History of Leith, Edinburgh

April 21, 2012

McCulloch of Ardwell,

The fine old but unused avenue of stately trees,
that opened westward from the Walk to the old
Manor House of Pilrig, has now given place to a
street of workmen’s houses, named after the proprietor,
Balfour Street, and lower down, near the
bottom of the Walk, is Springfield Street, named
from an old row of houses to which was given the
name of Springfield, the largest and centre one of
which, about 1780, was the residence of McCulloch
of Ardwell, a commissioner of the Scottish Customs, |
and a man famous in his time for hospitality, pleasantry,
and wit, and known as a spouter of half random
verses. ” Here in some of the last years
of his life,” says Chambers, in 1869, ” did Samuel
Foote occasionally appear as Mr. McCulloch’s |
guest—Arcades ambo et respondere parati. But the
history of their intimacy is worthy of being particularly
told, so I transcribe it from the recollection
of a gentleman whose advanced age and family
connections alone could have made us faithfully
acquainted with circumstances so remote from our ;
time.”
It would appear that in the winter of 1774-5 !
Mr. McCulloch visited his country mansion of
Ardwell (near Gatehouse in Kirkcudbright), which
is still possessed by his descendants, in order to be
present at an election, together with a friend named
Mouat. After a week or two they set out on their ]
return to Edinburgh, Mr. McCulloch bringing with
him his infant son, familiarly known as ” Wee
Davie,” and the trio, after quitting Dumfries, were
compelled by a snowstorm to tarry at Moffat for
the night. Early next morning they departed in a
chaise with four horses from the Kings Anns Inn,.
at the same time that two strangers did so in another
vehicle, and with difficulty amid the drifted
snow they all reached the summit of Erickstane
Brae, a lofty hill at the head of Clydesdale, along
the side of which, above a most perilous declivity,
the public road passes.
Further progress being impossible, a consultation
was held, and they all resolved to return to Moffat;
but, as wheeling the carriage round proved a dangerous
operation, ” Wee Davie ” was wrapped up
and laid on the snow till that was accomplished,
and after reaching the inn Ardwell discovered that
his two companions were Samuel Foote the celebrated
player and another favourite son of Thalia.
On reaching the inn, Fpote entered it in no good
humour—as he walked with difficulty, having lost a
leg—and ordered breakfast, while his luggage was
taken off the chaise ; and after, this was done, he
found a written paper affixed to the panel. In
some anger he demanded, ” What rascal has been
placarding this ribaldry on my carriage ?” Then
pausing, however, he read the following lines :—
” While Boreas his flaky storm did guide,
Deep covering every hill o’er Tweed and Clyde,
The North-wind god spied travellers seeking way,
Sternly he cried : ‘ Return your steps, I say ;
Let not one foot, ’tis my behest, profane
The sacred snows which lie on Erickstane !’ ”
” I should like to know who wrote that,” exclaimed
Foote, with a smiling face ; ” be he who
he may he is no mean hand at an epigram.’
Ardwell came forward to apologise for his fun.
” My dear sir,” said Foote, ” no apology is necessary
; I am fine game for every one, and I take
any one for game when it suits me.”
So an intimacy began which proved to be a
lasting one, and the parties now joined at table, as
they had to do for twenty days, till the storm
abated, the snow cleared away, and they were
enabled to end their journey at Edinburgh. From
that time Foote in his writings always showed himself
partial to Scotland and the Scots, and on every
occasion when afterwards at the Theatre Royal, he
set apart a night or two for a social meeting with
McCulloch of Ardwell, at Springfield, on Leith
Walk. ” In the parlour, on the right hand side in
entering the house, the largest of the row,” says
Chambers in 1869, “Foote, the celebrated wit of
the day, has frequently been associated with many
Edinburgh and Leith worthies, when and where he
was wont to keep the table in a roar.”
McCulloch of Ardwell died in 1794, in his fiftythird
year. ” Wee Davie” died thirty years afterwards
at Cheltenham.

source-Old and New Edinburgh (c1883)

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