender these poor trees walked, and talked, and meditated, all our literary and scientific, and many of our legal, worthies of the last and beginning of the present century.”
They still form the shooting ground of the Royal Company of Archers. A species of ornamental arbour, called “The Cage,” stood long at the south end of the central walk, and a little, but once famous, cottage and stable, where asses’ milk was sold, long disfigured the upper walk at Teviot Row. A few old-fashioned villas were on the south side of the Meadows; in one of these, in 1784, dwelt Archibald Cockburn, High Judge Admiral of Scotland. No. 6 Meadow Place was long the residence of David Irving, LL.D., author of “The Lives of the Scottish Poets” and other works, librarian to the Faculty of Advocates; and in Warrender Lodge, Meadow Place, lived and died James Ballantine, the genial author of “The Gaberlunzie’s Wallet” and other works of local notoriety, but more especially a volume of one hundred songs, with music, many of which are deservedly popular. Celebrated in his own profession as a glass-stainer, he was employed by the Royal Commissioners on the Fine Arts, to execute the stained glass windows for the House of Lords at Westminster.
Now the once sequestered Meadows, save on the southern quarter, which is open to Bruntsfield Links, are well-nigh completely encircled by new lines of streets and terraces, and are further intersected by the fine modern drive named from Sir John Melville, who was Lord Provost in 1854-9.
1 Dr. J. A. Sidey kindly supplies a description of the original of the engraving on p. 349, taken from the Merchant Company’s Catalogue. “View of George Watson’s hospital and grounds from the south, with the castle and a portion of the town of Edinburgh in the distance. One of the two fine frescoes which originally adorned the walls of the Governor’s Board Room in said hospital… The painter is believed to have been Alexander Runciman, the celebrated Scottish artist. He died on the 21st October, 1785. His younger brother John died in 1768, aged 24.”