The History of Leith

January 27, 2012

The Black Turnpike.

ON the south side of the High Street and immediately opposite to the City Guard House, stood the famous Black Turnpike. It occupied the ground westward of the Tron church, and now left vacant as the entrance to Hunter’s Square.It is described as a magnificent edifice by Maitland,and one that, if not disfigured by one of those timber fronts (of the days of James IV.), would be the most sumptuous building perhaps in Edinburgh. But, like many others, it had rather a painful history. “A principal proprietor of this building,” says Maitland, “has been pleased to show me a deed
wherein George Robertson of Lochart, burgess of Edinburgh, built the said tenement, which refutes the idle story of its being built by Kenneth III.”
The above-mentioned deed is dated Dec. 6, 1461, and, in the year 1508, the same author relates that James IV. empowered the Edinburghers to farm or let the Burghmuir, which they immediately cleared of wood; and in order to encourage people to buy this wood, the Town Council enacted that all persons might extend the fronts of their houses seven feet into the street, whereby the High Street was reduced fourteen feet in breadth, and the appearance of the houses much injured.
There is evidence that in the i6th century the Black Turnpike had belonged to George Crichton, Bishop of Dunkeld, in 1527, and Lord Privy Seal. In 1567 it was the town mansion of the provost of
the city. Sir Simon Preston of Craigmillar, Balgay, and that ilk, ancestor of the Earls of Desmond in Ireland. It was to this edifice that Mary Queen of Scots was brought a prisoner, by the confederate lords and their troops,after they violated the treaty by which she surrendered to them at Carberry Hill.

source-Old and New Edinburgh

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