Home > Areas > Edinburgh Old Town

Edinburgh Old Town

Previous page: St Giles Church

Edinburgh's Old Town is the oldest part of the city of Edinburgh, built around the Royal Mile, the main thoroughfare. Much of the original medieval street plan still exists as do many Reformation-era buildings. Below some of the side streets and notable buildings are explored.

Accessed from the Royal Mile via an archway lies the Old Fishmarket Close, in which resided George Heriot, the founder of the famous Hospital in Lauriston. Heriot was goldsmith to James VI., and is the original of Jinglin' Geordie in Scott's Fortunes of Nigel.

A few doors farther down stood formerly a strongly built tenement known as the Black Turnpike. Here Mary Queen of Scots and Darnley are said to have lodged after Rizzio's murder.

In the lower end of near by Anchor Close stood a building (now removed), which was the printing office of William Smellie. Here Burns corrected the proofs of the Edinburgh edition of his poems.

In Old Stamp Office Close, Flora Macdonald, the Jacobite heroine, attended school, and the beautiful Susanna, Countess of Eglintoun (to whom Allan Ramsay dedicated his Gentle Shepherd) resided.

At the corner of the Royal Mile and South Bridge is the Tron Church, which received its name from being situated opposite a public weighing beam, or tron. A notable example of "Laudian Gothic", it was erected in 1637, by order of Charles I., to accommodate a congregation, which was obliged to leave St. Giles' when it was transformed into a cathedral.

In the Cap and Feather Close, now covered by the North Bridge, was born Robert Fergusson, whom Burns describes as "my elder brother in misfortune, by far my elder brother in the muses."

At the top of Carrubber's Close, the first below North Bridge, there stood the "Sign of the Mercury," a timber-fronted building with an outside stair. This was the shop in which Allan Ramsay made wigs, sold books, and published his early poems.

Opposite is Niddry Street, taking the place of Niddry's Wynd, which contained a mansion that afforded refuge in 1591 to James VI. and his Queen when they were persecuted by Francis, Earl of Bothwell.

At the south-east corner stands St. Cecilia's Hall, which, in the eighteenth century, was the centre of the musical life of the city. The edifice in its original state was a copy of the Opera House at Parma.

On the north side, the tenement fronting the street next to Bailie Fyfe's Close, replaces another which in 1861 collapsed killing 35 people. A young boy, Joseph McIvor was the only survivor and pinned down by the ruins, shouted to the rescuers: "Heave awa', lads; I'm no' deid yet." To this day the building is known as the 'The Heave Awa Hoose' and features an ornate lintel with a carving of Joseph McIvor's head.

Next page: Blackfriars Street