Additional Info

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

Share

Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

Life Jottings of an Old Edinburgh Citizen
Chapter Thirty


IN the year 1875 a few citizens who saw the need for watchfulness to prevent disfigurements to the city by new works, and loss to the city by the demolition of interesting relics of former days, formed the Cockburn Association, named after one who in his day did his utmost to urge upon the Corporation and the public the need for conserving the beautiful features of the town, and putting an end to proceedings which tended to disfigure or vulgarise it. The general body of the community were to a sad degree apathetic, and but few of the citizen's joined themselves to the Association. It has, however, continued to this day, and has always had a council which vigilantly looked after the city's interests. Of course it would have been much more influential had it been able to appeal to the fact that it was backed up by a large number of members of the community. It almost invairably happens that when anything is threatened or done tending to detriment, "Critic," or "Grumbler," or "/Esthete" sends a letter to the newspapers, in which he asks: "What is the Cockburn Association about?" suggesting that it is not "about," and that it is to be blamed if some outrage is committed on the city's fair face. In almost every case where this has occurred, the anonymous letter-writer, if he had been a member of the Association, or instead of writing to the Press he had written to the Association secretary, would have known that it had taken every action in its power, and that its weakness to accomplish what was desirable was that the dozens declined to make it representative by enrolling themselves in it. Is it vain to appeal to them to do so now I would fain hope that some spirit may be aroused, and that a substantial body of the citizens will be formed as a guard for the city's amenity. It is impossible not to feel that this is one of those cases in which there has been a failure to take hold on the public mind at the genesis of a movement, and it becomes an accepted feeling among the citizens that the efforts of a few are to be treated with contempt, while at the same time the idle and contemptuous ones hold that those who work are to be blamed if something which ought to be accomplished fails to find accomplishment, those who sneer not realising that their apathy is in measure the cause of the weakness. I appeal to my fellow-townsmen and say: If you will inquire you will find that much has been done by the handful of citizens who have been working as the Cockburn Association, much that gives them a claim for support by an increased membership, so that they may have greater influence. If the following are good works—and they are only a few of those that have been done—how much more could be accomplished if substantiality and representative character could be given to chose who have worked, and are Hill willing to work.

Some of the objects which have been pressed upon the public bodies who manage our city affairs by the Cockburn Association since its formation are:

1. The improvements of Princes Street.
2. The establishment of the Arboretum at the Royal Botanic Gardens.
3. The improvement of the Meadows.
4. The preservation of trees.
5. The prevention of the Forrest statuary being exhibited in Princes Street Gardens.
6. The prevention of the erection of blocks of working men's houses on the grounds of Clock-mill House, at the north side of Queen s Park, close to the Parade Ground.
7. The prevention of the erection of a rock-garden in West Princes Street Gardens.
8. The restoration of the ancient Parliament Hall in Edinburgh Castle.
9. Removal of objectionable advertisement hoardings.
10. The purchase of the ground to the south of the Arboretum to save the view of the city.
11. The purchase of Croft-an-Righ.
12. Prohibition of flashing advertisements.
13. The saving of Mowbray House as a historic building.

In all these cases, and many minor ones, the Cockburn Association has done its part to preserve and enhance the amenity of Edinburgh.

I would say to every fellow-citizen: If you hold that the Cockburn Association's a useless body, will you consider whether some organisation is needful for the work which you think the present Association fails to fulfil, and will you exert yourselves to form a body that shall be useful in protecting and improving Edinburgh? The Cockburn Association will go on with its work until you have done this. Please, if you will not help in a good cause, do not belittle the doings of those who are doing some work, while you do none.

A practice prevailed for many years in Edinburgh, in common with many other caues, whenever a building of any just or unjust pretension to architectural distinction was erected, to shut; up in a cage of iron bars, more or less hideous in design, and often not the less so, from the design being intended to be elegant. Such railings often had the effect of depriving the building of the first important feature it should have. A building in a public place should be seen rising up from the ground with nothing close to it to interfere with its lines, so that the eye may see the structure from foundation to its highest point. In the case of St. Giles Cathedral, caging was carried to an extravagant degree, with the result that round the building was a space shut off from the attentions of the scavenger, and tempting the passerby who had something he wished to get rid of, to use it as a rubbish deposit, dishonouring to the building and often disgusting to the rest of the public, and even insanitary. When the mistake was made of spending 30,000 on depriving St. Giles' of its rugged, rough exterior—characteristic of the race whose place of worship it was—and casing it up in a polished ashlar shell, the Cathedral was then for the first tune enclosed in an eight-foot fence, consisting of thick iron posts set very close to each other, which were supposed to be decorated by paltry halbert tops. This disfiguring cage was carried in a curve round the ends of the building, absolutely unrelieved in its monotony. So heavy was it, and so solid looking, that to the spectator coming round from Bank Street into view of the church, the effect was a bride-cake effect, the base offering a rounded aspect, instead of presenting the features of the buttresses with the recesses. But the most deplorable effect was the chronic filthy state of the ground behind the railings.

Passing the building, as I did almost daily for many months of many years, the determination hardened in me to make a sustained effort to have this eyesore removed, for it was a grievous eyesore. People get accustomed to anything that is before them every day, and even men of taste willtolerate a thing that exists, when if it did not exist, and it were proposed to give it existence, they would be up in arms to prevent it. I brooded over this question of railings round buildings, and It came home to me that there were many public buildings where the caging-in craze had caused harm, and, as friends can testify, I made myself more or less a nuisance, and endured more than one rebuff from pubic bodies, to whom I inveighed, against the caging system, as being more disfiguring than any injury that might take place if the building were left free. My first direct effort was at the time when Mr. Findlay's great gift of the National Portrait Gallery was nearing completion. I had been for some time, on the nomination of Lord President Inglis, a member of the Board of Manufactures, and at a meeting plans were brought up for an iron railiig to be put along the front of that building two or three feet from the wall, at an estimated expenditure of 180. This was something not yet done, and I pleaded hard against the doing of it. Protection against burglars was a plea put forward as unanswerable in its favour. I replied that it was new to me that if a burglar wanted to get in at a window eight feet from the ground, it would not be a help to him to have a horizontal bar to stand on six feet up and within two feet of the window. I urged that the space enclosed would be nothing but a lodging place for straw, loose paper, and perhaps worse, and maintained that a railing must be a disfigurement to such a building, and should be a proved necessity before being sanctioned. I stood alone. The whole Board voted in favour of spending the 180. The Lord President, with a twinkle n his eye, partly sarcastic but friendly—having noticed how keen I was on the matter—said, "Do you wish to enter a protest on the Minutes?" I said, "No, I have said my say, and I will leave it to time to vindicate me." He who protests, protests only because he has no hope. I still hoped that I might be vindicated. I was vinaicated. My friend Sir Rowand Anderson, who was the architect, and who was present to show the plans, is a man who never rejects a suggestion without thinking it over, and only does so when thought does not bring him to agree. He did think it over, with the result that the ,180 was never spent, and the front of the Gallery is never strewed with straw and orange-peel and banana skins. Who would propose now to cage the Gallery in even if an offer were made to do it for nothing? Not only this5, but on his advice similar places n front of the University were freed from railings, and the rails caging in the Tron Church and St. Paul's Episcopal Church were taken down. his was very encouraging, and I braced myself for a struggle over St. Giles', having ascertained that Dr.. Cameron Lees would be quite favourable to clearing away the enclosing cage of the Cathedral. I sent to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners a Iist of what lay round the church—filthy newspapers, a dead cat, a cast-off bonnet, an old shoe, a fish kettle with no bottom, and any number of pieces of rag, orange-peel, stick, &c. &c. There were seventy articles on the occasion of my visit to make a catalogue. Having thus prepared the way, I brought the matter up at the Board of Manufactures. Only one telling objection was tabled—that the expense of removal and filling in the filthy spaces with pavement would be very great. I played a last trump card, informing them that they could get the whole work done for nothing. This led to considerable staring. I was able to assure them that this great fence of three-inch thick uprights was made of the best malleable iron, and a contract could easily be got to do the work without charge if the contractor was allowed to take away the metal. The result was that an offer was put in, by which the contractor undertook to pay 25, to remove the fence and fill in the pavement. This was done, and I ask who would be a party now to disfiguring the church and disgracing it by once more using the ground round it; for a "midden"?

I looked out long for a chance of attacking the disfiguring railings round the Royal Institution, and found it when Lord Provost Mitchell Thomson urged the Board to set back the railing at Princes Street, as the passage between the tramways and the side of the street was so narrow at that point. that once pleaded for the removal of the railings alto< ether, his time I obtained vigorous aid. Mr. . R. Findlay, on being asked what he thought, said empnatically, I would say take them all down. 'he consent was given. The building has now stood free from disturbing iron lines for many years, and no one has ever suggested that any fences are required, while everyone must admit that the removal of the caging and the disfiguring lamps in front of the pillars has been esthetically a great change for the better.

Since these two great improvements have been effected, the tendency to caging in buildings has been much abated. Many new erections, which would certainly have been barred in stand open to the street, and so completely has the idea of the need for such enclosures been dissipated, that many buildings formerly shut in are now allowed to stand out, without being caged behind prison bars. Notably the fine flight of steps of St. George's Church is no longer shut off from the street, and the exceptionally hideous railings projecting beyond the street in front of the Greek pillars of St. Andrew's Church have disappeared —an improvement to the appearance both of church and street which everyone recognises.

Lastly, the front of the National Gallery has been cleared, and no fence left there except what is necessary to protect the public from the steep bank of the Mound.

All this satisfactory improvement having taken place, is there no hope that those who pass along Princes Street may be able to enjoy the outlook towards the old town on the east, and the Castle on the west, without the view being cut by railings intervening? If it were possible for the spectator to look on the scene without any interruption obtruding itself on the eye, the delight of the prospect would be much enhanced. Indeed, there would be nothing like it in the world—the busy street, with no obstacle intervening to affect the view direct up to the picturesque old town and the Castle Rock. Let us get rid of the heavy railings next the street at the Waverley Market, then proceed to bring Mr. M'Hattie's splendid flower-beds into direct relation to the noble way of Princes Street, and lastly, substitute a fence set below the bank for the railings of West Princes Street. I have prayed our municipal chiefs long. I pray still, and I hope. It would only be necessary to keep the present low stone kerb, and to have the sockets of the present posts plugged. These could be opened and posts for a wooden fence erected when any great procession causing a large crowd to assemble made a temporary barrier necessary.

A word—and an earnest and imploring word— as to the Calton Hill. There are two sets of railings there, the removal of which would add greatly to the amenity of the scene. The first is the enclosure which goes round Nelson's Monument on the north side, the way on to the top of the hill is at this point cramped to the eye by this low, shabby railing, and it has detrimental effects on the appearance and verdure of the Hill. It may seem to be a small matter that the presence of the fence has an unnecessarily narrowing effect to the eye of the visitor when ascending. But this is not so.

The hill is sufficiently crowded at this point by buildings, and any narrowing is detrimental to landscape effect. Let the question be considered: What good purpose does the fence serve on that side, where there are no rocks causing danger. A fence of iron is always an offence if it is erected where ;it is not necessary. In this case the railing only encloses a space, with the effect of giving opportunity to rank grass and offensive weeds to flourish. I counted on one occasion seventy dandelion blooms, and the usual corresponding number of dockins, in that small space, the grass was rank, and the stalks of the dandelions were about eighteen inches long. It is generally the end of time before this thick mass of foot-high coarse grass, dock weeds, and dandelions is attended to, and of course when it is cut, the ground, instead of being like the rest of the hill, carries the coarse stubble of neglect. I have besought Conveners of Park Committees and other members of the Council on this matter for years. I hope against hope.

But there is another raiding on Caltori Hill which it is absolutely inexcusable to leave standing. It shuts off a large portion of the highest part of the hill from the public for no reason whatever, except that it encloses the space on which the National Monument will never be built. After nearly a century of non-fulfillment of work undertaken by promoters of a monument, surely the risk may be taken of allowing the public to enjoy their own hill. It is inconceivable that these promoters, if there are any left, would try to play a dog-in-the-manger game, neither occupying the space themselves, nor allowing the citizens to occupy it. If it is necessary let the Corporal on obtain a clause in an Omrnbus Bill, empowering them to take possession again of what the promoters have failed to occupy for nearly a century. Any attempt to resist such a clause would savour of an

"Impudence, no brass was ever tougher."

These matters regarding Calton Hill have sunk into a condition described by an old English word that has fallen into disuse, but is most expressive —they have become "slugged." One must be almost rude if the. inertia is to be overcome. Perhaps if a special reason can be assigned, and find acceptance, it may act as a stimulus, and galvanise what has become torpid into motion. May lit be suggested that as—most properly—the Town Council encourages band music on the Cal ton Hill, they might consider how very unsatisfactory the space between the National Monument pillars and the Observatory wall is for a large crowd, such as one sees assembled in fine weather—a crowd which will always be likely to increase in size in future. May this suggestion be considered. Let the fence be removed, leaving, if necessary, stones to mark the statutory site of the Monument. At the back of the pillars the present unkempt and ugly slope might be stepped, so as to make a bandstand above the level of the ground. The top of the hill, f thrown open to the public, would give ample space for any number of people, and enable the band to be heard to much better advantage and in greater comfort than is the case at present. That the removal of the fence would be a great landscape improvement is obvious. Lord Provost, Magistrates, and Council, may you shake off the slugged condition, and consider this. "And Your Petitioner w ill ever pray.''

Recent events bring to memory, that about the middle of the last century an ambitious attempt was made to build a great stone terrace in front of Ramsay Garden, with the intention of placing the. statue of Allan Ramsay—now in Princes Street Gardens—in the centre of it. Many citizens looked on with doubting glances while the work was in progress, and certainly the placing of a white statue there would have been most incongruous. But all misgivings proved superfluous. One fine morning the whole great structure fissured and fell away, threatening to slide down to the railway below. It was all removed, and no one can doubt that the scene is now far better than it would have been had the heavy bastion-like erection remained standing with a marble statue thrust on the eye in front of the old town. Quite recently a similar proposal was made to place a long flight of steps in front of the United Free College, and to set up an inferior statue of John Knox in the middle of it. One is glad to know that the city has escaped from such an incongruous disfigurement.

Speaking of Ramsay Garden leads one to say a word for a great enthusiast, and those who have aided his efforts. I refer to Professor Geddes, who has done much to conserve the old style on the south side of the valley, and to prevent the modernising of the Old' Town. Ramsay Garden, which formerly presented a very bald front to Princes Street, has been broken up in a picturesque old-style manner, which is much more suitable to the situation. And in other places by his energy good work has been done, tending to the preservation of a quaint style, instead of an unsuitable modernising, producing incongruity.


Return to our Book Index Page