Part 4

In our previous Virtual Tour we travelled down the High Street as far as the Netherbow Port and the World’s End Pub. If you missed this article click here for more information. In Part 4 we will follow our Virtual tour of the Canongate which is inaccurately considered to be the last section of the Old Town’s Royal Mile. In reality the Abbey Strand is the last part of the Royal Mile….but more about that later. Once we reach the Abbey Strand we will complete this part of the tour at the entrance to Holyrood Abbey and the Palace of Holyrood House. If you just want to get straight to the Virtual Video tour, just click on the link below. 

Origin of the Canongate

It would be fair to say that the Canongate is less commercialised than the remainder of the Royal Mile. Compared to the upper sections of the Royal Mile, closer to the Castle, there are less shops and more residential properties here. Add into the mix some very important historical buildings which reflect how this part of the Royal Mile evolved and was considered a separate entity to the original Old Town of Edinburgh.

So, let us start by explaining why the Canongate is so named. We have King David I who had a fondness for hunting to thank for this. His Royal hunting ground included the forest of Drumsheugh which encompassed much of the present-day parkland surrounding the Palace. However, on one of his hunts according to legend the King became separated from the rest of the hunters. A huge white stag that he had been hunting turned on him, and just as it was about to charge him, he claimed that a flaming cross appeared out of nowhere.  

In short, the King was saved and he thanked God for his good luck. To mark this event, he instructed the Augustinian monks to build a monastery near to the spot. Hence we have Holyrood Abbey. The monks were also referred to as Canons, and because they would frequently make their way up to the Old Town, the pathway became known as the Canons’ Gait and eventually the Canongate. 

The Old Tolbooth

Because this area fell outside the City Wall, it became a burgh in its own right. Therefore, like the Old Town, it required its own Tolbooth. It was from here that the burgh of the Canongate was administered. The Tolbooth that still stands to this day was originally constructed in 1591, the date engraved into the top left-hand window lintel. Eventually, when the city walls were dismantled, the Canongate was swallowed up into the jurisdiction of the Old Town and the city of Edinburgh. Now the Tolbooth has had new life breathed into it, and has a fantastic museum called the People’s Story.

Next to the Tolbooth, we have an equally impressive and important building, the Canongate Kirk. The Canongate Kirk came about because of the Catholic beliefs of King James VII. A catholic monarch ruling over a predominantly ardent Presbyterian nation was not a popular position to be in. So, the Canongate Kirk was founded in 1688 and completed in 1691 for use by the local townspeople. In the meantime the Abbey, where they had previously worshipped, was converted for use by the Order of the Thistle. The Order of the Thistle was an order that was reestablished by the King. The Canongate Kirk is now the Church used by our Queen when she visits Edinburgh.

Notable “inhabitants” of the Canongate graveyard include Adam Smith, the famous economist, and Robert Fergusson – a young poet who inspired Robert Burns. A lesser known individual is Agnes Maclehose, who it is claimed had an unconsummated affair with Robert Burns whom he wrote to using the cover name of Clarinda. 

The Palace of Holyrood House

Because the Canongate ends at the Abbey Strand, the most well-known building here is the Palace of Holyrood House. The construction of the Palace was originally begun by King James IV in the late 1400s. But due to his ongoing conflict with England he was to lose his life at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. And so it was left to his son King James V to complete the Palace. Thereafter, it became the preferred residence of the successive monarchs but was only a fraction of the size of the present-day palace.   The original palace was added to by order of King Charles II and by 1680 it was completed. Since then, there has been little change to the building apart from many of the interiors being changed to be used for different purposes.

In the immediate vicinity of the Palace can be found the Abbey Strand Centre which has just gone through a major restoration. For further information on this click here. On the opposite side of the road from the Palace, we can find the nation’s Scottish Parliament. Again, this building would require a whole post of its own. So, if you would like further information about it, click here. 

Part 3

In Part 2 of our Virtual video tour of Edinburgh we took you on a short tour of the Lawnmarket. In this video we will take you on a virtual tour of the High Street. We begin opposite the City Chambers and travel as far down as the World’s End pub – more about the pub later. If you just want to get straight to the Virtual Tour just click on the video below. For further details of our tours click here.

The City Chambers

As you leave the eastern side of Parliament Square, sitting back from the High Street is the City Chambers. It is almost as if the building is trying to hide itself away from view. However, when this was originally built in 1753, it was designed to remove the makeshift traders who carried out their business on the High Street. To reduce the congestion, the City Council demanded that they relocate here to the Royal Exchange. Eventually, the traders moved back out onto the High Street and carried on trading where they had left off. Instead, when the Tolbooth was demolished in 1817, the City Councillors chose to take ownership of the Exchange and ever since our City Council has sat here.

The Mercat Cross

Opposite the City Chambers is the Mercat Cross which was the meeting place of the townspeople. It was where the Lord Provost of the City Council would make any official announcements. Royal proclamations that had originated in London would be made four days later here, as it would take a horseman this long to ride here. Although it is a fine piece of masonry, it cannot claim to be the original Mercat Cross. The original one was removed in 1756 and this one took its place in 1885. Only part of the column which the Unicorn sits on is the original. 

Adam Smith Statue

Only yards away from the Cross is another fine statue of one of Edinburgh’s former famous inhabitants, Adam Smith. For those who are not familiar with this gentleman, he was a Scottish economist and philosopher of the 18th Century. Some of his teachings on business and economics are still studied in university. Probably his most famous writings are contained in the book, “The Wealth of Nations.” It is no surprise that he is considered the “Father of Economics.”

John Knox House

Further down the High Street can be found John Knox House, now a time capsule of a different period in our history. It can lay claim to be the oldest property on the Royal Mile dating back to the 1470s. What it can’t lay claim to is that the “Great Orator,” John Knox himself, actually lived here. The couple who lived here at the same time John Knox was living in Edinburgh were James Mossman and Maria Arras. They were Catholics, and John Knox was Protestant. The records show that they lived here and there coat of arms with their initials on it is firmly fixed to the building. 

Why it is called John Knox house is open to conjecture. Could it be that when the Council were widening the High Street, and the building was due for demolition, they had a change of heart and saved this building? Then to give it historical significance, they named it John Knox House? Who knows. Sadly for James Mossman he became only a footnote in history despite being Mary Queen of Scots’ goldsmith. In fact he came to a rather sticky end after the Lang Siege of Edinburgh Castle in 1573. Because he carried on minting coins with her likeness on them, he was executed. 

Netherbow Port

Finally we come to the end of the High Street on the traffic light junction where the World’s End Pub sits. The name of the pub is very apt as this is where the Netherbow Port was located. It was one of the main gateways in the the wall that enclosed the city. Visitors and citizens would pass through the gate of the Netherbow Port to enter or leave the city. For many of the poorest inhabitants of the city, they never ventured out of through the gateway. The lived their entire lives inside the city wall so for them this location really was the “end of the world” for them. The gateway, like the city wall and many of the buildings on this section of the Royal Mile was demolished in 1764 to make the flow of traffic and people easier. 

Part 2 – The Lawnmarket

In Part 1 of our Virtual video Tour of Edinburgh we took you on a short tour of Castlehill and Edinburgh Castle. Following on from this in Part 2 of our Virtual Tour of Edinburgh, we come next to the Lawnmarket. It is a significantly longer section than Castlehill. Along it are a number of very interesting features including the Highland Tolbooth Kirk, Gladstone’s Land, Deacon Brodies, St Giles Cathedral and the Signet Library.  All of these are worth taking a look at when you visit Edinburgh. If you take one of our tours, we are able to cover so much more for you. But click on our video below for a taster of what we cover.

Highland Tolbooth Kirk

If we begin at the top of the Lawnmarket, we can’t help but come face to face with the Highland Tolbooth Kirk. This gothic style building was built between 1842 and 1844 and was initially built to house the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. It also had a congregation whose church services were carried out in Gaelic before eventually locating to Greyfriars Kirk.  Now the building is home to the headquarters of the Edinburgh Festival, as well as housing the Hub café. 

Gladstone’s Land & Deacon Brodie’s

Only a short distance down from here can be found Gladstone’s Land. This is one of the older buildings on the Royal Mile and was originally built in the mid 1500s. The present building was redeveloped in 1617 by Thomas Gledstanes. In the early 1930s it was at risk of being demolished but was rescued when it was purchase by the National Trust of Scotland.  While restoring the building, incredibly they found the original painted ceilings which had been covered by centuries of wall coverings. 

Only a short walk down from here on the opposite side of the street, you come to Brodie’s Close. If you walk down the Close, you come to Deacon’s House Café, on the original site of Brodie’s workshop. Deacon Brodie was an (in)famous individual in the mid-18th century. Despite being a respected gentleman and town councillor, he hid a much darker side which was to be his downfall. However, his story deserves a post all of its own which we will cover in the future.

Crossing over the traffic junction, on the south east corner, you will find a plaque. This confirms that the last public execution in Edinburgh took place here in 1864. Directly opposite is the entrance to High Court of Edinburgh, scene of many high profile trials.

St Gile’s Cathedral

Finally, on this section of our virtual tour we can see St Giles “Cathedral” in all of its glory. You can’t help but notice it with its splendid crown spire. Although there has always been a church here possibly as far back as the 9th century, much of the church is of a much later construction. What we can say for certain is that it would have once been a Roman Catholic church. However, during the Reformation of the mid-1500s all trace of Catholicism was removed and it thereafter became a Presbyterian church. Very briefly thanks to Charles I, it was elevated to the status of Cathedral together with its own Bishop of Edinburgh. However, riots resulted and eventually it reverted to a Presbyterian church. But to this day it is still referred to as St Giles Cathedral.

This completes the overview of the Lawnmarket. However, there is so much more that we cover on our tours. So if this has whetted your appetite take a look at our tours or follow us on Facebook for further details.