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Life Jottings of an Old Edinburgh Citizen
Chapter Seventeen


"Look at the West side of the Castle and shudder!'
Lord Cockburn [Letter to the Lord Provost]-

IF the municipality of Edinburgh has in the past been open to censure for neglect of, and in some cases attack on, the amenity of the city, the Imperial Government has not acquitted itself any less discreditably. The tale that has to be told of their proceedings in mutilating old historical buildings and erecting new buildings that are indefensible, s by no means a short one. The old historic Castle, which any good citizen would expect to be protected from outrage, was most scandalously dealt with "By Order" of Ministers of the Crown.' The two most interesting buildings on the Castle Rock are St. Margaret's Chapel, which stands behind the great gun known as Mons Meg, and the Parliament Hall on the south side of the square. The little chapel, which dates from the time of Malcolm Canmore and hrs consort, Queen Margaret, is an excellent spec -men of early Norman architecture, and many interesting historical incidents are associated with it. In my boyhood its existence as a chapel was unknown. Most shamefully was it treated. It was altered to serve as a store for the powder and fuses that were to be used for firing salutes! The Government officials placed a wooden floor halfway up the walls, so as to pro\ de two stories, on which the Ordnance Department piled their ammunition. It was only in 1845 the discovery that it was a chapel was accidentally made. A gentleman looking over the upper floor saw what he thought was an old fort, but which on investigation proved to be the capital of a Norman pillar. This led to inquiry, and Her Majesty, learning that the building was an ancient chapel, directed that it should be freed from the dishonouring fittings that had been ruthlessly setup in it. It is now restored, and forms, when its history is studied, one of the most interesting relics of the past.

At the south side of the square, on the upper part of the Castle Rock, stood the ancient Parliament Hall, in which the national business war, transacted w hen the city was besieged by an enemy. This Hall I can remember being in use as a military hospital; it being treated in the same shameful way as the chapel had been, by having a floor put in half-way up, so as to make a two-decked infirmary for the garrison. This was a gross outrage upon a historical building, and to such an extent was it carried that a projection was thrown out from the south wall on brackets, and an enormous sewage pipe carried down the face of the rock to the ground, disfiguring in a very disgusting manner the most picturesque view of the Castle, the rock rising perpendicularly from the road below, and crowned with the Parliament Hall budding and the royal rooms which Queen Mary occupied, and from which her infant son James was let down in a basket, and carried off to be out of danger from the enemy. A more ruthless outrage was never committed than this, and it marks a period when taste and even decency were at a discount in Government departments. his insult to Edinburgh is now a thing of the past, although little credit attaches to Government officials for the restoration; for only when the expense was undertaken by a citizen, Mr. Nelson, the publisher, did the Government consent to restore the Hall, and to remove from the picturesque buildings and lofty rock the hideous disfigurement caused by these sewage works. The Parliament Hall is now restored, and beautifully decorated as an armoury of old weapons, so that it can be visited with pleasure, where formerly it could only be looked on with shame. Outside, the bold, rugged face of the rock is no longer made hideous.

There is one building on the Castle Rock which still remains, and which as long as it does remain will be a disgrace to the Government and to the city. Early in the century a huge factory-like building was set up on the west side of the rock. I remember well when I was a boy, a cousin who was in the 93rd regiment coming to see my father, and that my father, in conversation inquired where he was quartered in the Castle, to which he replied "In the cotton-mill." I was puzzled at the idea of there being a cotton-mill in tlie Castle, until indulging my youthful inquisitiveness, I came to learn that the soldiers name for this hideous barrack was applied as a piece of sarcasm. There it stands to this day, Lord Cockburn's denunciation—"Lofty and offensive; the disgrace of those who set it there, and not to the credit of those who allow it to remain"—being not one whit too strong. A better situation for a well-designed castellated building in Scottish style does notice, and even without any building the rock would be grand, but the bald, flat-faced erection of tenement like design is worthy of the most condign condemnation. It may be vain to expect that the successors of those who committed this outrage will take steps to remedy it. Indeed, It is understood that when Mr. Lowe was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he positively refused to place a sum on the estimates to be applied to the rectifying of the evil, saying with characteristic bluntness that if Edinburgh did not like the building she had better provide what was necessary to alter it. One can only hope that the excellent example set by the many donors who have done great works for the City and Castle may be emulated by some wealthy citizen. No nobler work could be found for civil munificence than to remove this prominent eyesore from our beautiful citadel. Many citizens have done good work, and a great work was done by Mr. Nelson on the east and south sides of the Castle. If a generous donor can be found to remedy the evil done in the Georgian era of degraded taste, be w: II earn the gratitude of every Edinburghian.

Recently a most discreditable piece of work was perpetrated, in obtruding an ugly brick erection beyond the ne of the buildings in Inverleith Row, where the roadway and the footway were both narrower than they should be. The ground beig the property of the State, the civic authorities had no power to interfere. But when the building obtruded itself in all its hideousness, public indignation was so great that the (Government Department had to yield. As usual, however, the stipulation w as that the 1 800 necessary to carry out the setting back should be provided by the Edinburgh public!

There is another cause of alarm as regards the future, as there is an intention to pull down the Calton Jail and erect Government offices on the site. Here irreparable mischief may be done, and it will require great watchfulness by our civic representatives, and great efforts by the citizens, to secure that some such outrage as the cotton-mill on the Castle Rock is not repeated on the rock of Calton, where it would be a more grievous disfigurement to the city, the position being so prominent, and viable on all sides,

When candour makes it necessary to say so much which is unfavourable to Edinburgh as regards its buildings, it would be unjust not to acknowledge that the city has been worthily adorned in the last century by many structures of dignity and good taste. The High School by Hamilton, the Galleries on the Mound by Playfair, the new bank buildings, the M'Ewan University Hall, the New University buildings, Findlay's National Portrait Gallery (all three by Rowand Anderson), the Episcopal Cathedral by Gilbert Scott, erected by the Misses Walker's bequest, the new Post Office, and last of all the Usher Concert Hall, may be mentioned as public: buildings which adorn the internal parts of the city, ''he new Royal Infirmary is also a worthy building for its beneficent purpose. Outside are the numerous educational buildings, of which may be mentioned those ;n the neighbourhood of Queensferry Road, including Donaldson's Hospital and Fettes College. These are all buildings which may be held to be adornments of the city, and worthy of its beautiful situation. It is to be hoped most earnestly that society has entered upon an era when the desire to protect the beautiful and ancient from injury, and to exercise care and discriminative taste in the erection of new buildings is becoming dominant. The latest thing we have to deplore <s the thrusting into the. line of Princes Street great masses of incongruous light-coloured marble, in every way out of place and objectionable, however artistic they might be if forming parts of structures in that style.

My diatribes upon the wrongs of our dear city are of course not to be taken as the remarks of boyhood only. But I have thought it better to put together what is to be said on that subject, rather than attempt to fit in different matters to different dates in a futile effort to maintain exact chronological order. I now return to the narrative of youth.


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