High Street Royal Mile | All About Edinburgh

High Street History

High Street was the most populated part of Edinburgh, with tenement buildings up to 11 stories high. On November 15th 1824 a tenement of 11 stories in the upper High Street or High Street West caught alight and was the beginning of the worst fire in the history of Edinburgh. Starting at around 10 pm that evening the fire spread from the tenement in Assembly Close to buildings in Old Fishmarket close. Down to the Tron Kirk which at the time was central Edinburgh. It also spread south along the Cowgate. The fire was finally extinguished the next morning 12 hours from when it had started. That was not the end, as another fire started at 10 pm that evening which destroyed what was left on the south side of the High Street. All but St Giles Cathedral and the Parliament buildings were saved. Over four hundred families were left homeless.

High Street East (lower) Royal Mile Edinburgh

The High Street in the Royal Mile can be found between the Royal Mile Lawnmarket and the Royal Mile Canongate. The Lower High Street or High Street East is from the cross roads at the North and South Bridges to the crossroads at Jeffery Street and St Mary’s Street where the city wall once stood. In this section you will find; Old St Paul's Church, Paisley Close, Trinity Apse Church, Museum of Childhood, John Knox House, Nether Bow, Carrubber’s Mission, New Palace Picture House, World’s End, Mowbray House, Nether Bow Wellhead, Tweeddale Court and The Scottish Story Telling Centre, Trunk's Close.      

Niddry Street Royal Mile Edinburgh

Niddry Street originally called Niddry Wynd (Nudreis Wynd) is one of the oldest thoroughfares in old Edinburgh. The original Wynd would have been angled further west after re-positioning when the South Bridge was built. The Wynd extended across Cowgate to what is now South Niddry Street where the underground caverns have been found which were linked with the area that was previous to the south bridge being built. In 1750 when Niddry Wynd was widened it became Niddry Street. There were a number of important buildings which included St Cecilia’s Hall built in 1762 as a concert Hall and still exist to this day at the foot of Niddry Street as a Music Museum. Niddry Wynd was said to be named after a magistrate of Edinburgh in 1437 a Robert Niddry a member of the Niddry family of Wauchop.

St Cecilia’s Hall Niddry Wynd Edinburgh

St Cecilia’s Hall was built for the Musical Society of Edinburgh in 1762 by Robert Mylne (Milne) a Scottish architect and Stone mason from a famous Edinburgh family of builders and stonemasons. The Musical Society of Edinburgh previously occupied St Mary’s Chapel from 1728 – 1762 when they moved to St Cecilia’s Hall which was purpose built for them by Robert Milne in 1762. St Cecilia’s Hall had an auditorium that held 500 seated guests and concerts were held daily starting in the early evening and were always very well attended. Niddry Wynd was widened circa 1750 and was renamed as a Niddry Street. St Cecilia’s Hall is now part of the University of Edinburgh and has undergone a lengthy renovation. St Cecilia’s Hall is now a musical instrument museum and concert Hall which makes it one of the oldest remaining concert halls in Britain and oldest in Scotland still in use.

Dickson’s Close High Street Royal Mile Edinburgh

Dickson’s Close in the High Street on the Royal Mile Edinburgh was demolished when Niddry street was widened. All that remains is the Street sign above the door of the Radisson Blu Hotel. One of the Close’s occupants was a David Allan who was dubbed the “Scottish Hogarth” his illustrations and etchings were of great quality. He died in Edinburgh and is gravestone can be seen in the Old Calton Graveyard.

Cant’s Close High Street Royal Mile Edinburgh

Cants Close was housing for the members of the Anglican Church. Cants Close Melrose Close Dickson’s Close and Niddry Wynd all were adjoining and were part of a very upmarket area for the nobility. The Cant family lived in the close for circa 100 years. Adam Cant 1403, Alexander Cant 1514 a wealthy family with land in many pars of Edinburgh. The Building was renovated in 1989 over a period of 15 months.

Melrose Close High Street Royal Mile Edinburgh

Melrose Close was were the Abbot of Melrose (Andrew Durie) had his residence circa 1530 and the close was named after him. It was also known as Rosehaugh Close after Sir George McKenzie of Rosehaugh King’s Advocate. Sir George McKenzie (George Bloody Mackenzie) is still known today due to his tomb in Greyfriars which is said to be haunted.

Blackfriar’s Street (Wynd) Royal Mile Edinburgh

Blackfriars Street originally known as the Preaching Friar’s Vennel and Blackfriars Wynd. The name given due to the Street leading to the Black Friary of the Dominican Monks founded by Alexander II in 1230. The Wynd widened and became a Street and it was where Regent Morton had a mansion and many wealth Gentlemen and Ladies lived. Other significant history about Black Friars Wynd “Cleanse the Causeway” when the Hamilton’s and Douglas’s battled and the Earl of Bothwell and Sir William Stewart who Bothwell killed in Black friars Wynd. The Catholic Chapel which moved from Black friars Wynd in 1813 is now St Mary’s Cathedral at Broughton Street. Blackfriars Wynd was the centre of Edinburgh Nobility with Lords, Earls, Dukes, Bishops, Lady’s and Royals all at one time residing in the Wynd. There was a Palace and the first printing press in Scotland which printed the first book in 1508. Blackfriars Wynd to the east was demolished (circa 1840) due to the improvement Act and rebuilt, where the west side was left and the buildings between Cants Close and Dickson’s were mostly demolished and new builds were erected.  The United Industrial School opened in 1847 to give all children both boys and girls, protestant and catholic an instruction in Craft work tailoring, carpentry, Leather work etc. and Knitting and housework.

The Lodge of Journeymen Masons No.8

The Lodge of Journeymen Masons has worked as a legal lodge since 1715 but the Grand Lodge of Scotland states the true date of formation was 1707. The Lodge of Journeymen Masons is unique due to the fact it may be the only lodge in the world which is allowed to charge fees and confer degrees but does not have the required charter from a Grand Lodge. The Journeymen lodge moved to 63 Blackfriars Street, EH1 1NB on the 8th August 1871. Above the door can be seen a stone tablet with insignia and inscriptions. Around lower edge of coat of arms shield the inscriptions reads: IN THE LORD IS ALL OUR TRUST

On the panel below coat of arms LODGE JOURNEYMEN MASONS NO.8 REBUILT 1870 THOMAS FIELD. R.W.M. AND CONVENER OF THE TRADES

Regent Morton’s Mansion

Regent Morton’s Mansion house in Blackfriars Wynd (now Street) was the town house of Regent Morton, James Douglas 4th Earl of Morton who was born circa 1525. James Douglas was the last regent of Scotland. He was executed on the 2nd of June 1581. His execution took place at the foot of the Canongate outside the Palace of Holyrood House on the “maiden”. The guillotine brought from England by himself as he had been impressed when watching how it was so efficient. James Douglas took an active part the abdication of Mary Queen of Scots.in 1567. He was executed for being part of the killing of Lord Darnley Mary Queen of Scots Husband.

First Printing Press Blackfriar’s Street (Wynd)

This plaque donates the place where the first printing of a book in Scotland was. The printers Walter Chepman and Andrew Myllar printed the first book in 1508 after being granted a licence by King (James IV) a year earlier. The printers stood in the Cowgate at the foot of Blackfriars Street near to Cardinal Beaton’s House.

Toddrick’s Wynd High Street Royal Mile Edinburgh

Toddrick’s (Todrig’s) Wynd once belonged to Archibald Todrig a Bailie of Edinburgh who was attacked in his home in the Wynd in 1500 by two men with swords. They were caught and taken to the Tolbooth and their hands were chopped off as a punishment. Toddrick’s Wynd was also where Bothwell and his cohorts ascended to Blackfriars Monastery on 9th Feb 1567 to blow up the provost’s house in Kirk O Fields. Thomas Aitchison lived here (the master of the mint). A grand Banquet was held in 1590 for the Ambassador and nobles of Denmark.

Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood High Street Royal Mile Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood. The world’s first museum to be dedicated solely to the history of childhood was opened in 1955. The museum of Childhood contains five galleries with toys and games, both contemporary and antique, from around the world. Many toys that everyone of an age will remember; Action Man, Sindy, Corgi, Triang, Meccano.

South Gray’s Close High Street Royal Mile Edinburgh

South Gray’s Close or Mint Close as this is where the Scottish mint was built in 1574 after it being in the Castle and firstly in Holyrood House Palace. It later moved to Chessel’s Court where Deacon Brodie robbed it, but was caught and hung. The Museum of Childhood is located next to the close.

Hyndford’s Close Royal Mile High Street Edinburgh

Hyndford’s Close the entrance to the town residence of the Earls of Selkirk’s. The first Earl of Selkirk William Alexander who colonised Nova Scotia in 1630.  Later to be occupied by Dr Daniel Rutherford a chemist and Botanist who discovered Nitrogen Gas in 1772. Rutherford was Sir Walter Scott’s uncle his sister being Walter’s mother. The close was named after the Carmichael’s of Hyndford.

The New Palace Picture House

The New Palace Picture House opened in 1929; and finally closed in September 1956. It became a night club and music venue called McGoos and a host of the names of the 60’s played there; The Who, The Kinks, Spencer Davies Group, Troggs, Wayne Fontana, The Small Faces, Cream and many more.

Fountain Close Royal Mile High Street Edinburgh

Fountain Close residents were Adam Fullerton and Sir James Mackenzie whose house was purchased by the Royal College of Physicians for a new Library in 1704 and sold again in 1720 for a new Church to be built in 1771. Also in Fountain Close is The Saltire Society which was founded in 1936 and its purpose is to improve the quality of life in Scotland and make people around the world see the values Scotland has to offer everyone in every walk of life. The Saltire Society has no political affiliation and anyone is welcome to become a member. FÀILTE is Gaelic for welcome.

Tweeddale Close High Street Royal Mile Edinburgh

Tweeddale Court built in 1576 by the Earl of Lothian for his daughter Lady Yester and she passed it on to the 9th Earl of Yester her grandson the second Earl of Tweeddale who became the Marquis of Tweeddale Lord High Commissioner of Scotland which was bestowed upon him by William III. The Last Tweeddale to live here died in 1762 and the mansion house became the British Linen company. The British Linen Company occupied Tweeddale Court in 1791 till 1807. A grizzly murder also took place in Tweeddale Court in 1806, when William Begbie a porter of the British Linen Company was stabbed through the heart and robbed of thousands of bank notes he was carrying from a branch at the top of Leith. A major amount of notes were later recovered but the murderer was never caught. It is suspected that the murderer was later caught for another bank robbery of a similar description in Glasgow, but it was never proven. The thief was tried for the Glasgow robbery and found guilty, imprisoned and later died in Old Calton Jail in Regent Road. When the British Linen Company moved to St Andrew Square, Oliver and Boyd printers and publishers moved into the mansion house.

World’s End Close High Street Royal Mile Edinburgh

World’s End Close previously Sir John Stanfield’s Close, Sir John Stanfield was supposedly murdered by his son who was then sentenced to hang at the market cross in Feb 1688 but due to the rope slipping he was finally chopped up and his head was displayed in Haddington his body in Leith and his tongue was cut out and hand chopped of for his crimes against his father. Known as World’s End Close as this was the last building inside the city wall which many people had never been past.

St Mary Street Edinburgh

St Mary’s Wynd was widened and became a street. The First House to be built under the Improvement Act of 1867 was No 2 St Mary Street and a wall tablet was placed above the door and unveiled by the Lord Provost of Edinburgh the right honourable William Chambers of Glenormiston a publisher, politician and brother of Robert Chambers Author and publisher both were born in Peebles in the Scottish Borders are were influential in Edinburgh’s History. St Mary’s Wynd was built on an old Roman road and was named after the Cistercian nuns of St Mary and a chapel and hospital dedicated to St Mary both built on the west side of the Wynd. The Mary’s Wynd was first mentioned circa 1360 when men to Edinburgh up Mary’s Wynd after returning from battle. A Wynd changed its name to street when widened to allow carts to use it.

Boyd’s Entry   

Boyd’s Entry is where the first passenger coaches arrived from London. This is where the stables and buildings to house the coaches stood at the foot of Gullan’s Close next to the White Horse Inn (previously Boyd’s Inn), at the head of the Canongate. The Flodden wall once stood on the west side of the Street prior to the present housing. There was a gate at both ends of the Wynd, The Cowgate and the Nether Bow Gate which were the only way into Edinburgh, from the East. 

Edinburgh Improvement Act of 1867    

The first building erected under the improvement act of 1867 was No.2 St Mary Street the corner tenement on the east side of the street marked with a stone tablet above the door. The building officially opened by the Lord Provost of Edinburgh at that time, The Right Honourable William Chambers of Clermiston.

Jeffrey Street Royal Mile Edinburgh

Jeffrey Street was built as an access to Market Street and the new Waverley Rail Station and was built on 10 arches and named after Lord Francis Jeffrey an Edinburgh gentleman born in Charles Street and died in Manor Place Edinburgh age 77 years. The Closes of the High Street once ran to what was the Nor Loch before development of the lower part of the High Street Closes and the construction of Jeffrey Street, which is built on a 16 arch bridge, the arches now have been developed into a mixture of retail premises which are shown in the picture with Jeffrey Street above the arches and joining Market Street near to the North Bridge which can be seen in the distance. There are great views of Calton hill from Jeffrey Street. With access to the High Street in the Royal Mile  by  Chalmer’s Close, Carrubber’s Close and North Gray’s Close.

High Street and End of Old Edinburgh

Now cross over to North Side and go back up the High Street.

Nether Bow Brass Cobbles

The outline of the Nether Bow Port can still be seen by the way of brass cobbles in the crossroads a few yards away.

Nether Bow High Street Royal Mile Edinburgh City Gates.

There were walls around the city of Edinburgh with gates known as Ports, 6 in all. The Nether Bow was the most important gateway as it stood at the foot of the High Street. The port (Gate) access to and from the Canongate, which was at that time a separate Burgh. The walls were built originally for defence against invading armies into Edinburgh after 1513 the battle of Flodden. The Nether Bow, was rebuilt many times, the last time it was rebuilt was in 1606. In the 1700s the demolition of sections of the wall began. The Nether Bow was pulled down in 1764, and demolition of the wall continued into the 19th century. Today, a number of sections of the three successive walls survive, although none of the ports remain. You can see and find out more about Edinburgh’s history in the Museum of Edinburgh in the Canongate.

Nether Bow Clock

The clock that was centre of the Nether bow gate tower was preserved and moved to orphans hospital (Dean Gallery) near Dean Church in the Ravelston area of Edinburgh.

Baron Maule’s Close High Street Royal Mile Edinburgh

Baron Maule’s Close, Baron John Maule also Baron of Panmure and Benvie purchased a house in the close circa 1710 as all closes and courts in old Edinburgh the family name would determine the close or court name.

Nether Bow Bell

The great bell being hung originally in 1621 was cast in Holland and can be seen at the top of the bell tower above the main entrance of the Story Telling Centre.

Scottish Storytelling Centre High Street Royal Mile Edinburgh

The Scottish Storytelling Centre allows access to John Knox House, the oldest house in Edinburgh, the Nether Bow Theatre, and is the headquarters of the Scottish Storytelling Network. The Storytelling Court is open to the public, and has an exhibition for children. There is a book shop, gift shop and Licensed Café for all to use.

John Knox House High Street Royal Mile Edinburgh

The house John Knox lived in can be found at the Nether bow in the High Street Edinburgh next to Mowbray House. This is one of the oldest buildings in Edinburgh built in the 1470s. John Knox House was first the residence of the Abbot of Dunfermline George Durie. John Knox was born in 1510 and was a Scottish clergyman and leader of the Protestant Reformation and was also considered the founder of the Presbyterian denomination. There is a statue of John Knox in the inner quadrangle of the Assembly Hall on the Mound. He also had a house in Warriston’s Close and his grave is in the car park No.23 at the back of St Giles Cathedral.

 Nether Bow Wellhead High Street Royal Mile Edinburgh

The final Wellhead in the Royal Mile or you could say in Edinburgh as the gates to Edinburgh were a short distance away at the Nether Bow Port (Gate). The first drinking water to be distributed to the people of Edinburgh was by the way of Wellheads which were supplied by pipes that came from the reservoir at Castlehill, now the Edinburgh Weaving Mill. The water supply was connected in 1676. The spring water came from Comiston Springs in the south near the Blackford Hill to the reservoir (storage tank) at Castlehill and from there it was pumped through pipes to the wellheads in the streets of Edinburgh. You will see on the Wellheads at the Nether Bow, Grassmarket and Lawnmarket were the water came out of the Wellhead the spouts were of ugly faces. The Nether Bow Wellhead was originally the Fountain Wellhead as is stood outside Fountain Court and then it was moved to its present position in 1813 due to heavy traffic (coach and horses). This is the oldest Wellhead that has survived and was built in the late 1600s.

Mowbray House High Street Royal Mile Edinburgh

George Jameson born in Aberdeen in 1588 was recognised as the best portrait painter of his time from the British Isles. He lived in Mowbray House and died in 1644 in Edinburgh and is buried in Greyfriars Churchyard. His work can be seen in the National Gallery of Scotland on the Mound. Mowbray House is on the left side going down Trunk’s Close.      

Trunk’s Close High Street Royal Mile Edinburgh

This Trunk’s Close has had many names including Purvis, Stirling’s and Bryson’s Close and its name derived from the Turing’s of Foveran from Aberdeen. James Turing built a tenement in the Close. Stirling’s Close was William Stirling and Bryson’s Close was a rebuilt tenement owned by Andrew Bryson. The owners of tenements in closes usually called the close after their family name.

Sir Patrick Geddes

In Trunk’s Close is a monument to Sir Patrick Geddes and a modern art sculpture of a Cockerel with a garden named Sandeman House Garden where the Scottish Book Trust is housed.  The rear of the Trinity College Apse can also be seen.  The families that lived in the close previously were named Turning, Bryson, Purvis and Stirling and Hope which evidence is still visible between circa 1450 and 1750. Ashley Buildings were also in the close now demolished. On the way down Trunk’s Close from the High street on the east (right) side of the close is the main wall of Mowbray House which has been standing over 500 years. 

Monteith’s Close High Street Royal Mile Edinburgh

Monteith’s Close was named after the owner John Morrison (Moriesone) who built a large house on the east side of the close. Monteith’s Close was also known as Fleming’s land where Patrick Fleming and his family lived circa 1520 for over 200 years.  Names of lands and closes were named by the owners of the property and a Monteith had a booth / shop at the head of the close and named the close after himself. Now it is Monteith’s Restaurant.   

Carrubber’s Mission High Street Royal Mile Edinburgh

Carrubber’s Close Mission is a non-denominational Evangelical church in the High Street Edinburgh.  The Atheist Meeting House was founded in 1858 in Carrubber’s Close to be found a few yards up the High Street towards Edinburgh Castle. The American Evangelist D.L Moody came to Edinburgh and was successful in raising funds to open the present mission hall in 1883. To this day Carrubber’s Christian Mission continues to have strong trans-Atlantic links. 

Chalmer’s Close High Street Royal Mile Edinburgh

Chalmer’s Close This close was named after a Patrick Chalmers a craftsman and belt maker in 1682. It is the place the Trinity College Church was to be rebuilt as a concession to being removed to allow the Edinburgh railway station and rail lines to be built. However all that was completed was the apse of the Trinity College Church in circa 1876 almost 30 years after being taken down from its original site. This is the only surviving area of the Trinity College Church founded in 1460 which was moved brick by brick from its original site where the Waverley Station is now. Inside are the Pictish standing stones and medieval church brasses, also a shortcut to Jeffrey Street Edinburgh and the Waverley Rail Station.

Paisley Close Royal Mile High Street Edinburgh

Paisley Close once known as East Bailie Fyfe’s Close stood for over 250 years and then fell down into itself and a new close was built named Paisley Close this was originally East Bailie Fyfe’s Close which would coincide with the reason the ornate entrance dedicated to the survivor of when the tenement fell down. On 10 November 1861 a building that had stood for 250 years sunk into the ground (107 High Street Edinburgh) burying the residents of the building.35 were found dead and on clearing the rubble the rescuers heard a voice from beneath the collapsed building.  “Heave awa lads I’m no deid yet”. The rescuers pulled the boy (Joseph McIver) to safety and the town had the sculpture placed above the new named close in his memory, with the inscription which has been modified to read. “HEAVE AWA CHAPS I’M NO DEAD YET”

Bailie Fyfe’s Close Royal Mile High Street Edinburgh

Bailie Fyfe’s Close was named after Gilbert Fyfe, an Edinburgh merchant and Bailie of the City circa 1680, who lived in a house in the Close. Previously named Barry’s Close, and Trotter’s Close after John Trotter Laird of Mortonhall from 1635 when he acquired the Barony of Mortonhall.

Window Lintel above Bailie Fyfe’s Close  

Look up to above the window on the 2nd Floor and you will see a carved lintel (marriage stone) with the initials of the couple that would have lived here at that time, the initials JT (John Trotter) and JM (Janet MacMath) and the date 1612. The Land (tenement) was once called Trotter’s Close in 1635 John Trotter became laird of Mortonhall, John Trotter was born in 1553 and died in 1641. He had 2 children, when John Trotter died he was buried in the Greyfriars Kirkyard where the Trotter of Mortonhall family mausoleum stands. Later William Fettes Grocers occupied a building at the top of Bailie Fyfe’s Close circa 1789.

Morrison’s Close Royal Mile High Street Edinburgh

Morrison’s Close in 1783 was where women of position could have their clothes made by a London fashion House “Chemize de Lorraine”.

Window Lintel above Morrison’s Close  

The initials on the lintel above the window read; JS and CS with the date 1902 are the initials of the developers and petitioners J & G Stewart Ltd and the date of renovations completed on the tenement. The developers using an old Scottish tradition of who owned the property. This was usually, the husband and wife’s initials on the taking ownership or their marriage date.

North Gray’s Close High Street Royal Mile Edinburgh

North Gray’s Close was associated with the Edinburgh merchant Sydserf who lived here with his family and in 1581 he had a son who became a well-known figure in the church He graduated from Edinburgh in 1602 and joined the ministry in 1611 later becoming the Bishop of Brechin and later of Orkney.

Bishop’s Close Royal Mile High Street Edinburgh

Bishop’s Close was also part of Bishop’s Land, a large mansion house could be access from either close.  Henry Dundas was born 28 April 1742 in the house known as 'Bishop's Land' and a Dr Demainbray lived in the close and had a boarding school for girls in 1746 after fighting for the English at Prestonpans. He was also said to have found the way to accelerate growth in plants by electrical current being applied.

Carrubber’s Close High Street Royal Mile Edinburgh

Carrubber’s (Carruber’s) ( Carruthebber’s) Close many spellings but originally named after William De Caradris a Bailie of Edinburgh in 1454 also a James Hay of Carruber owned land and a coal yard on the east side of the present Carrubber’s close. This is a part of Bishop’s Land as this is where the Archbishop of St Andrews (John Spottiswood) resided in 1615. Henry Viscount Melville was born here in 1741. A fire destroyed 4 tenements in 1758 and then the area was destroyed by fire in 1814. The Tailor’s Hall was also present in Carrubber’s Close whose charter was granted in 1531. At the foot of the close was a theatre. On the land is now the Old St Paul’s Church. Carrubber’s Close was also the Last stronghold of the Jacobites.

© 2016 by All About Edinburgh. 

started 16 / 03 /2017

For more things to see and do outside Edinburgh go to

www.lothianandborders.com