The History of Leith

December 7, 2004

Remains of ancient wall found at city site

Key points
• Medieval structure found on building site
• May have been built by James II in 1450
• Mansion excavated on same site in May

Key quote
“It was a defence for war and the plague. When there was a plague, they would lock the gates and not let anyone in or out. The Cowgate was never developed as a street until the late 14th century” – Russel Coleman, Headland Archaeology project manager

Story in full THE remains of a medieval wall built to guard the city have been discovered on a building site.

Workers building dozens of flats on a site beside Old Fishmarket Close in the Cowgate have unearthed the one metre-high structure, which is thought to be part of the “King’s Wall”.

Although historians are divided over the wall’s origins, it is believed that James II ordered the construction of the King’s Wall in 1450 as a defence against English forces.

But some experts claim the wall was actually built by English forces more than 100 years earlier when they occupied Edinburgh Castle around 1335.

The six-metre stretch of wall marks the second major discovery at the Cowgate site after the remains of a medieval mansion were found there in May.

The King’s Wall stretched from the southern ramparts of the Castle Rock, running parallel below what is now Johnston Terrace and the High Street, to an area near Blackfriars Street.

Russel Coleman, project manager for Headland Archaeology, which carried out an earlier excavation at the site, said workers uncovered the wall near the pavement of the Cowgate while building foundations for a £4.4 million flats and offices project.

“It is definitely medieval. It is two metres wide, too big for a building, so it is definitely a boundary wall. It was a defence for war and the plague.”

Although the flats would now be built over the historic wall, much of the stone structure will be preserved underneath, Mr Coleman said.

David McDonald, director of the Cockburn Association, described it as a “terrific find”.

He said: “Construction was still taking place in the mid-1470s following 25 years of construction. But it’s not the first time remnants have been located. Sections were found south of Parliament House in 1833 and 1845.”



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