'Old Houses in Edinburgh'
Bruce J Home
William J Hay
John Knox House, Edinburgh
'The drawings: 'Old Houses in Edinburgh' were published in the
early 1900s in two series, each having 9 parts with 3 drawings
in each part, a total of 54 drawings.
A brief comment about these drawings appeared in
The Spectator in 1907, following the publication of the second series.
A Selection of
Below, I've displayed thumbnail
of these drawings, each followed by the commentary that appeared in
'Old Houses in Edinburgh'.
Please click on the thumbnail
image accompanying any of these descriptions to enlarge it.
Lady Stair's House
LADY STAIR'S HOUSE.
This ancient house bears the date 1622, and the monogram
of Sir William Gray of Pittendrum and his wife Egidia
Smith, sister of Sir John Smith, Provost of Edinburgh in
1643-5, whose daughter is the heroine of the Legend of
Early in the eighteenth century it became
the residence of Eleanor, Countess of Stair, who was for
many years the arbitress of fashion in Edinburgh society.
She died in 1759, twelve years after her husband, the
great Lord Stair, a man of the highest character, equally
renowned as a soldier and a diplomat.
When a very young woman she was married to
James, Viscount Primrose, a roué and a tyrant, whose death
in 1706 set her free from an intolerable bondage.
Her second marriage was as happy as her first had been
wretched, and the distinguished position of her husband
enabled her to gain the unique place in society which she
so long retained by her own talents and accomplishments.
This House, when recently threatened with
destruction in the name of city improvement, was happily
preserved and restored by the liberality of the Earl of
Rosebery, in virtue of his family relation with Lady
Stair's first husband, Viscount Primrose.
A few years ago this Close was a very interesting example of
old world Edinburgh architecture. Its name doubtless
arose from the fact that at some relatively recent date it
was paved with flagstones in place of the smaller causeway
stones or "cobbles" of an earlier period.
Its general aspect can be better gathered
from the sketch than from any detailed description. So
far as we know it has few historic or traditional memories
associated with it. Its simple architecture was in
striking contrast to its stately neighbour, Chessel's Court
- a somewhat imposing example of eighteenth century
improvement - which it flanked on the eastern side.
It no doubt suffered from the degeneration of
its inmates consequent on the Union of 1707, from which date
the Canongate gradually ceased to be the domicile of the
We find it fifty years later occupied by law
clerks, and more recently by a still poorer class, but it
retained to the last an air of homely comfort; and its
demolition has effaced one more landmark of the old burgher
Opposite the north doorway of St Giles Church, was among the
most picturesque of Edinburgh's bye-ways. Until 1884
the entire Close presented a notably quaint and venerable
Tall tenements of stone lined both sides of a
very steep declivity. These afforded support to a
series of timber outworks which projected storey above
storey over the narrow roadway until, near the top, the
inmates could almost literally shake hands with their
neighbours opposite. Even today, when the larger and
lower part has been wholly obliterated, the upper reach
retains a good deal of the old-world aspect of days long
This close is alleged to have taken its name
from Sir James Stewart of Goodtrees, Lord Advocate for
Scotland from 1692 to 1713, who occupied the house at its
The whole locality, however - so conveniently
near the Parliament House - was a haunt of men of the law,
and, as a little further down the High Street we come upon
the "Writers' Court", we may fairly assume that the title
"Advocates' Close" is generic rather than specific.
Sir James (Stewart) was the author of the
once famous Covenanting record Naphtali", and a number of
other politico-religious pamphlets. He died in 1713,
aged 78. At a later date his house was occupied by
Andrew Crosbie, the prototype of "Mr Pleydell", so lovingly
delineated by Sir Walter Scott in "Guy Mannering".
is the name of the small quadrangle a few
paces lower down than Canongate Churchyard.
Its interior to the north presents a small
group of very quaint and homely houses , to which access is
by an outside stair. A loftier and more dignified
tenement, with an exceedingly handsome though much
dilapidated doorway and other traces of ancient elegance,
occupies the south-western part of the Close.
On the eastern side, the buildings are modern
and uninteresting. So far as is known the place has no
historic or legendary interest; but it has an aspect of
modest old-world comfort, somewhat similar to that of
Behind the lower buildings on the north rises
the Cadell House, a substantial family residence of the
Eighteenth century, access to which is gained from Panmure
Close, the next alley on the west. Panmure Close takes
its name from the town mansion of the Lords Panmure, which
stands in a somewhat spacious courtyard, bounded on the west
by Cadell House, and on the south by the buildings of
This edifice, a good deal of which still
survives, was the residence of Adam Smith, author of "The
Wealth of Nations", from 1778 to 1790 - the year of his
death. His remains lie buried in the adjoining
Back of Bakehouse Close
BACK OF BAKEHOUSE CLOSE,
a place scarcely known even to those who haunt our ancient
alleys and throwgangs, is illustrated in a previous sketch,
which looking northwards shows the Huntly House from behind;
the present drawing illustrates the lower portion of the
This quaint quadrangle is divided into two
parts by the ancient and massive stone wall, pierced by a
doorway now built up, but which formerly gave access to the
lower or southern half of the courtyard.
Both of these divisions are interesting,
though the lower part, so far as we know, is destitute of
any tradition or legend beyond the general belief that the
whole area was subject to the great house of Huntly.
The quaint timber gables which project from
the main edifice are perhaps suggestive of English rather
than Scottish domestic architecture, bt closer examination
shows the massive substructure of stone so thoroughly
characteristic of Old Edinburgh.
In future numbers, further illustrations will
be given of this interesting but little known locality.
John Knox House
JOHN KNOX HOUSE
was assuredly the property and residence of James Mossman,
Goldsmith to Queen Mary, until 1572, when he forsook it to
take refuge in the Castle held for the Queen by Kirkcaldy of
In August of that same year, John Knox
returned from his temporary exile at St Andrews in feeble
health, ant there is very strong ground for the belief that
he was domiciled in the derelict abode of James Mossman.
Here he spent the last three months of his life, here he
died on 24 November 1572, and hence his remains were
conveyed to their last resting-place in St Giles Courtyard,
where a small stone indicates the spot which is believed to
be the site of his internment.
Much and valuable contributory evidence goes
to support this view, and the whole is confirmed by the
ancient and persistent tradition which associates the house
with the memory of our great Reformer.
Our drawing represents the Netherbow as it
appeared about 1760, before the ancient Port was demolished.
BRODIE'S CLOSE was a throwgang or thoroughfare
passing from the Lawnmarket to the Cowgate. It entered between
Fisher's Close and Old Bank or Gourlay Close, which stood on the site of
Brodie's Close was truncated by the erection of Victoria Street, whereby the
portion next the Lawnmarket was contracted into a small courtyard.
The last relics of the lower extremity, next the Cowgate disappeared to make
room for the Public Library.
close took its name from the notorious Deacon Brodie***, who lived in the
Close, and whose woodyard adjoined the southern end.
see Comment below.
Brodie, who began life as a substantial citizen, and became a Magistrate of
Edinburgh, squandered his patrimony and his own earnings in secret
dissipation, and then, to repair his shattered resources, began a
course of midnight robberies which date from 1786, the year of Robert Burns'
arrival in Edinburgh.
years later, betrayed by an accomplice, he was apprehended, condemned and
executed. Our illustration shows the place near the Cowgate which was
occupied by his woodyard.
At the upper or Lawnmarket end of the Close still survives
the Hall of the Roman Eagle Lodge, a fashionable Masonic Society of the 18th
David Hutchison is author of the book: "Deacon Brodie - A Double Life".
Thank you to David for telling me:
Who was Brodie's Close named after?
"It is stated above that Brodie's close
took its name from the notorious Deacon Brodie.
I appreciate that the quote
above is taken from a book that was
published in the early- 1900s. However, Brodie’s Close was NOT
named for (Deacon) William Brodie.'
The Deacon’s grandfather, Ludovick, was the
first Brodie to live in the close, and his son, Francis, was born there.
Francis Brodie’s position in the city led to the
close being called Brodie’s Close. (Its naming had nothing to do his
son William – the infamous one).
Sorry, this is a very small point, but there’s
so much of Deacon (William) Brodie’s life which is ‘reported’ incorrectly –
the Close being named after him, is just one."
David Hutchison: 22 July, 2016
BAIRD'S CLOSE, West Port was a thoroughfare
leading from King's Stables Road to the West Port, near the Main Port.
buildings in the Close were very quaint and characteristic, but were, so far
as known. unassociated with any historic events. They disappeared some
ten or twelve years ago as a result of a series of drastic demolitions,
whereby the aspect of the neighbourhood has been completely altered.
lower end of the Close opened on the Baresse, or Tilting-ground, which
retains for the site a romantic interest, indicated now only by its name,
"The King's Stables".
Here James IV took part in those chivalric
sports which attracted Cavaliers from all parts of Europe to
the Scottish Capital. Accommodation for the horses and
attendants of these champions, as well as for the King's own
retinue had to be provided; hence arose a name for the
locality which has survived, although the ground has been
altered beyond all recognition, and the building themselves
have long ago disappeared.
HUNTLY HOUSE. George,
the sixth Earl and first Marquis of Huntly, whose name is associated with
this building, was a notable figure in the days of James VI and his son
He was the grandson of that splendid Earl of whom John Knox
testifies that "in mannis opinion, under a prince, there was not suche an
one these thre hundreth years, in the realm produced." adding, however, that
"both felicitie and worldly wisdome so blynded him that, in the end he
perysched in thame."
The defeat and death of the great Earl of Corrichie in 1562,
led to a temporary eclipse of the fortunes of his family, which, however,
were restored in 1565 by Queen Mary in the person of George, fifth Earl,
who, dying in 1576, was succeeded by the subject of these observations.
He began at an early age to take a leading part in public
affairs. In 1592 he was commissioned by the king to apprehend the Earl
o' Moray. Moray and Huntly were hereditary foes, and it is not
surprising that when Huntly attempted to seize Moray at Donibristle, the
latter, attempting to escape, was barbarously slain, - a tragedu recprded om
tje [atjetoc na;;ad, "The bonnie Earl o' Moray". Huntly was created a
Marquis in 1599, and survived till 1636.
The illustration shows the back of Huntly House as seen from
Bakehouse Close, and brings out in some detail the old-fashioned
construction adn decoration of this fine mansion.
the third below the older North Bridge, still survives in an entirely
modernised form, while its neighbouring alleys to the west, Halkerston's
Wynd and Kinloch's Close, have been entirely obliterated.
is believed to have derived its somewhat odd name from a certain William de
Carabris, a Bailie of Edinburgh in 1454, probably, like a number of our
prominent citizens of old time, a man of foreign extraction.
was a spacious close containing a number of tall and stately tenements and,
up to a recent period, continued to be inhabited by a superior class of
About the time of the Revolution, 1688-90, it became a haunt and
rallying-ground of the non-juring Episcopal clergy and Jacobite lairds.
Here they erected their first modest chapel, dedicated to St Paul, which, in
the later half of the eighteenth century, was superseded by the larger and
more substantial edifice in the Cowgate, now occupied by the Roman Catholics
and re-dedicated to St. Patrick.
name and memory of the primitive little chapel in Carrubber's Close are ,
however, still perpetuated in the handsome modern building in York Place.
The tall tenements of the new North Bridge now occupy the
western side of the ancient thoroughfare, and every vestige of old time has
disappeared, unless a tablet to the memory of Archbishop Spottiswoode and a
modern Episcopal Chapel facing Jeffrey Street at the foot of the Close, may
be regarded as exceptions.
Adam Bothwell's House
Commander of Holyrood and Bishop of Orkney, was one of the time-serving
clergy who, after the Reformation, were content to fill the Offices of the
old Catholic prelates. He, in 1567, married with Protestant
rites, Francis Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, to Queen Mary, and within two
months there after basely deserted her cause.
house still survives, though in a woefully dilapidated condition, at the
lower end of Byres Close. The most characteristic portion now extant
is the semi-hexagonal or apsidal termination surmounted by three elegant
dormer windows, the central one of which still bears the inscription - "Nihil
est ex omni partie beatum.
The range of dormers would seem to have extended along the
East side of the building - as some relics of them are still visible built
into later walls. The house is one of the most ancient and most
interesting still remain ing in our City, and, although cruelly mutilated
ought assuredly to be reckoned among the most valuable memorial of those
"strange and unhappy far off times" of which it is a survival.
Another pathetic association clings to this ancient mansion.
It was the home which sheltered the childhood of the lovely and unfortunate
daughter of the Bishop whose tragic story is commemorated in the beautiful
old ballad, "Lady Anne Bothwell's Lament".
LORD CULLEN'S CLOSE, now associated with the
memory of the notorious Deacon - enters by Archway beneath the ancient house
which is depicted in our drawing.
tenement has the melancholy distinction of being, with the exception of John
Knox's house and the building next to it, the last surviving example of the
timber-fronted houses once so conspicuous on the frontage of the High Street
Behind it on the West side of the Close still survives the hall of the Roman
Eagle, formed by removing the partition which divided two spacious rooms in
an, is adorned with finely decorated plaster ceilings of type common
in the 17th century.
point of particular interest is indicated by their dates. The latest
visitation of Plague in Edinburgh took place in 1645, the year in which the
country was devastated by the campaign of Montrose
City was nearly depopulated, and the ordinary activities of life well-nigh
paralysed. It is notable, therefore, to find on the ceiling of the
inner room the date 1645, and on the outer 1646, plainly indicating the
suspension of work during the Pestilence, and its completion after the Pague
Deacon Brodie's house is alleged to have been the residence
of Oliver Cromwell during the siege of the Castle.
SOMERVILLE'S LAND, adjoining Milne's Court,
terminated on the East the group of ancient tenements associated with the
memory of Mary of Guise.
gabled timber front formed a point of interest at the junction of the
Lawnmarket and Castlehill until quite lately, when, with the equally
interesting group behind it which lined the West side of Milne's Court, it
was demolished to make room for an extension of the buildings of the Free
house was named from a substantial burgess of Edinburgh, Bartholomew
Somerville, who dwelt there at the close of the 16th century. He was
the son of Peter Somervale, a magistrate of th City, whose abode in the West
Bow, close by, became at a later period the first Assembly Room in
Bartholemew Somerville appears to have been a man of munificence and public
spirit. To him the City is deeply indebted for generous gifts which
greatly contributed to the establishment of the University upon a solid
At a later date, the house became the residence of Sir John
Harper of Cambusnethan - after which, in common with most of its neighbours
in the Old Town, it gradually sank into the state of degradation and decay
which terminated in its recent demolition.
Braid's Close, looking North
BAIRD'S CLOSE as seen from King's Stables Road
has already been illustrated in this work, but its aspect from different
points was so interesting that thee needs be no scruple in presenting
This one, taken from the South or upper end near Main Pint,
shows the picturesque building on the slopes of the declivity; while in the
background, the great crag rises to its full majestic height, crowned by the
most ancient, picturesque, and historic buildings of the royal fortress.
tower at the South East angle of the Castle, which contains the royal
apartments so closely associated with the memory of Mary and her son, James
VI, is flanked on the West by the Parliament or Banquetting Hall in which
was served "the black dinour" which receded and announced the dudicial
murder of the youthful Earl of Douglas and his brother.
The buildings in the Close, though destitute of historic
associations, are quaint and interesting. Their aspect of homely
comfort heighlighted by a few old-fashioned touches of decoration, suggests
that they may have furnished homes to some of the substantial burgesses of
Wester Portsburgh in the days of its prosperity, before it sank into the
disreputable and ill-omened slum - hunted, in later years, by sinister
memories of Burke and Hare and the Resurrectionists.
Baird's Close, looking South
ANOTHER view of
BAIRD'S CLOSE taken from about the middle and
looking southward shows from the rear the tenements which, on their farther
side, front the West Port.
homely old-fashioned quaintness of the buildings is even more conspicuous in
this than in other views.
These houses are entirely lacking in the
stately height and spaciousness of he better class lands and
mansions of central Edinburgh. They seem rather to
indicate the tenancy of a comfortable and well-to-do class
of burgesses, proud of their independence, and jealous in
maintaining the privileges of their own Corporation with its
Court House and other insignia which were the visible and
tangible evidences of its freedom.
It was within the West Port that the signal
was given which inaugurated by beat of drum, the
extra-ordinary upheaval known in history as "The Porteous
The ancient burgh was the mustering ground
where assembled mysterious ring-leaders whom all the efforts
of authority failed to detect or identify, and who, marching
through the old Gateway at the head of an ever augmenting
crowd proceeded by way of the Grassmarket and the West
Bow to the successful accomplishment of their audacious
THE WEST PORT was - as its name indicates - the
City Gate which opened close by the foot of the Vennel at the South Western
extremity of the Grassmarket.
name of the Gateway has been transferred to the narrow, straggling street
which extends from the site of the ancient portal to the Main Point - a
gusset house from which in old time diverged the three great roads, North,
West and South, which led from the Capital to the furthest bounds of the
of these thoroughfares are now known as Fountainbridge and the High Riggs,
the latter being a territorial name which formerly designated the whole
tableland now occupied by Heriot's Hospital and the building to the West of
is a curious and interesting feature of Old Edinburgh that it was encircled
by a group of small and semi-independent Burghs, the most notable of which
were the Calton and the Canongate on the North and East, while on the South
and West stood Easter and Wester Portsburgh united under one corporation,
but territorially separated by the suburb of Bristo.
main street of Easter Portsburgh was the Potterow, and that of Wester
Portsburgh was the West Port.
Our view, taken from the entrance to the High Riggs, shows
the upper part of the ancient thoroughfare before recent demolitions had
entirely altered its character and appearance.
stands immediately to the west of Bailie Fyfe's Close, directly opposite
Blackfriars Street. Until 1902, the locality was one of the most
interesting in the Old Town.
A group of buildings of great age and of quite exceptional
character occupied the two Closes above-named They were substantial
structures of stone, and might well have weathered the storms of centuries
to come, but all have disappeared to make room for brick buildings of an
entirely commonplace description.
A Very substantial building with strongly vaulted basement,
occupied the east side of the Close, and enclosed a small Courtyard, the
only access to which was by an unobtrusive opening in Bailie Fyfe's Close,
guarded by double doors.
The vaulted ground floor in Morrison's Close was entirely
isolated from the superstructure, which entered from Bailie Fyfe's Close,
and which was marked by a number of features which appeared to indicate that
it was the secret oratory of some unpopular faith.
On the third floor of the tall tenement in the centre of the
drawing - a very unusual place - was recently found a curiously significant
inscription, which seemed prophetic o the approaching doom of the house - it
"Enemies of God and the King
To the earth did me doun ding - 1572"
THE OLD WEST BOW, for
centuries the only access to the City from the West, was, among all the
streets, alleys, and closes, the most picturesque roadway in Edinburgh,
perhaps in Europe.
Emerging from the Grassmarket at its North-eastern extremity, it followed
its tortuous course u the steep acclivity which terminated tt the junction
of Castlehill and Lawnmarket.
quaint, irregular and diversified tenements towered one above another in a
most unexpected, almost incredible fashion, in apparent defiance of the law
historic legendary associations were as extra-ordinary as its architectural
features which seemed to concentrate and epitomise all that was most
remarkable in the "Historic Mile" itself.
This unique and venerable thoroughfare was demolished between
1830-40 to make room for the series of reconstructions to which we owe
Johnstone Terrace, Victoria Street and George IV Bridge - improved modes of
access to which were sacrificed the most rare and inestimable of our
Our drawing illustrates a small courtyard near the Bow foot
which, until some five or six years ago, stood behind the few ancient
tenements which still survive.
opposite the Canongate Tolbooth, is reputed
to have been the town residence of the ancient and powerful
family of Huntly,
It is one of the most remarkable of the few
half-timbered houses which still survive in Edinburgh.
The basement and first floor, very substantially built of
hewn stone, are surmounted by three great timbered gables
which still bear the traces of ancient decoration now nearly
An arched entrance at the eastern extremity
gives access to the Bakehouse, On the masonry above
the basement appears a series of quaint inscriptions. four
in number, each within a panelled tablet. From these
the building has been popularly named "The Speaking House".
The Western tablet, which is upright, the
others being oblong, shows wheat ears springing among bones
with the motto "Spes altra vitae".
The next tablet admonishes us that "Constanti
pectori res mortalium umbra"
The third proclaims Ut tu linguae tuae sic
ego mearum aurium dominus sum"; and the fourth and
most easterly records the date 1570, with the words "Hodie
mihi cras tibi, cur igitur curas".
Similar inscriptions are common in Old
Edinburgh, but this aggregation of them is unique and in
combination with its notable architectural features, renders
the mansion an example of exceptional interest.
White Horse Close
THE WHITEHORSE CLOSE
is the name of the ancient quadrangle depicted in our drawing.
stands at the foot of the Canongate near the Watergate and Holyrood
Sanctuary, and was, in former days, one of the chief Hostelries in the Old
exceedingly quaint and picturesque buildings afford a characteristic example
of the accomm-odation which our ancestors provided for the up-putting of the
stranger and sojourner within their gates.
Owing to the nature of the ground the tenement possesses , on the North
side, a vaulted basement which provided ample stable-room for the horses or
travellers resident at the Inn.
unwavering tradition associates the name of the Hostelry with a favourite
white palfrey belonging to Queen Mary.
was the trysting-place whence the Scots nobles were to start on their
projected but abortive expedition to Berwick to hold conference with Charles
I in 1639, and no doubt Sir Walter Scott ws historically accurate in
describing the Inn as the quarters for Prince Charlie's Officers during his
occupation of Edinburgh in 1745.
Hostelry must not be confused with The White Horse Inn in Boyd's Close, St
Mary's Wynd, at which Dr Johnston put up on his arrival in Edinburgh in
tenement at the North-East corner of the quadrangle is noted as the
residence of John Paterson and Alexander Rose, the two last Episcopal
Bishops of Edinburgh before the Revolution in 1688-9.