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Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
The Formation of Lothian Road


This road, which leaves the western termination of Princes Street at a right angle, and stretches away to the south, had been long projected ; but, owing to the objections made (as is usual in such cases) by the proprietors of certain inestimable barns, sheds, and cow-houses, which required to be removed, a long time elapsed before the plan could be brought to maturity. After several years of speculation, and when the project was nearly conceded to by all parties, the road was, to the surprise of the public, and the mortification of many, completely formed, without leave being asked, all in one day! It so happened that a gentleman, who had recently succeeded to his estate, laid a bet with a friend, to the effect that he would, between sunrise and sunset, execute the line of road, extending nearly a mile in length, and about twenty paces in breadth. This scheme he concerted with address, and executed with promptitude. It was winter, when many labouring men are often out of employ ; so that he found no difficulty in collecting several hundreds at the spot upon the appointed morning before sunrise; and he took care to provide them with a plentiful supply of porter, usquebaugh, bread and cheese, and other inspiriting matters. No sooner had the sun peeped over the hills, than this immense posse fell to work, with might and main. Some to tear down enclosures, others to improof and demolish cottages, and a considerable proportion to bring earth, wherewith to fill up the natural hollow to the required height. The inhabitants, dismayed at so fast a force, and so summary a mode of procedure, made no resistance; and so active were the workmen, that, before sunset, the road was sufficiently formed to allow the bettor to drive his carriage triumphantly over it, which he did amidst the acclamations of a great multitude of persons, who flocked from the town to witness the issue of this extraordinary undertaking. Among the instances of temporary distress known to have been occasioned to the inhabitants, the most laughable was that of a poor simple woman, who had a cottage and a small cow-feeding establishment upon the spot. It appears that this good creature had risen very early, as usual, milked her cows—smoked her pipe—taken her ordinary matinal meal of tea—and, lastly, recollecting that she had some friends invited to dine with her upon sheep-head kail about noon, placed the pot upon the fire, in order that it might simmer peaceably till she should return from the town where she had to supply a numerous set of customers with the produce of her dairy. Our readers may imagine the consternation of this poor woman, when, upon her return from the duties of the morning, she found neither house, nor byre, nor cows, nor fire, nor pipe, nor pot, nor anything that was hers, upon the spot where she had left them a few hours before—all had vanished, like the palace of Aladdin, leaving "no wreck behind." [The gentleman, we believe, who performed this undertaking was Sir John Clerk, Bart., of Pennicuik. He succeeded his father in 1784, and was then an officer in the navy. He died in 1798.]


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