The History of Leith

April 17, 2012

The Coal Hill and the Old Council Chamber described in 1883 (Now removed)

The Coal Hill adjoins the Shore on the south, and
here it is that, in a squalid and degraded quarter,
but immediately facing the river, we find one of
the most remarkable features in Leith—a building
to which allusion has not unfrequently been made
in our historical survey of Leith—the old Council
Chamber wherein the Earls of Lennox, Mar, and
Morton, plotted, in succession, their treasons
against the Crown.
Five storeys in height, and all built of polished
ashlar, with two handsome string mouldings, it presents
on its western front two gables, and a double
window projected on three large corbels ; on the
north it has dormer windows, only one of which
retains its half-circular gablet; and a massive outside
chimney-stack.
This is believed to have been the building which
Maitland describes as having been erected by Mary
of Lorraine as the meeting-place of her privy
council. It is a spacious and stately fabric, presenting
still numerous evidences of ancient magnificence
in its internal decorations; and only a
few years ago some very fine samples of old oak
carving were removed from it, and even a beautifully
decorated chair remained, till recently, an
heir-loom, bequeathed by its patrician occupants
to the humble tenants of the degraded mansion.
Campbell, in his ” History of Leith,” says that it
” still (in 1827) exhibits many traces of splendours
nothing short of regal. Amongst these are some
old oaken chairs, on which are carved, though
clumsily, crowns, sceptres, and other royal insignia.
The whole building, in short, both from its superior
external appearance and the elegance of its interior
decorations, is altogether remarkable. Every
apartment is carefully, and, according to the taste
of the times, elaborately adorned with ornamental
workmanship of various kinds on the ceiling, walls,
cornices, and above the fire-places. In one chamber,
the ceiling, which is of a pentagonal form, and composed
of wood, is covered with the representation
of birds, beasts, fishes, &c. “These, however, are
now so much obscured by smoke and dirt as to be
traced with difficulty Not the least remarkable
part of this structure is the unusually broad
and commodious flight of stairs by which its different
flats are entered from the street, and which,
differing in this respect so much from most other
houses, sufficiently establishes the fact of its having
been once a mansion of no ordinary character.”
Of all the decoration which Campbell refers to
but slender traces now remain. A writer on Leith
and its antiquities has striven to make this place
a residence of Mary, the Queen Regent; but Wilson
expresses himself as baffled in all his attempts to
obtain any proof that it ever was so.

Source-Old and New Edinburgh

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