Old and New Edinburgh

Old and New Edinburgh

Volume V

OLD LEITH STACF.. Leith Walk.] VIEWS IN PORTOBELLO. I, Ramsag h e ; n, The Established Church ; & High Street, looking eart; + Town Hall ; 5 Episcopalisn Church. 116
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’54 OLD AND NEW EDINBURGH. [Leith Walk. belonged to different vehicles. It is standing opposite the Tron Kirk. The warning bell rings a quarter of an hour before starting ! Shortly a pair of illconditioned and ill-sized hacks make their appearance, and are yoked to it ; the harness, partly of old leathern straps and partly of ropes, bears evidence of many a mend. A passenger comes and takes a seat-probably from the Crames or Luckenbooths-who has shut his shop and affixed a notice to the door, ‘Gone to Leith, and will be back at 4 of the clock, p.m.’ The quarter being up, and the second bell rung, off starts the coach at a very slow pace. Having taken three-quarters of an b u r to get to the Halfway House, the ‘ ‘bus ’ sticks fast in a rut ; the driver whips up his nags, when 10 ! away go the horses, but fast remains the stage. The ropes being re-tied, and assistance procured from the ‘ Half-way,’ the stage is extricated, and proceeds. What a contrast,” adds the writer, “ between the above pictures and the present ‘ ’bus ’ with driver and conductor, starting every five minutes.” But to-day the contrast is yet greater, the tram having superseded the ’bus. The forty oil-lamps referred to would seem not to have been erected, as in the Advertiser for Sep tember, 1802, a subscription was announced for lighting the Walk during the ensuing winter season, the lamps not to be lighted at all until a sufficient sum had been subscribed at the Leith Bank and certain other places to continue them to the end of March, 1803 ; but we have no means of knowing if ever this scheme were camed out. “ If my reader be an inhabitant of Edinburgh of any standing,” writes Robert Chambers, “ he must have many delightful associations of Leith Walk in connection with his childhood. Of all the streets in Edinburgh or Leith, the Walk, in former times, was certainly the street for boys and girls. From top to bottom it was a scene of wonders and enjoyments peculiarly devoted to children. Besides the panoramas and caravan shows, which were comparatively transient spectacles, there were several shows upon Leith Walk which might be considered as regular fixtures, and part of the countv-cousin sghts of Edinburgh. Who can forget the waxworks of ‘Mrs. Sands, widow of the late G. Sands,’ which occupied a laigh shop opposite to the present Haddington Place, and at the door of which, besides various parrots and sundry Birds of Paradise, sat the wax figure of a little man in the dress of a French courtier of the ancien r&iaime, reading one eternal copy of the Edinburgh Advertiser? The very outsides of these wonderful shops was an immense treat ; all along the Walk it was one delicious scene of squirrels hung out at doors and monkeys dressed like soldiers and sailors, with holes behind them where their tails came through. Even the halfpenny-less boy might have got his appetite for wonders to some extent gratified.” The long spaces of blank garden or nursery walls on both sides of the way were then literally garrisoned with mendicants, organ-grinders, and cripples on iron or wooden legs, in bowls and wheelbarrows, by ballad singers and itinerant fiddlers. Among the mendicants on the east side of the Walk, below Elm Row (where the last of the elms has long since disappeared) there was one noted mendicant, an old seaman, whose figure was familiar there for years, and whose sobriquet was “ Commodore O’Brien,” who sat daily in a little masted boat which had been presented to him by order of George IV. “The commodore’s ship,” says the Week0 JournaZ for 1831, “ is appropriately called the Royal Ggt. It is scarcely 6 f t long, by 24 breadth of beam, and when rigged for use her mast is little stouter than a mopstick, her cordage scarcely stronger than packthread, and her tonnage is a light burden for two men. In this mannikin cutter the intrepid navigator fearlessly commits himself to the ocean and performs long voyages.” Now the character of the Walk is entirely changed, as it is a double row of houses from end to end. During the railway mania two schemes were projected to supersede the omnibus traffic here. One was an atmospheric railway, and the other a subterranean one, to be laid under the Walk A road for foot-passengers was to be formed alongside the railway, and shops, from which much remuneration was expected, were to be opened along the line ; but both schemes collapsed, though plans for them were laid before Parliament. In April, 1803, there died, in a house in Leith Walk, James Sibbald, an eminent bookseller and antiquary, who was educated at the grarnmarschool of Selkirk, and after being in the shop of Elliott, a publisher in Edinburgh, in I 78 I acquired by purchase the library which had once belonged to Allan Ramsay, and was thereafter long one of the leading booksellers in the Parliament Square. One terrible peculiarity attended Leith Walk, even till long after the middle of the last century this was the presence of a permanent gibbet at the Gallow Lee, a dreary object to the wayfarer by night, when two or three malefactors swung there in chains, with the gleds and crows perching over them. It stood on rising ground, on the west side of the Walk, and its site is enclosed in the precincts of a villa once occupied by the witty and beautiful Duchess of Gordon. As the knoll was composed
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