The History of Leith

January 17, 2012

The Parliament stairs

adjoining the Parliament (or old back) Stairs, was long a shop occupied by John Kay, the well-known engraver and caricaturist, whose ” Portraits” of old Edinburgh characters certainly form, with their biographies, perhaps the most unique collection in Europe.
During his whole career he occupied the same small print-shop; the solitary window was filled with his own etchings, which amounted to nearly 900 in number. He had originally been a barber, but
after 1785 devoted himself solely to the art of etching and miniature painting. He died in 1830, at No. 227, High Street, in his eighty-fourth year.
” In his latter days,” says his biographer, ” he was a slender but straight old man, of middle size, and usually dressed in a garb of antique cut; of simple habits and unassuming manners.”
The stairs just referred to—a great and massive flight that ascended from the Cowgate to Parliament Close, immediately under the south window of the great hall — have
long since given place to the buildings of the modern square ; and no doubt they occupied the site of some old passage between the Cowgate and the churchyard, and for this they had been substituted
about the year 1636. At their base was an ancient : the leading Whig public well. The Edinburgh Weekly Journal for 1821 mentions that a man fell over ” the stairs which lead from the Kirkheugh to the Parliament stairs ;”and the same journal for 1828 states that “workmen are engaged in taking down the large double tenement in the Cowgate, at the back of the Parliament House, called Henderson’s Stairs, part of which, it will be remembered, fell last summer, and which had been condemned sixty years ago,” in 1768.

source-old and New Edinburgh

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