The History of Leith

February 21, 2012

The old “White Horse Hostel

One of the most picturesque and interesting houses in the Canongate is one situated in what was called Davidson’s Close, the old “White Horse Hostel,” on a dormer window of which is the date
1603. It was known as the “White Horse” a century and more before the accession of the House of Hanover, and is traditionally said to have taken its name from a favourite white palfrey when the range of stables that form its basement had been occupied as the royal mews. The adjacent Water Gate took its name from a great horse-pond which was, no doubt, an appendage of this establishment. In 1639, when Charles I. had made his first peace with the Covenanters, and came temporarily to Berwick, he sent messages to the chief nobles of the National Church party to have a conference with him.
In obedience to this, with their various retinues, they were all mounting their horses in the yard of this inn, to which a kind of arched porte-cochere gives access from the main street, when a mob, taught wisely by the clergy to distrust a monarch who was under English influences, compelled them to desist and abandon their intended journey. The Earl of Montrose alone broke through all
restraint; he went to the king,’ and from thenceforward was lost to the cause of the Covenant for ever. The invariable mode of a gentleman setting out for London in those days was to come to the
White Horse with his saddle-bags, boots, and gambadoes, and there engage a suitable roadster to convey him the whole way. In more recent times it was associated with the Cavalier officers and Highland gentleman of Charles Edward’s picturesque court, and the quarters of Scott’s hero, Captain Waverley. According to a passage in the Gentleman’s Magazine for 1786, there were then set apart, ”in the inns at Edinburgh, Glasgow, &c., English rooms, where English travellers could eat and converse together.” When the White Horse ceased to be an inn is unknown, but the vicinity is connected with the memory of more than one Episcopal dignitary.
A tenement which serves to complete the courtyard is pointed out as the residence of John Paterson, Bishop of Edinburgh in 1679, a special object of hate to the Covenanters, as he had been chaplain
to the cruel and brutal Duke of Lauderdale. After his translation to Glasgow in 1687, he was succeeded by Bishop Alexander Rose, who was ejected in the following year by the Revolution party—the last survivor of established Episcopacy ! in Edinburgh. He has been described by Bishop ‘ Keith as a man of sweet disposition and most venerable aspect. He died on the 2Oth of March,. 1720, in his sister’s house in the Canongate. ” Tradition,” says Chambers, ” points to the floor, immediately above the porte-cochere (of the White Horse), by which the stable-yard is entered, as the humble mansion in which the bishop breathed hislast. I know at least one person who never goes past the place without an emotion of respect,. remembering the self-abandoning devotion of the Scottish prelates to their engagements at the Revolution.”

source-Old and New Edinburgh

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