The History of Leith

January 14, 2012

The Luckenbooths,

Situated in the very heart of the ancient city, it stood at the north-west corner of the parish church of St. Giles, and so close to it as to leave only a narrow footway between the projecting buttresses, while its tall and gloomy mass extended so far into the High Street, as to leave the thoroughfare at that part only 14 feet in breadth. “Reuben who dealt in the miscellaneous wares now termed haberdashers’ goods, were to be found in this narrow alley.” By the year 1561 the Tolbooth, or Pretoriwn burgi de Edtnburgi, as it is named in the early Acts of the Scottish Parliament, had become ruinous, and on the 6th of February Queen Mary wrote a letter to the magistrates, charging the Provost to take it down at once, and meanwhile to provide accommodation elsewhere for the Lords of Session. Butler,” says Scott, writing ere its demolition had Since the storm of the Reformation the Scottish been decreed,stood now before the Gothic entrance of the ancient prison, which, as is well known to all men, rears its front in the very middle of the High Street, forming, as it were, the termination to a huge pile of buildings called the Luckenbooths, which, for
some inconceivable reason, our ancestors had jammed into the midst of the principal street of the town, leaving for passage a narrow street on the north and on the south, into which the prison opens, a narrow, crooked lane, winding betwixt the high and sombre walls of the Tolbooth and the adjacent houses on one side, and the buttresses and projections of the old church upon the other. To give some gaiety to this sombre passage (well known by the name of the Krames), a number of little booths or shops, after the fashion of cobblers’ stalls, are plastered, as it were, against the Gothic projections and abutments, so that it seemed as if the traders had occupied with nests—bearing about the same proportion to the building—every buttress and coign of vantage,
as the martlet did in Macbeth’s castle. Oflater years these booths have degenerated into mere toy-shops, where the little loiterers chiefly interested in such wares are tempted to linger, enchanted by the rich display of hobby-horses, babies, and Dutch toys, arranged in artful and gay confusion, yet half scared by the cross looks of the withered pantaloon by whom these wares are superintended. But in the times we write of the hosiers, glovers, hatters, mercers, milliners, and all who dealt in the miscellaneous wares now termed haberdashers’ goods, were to be found in this narrow alley.”

source-Old and New Edinburgh

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