The History of Leith

October 10, 2011

The old Council Chamber descibed in c1883 (Now removed)

The Coal Hill adjoins the Shore on the south, and here it is that, in a squalid and degraded quarter, but immediately facing the river, we find one of the most remarkable features in Leith—a building to which allusion has not unfrequently been made in our historical survey of Leith—the old Council Chamber wherein the Earls of Lennox, Mar, and Morton, plotted, in succession, their treasons against the Crown.
Five storeys in height, and all built of polished ashlar, with two handsome string mouldings, it presents on its western front two gables, and a double window projected on three large corbels; on the north it has dormer windows, only one of which retains its half-circular gablet; and a massive outside chimney-stack. This is believed to have been the building which Maitland describes as having been erected by Mary of Lorraine as the meeting-place of her privy council. It is a spacious and stately fabric, presenting still numerous evidences of ancient magnificence in its internal decorations ; and only a few years ago some very fine samples of old oak carving were removed from it, and even a beautifully decorated chair remained, till recently, an heir-loom, bequeathed by its patrician occupants to the humble tenants of the degraded mansion.
Campbell, in his ” History of Leith,” says that it ” still (in 1827) exhibits many traces of splendours nothing short of regal. Amongst these are some old oaken chairs, on which are carved, though
clumsily, crowns, sceptres, and other royal insignia. The whole building, in short, both from its superior external appearance and the elegance of its interior decorations, is altogether remarkable. Every apartment is carefully, and, according to the taste of the times, elaborately adorned with ornamental workmanship of various kinds on the ceiling, walls, cornices, and above the fire-places. In one chamber, the ceiling, which is of a pentagonal form, and composed of wood, is covered with the representation of birds, beasts, fishes, &c. These, however, are now so much obscured by smoke and dirt as to be traced with difficulty Not the least remarkable part of this structure is the unusually broad and commodious flight of stairs by which its different flats are entered from the street, and which, differing in this respect so much from most other houses, sufficiently establishes the fact of its having been once a mansion of no ordinary character.” Of all the decoration which Campbell refers to but slender traces now remain. A writer on Leith and its antiquities has striven to make this place a residence of Mary, the Queen Regent; but Wilson expresses himself as baffled in all his attempts to obtain any proof that it ever was so. ” Mary,” says Maitland, ” having begun to build in the town of Leith, was followed therein by divers of the nobility, bishops, and other persons of distinction of her party, several of whose houses are still remaining, as may be seen in sundry places by their spacious rooms, lofty ceilings, large staircases, and private oratories, or chapels for the celebration of mass.” But the occupation of Leith by these dignitaries was of a very temporary and strictly military nature.

Source-Old and New Edinburgh

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