The History of Leith

February 14, 2012

The Clam-shell Turnpike,

DOWN the southern slope of the hill on which St. Giles’s church stands, its burying-ground—covered with trees, perchance anterior to the little parish edifice we have described as existing in the time of David I.—sloped to the line of the Cowgate, where it was terminated by a wall and chapel dedicated to the holy rood, built, says Arnot, “in memory of Christ crucified, and not demolished till the end of the sixteenth century.” In July, 1800, a relic of this chapel was found near the head of Forrester’s Wynd, in former days the western boundary of the churchyard. This relic—a curiously sculptured group—like a design from Holbein’s ” Dance of Death,” was defaced and broken by the workmen.
Amid the musicians, who brought up the rear, was an angel, playing on the national bagpipe—a conceit which appears among the sculpture at Roslin chapel. So late as 1620 “James Lennox is elected chaplain of the chapelry of the holy rood, in the burgh kirk-yard of St. Giles.” Hence it is supposed that the nether kirk-yard remained in use long after the upper had been abandoned as a
place of sepulture.
All this was holy ground in those days, for in ” Keith’s Catalogue” we are told that near the head of Bell’s Wynd (on the eastern side) there were a hospital and chapel known by the name of the ” Maison Dieu.” “We know not,” says Arnot, ” at what time or by whom it was founded; but at the Reformation it shared the common fate of Popish establishments in this country. It was converted into private property. This building is still (1779) entire, and goes by the name of the Clam-shell Turnpike, from the figure of an escalop- shell cut in stone above the door.”

source-Old and New Edinburgh

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