The History of Leith

January 18, 2012


MARY KING’S Close was long a’ place of terror to the superstitious, as one of the last retreats of the desolating plague of 1645. “Who Mary King was is now unknown, but though the alley is roofless
and ruined,” says one, writing of it in 1845,” with weeds, wall-flowers, grass, and even little trees, flourishing luxuriantly among the falling walls, her name may still be seen painted on the
street corner.”
For some generations after the plague—in which mostof its inhabitants perished—its houses remained closed, and gradually it became a place of mystery and horror, the abode of a thousand spectres and nameless terrors, for superstition peopled it with inhabitants, whom all feared and none cared to succeed. ” Those who had been foolhardy enough to peep through the windows after nightfall saw
the spectres of the long-departed denizens engaged in their wonted occupations ; headless forms danced through the moonlit apartments; on one occasion a godly minister and two pious elders were scared out of their senses by the terrible vision of a raw head and blood-dripping arm, which protruded from the wall in this terrible street, and flourished a sword above their heads ; and many other terrors, which are duly chronicled in ‘Satan’s Invisible World;'” yet it was down this place that the wild young Master of Gray dragged the fair Mistress Carnegie, whom, sword in hand, he had abducted from her father’s house at the head of twelve men-at arms, and took her by boat across the loch that rippled at the foot of the slope.
In Drummond of Hawthornden’s poems, published by the Maitland Club, there is an epigram
on Mary King’s ” pest: “—
” Turn, citizens, to God; repent, repent,
And pray your bedlam frenzies may relent;
Think not rebellion a trifling thing,
This plague doth fight for Marie and the King.”
An old gentleman, says Wilson, has often described to us his visits to Mary King’s Close, along with his companions, when a schoolboy. The most courageous of them would approach these dread abodes of mystery, and after shouting through the keyhole or broken window-shutter, they would run off with palpitating hearts; the popular superstition being, that if these long-deserted abodes were opened, the deadly pest imprisoned there would once more burst forth and desolate the land.

source-Old and New Edinburgh

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