Geography gave many reasons for Edinburgh to become a city. The defensible rock of the Castle was one, but it could never have been more than an isolated fortress if it had not been surrounded by productive farmland, well-supplied with timber, coal and iron, with fast-flowing rivers giving water power and easy sewerage, and accessible to ships along the coast of the Forth estuary with harbours from Newhaven to Musselburgh which permitted both North Sea trade and large-scale fishing. The Forth was never a safe place for ships; the deeper channels are not obvious, it has an enormous tidal range with strange currents which in places go against the tide, and over the centuries hundreds of vessels were lost to storms and the shoals around Inchkeith. There is a great deal of folklore and historical anecdote about these waters, but little of it mentions the Forth by name. Firth of Forth is a schottische from Kerr's Merry Melodies of the late 19th century.
A mocking children's rhyme collected by Ritchie in the 1950s begins:
Who's got feet like Arthur's Seat?
Who's got a bunion like a pickled onion?
Who's got legs like ham and eggs?
Who's got hips like battleships?
Arthur's Seat is part of the complex of volcanoes that created Edinburgh; the Castle Rock is the oldest of these, with Arthur's Seat next. The present name is probably late mediaeval, from an imagined connection with the Arthurian legend; the older name for it was Craggenemarf, the Brythonic for "Hill of the Dead". It has been part of the royal park of Holyrood since mediaeval times. It was the scene of a semi-legendary event that shaped the whole city; on 14 September 1128, King David I was out hunting there, at the spot now called St Margaret's Well (formerly St David's Well or the Rood Well) when he encountered a ferocious stag which gored him and would have killed him, had a cross not appeared between its horns; he seized this and used it to repel the beast. As a result, he both founded the abbey of Holyrood and gave the Burgh Muir to the city.
There have been many tunes dedicated to Arthur's Seat. The first Arthur's Seat Reel appears both in the Macfarlan Manuscript and in Oswald's Caledonian Pocket Companion. I've printed the Macfarlan version, but the last note in bar 6 is from Oswald; it's the E below in the original, which I think is one of Young's few mistakes. The second Arthur's Seat Reel is by the prolific and talented fiddle composer William Marshall (1748-1833). Arthur's Seat Strathspey is a pipe tune by W. Robb. Arthur's Seat Hornpipe is a totally untraditional piece of chromatic showing-off by the most successful Scottish fiddle virtuoso of all time, J. Scott Skinner (1843-1927).
Salisbury Crags are geologically later than the other hills of Edinburgh. They are an igneous intrusion, subsequently tilted at an angle like the rock making up the rest of the city. They were partly cut away by the eastward-flowing glaciers of the Ice Age which also scoured out the deep east-west valleys that form the basic geography of the city centre and left the long tail of sediment that forms the Royal Mile. Early in the 19th century, they were the handiest example of an ancient volcanic rock formation for the pioneer geologist James Hutton in his polemics against the rival theory that the earth's crust was entirely formed from oceanic sludge. But we are lucky still to have the Crags at all. They had been mined on a small scale for road rubble and construction stone since the 17th century, and early in the building of the New Town, their stone was used to build the Calton Jail and level up Regent Road and Waterloo Place; but after 1815 the pace of quarrying intensified enormously under the Earl of Haddington, who owned the rights. The peak rate was 100 tons per day. The gaps he made in the line of the cliffs are still obvious now. Edinburgh's leading citizens made ineffectual tries at using the law to stop him, but what finally did it was one of the rare political acts of Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe; he simply contacted King George IV, who ordered Haddington to lay off. Quarrying stopped totally in 1826, with Blackford Hill getting excavated instead. The reel Salisbury Craggs is by James Porteous (1762-1847), who wrote many tunes named for places in Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Unfortunately most of them are not very interesting music; Charles Gore, the compiler of the Scottish Fiddle Music Index, says he "gets the wooden spoon for composition", and he isn't far wrong. The only piece of Porteous's still played much today is what he called Miss Rogerson's Strathspey, now known as South of the Grampians.
Dunsapie Loch is a slow air by Pipe-Major Charles Turnbull of the Gordon Highlanders; the loch, about halfway up Arthur's Seat, is an artificial duckpond created in 1844. Hunter's Bog is the dip between Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags. It was used for centuries as as a rifle range; Coleridge, visiting Edinburgh in 1803, contributed the opium-sodden perception that the reason was nothing to do with providing a safe destination for the bullets to go, but that it must have have been chosen for the thunderously dramatic echo from the hills each side. Maitland suggested in his history of Edinburgh that this use gave the mountain itself its name; nothing to do with the king, but Gaelic "Ard-na-Said", Height of Arrows. The bog was used as a temporary encampment by the Jacobite army waiting to enter Edinburgh in 1745. The first reel Hunter's Bog is by David Muir, of Tim Wright and Andrew Bathgate's New Cavendish Dance Band, which was at the forefront of the revival of Scottish country dancing in the middle of this century; their recordings are still used by country dance groups all over the world. The second Hunter's Bog reel is by Pipe-Major George S. Maclennan (1883-1927), one of the most brilliant and influential composers of pipe music (often referred to simply as "GS"). He was born in Edinburgh, and became a child prodigy who won the Scottish Amateur Championship in 1894 and 1895, and 2000 contests thereafter; he had a Royal Command to play before Queen Victoria in 1895 and became the Army's youngest ever pipe major in 1902. Most of his Army career was in Aberdeen before he retired to set up as a bagpipe-maker. The tune was unpublished in his lifetime; Hunter's Bog was one of his favourite places to play as a child.
The hill is known around the world for its unfinished copy of the Parthenon, "Edinburgh's Disgrace", meant as a National Monument to the Napoleonic War but abandoned after only a third of the needed money had been raised. The name means "town of the carls" or churls, and it was a place of poverty and marginal occupations for most of the city's history; hence its use for such purposes as a leper hospital, a gibbet and a prison. It had an important political function: being just outside the city's jurisdiction until the nineteenth century, it was often used for rallies prohibited in the city itself.
Calton Hill's first important buildings were the Bridewell of 1791-6 and the Calton Jail of 1817; these were the earliest extensions of the city east of Princes Street. The Scottish Office building in Regent Terrace, like an Italian Fascist building with a Scottish coat of black mould, replaced the Jail in the 1930s. The Royal High School across the road, perhaps the ugliest Georgian building in the British Isles, was earmarked as the site for the Scottish Parliament before the failed referendum of 1979, was the focus of all popular demonstrations advocating home rule for the next 18 years, and surrounded by razor wire to keep out anyone who might think of occupying it to declare a provisional government. It was abandoned to dereliction by the New Labour regime after the successful referendum for a Scottish Parliament in 1997; they preferred to spend millions of pounds on a new building rather than be seen to bow to the protesters.
The slow air Calton Hill is another tune of Porteous's, and one of his best; it might commemorate the obervatory completed in 1818. The strathspey Calton Hill is from Kerr's Merry Melodies.
Richard Bovet's Pandaemonium, or the Devil's Cloister (1684) describes an old local tradition about Calton Hill having a supernatural character; the Fairy Boy of Leith could foretell the future because he met with the fairies in caves and tunnels underneath Calton Hill every Thursday night. Many tried, but nobody could ever follow him there. Of course it isn't under Calton Hill you meet with the fairies now, nor did I (when living near it) ever notice Thursday being more favoured than other days. It has been a favourite gay cruising spot for decades. The policeman William Merrilees reported trying to catch them there in the 1930s, and said they used to commute into Edinburgh on railway excursion tickets, since the hill was only a few minutes' walk from Waverley Station. Perhaps this custom dates even further back, to the beginning of the Age of Steam. It isn't very likely that the slow pipe march The Fairy Boys was meant to relate to this but it does now...
Blackford Hill is a pastoral song from the late 18th century, first published by David Herd and later by Pinkerton. Neither of them suggested a tune for it. The hill, in suburban southern Edinburgh, was heavily quarried when in private hands in the 19th century, had an observatory built on top of it (the target of a firebomb attack by the Suffragettes before World War 1), and its north side has been partly defaced by upmarket postwar villas, but much of this idyllic description still fits: the forested area of the Hermitage in the valley of the Braid Burn below it, mentioned in the song, is one of the city's most important nature reserves.
The Pentland Hills form a vast signpost pointing towards Edinburgh from the south; it is not surprising that the old Roman road to Edinburgh runs along their eastern slope. They have never been heavily used by the people of Edinburgh: until Robert Louis Stevenson drew literary attention to them, most locals would have associated them only with the battle of Rullion Green in 1680. Their main economic function for Edinburgh has been as a source of water; a series of reservoirs have been built over the centuries, one of them drowning the mediaeval church of Saint Catherine of the Hopes. This century, they have been an army firing range, have given their name to a few potato varieties, and their northern face now houses a plastic ski slope. The Pentlend Hills is an intricate minuet-like tune from the Caledonian Pocket Companion that hints at none of this. Curlews on the Pentlands is a pipe march by G.S. McLennan, given that title posthumously by his son.
The River Esk runs round the southern and eastern fringe of Edinburgh, dotted with old settlements and castles; the artificially enlarged caves at Hawthornden beside it were traditionally said to be the palace of the Kings of the Picts. James Oswald wrote several tunes in the mid-18th century relating to the area just to the the south of the present-day city boundary. Eske Side is one of them. Banks of Esk is from John Hamilton's A Collection of Twenty-Four Scots Songs, Chiefly Pastoral of 1796. It's not one of Hamilton's better songs, and it's hard to imagine anyone singing it today, but it is still possible to recognize the landscape behind his gushing description. I've taken the tune from Aird's collection, published in 1788 in a key that best suits the flute. The tune is one of the many forms of Katharine Ogie, which first appeared as a nameless "Scotch Tune" in Playford's Apollo's Banquet of 1687, and later spawned countless variants; Johnny Cope may be a distant descendant, and one of its best later incarnations is William Marshall's F minor strathspey Mr Shearer of Buchromb. Roslin Glen, with the Esk flowing through it, is one of the prettiest glens near Edinburgh. To Roslin Bank we'll Go my Love is from Alexander Robertson's Caledonian Museum of the 1790s, a collection of flute music.
By Braid's Wee Limpid Stream is another tune from the same book. The Braid Burn flows through the Hermitage of Braid on the southern side of the city; it has not always been a wee limpid stream, as it caused damaging floods in 1760, 1870 and 2000. The area around the Braid Burn once contained Braid Castle, so thoroughly destroyed that even archaeology has not found it, and the palatial house that was once home to Sir William Dick of Braid, the Lord Provost who was spectacularly reduced to beggary in the seventeenth century. It is now a nature reserve surrounded by grand 19th century mansions, the most solidly Tory-voting area of the city. A rhyme dating from before the mansions went up gave it and its surroundings a different social geography, since "cowlies" meant the same as modern Scots "keelies":
Braid Burn cowlies, Morningside swine,
Tipperlinn's the bonnie place where a' the leddies dine.
The Water of Leith is Edinburgh's main river, only navigable for a few hundred yards inland but used for every other economic purpose known to civilization, with dozens of mills along its length: 76 of them in 1791. Given its importance, it might be expected to attract tune dedications, but until the end of the 19th century it was so foul with domestic and industrial effluent that this would have been like singing to your toilet bowl. As a poem of the 1890s put it, in one of the anthologies of the social club The Monks of St Giles:
But paper mills and whisky stills
Got planted on its margin,
And putrid stuff and refuse ills
Came down its waters surging;
They killed the fish and stank the air,
And made its waters drumlie;
The fishes fled in sad despair,
'Twas black as any chumlie.
The Water of Leith is a recent Breton-sounding Highland pipe tune by the Edinburgh jazz multi-instrumentalist Dick Lee, from his collection The Cat's Pyjamas. I haven't included the gracenotes: go to Dick's website or buy his book for them.
Much of the oldest traceable settlement in Edinburgh is on the rock of Edinburgh Castle, a fortress for all of Scotland's recorded history and the nucleus the city grew from. Most of its violent history of sieges, assassinations, and repeated total demolition and reconstruction is unmarked by any music. Tunes associated with it began to be written from the 18th century onwards; most of them forgettable. The Playfords printed three in different editions of their Dancing Master. Scotch Cap, or Edinburgh Castle is from the 1651 edition, when it was titled The English Dancing Master. Edinburgh Castle, or The Trip to the Jubilee (a tune which makes no sense to me at all) is from 1698. Edinburgh Castle, or Mother Dobney's Trencher is from 1721. Only the first of the three has an explicable title; Scots soldiers of the seventeenth century were noted for their blue caps, and the tune dates from shortly after Cromwell's invasion. The slow Irish-sounding 6/8 tune Edinburgh Castle is by Hugh Montgomerie, 12th Earl of Eglinton (1739-1819), from his collection of 1796. The slow air for the fiddle Edinburgh Castle is by James Porteous. Edinbro' Castle Strathspey is from Köhler's Violin Repository of the 1880s. The nineteenth-century 6/8 pipe march Edinburgh Castle is by Pipe Major A. MacKellar, from David Glen's collection. There's nothing very distinctive about it. The 2/4 march Edinburgh Castle by G.S. Maclennan is much better. This seems to be an early piece, not as flamboyant as the tunes which gave him the nickname "the Stravinsky of the bagpipe". It was not published in his lifetime, and probably marks his joining up with the Gordons in 1899 at the Castle. Scott Skinner's "military march" from World War 1, Edinburgh Castle, is only a march because he said it was and his instruction to perform it "with patriotic ardour" is rather like being asked to play Pop goes the Weasel with erotic longing.
One of the most meaningless rituals in the long and mindless tradition of British royal pageantry is the key ceremony at Edinburgh Castle, where the monarch knocks at the door of the castle to be let in and is given the key. The Castle and keys, by W. MacKinnon, commemorates the invention of this fake tradition in the 1930s with a surprisingly good tune. It comes from Henderson's bagpipe tutor.
The Castle Hill is the open space between the Castle and the city. Before the Army turned it into a car park and an open-air auditorium for tourists in the Tattoo, it was a popular place for the people of Edinburgh to walk in the evening. Most of Scotland's convicted witches were burnt there; about 300 in all, remembered by a memorial on the spot. In the reign of Charles I it officially left Scotland and became part of Nova Scotia; this eccentric legal dodge got past a bug in the regulations under which titles were awarded that would otherwise have prevented Charles from making his commoner allies into baronets, as he did for 64 of them. These honours did not come free, and were a useful supplement to the royal slush fund. Nor were the recipients solely interested in ceremonial distinction: a cynical note in the margin of the minutebook by the clerk who recorded one of these honours in 1627 said it came
with power to dig, if he will, to the suburbes of hell for the searching of gold mynes.
The Castle Hill Strathspey was published by John Clarkson in his Musical Entertainment of 1803.
The area that is now Princes Street Gardens was also a garden in the Middle Ages, used by King David II. The city was walled in 1460, and part of the wall acted as a dam forming The North Loch. It was emptied briefly in 1689, during the siege of the Castle; this meant that the Botanic Gardens, begun in 1670, were wiped out under a flood of sewage. After 300 years, the loch was permanently drained in stages, first in 1763 to help build the North Bridge, and the final drainage in the early 19th century. It was much used for fishing, though given old Edinburgh's standards of sanitation, this must have been playing Russian roulette with food poisoning. The city abattoir was beside it for its entire existence, on the site now occupied by the Lothian Region Transport office on Waverley Bridge; wastes from slaughtering were simply dumped in the water. During the great idol-smashing of 1560, the Reformers sent the statue of St Giles from the High Kirk the way of a century's putrefied offal; then they pulled it out again and burnt it just to make sure. In 1562, one particularly deep part was designated for ducking fornicators. The North Loch was first published by Robert Bremner (c.1713-1789) in the 1750s. It is also known from Ireland, as The Lucky Lover; lucky not to make too close an acquaintance with the loch, perhaps. It was later reprinted in Lowe's Collection as Gin I had a Bonny Lass, little sleep wad sair me and as Gin I had a Bonny Lassie in the later Athole and Kerr collections.
When the loch was drained, unexplained skeletons were found in it. It had always been popular with suicides, but the 18th century view was that most were the victims of unofficial state killings of earlier times, probably in the reign of Charles II, when the victims were clandestinely drowned at night by death squads like those of 1970s Argentina. The loch had certainly been used for legal executions: Grisel Matthew was drowned in it for theft in 1599; a man named Sinclair and his two sisters were drowned in 1628 for an unspecified "horrible crime", presumably incest; and James Mitchell was sentenced to be drowned for bestiality in the Nor Loch between four and five in the morning on March 1, 1675. Trials and drownings for bestiality were conducted secretly by night, since the judges thought such crimes were so disgusting the general public should never get to hear about them; some cases remained unrecorded for the same reason. Since the animal involved was often executed too, not all the dead animals in the loch would have been from the abattoir. Hard luck on the animal, first to be molested, then drowned, and then to have your bones run over by trainloads of Glaswegians.
Edinburgh remained confined to the ridge below the Castle Rock for most of its history, along the axis of the "Royal Mile", whose upper half, at the Castle end, was the High Street and whose lower half was the more affluent area of the Canongate, ending at Holyrood Abbey and Palace. Connected to this spine were dozens of narrow alleys running down the hillsides - "closes" or "wynds" - giving the city (the area now called the "Old Town") a street plan like the bones of a fish. Until the middle of the 18th century, the nearby settlements away from this axis were for the most part rural villages and hamlets like those of any other part of lowland Scotland. The very closest villages, clinging to the outside of the city walls - Portsburgh, Potterrow, and Calton - were different; they functioned rather like the Third World slums of the present day, as a source of cheap labour and a place to locate industries the city itself could not tolerate (such as candlemaking, a fire hazard). The Old Town was unique: the metropolis of Scotland, by far its largest city, but so cramped on its ridge that it became one of the most densely populated cities the world has ever seen, with tenements rising to ten or twelve storeys. The Auld Toon of Edinburgh is a name given by James Porteous in 1820 to a tune published by Nathaniel Gow as Lady Mary Ramsay twenty years earlier. Gow probably didn't write it either, but the version printed here is from one of his dance sheets.
"Gate" is a word of Norse origin, common to much of northern Britain, meaning "street". The Gates of Edinburgh is a dance tune of the mid-18th century, known earlier as The Bonny Lass of Aberdeen. I've given two very different versions, a published one from Rutherford's 200 Country Dances of 1750 (which also gives a dance for it) and a version from a manuscript of 1752 and now in Glasgow, compiled by F. Colquhoun, which is so different you might see it as another tune entirely; I much prefer it.
The word survives attached to two major streets in the centre of the Old Town. The street running along the Castle's sedimentary tail is called the High Street in its upper half leading to the Castle, and the Canongate at the lower end leading to Holyrood Abbey; the Cowgate runs down a deep glacial trench parallel to this.
The Cowgate is much higher now than when Edinburgh was first settled: ten metres of compacted mediaeval filth lie below the present-day road level. It has only been a desirable place to live for a fe pweriods in the city's history. More often it was the site of the city's dirtier occupations, as the name implies - a roadway for cattle. It became a lethally crowded and filthy slum by the late nineteenth century, and has had most of its housing demolished in recent decades. Cowgate Gigue is the oldest tune named after an Edinburgh street. It comes from one of the "Panmure" manuscripts in the National Library of Scotland, from about 1675. It's written in an unexplained tablature, which I include here. Not only is the notation unexplained; the only examples of it in the book are a few tunes which are not known from anywhere else. So there is no "Rosetta Stone" to help decode it. Tablature was most often used for lutes, but if you read the letters as corresponding to lute frets - a semitone apart - the result is musical nonsense. What does make sense is to read it as a notation for the fiddle, with the strings tuned the usual way and the letters describing the usual finger positions for a diatonic scale. The rhythm is only vaguely specified by a few barlines, but the notation can be read as a fairly normal-sounding jig.
The higher-level street running down the top of the ridge from Castle is known as the Royal Mile; the upper part, within the old city boundary, is the High Street and the lower part is the Canongate. The Canongate was at first a district attached to the Abbey and controlled by it - hence its name, canons rather than cannons. For centuries it was a separate burgh from Edinburgh, wealthier and more spacious, home for at least part of the year to most of the aristocracy of lowland Scotland. It too has suffered substantial demolition, largely at the initiative of the council planners of the 1960s who tried to replace whole swathes of the old city with modernist architecture and motorways. The two tunes associated with the Royal Mile are both recent competition-winning pipe tunes from the regimental tunebook of the Gordon Highlanders. The Royal Mile is a retreat march from 1975 by William Rugg and Canongate is a four-part strathspey from 1976 by Brian MacRae.
Leith Wynd, the top end of the road from Edinburgh to Leith, was a small winding track until the 18th century; it left the Canongate beside the city's sewage outfall, at what is now Jeffrey Street, plummeted down a hillside far steeper than now, and went through the present-day site of Waverley Station, past the Physic Gardens on the site of today's North Bridge, with the late mediaeval institutions for the poor, Trinity Hospital and Paul's Work, on each side of it. Leith Walk, which it eventually connected with, was not built as a road at all, but as a raised gun emplacement by General Leslie's troops defending the city against Cromwell in 1650; it is still above the level of most of the houses built on each side of it.
The tune Leith Wynd is from 1700, by Adam Craig, with forgettable words. This version comes from John Walsh's Caledonian Country Dances of 1748. It's an elaboration of an old song, I'll hap ye wi' my petticoat or I'll hap ye wi' my plaidie. I've taken this from Stenhouse's notes in the nineteenth century reprint of the Scots Musical Museum. He says it was a grave song for a dead lover. If the original setting was Leith Wynd, it may have had an even darker meaning, as that road went below the usual spot for a gibbet near Calton Hill, where bodies of executed people were suspended in chains as an example until they disintegrated. If the body were hanging like this, the fact that the song mentions the chill of the wind would be more significant than if it were simply buried. In the nineteenth century the tune was modified again, into the Highland pipe strathspey Munlochy Bridge.
The Nether Bow, separating the High Street from the Canongate, was the last gateway of mediaeval walled Edinburgh to survive. It was built in 1369 and replaced in 1571, using stone from the abbey of Restalrig, which had been demolished by the Protestant mob in 1560. It was rebuilt again in 1606. Queen Caroline ordered it to be demolished in 1736, as a reprisal for the Porteous Riot - the rioters had locked it to keep the town guard out - but it was reprieved on condition it was kept locked open; the result was that it provided an easy entry for the Jacobites in 1745. It was finally demolished in 1764; only its clock and weathervane survived, set on top of Dean Orphanage in 1832. As well as being a gateway, it was also the spot where much of the Old Town's sewage exited the city, into the Tummel Burn, which is still a sewer but now culverted. The Nether Bow has Vanished, a wild circular reel published by Bremner in the year the demolition took place, has a country dance associated with it (but the version published by the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, as with many of their settings, discards the original tune). A poem by "Claudero" (James Wilson), lamenting the demolition, was one of many protests about it. Each of the demolitions marking the transition to the new era provoked such objections, beginning with the removal of the Mercat Cross in 1756. Wilson (d. 1789) was a perpetually embittered man, well equipped for writing such polemics; he had been crippled for life by a beating from the local minister in Cumbernauld as a boy.
The Tears of Old Edinburgh
When fair EDINA wept her fallen Cross,
In ample streams she gave her tears to flow,
Much, much she sadden'd at the dreary loss,
But still she gloried in her NETHERBOW.
Be Peter's church, the grace of Rome;
Let Paris tell how much the Louvre cost;
Let London point St Paul's aspiring dome
While I my beauteous NETHERBOW will boast.
And when she heard that Somerville had plac'd
The fallen Cross all by the lovely Drum,
No more with grief the maid was seen to waste,
Her voice of sorrow instantly grew dumb.
Be patriot deeds like his, she said, approv'd,
Example worthy of each generous Scot;
For Scotia's capital he fondly lov'd,
And would not let my Cross go quite to pot.
For him my closes keenest odours breathe;
And, Oh! if e'er he chance to stroll at ten,
Tubs pour above him, t--ds lie underneath;
For surely, surely, he's the first of men.
Since then sh'has liv'd ev'n almost free from pain,
Doom'd only now and then some wo to feel,
When the North Loch they first began to drain,
And when her sons were riotous for meal.
But when she knew the council of the town
In sage assembly met, had soon agreed,
That her lov'd NETHERBOW they would pull down,
'Twas then the virgins heart began to bleed.
So mounting fiercely on the northern wind,
She to the top of Pentland hills was born,
Whence casting on the town a look unkind,
She spoke with mingled rage, and grief, and scorn.
Must then my glitt'ring gorgeous structures fall?
Shall not a single stick or stone be spar'd? Shall hungry, wide-mouth'd ruin swallow all? Will they not save my weigh-house and my guard?
No more my NETHERBOW, at gentle eve,
(While the Leith stage rolls rapid rattling by),
Shall hear proceed, from lungs that highly heave,
The sound of hot warm pease, or mutton-pie.
Oh! Provost, may you lose your velvet coat,
And may you wear a blanket in its stead;
May you, ye Bailies, quickly want a groat,
And may your golden medals turn to lead.
The mediaeval Mercat Cross had been removed in 1756. It was only re-erected late in the 19th century, thanks to a donation from Gladstone; the pillar had been broken in the dismantling and ended up much shorter.
The Netherbow's place in history was not just one of warm nostalgia. It had been one of the places where the severed heads of notorious criminals were impaled on spikes. A string of gruesome legends developed around this, like the tradition that after the head of the Covenanter James Guthrie had been spiked there in 1661, it dripped blood onto the roof of the carriage containing the Commissioner responsible for his death when he went through the Netherbow a few weeks later, and that the blood could not be scrubbed off, so the carriage roof had to be replaced. And at the time of its demolition, the merchants of Edinburgh were only too happy to be rid of it and the system it represented. They described that system in a pamphlet of 1764, The Edinburgh Paradise Regain'd, as like the corruption-ridden border controls of a banana republic:
if we look but a little about us, go but to Newcastle upon Tyne, or a little westward to Kendal, Whitehaven, Liverpool, Manchester, or such like in South-Britain, to Dumfries, Glasgow, Aberdeen or such like in North-Britain; yea, the petty town of Dalkeith our door-neighbour. From these places you will see carravans of Carriers with pack horses, waggons, &c. with all sorts of merchandize sent from their Shops and Warehouses, to furnish the inland Country Market-Towns, and Gentlemen's houses, with Goods and Merchandize, their roads throng'd with such carriages; but nothing like that from our merchants Shops in Edinburgh. Yea all sorts of Merchant-goods are more easily and plentifully found in the private out-ports and inland Country Towns and Markets round about, than in the City of Edinburgh; the reason thereof is plainly this, that the Merchant-dealers up and down the Kingdom, are more shy, and less willing, yea altogether decline to deal with the Merchant Shop-keepers in Edinburgh; Because, that there is a Wall surrounding the City, and Revenue-officers and Waiters stationed at all the Gates and Entries of the City Night and Day, as a Court of Inquisition, to create them trouble, tho' never so innocent, to stop, detain and seize their goods at their pleasure, which is not so done in any City, Town or Corporation in all Britain; and these Waiters are suffered and authorized at the Gates, to unload, open and search, Trunk, Box, Pack, Sack, or Creel, or other Package, yea search the very Pockets of the Entrants of the gates; and if they find the least difference in the quality or quantity mentioned in the permits or clearances, or time of arrival, to detain or seize at their pleasure; For it is very easy to find fault here, by those who act for themselves, as they say, as well as for his Majesty.
And it wasn't long before Bremner's shop itself fell victim to the modern world. Like most of the shops in the Old Town it had a hanging sign outside; in 1771, the council ordered all such signs to be taken down. This wave of destruction extended over much of Britain, starting in London in 1762 after a hanging sign brought a wall down and prompted the authorities to take them all away and introduce the modern street numbering system; within Scotland, Glasgow was first to do this. It provoked another verse lament, A Poem on the Destruction of the Sign-Posts in Edinburgh, Leith and Canongate, itemizing what had been lost, of which this is a small fragment:
Now Bremner's Harp shall point no more
Appolo's Sons the way,
Nor Ossian's head the loyal Shore
Where honesty bore sway.
Ill Fortune snatch'd the Cross Keys too,
The Anchor left its hold,
Miln's candlesticks to patmos flew
Where they were seen of old.
The Whale no longer leads the way
To Bacchus sons of joy,
The golden horse has gone astray;
Great pity to destroy.
The pine apple is swallow'd down
The sugar loaves are gone,
The Black's head sold best snuff in town;
Is likewise overthrown.
The Drunken Wives of Parsons Close is from William Young's manuscript of the early 18th century; it was later published by Bremner as The Inch of Perth. The close, on the north side of the High Street, was named after Alexander Pearson in 1615, and was also known as Knox's Close. "Drunken Wives of..." tunes were almost a genre in the 18th century. There was The Drunken Wives of Carlisle from Margaret Sinkler's manuscript of 1710, then The Drunken Wives of Galloway (a version of the older song Faith I defy thee) in the Caledonian Pocket Companion of the 1750s and (with the words) in Yair's The Charmer of 1751, and The Drunken Wives of Fochabers published by Aird; then a variation with The Randy Wives of Greenlaw and finally back across the border in the early 19th century with The Wanton Wives of Hull. A fragmentary text from the late 18th century was probably typical of these pieces:
O the drunken wives o Edinburgh is a roving company
They row and swear the Brandy clear does far excell the Tea
The collapse of a tenement in 1751 gave the first impetus for Edinburgh's expansion; dozens of unsafe buildings in the High Street were soon demolished. Sir Gilbert Elliot of Minto (whose sister Jean wrote the version of The Flowers of the Forest included here) proposed that planned rebuilding should include both a North Bridge leading out of the Old Town and the Royal Exchange, planned as the grandest secular building in the city and on the site of the recently flattened Pearson's Close. The bridge took a few years to get under way, but the Exchange was started immediately, designed by John Adam in 1754. The laying of its foundation stone was marked by the biggest parade the city had ever seen. We would now call Adam's design a mall; the ground floor had three coffee-houses and a collection of small shops surrounding the internal square. The design worked well, with the coffee-houses heavily used for everything from political meetings to land auctions, and drawings of the time show its internal square as a social meeting point full of people. Early in the nineteenth century, the council forced small traders out of the upper High Street, and took the building over as its City Chambers in 1810. Hugh Miller used the remaining coffee house as a base to produce his magazine The Witness in the middle of the 19th century; late in the century the council closed it and has since cluttered the square with malignantly ugly and pointless monuments, chain railings and official cars. Nobody goes in any more unless to shuffle paper or grovel to a bureaucrat, and the only echo of its former liveliness is the solitary busker playing flutes and whistles on the street outside. The Royal Exchange Reel comes from James Gillespie's manuscript book of fiddle tunes, compiled at Perth in 1768. The jig The Royal Exchange is from Thomas Skillern's 204 Reels and Country Dances of 1780.
Built on a field to the south of the city by the private speculator James Brown in 1763-4, George Square was the first development of fashionable housing outside the Old Town and began the exodus of the wealthy from the city centre. Brown lived to receive more in annual rents than the total amount he paid for the land. Its occupants included Lord Braxfield (the ferocious original of the judge in Stevenson's Weir of Hermiston), Sir Walter Scott as a child, Lord Provost Sir James Forrest, Admiral Duncan, and Henry Dundas, virtual dictator of Scotland. The King's Birthday, 4 June 1792, saw Dundas's house besieged by an angry mob in one of the most aggressive demonstrations for parliamentary reform ever seen in Edinburgh. The riot was planned weeks in advance, with anti-slavery posters stuck up around the city and the burning of Dundas in effigy announced by little leaflets like this:
Now Is the Time
Burn the Villain
Fear Not - You will
One of the rioters was shot dead by the army. A smaller riot in the square in 1796 was directed at both Dundas and Admiral Duncan; a year later, a cheering crowd paraded the square to celebrate Duncan's victory in the Battle of Camperdown against the Dutch. Most of the square was demolished in the 1960s and 1970s by Edinburgh University to make way for their present collection of windswept monoliths, carefully designed to make the space around them as unusable as possible by the general public. William Marshall published George's Square in 1781, as the last part of the square was nearing completion; when he republished the tune 40 years later its title became Lady Louisa Hamilton. Marshall renamed many of his tunes, and the Gow family added to the muddle by plagiarizing and renaming others. Most of the good tunes in the Scottish repertoire have several names, but Marshall's output is in a category of its own for confusion. He sometimes got his publisher to think up his titles, and once even asked him to shuffle the titles about to make sure a dedicatee got a new tune, because she didn't like the first she was offered.
Edinburgh's northern expansion, into the farmland beyond the North Loch, was proposed around 1680 by the Duke of York (the future James VII), but did not begin until 1772, under an initiative begun by Lord Provost George Drummond (1687-1766). There were two phases. The First New Town extended down to Queen Street and included St Andrew's Square and Charlotte Square (originally to be called St George's Square, continuing the Unionist theme of the naming of Rose Street and Thistle Street; luckily somebody realized how confusing that would have been). The Second New Town started in 1820 under Playfair's direction and continued further down the hill towards Leith; these later buildings are bigger and more imaginative in design, but built of lower-quality stone so they suffer more from mould and crumbling. The slow strathspey The New Town of Edinburgh was published by Joshua Campbell while the First New Town was under construction; it was first printed in a simpler setting by Bremner. The Register Office is a tune by Porteous commemorating the centrepiece building of the original plan, at the east end of Princes Street. At the time he wrote the tune, it had lain unfinished for fifty years due to lack of funds. The uncompleted part, with no glass in the windows, was at one time described as "the largest pigeon loft in Europe"; while it was in this state in 1784 its main domed hall provided James Tytler with Britain's first aircraft hangar, for his hot-air balloon. Big as the building is, it is only a quarter of Adam's originally planned size. When it was built it was on the site of the main beggars' pitch and next to Shakespeare Square, the site of the Theatre Royal. With the usual 18th century association of theatres and prostitution, the square was always famed for its streetwalkers. So the beggars, buskers and political petitioners in front of Register House are continuing a tradition that goes back over 200 years. Its strangest and saddest character was "Register Rachel", who was stood up by her lover after arranging to meet him there in the middle of the 19th century. She waited daily by its clock for the rest of her life, dressed in the fading fashions of her youth. In recent decades, the gents' toilet outside it - "GHQ" - was the busiest spot in town for gay cruisers, but was closed in the 1980s.
Music maps out most of the streets of the New Town. The Rose Street Strathspey is by Robert Ferguson (not the poet Robert Fergusson), from the late 18th century; it is taken from an important manuscript of traditional tunes assembled around 1790 by the music seller John Brysson, which later belonged to the musicologist William Stenhouse and to the antiquarian Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe (it is usually called the "Sharpe Manuscript" because until last year it was believed to have been written by or for Sharpe's father). An anonymously printed sheet of the time makes it the first of a dance set, followed by Deil Amang the Tailors (then called The American Reel) and The New Cross Well. Abercrombie Place is another local tune by James Porteous, from his 1820s collection; it's rather similar to the strathspey King George IV written in the same year. The street was designed by Robert Reid in 1801 and built nearly 20 years later; it was the first curved street in Edinburgh, not from design but because a landowner refused to sell the land in the concavity, now part of Queen Street Gardens. The Royal Terrace is from the same Porteous collection. The street, under Calton Hill, was designed by Stark and Playfair, and forms the longest continuous Georgian frontage in Britain. When it was first occupied it was popular with wealthy merchants who could watch their ships in the Forth from it. It is now a mix of expensive private houses and hotels, contains a church and a lap-dancing club, and is a pickup point for male prostitutes; a blend of social functions that recalls the Edinburgh of Burns's time. The Royal Circus was one of the last, most imaginative and most ingeniously engineered elements of the Second New Town plan, a triumph of planned regularity over awkward geography, where the circular terrace is balanced on a steep hill; the result owes more to Piranesi than Palladio. Porteous's strathspey The Royal Circus is from the same collection.
Lady Nairne's sentimental song The Lammie is from the same period, and its setting in Bonnington is only ten minutes' walk from the New Town, but was still farmland at the time. Present-day Bonnington, mostly derelict mills and factories built over with housing and warehouses, still has its foxes ("tods"), foraging in bins and around the Powderhall waste incinerator along with the feral cats. But no lambs. They've all been eaten. Sorry.
Princes Street was built where the old Lang-gate went through the fields on the hillside; it's on the edge of the New Town facing the Castle and the Old Town. It's the Edinburgh street best-known around the world from postcards, but is hardly commemorated in music at all. The two songs called The New Licht o' Auld Reekie are anonymous parodies from the Reminiscences of the Monks of St Giles, a magazine of topical verse produced for about 100 years by a social club founded in 1852; they date from the installation of electric street lighting in Princes Street in 1895. The first uses the tune of Lady Nairne's The Auld House, which I've taken from Bayley and Ferguson's Flowers of Scottish Song, a late 19th century collection published in Curwen's sol-fa notation. It's a pentatonic tune related to Willie's Gane to Melville Castle. The song's picture of collective indecision about street lighting is accurate; at first individual householders were required to put lights outside their dwellings to light the street, and it was centuries before lighting became a public utility. The second is based on Duncan Gray.
As Edinburgh's affluent classes began their migration outwards from the Old Town, the new developments had to be linked by convenient roadways. The Old Town was bounded by two east-west valleys, each reeking and smouldering with the industrial base of the city and teeming with the poor. And the slopes were so steep that horse-drawn carriages had great difficulty traversing them. The new bridges of the late 18th and early 19th centuries went over the heads of the poor, were clear of the mud and pollution, and for the first time made wheeled traffic a practicable option. Most of these bridges attracted commemorative music, as did bridges in other parts of Scotland and later in Newcastle.
The first was the North Bridge, for a while called the New Bridge. After the Castle, it was the largest structure in the city, and such grand ambitions could only meet with satire. "Walter Waaggstaffe" suggested a way of using it to defray the city's debts in a pamphlet of 1778:
Now as nature is known to abhor a vacuum, let all the arches, great and small, be fitted up like wooden barracks, and divided into apartments proper for the reception of this female corporation. In establishing this society, it must be enacted, That no female be permitted to carry on the process of love with the intention of gaining money, within the City or liberties, under penalty of whipping and banishment; and whoever may be desirous of keeping a mistress for his private amusement, must purchase a licence from the Chamberlain's office; for this he must pay, if unmarried, five guineas, if married, ten guineas. The southern abutment of the bridge being the most private, ought to be filled with ladies most proper for the entertainment of married gentlemen. The northern abutment, being least exposed to cold winds, will be most commodious for old and decayed men; to assist wearied nature, the youngest and healthiest women, and the most prominent, must be placed here. Mrs M-r, of whose abilities some of the Council are well convinced, ought to preside in this ward, which must be provided with thongs and whipping couches. By the foregoing arrangement, the arches will be left entire for the use of the public in general; and as men of fashion are fond to publish their gallantries, let the entrances to the apartments under the arches be made exceeding conspicuous, the outside of the structure must be ornamented with the ensigns of love, which will excite appetite and beautify the City...
He went on to suggest a scale of charges by social rank of the client, from peers of the realm downward, with married men paying double and the city taking 50%. (This is the earliest reference I know of to whipping as a service in brothels; it predates Sade by several years and the implication is that it was a commonplace in Edinburgh at the time). The New Bridge of Edinburgh is taken from the Brysson/Sharpe manuscript; it has some motifs in common with the familiar reel The Duke of Perth, and would go well with it. The first tune titled The North Bridge is from John Anderson's A Collection of New Highland Strathspey Reels. The better-known The North Bridge of Edinburgh is a plagiarism by the Gows of a tune published in two keys under two different names by William Marshall: Miss Watson in B minor like the Gows' version, and the one printed here, Belhelvie House, in the difficult key of C minor (he is reported to have said of pieces like this "I do not write for bunglers - if you find my tunes difficult, practice"). Belhelvie, also known as Blackdog, is the estate of a branch of the Skene family in Aberdeenshire. As usual, the Gows' title stuck. The tune was turned into a reel in Ireland, as The Musical Priest.
The old North Bridge was a stone multiple-arch structure, with buildings on top of it that provoked the first of Edinburgh's 200 years of planning disputes, from people who had their view of Holyrood and Arthur's Seat obstructed. The first structure of the 1760s was begun with elaborate Masonic ceremony; a large band played, with French horns, then new to Edinburgh. Its stoneworkers went on strike for higher wages as early as 1764; this happened all over Scotland during the building boom of the next few decades. Because of bad surveying, the bridge's foundations were built on loose soil, and it collapsed in 1769 with 5 deaths. An ugly comment on the implications from a pamphlet of the period, A scheme for better Police within the county of Mid-Lothian, might almost have been written by a New Labour councillor today:
The scheme that was, sometime ago, agreed upon between the town and the county, for suppressing the straggling and mendicant poor that at present sollicit charity in every stair and close in Edinburgh, among the many other distresses occasioned by the unlucky failure of the new bridge, has, for the present, been rendered ineffectual. Two of the vaults in the north abutment were to be fitted up, by way of a Bridewell, for the purpose of relieving the inhabitants of these vermin.
A proclamation of 1774 announced the council's intention of using the replacement bridge in the same way, with the extra detail that the imprisoned beggars were to be kept on a bread-and-water diet. The Bridewell on Calton Hill eventually took this role over. In 1818 the excisemen, following the unmistakable smell of whisky production, found one of the built-over, beggarless and forgotten-about arches of the replacement bridge put to more imaginative use, with a huge illicit still inside it, accessed through a concealed trapdoor in the building above. The bootleggers had built a vent into a chimney and employed a woman to carry the spirits out in a camouflaged suitcase with an internal tank that could hold 2 or 3 gallons. The North Bridge is one of the windiest spots in the city; at first it had open balustrades on each side, and there were complaints about people being blown across the road from the moment it opened. But what made the city fit solid parapets in 1782 was a purely aesthetic problem; hiding the view of the slaughterhouse underneath. The council's inexperience in administering such large and novel works was best seen at night; the Old Town was lit and the New Town not, with the divide between light and darkness in the centre of the bridge.
Edinbro' North Bridge Hornpipe, by W.B. Laybourn, is from Köhler's Violin Repository; Köhler's premises were on the North Bridge at the time. The Mason Lads is a song from the Greig-Duncan collection, taken down at the turn of the century in Aberdeenshire. The singer of this version had learnt it at Aberdour in 1856, which is a lot nearer to Edinburgh than to Aberdeen, and Edinburgh is the only Scottish city with an old town and new town connected by a bridge, so the North Bridge must be what is meant. There are four more verses in the Greig-Duncan version, presumably added later to turn the song into one of the "which occupation shall I marry?" genre and ending up arbitrarily with tailors; it's more coherent without them.
The replacement North Bridge survived until the construction of Waverley Station in the 1890s, when it was replaced by the present bridge to give wider arches for the trains to pass under.
The South Bridge is a massive construction most of whose 22 arches are invisible inside its shroud of buildings; you can see the inner core of it best from Bannerman's Bar in the Cowgate, which occupies the vaults in the base of the deepest arch. First proposed and pushed through to completion by Sir James Hunter Blair, Lord Provost from 1784-7, it was begun in 1786 and only took two years to build. It involved chopping off part of the Tron Kirk and the demolition of a whole district of the Old Town, and was marked by the first recorded instance of industrial sabotage in Scottish history, when stonemasons demanding higher wages smashed their own handiwork by night - the second verse of The Mason Lads may be a distorted memory of this. Its structure still reflects 18th century oligarchy; the dip in the road down to where Chambers Street is now was to satisfy Lord President Robert Dundas, who didn't want the front door of his house in Brown Square below street level. Dundas moved to the country shortly after construction finished, and Brown Square itself has been gone for over a century, but his lowered roadway remains. After it was built, plots of land on each side fetched prices higher than any other land in history; up to £150,000 per acre. The first businesses to use the bridge were clothing shops, which are still the dominant trade on it today. The South Bridge of Edinburgh is another tune printed by the Gows which is derived from an earlier one, in this case The Haddington Assembly by Thomas Fraser - however, since the Gows printed the tune under its original title in one of their collections, it is hard to see how they could have intended to claim this one as their own.
The even larger civil engineering project of the Mound, or "Mud Brig" as it was called at the time, completed just before the South Bridge by piling up excavation rubble from the New Town, seems not to be marked by a tune; it was never formally planned and most early mentions of it have a tone of faint embarrassment that something so unclassical could have become so prominent and useful. What is now called the Waterloo Bridge was marked with a musical-box-like tune published by Nathaniel Gow in 1815. This was the year its foundation stone was laid, and the tune has its original name, The Regent Bridge, after the Prince Regent, the future King George IV. The George IV Bridge was the next bridge linked to the Old Town. It involved the lowering of a stretch of the High Street, with more demolition and more intricate planning than any earlier project. The start of building was marked by an elaborately-staged parade with the usual Masonic presence. But despite its geographical and ceremonial prominence no tune was written for it, nor for the less conspicuous King's Bridge of a few years later linking Johnston Terrace and the Lawnmarket with Portsburgh, then a lawless and run-down settlement beyond the city boundary.
Two even vaster projects were seriously considered in this period: one for a lower-level street paralleling the High Street and linking to an enormous causeway running diagonally across the Nor Loch, another for a tunnel under the Castle Rock connecting Princes Street with the West Port. Neither scheme's promoter was confident enough to commission the music in advance before economic and engineering reality set in. The biggest scheme of all had been suggested in 1807: a road tunnel under the Forth, where the Forth Rail Bridge is now. This remained a fantasy, although larger tunneling works were already a reality in the coal mines of Lothian and Fife.
Telford's Dean Bridge of 1832, linking Edinburgh to the road to South Queensferry and hence Fife and the North of Scotland, is the most dramatic in the whole city. It was built at first by private finance. Lord Provost Learmonth funded it so as to profit when the city expanded into the land he owned on the northern side. He later strongarmed the city into paying him for it anyway. The Aberdonian engineer in charge of constructing the Dean Bridge, John Gibb, got it finished it far ahead of schedule; he then exploited the fine print in the contract by setting up temporary gates at each end and charging tolls to anyone who wanted to cross it before the official opening. The bridge soon became a popular jump for suicides, as described in 1887 by Robert McCandless, McGonagall's chief Edinburgh rival in poetic awfulness:
Then I stood on the ridge
Of that beautiful Bridge
And I look'd right down below,
Where the water lay
At the foot, I say,
One hundred feet, or so.
Where many a man
Alas has ran
There, in an evil hour,
And cast away
His life, that day,
Beyond all human pow'r.
The city commissioned an engineer's report on suicide prevention in the 1880s; nothing was done until 1912, when the council adopted what he had found the least effective, most intrusive and most expensive option, raising the parapets so you can't see over them. The beautiful strathspey The Dean Brig of Edinburgh is either by Archibald Allan (1794-1831) from Forfar, one of the players in Nathaniel Gow's band, who first called it Miss Gray of Carse, or according to an alternative story, by the Reverend Mr Tough. The present title was added by Peter Milne from Aberdeen (1824-1908), who published it along with The Dean Brig Reel in Middleton's collections. Milne began his career playing in theatres in Edinburgh and Leith. He became an opium addict, lost his job, and took to busking on the Forth ferry; the Forth Bridge finished that and he died destitute back in Aberdeen.
The Dean Bridge was the last major civil engineering project the city could fund for thirty years; the council had run up a massive debt by mismanagement comparable to that of a present-day Latin American dictatorship, and the city went bankrupt in 1833 after making the bad mistake of borrowing from the Government, the one creditor it couldn't fob off. The last phase of the New Town was never completed as its designers intended.
For the next generation, the railways did most to change the city. Learmonth was again involved as chairman of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway Company, now fighting his former allies on the Council to push the railway's interests against those of the inner city's property owners. The first plan for a rail bridge over the Forth was by Thomas Bouch, the designer of the Tay bridge, in the late 1870s. When the Tay Bridge collapsed in 1879 his scheme was abandoned. The present Forth Rail Bridge, built by the same firm that replaced the Tay Bridge, was opened in 1890. It sits on top of a small islet, which gives its name to James Mauchline's Inch Garvie march from David Glen's collection (with no explanation, and marching to or round that little rock doesn't make sense - perhaps Mauchline had the bridge construction workers in mind). The commemorative hornpipe The Forth Brig is by Scott Skinner, in his usual floridly Victorian style. The Forth Bridge strathspey and reel are by Williamson Blyth (1821-1897), an Edinburgh fiddler and a prolific violin maker said to have built 2000 instruments. According to William Honeyman, they were nearly unplayable "things shaped like violins", made to look good by superficial finish, and Blyth often disposed of them by pawning them and getting a confederate to hawk the pawn-tickets at an inflated price to people who thought they were getting a bargain. Like Scott Skinner's later reel The Spey in Spate, this plagiarizes James Hill's hornpipe of the 1840s, The Hawk. There is another fiddle tune, The Bridge of Forth, in Joshua Campbell's collection of the 18th century, which is more often played than either of these. Unless it commemorates some forgotten engineer's fantasy, the bridge it marks must be on the upper reaches of the river near Stirling. It is often known as The Bridge of Foss, and by a surreal misprint in Donald MacPhee's pipe tune collection of 1870, The Bridge of Floss. There is one tune for the Forth Road Bridge of the early 1960s, a pipe march Crossing the New Forth Bridge by Jimmy Shand.
Dalkeith Maiden Bridge was first published by James Aird (c.1750-1795), and was later used by Burns for his song O sad and heavy should I part. The bridge crosses the river South Esk, and is now beside a golf course, originally in the grounds of Newbattle Abbey; one tradition says it was built late in the 15th century for James IV's English bride to cross on her way north, though it may date from the twelfth century, along with the abbey, with the maiden it is named after being the Virgin Mary. This is the only "bridge" tune I have found that was composed for one built long before; it might have been written, with the story of James and Margaret in mind, to commemorate the arrival of the young Duchess of Buccleuch and her husband after their marriage in 1767, and it could be used as a wedding march. At this time the cottage industry of dedicating tunes to bridges had just got under way, with tunes for the North Bridge of Edinburgh and Teviot Brig already in the repertoire.
Unusually, there is no tune for Dalkeith's Montague Bridge, designed by Robert Adam at the end of the 18th century. It was in the estate of the Duke of Buccleuch, one of the leading patrons of music in Scotland at the time, and was intended as more a work of art than a transport link; exactly the sort of structure you might expect to be inaugurated with a musical festivity. Perhaps Adam's unexpected death in 1792 prevented this; the Duke of Buccleuch himself acted as a pallbearer at the funeral. Another Midlothian bridge is not commemorated by music, but by a figure of speech: "deep as Currie Brig".
Craigmillar Castle, in south-east Edinburgh to the south of Arthur's Seat, dates from 1212 or earlier. It was the scene of a few dramatic episodes in the 16th century: used to hold the child-king James V during his kidnapping, burnt by the Earl of Hertford in 1544, briefly occupied by Mary Queen of Scots, and then forgotten. It was abandoned in the 18th century. There was a suggestion to make it a royal residence for Queen Victoria in 1842, as marked by a local balladeer in a parody of Fy let us a' to the Bridal:
Come fy let us a' to Craigmillar,
For there's to be braw doin's there,
The Queen's to give gowpens o' siller
To get it a' put in repair.
with predictable results given that this was expecting the royal family to pay for something; it carried on crumbling until its owner started to conserve it in the 1880s. The lands around it were used for a council housing scheme in 1930; tenants were moved there from the Canongate and Cowgate, a large proportion of them from the Irish community. The council would not allow new tenants to see the houses they were being allocated to before being given the keys, and no transfers were permitted for 8 years. The officials knew what they were doing - by 1982, Craigmillar had the highest rate in Edinburgh for eight markers of social deprivation: eviction, youth unemployment, crimes against property, breaches of the peace, malicious mischief, children receiving free school meals, home helps, and meals on wheels. It had three times the average Edinburgh incidence of mental handicap and four times the rate for electricity disconnections. By 1993 it still had the worst unemployment in Edinburgh, at 24%; the following year it produced the most violent riot the city had seen since 1848.
Two 3/4 retreat marches and a strathspey-and-reel are named after the castle. Craigmillar Castle comes from the 1860Caledonian Repository of Music, for the Great Highland Bag-Pipe by Alexander Glen (1801-1873). It may relate to the war panic of 1859-60, when Volunteer forces drilled in the Royal Park; the ruined castle would have been a convenient dummy fortress for manoeuvres. The other march is given that title in the Army's piping manual; it was earlier printed by David Glen as Pipe Major Duncan McPhail's Retreat, and I have given his version, since the Army editor made substantial changes to the tune as well as changing its name. It dates from the same period, when McPhail was Pipe Major of the 92nd Highlanders. The strathspey and reel Craigmillar Castle are by W.C. Paton, from Köhler's Violin Repository of the 1880s.
The King's Park around Holyrood Palace, or as it now called, Holyrood Park, which includes Arthur's Seat, is the remainder of a royal park dating back nearly 1000 years. James Porteous's strathspey The King's Park, like his Salisbury Craggs, dates from 1822, the time of the Earl of Haddington's quarrying operations; he probably had that in mind rather than the visit of King George IV, as his collection does not otherwise mention the King and so must predate the visit.
The Radical Road is a totally useless roadway along the base of Salisbury Crags, which connects to no other road at either end. It was constructed as a relief work project in the post-Napoleonic-War slump, along with other public works like filling in the quarry holes on Bruntsfield Links. The committee that thought up the idea got it from Scott's The Heart of Midlothian, which praised the pre-existing simple pathway along the same route as a scenic attraction. The Radical Road, once popular in folk sessions in Edinburgh, is by Jim Sutherland, from his book The Flow Country (1987); it begins exactly like The Athole Highlanders and is a great way to confuse other players in pub sessions. Sutherland's tunes commemorate almost as many places round the city as Porteous but much more imaginatively.
Two other nineteenth-century roads are marked by specially-written tunes. The marches The Queen's Drive and Across the Meadows were published together by James Paterson in 1867, and both the roads they mark were new and controversial at the time. The Queen's Drive, in Holyrood Park, was first seen as a defacement of the lonely hillside on the south and east of Arthur's Seat, though it immediately became a popular route for walkers and drivers. The Meadows are the inner city's largest park: at the lower end of the old Borough Muir, they used to contain a small loch, the Borough Loch, which extended along most of their length, running out into a stream at what is Lochrin Place (hence the name). The loch was drained in stages from the early 18th century. The road across the Meadows, now Melville Drive, was built in 1855, very quickly at the initiative of a landowner taking no consultation with the council. Both tunes are dire, and the second is undoubtedly the worst tune in this book. But since when did the road lobby ever have any taste?
The origin of the placename Jock's Lodge is unknown, but it existed by 1650, when it was the site of a temporary repulse of Cromwell's army. By the early 18th century it was one of the hamlets on the fringes of Edinburgh noted for their inns and brothels; Cramond was another. Piershill, a massive cavalry barracks, was built there in 1793. The tune, from Bremner's collections of 1757-1768, is known as Cut and Dry in several sources and as Loch Sloy in the McFarlan Manuscript of 1740-3. "Loch Sloy!" was the slogan, or war cry, of the clan McFarlan, taken from its traditional place of rendezvous before battle: other Highland clans and Lowland families had slogans of similar origin. It may have been derived from a lost pibroch, but more likely was a renaming of a dance tune, a way for the manuscript's compiler David Young to thank his patron Walter McFarlan of that Ilk for the commission.
The village of Duddingston, just to the east of Arthur's Seat, has never had a castle of its own, but nonetheless Robert Mackintosh published a reel Duddingston Castle in his collection of the early 1790s. He would have had the neoclassical Duddingston House of the 1760s in mind, used a few years later by Earl Moira. The previous manor house on the site can't have been up to much, since Bonnie Prince Charlie preferred to stay in a weaver's cottage when he went through Duddingston on his way to the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745. Inveresk House is a pipe march by James Mauchline, from David Glen's collection; I've no idea what occasioned it. The house still stands, in good condition; its grounds are a torist attraction.
Leith is Edinburgh's port city, and may have been settled thousands of years before Edinburgh itself. The two cities have been a single economic unit for all recorded history. The loss of Berwick to the English in the 1330s left Leith as Scotland's major port, and it acquired ever-greater predominance over the centuries, only challenged by Glasgow in the early 1800s. William McGonagall described Victorian Leith with unimpeachable precision:
As for the Docks, they are magnificent to see,
They comprise five docks, two piers, 1141 yards long respectively.
And there's steamboat communication with London and the North of Scotland,
And the fares are really cheap and the accommodation most grand;
Then there's many public works in Leith, such as flour mills,
And chemical works, where medicines are made for curing many ills.
Besides, there are sugar refineries and distilleries,
Also engineer works, saw-mills, rope-works, and breweries,
Where many of the inhabitants are daily employed,
And the wages they receive make their hearts feel overjoyed.
The last chemical works - a fertilizer factory - moved elsewhere in the 1970s, and few locals can have regretted losing its dense brown plume of nitrogen oxide gases, which left most of the old window glass in Leith coated with a strange green film; but docks, flour mills and distilleries are still a vital part of the local economy. The docks have surprisingly little music associated with them; one of the pillars of Edinburgh's economy, they were extended many times with Edinburgh, rather than Leith, usually funding the expansion. But they were far enough away from the city that they rarely entered the consciousness of Edinburgh citizens, unlike the city-centre docks of Glasgow, Bristol or even London. When Leith Pier was Edinburgh's main long-distance travel terminus, it did make it into song. The Peer of Leith is the tune of a popular sentimental song from Orpheus Caledonius; it is somewhat older, since a broadside of 1710 calls for the same tune. I've given two versions: the elaborately ornamented one from Adam Craig's collection of 1730 and the simpler one from Orpheus Caledonius.
Leith Central Railway Station, at the foot of Leith Walk, was the grandest station in Midlothian after Waverley itself; it was converted into a watersports centre after the rail closure of the 1960s, but the vast pub attached to it survives as a splendid tiled temple to the Age of Steam. Leith Central was composed in 1995 by Gary Coupland, and was published in the Nineties Collection. As I write this, the watersports centre is closed indefinitely while the council tries to find remedies for its disastrously misconceived design.
There are two competing legends about the origins of St Bernard's Well, which is beside the Water of Leith near the Dean Bridge, in what was the Earl of Moray's Drumsheugh estate: it was either discovered by St Bernard of Clairvaux on a visit to Scotland or by a group of Heriot's schoolboys playing truant in 1760. More likely neither; it was known long before the 18th century, and the stories of St Bernard visiting Edinburgh are confused by partisan myth-making and totally unreliable. One reason for the mythology may have been attempts to suppress or Christianize pagan well cults; these go back into British prehistory. St Anthony's Well near Arthur's Seat seems to have had particular significance, and was still used for magical healing in the late 19th century. St Triduana of Restalrig may be a Christianized pagan water goddesss, and her shrine was centred around a well. Loretto Chapel in Musselburgh, the most important pilgrimage site in Scotland in the decades before the Reformation, was on the site of a holy well and adopted the thinly disguised pagan worship of the Black Virgin. Another Christianized well was the Balm Well or Oily Well of Liberton; the legend said the oily surface of its water came from a bottle of the miraculous oil of Saint Catherine of Sinai, spilt on its way to Queen Margaret, and the convent of Saint Catherine of Siena at Sciennes dedicated their own well to the same saint. The oil was real enough: leakage from the bituminous Parrot Coal seams mined nearby at Gilmerton.
The mid-18th century saw a craze for medicinal health spas, not just in Scotland. German Spa was a popular dance tune throughout Britain marking this fad, and there are several country dance tunes relating to Bath. St Bernard's Well was Edinburgh's strongest bid for a share of the market; extravagant medical claims were made for its water, summarized in a poem by "Claudero" (James Wilson) to mark its opening:
This Water so healthful near Ed'nburgh doth rise,
Which not only Bath but Moffat outvies.
Most diseases of nature it quickly doth cure,
Except the disease that is got from a whore.
It cleans the intestines, and appetite gives,
While morbific matter it quite away drives:
Its amazing effects cannot be deny'd,
And drugs are quite useless where it is apply'd.
So what doctors can't cure is done by this Spring,
Reserv'd till this year of great DRUMMOND's reign.
This water is no longer regarded as bacteriologically safe, and the well is sealed now. It was never a taste treat: "like the washings of a foul gun barrel" was one comparison. Even a report in praise of it from 1790 can't help but mention surprising side-effects:
By a copious and continued use of these waters, the skin, from being dry and scurfy, becomes moist and smooth. It smells of a sulphureous odour; and the linen becomes dingy and yellow; the silver in one's pocket tarnishes, turns yellow, and afterwards blackish.
The building around the wellhead is an attractive neo-classical monument with a statue of the goddess Hygeia, built by the Masons in 1788 to replace the 1760 structure, which had disintegrated from vandalism and groundwater damage in the years between, new streets had made the well far more accessible from the city. Unusually for a Scottish Masonic building it doesn't look much like a vampire's tomb. William McGonagall hinted that it might have been more interesting in Victorian times than now:
Then near St Bernard's Well there's a shady bower,
Where the lovers, if they like, can spend an hour;
And while they rest there at their ease
They can make love to each other if they please.
And it even gave you a ready-made excuse for stained underwear. The tune St Bernard's Well is from a late 18th century collection by Neil Stewart; it is known from several other sources as Shamboe Breeches.
"Bonintown" is an old spelling of Bonnington, between Edinburgh andNewhaven. The tune Bonintown Well is from Bremner's collection; the Gows reprinted it as Brown's Reel. The well was usually known as St Cuthbert's Well. It was probably in use while the old parish of St Cuthbert still existed, before 1606, but in 1750 its water acquired a medicinal reputation and a building was put up over it, with a pump room and a reading room. By 1819 it was open all day starting at six in the morning, and had newspapers available for customers. It was in the grounds of Haig's distillery for a time, but was far too mineral to use in making whisky; Haig would have used the Water of Leith, tapping the Bonnington mill lade. It vanished under industrial redevelopment when Haig's site was sold off to John Tennant's chemical company, later to become ICI, in the 1850s. There is no record of what occasioned this tune, but the date suggests it was the opening of the well building. There is now not even a sketch to show what it looked like.
Another well tapping the same undergound source as St Bernard's and St Cuthbert's, and also with a late 18th century wellhouse to support the spa trade, was St George's Well. Its building is still standing in Stockbridge, not far from the New Age emporiums now catering to the late twentieth century middle class's equivalents of the health spa craze. There is no tune commemorating it. Piped-in whale songs and Andean flute music might fit the modern ethos of the locality.
The Cross Well was in the High Street at the head of Old Assembly Close, one of 15 wells sunk in Edinburgh early in the 18th century. This was no health spa or place of pagan worship, but a major source of the city's water, with a capacity of 500 pints per minute; the fire brigade estimated they could use 15,000 gallons from it at a time when called on to deal with one of the frequent fires in the area. Water-sellers filled barrels from it and took them as far as Leith. After the demolition of the old Mercat Cross in 1756, a stone set up beside the Cross Well was for a time declared to be legally the new Mercat Cross of Edinburgh; late in the century the council decided that this too was an obstruction to traffic, filled it in, and set up a pillar nearby to be the third Cross. Robert Bremner's publishing firm was beside the Cross Well for a while before he moved to London. The tune The Cross Well of Edinburgh, attributed to "Mr Jardey", is from Sharpe of Hoddom's manuscript. The well is marked today by a stone lump near the Festival Fringe office; the council has recently added a stone spike to prevent people sitting on it during public festivities. They didn't always take that attitude to public fun; in the celebrations for Charles II's coronation in 1660 the spouts of an older well at the Cross were made to run with claret and 300 dozen glasses were left broken in the street. Perhaps the Council and the Fringe would be happier with a different former use for the wells of the Old Town: criminals were toured round them to be whipped at each in turn. The New Cross Well is from the dance sheet that first included the Rose Street Strathspey; amateurishly engraved, with no publisher named. I found it glued into a copy of Gow's First Collection in the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh; I have not seen it anywhere else.
The Wells of Wearie are on the southern side of Arthur's Seat, feeding into Duddingston Loch, and there are at least three songs that celebrate them. The Paddo would be incomprehensible without the background story, collected by C.K. Sharpe:
A poor widow was one day baking bannocks, and sent her dochter wi' a dish to the well to bring water. The dochter gaed, and better gaed, till she came to the well, but it was dry. Now, what to do she didna ken, for she couldna gang back to her mother without water; sae she sat down by the side o' the well and fell a-greeting. A Paddy then cam loup-loup-louping out o' the well, and asked the lassie what she was greeting for? She said she was greeting because there was nae water in the well. "But", says the Paddo, "an ye'll be my wife, I'll gie ye plenty o' water". And the lassie, no' thinking that the poor beast could mean anything serious, said she would be his wife for the sake o' getting the water. So she got the water into her dish, and gaed away hame to her mother, and thought nae mair about the Paddo till that night, when, just as she and her mother were about to go to their bed, something came to the door, and when they listened they heard this song...
So, it's a form of the princess-kisses-frog fairytale. There is another version from Annandale in which the Paddo gets the girl to chop his head off with an axe, whereupon he turns into a handsome prince. I've taken the primitive tune from a small ballad collection Sharpe made for Lady John Scott; the words are from a book by Lady Scott's friend Margaret Warrender.
The Water o' Wearie's Well is here taken from Peter Buchan's 19th century collection Ballads and Songs of the North of Scotland. This is one of the ballads in Child's classification, and is perhaps the most widespread and mysterious of all of them. A.L. Lloyd traced related versions of it in song, folktale and visual art all across Eastern Europe and Asia as far away as a sculptured image from the Turkic people of western Mongolia, well over a thousand years old. It forms the story of Bartók's opera Duke Bluebeard's Castle. In the more explicit Eastern versions, the woman travels with the stranger as far as a river, stops by its bank with his head in her lap to comb lice out of his hair, and realizes what he is after looking up to see a tree hung with weapons dripping blood. Was this an encounter with Death at the river that separates the living from the nether world? A mythologization of a sexual rite of passage? Whatever it meant, it was at one time immensely important to the people of an entire continent. No local tune for this ballad has been recorded; I've used the one in Bruce and Stokoe's Northumbrian Minstrelsy of 1882 for their version of the story, The Outlandish Knight. Outside Edinburgh, the title was often mutated into "the wells so weary". Generations of singers must have tried and failed to persuade themselves and their audiences that it made sense that way.
Frogs are much more obviously associated with wells than birds are; it would make sense for these two songs to be separated parts of a larger and older original, in which the Paddo, rather than a bird, became changed into the demonic knight of the second song.
And there are more routine songs using the wells as a setting. The Wells o' Weary is an unexceptional pastoral love song from a broadside of 1824 in the Lauriston Castle collection; it pastiches the 18th century song The Lea Rig, which I've given in Robert Chambers's version. The Wells of Wearie is a tartan-shortbread-tin-nationalist Victorian parlour song with words by Alexander Maclagan (1811-1879) and music by J.C. Grieve. It's still popular with singers of the White Heather Club variety. I can't stand the thing but I feel I've got to include it as a historical curiosity.
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Embro, Embro Copyright © 2001, Jack Campin