Towards Edinburgh’s Grassmarket from Victoria Street/West Bow – Watercolour in a A4 Watercolour Moleskine.
I hope this scene shows the steepness of some parts of Edinburgh’s Old Town. The area, to the right, borders on the upper part of the Lawnmarket, near the top of the Royal Mile. The ground drops very steeply down to Victoria Street (left) and continues as it sweeps past the West Bow towards the flat area – the Grassmarket. Some parts of these buildings are many hundreds of years old and can reach up to 14 stories high – such was the premium on space in days gone by.
The Grassmarket was the setting for one of the city’s most notorious episodes which came to be known as the “Porteous Riots”. In 1736 three smugglers were sentenced to hang for their crimes. While they waited their fate one managed to escape, while another had his sentence reduced to transportation. The last was duly executed but the hangman, who must have been a bit sadistic, cut the victim down too early which incensed the crowd as the unfortunate, who was still alive, would have to be “Re-Hung”. Things got a bit wild and the local militia, under the command, of one Captain John Porteous, tried to restrain the rioters. Shots were fired into the crowd and six people died. For this “overreaction” Porteous was tried and, himself, sentenced to hang. He was imprisoned in Edinburgh’s Tollbooth (Please see my post for 8th August 2008). In the meantime his case was “reviewed” by a court, south of the border, and his death sentence quashed. When the news of this reached Edinburgh many were furious at a perceived “English interference” so locals decided to take the law into their own hands. Porteous was dragged from his cell and dragged to a makeshift place of execution near this scene in my posting. There was a problem, however. No one had a rope. The crowd broke into a local draper’s shop and took some rope from it. They were careful, however, not to appear dishonest so they left behind some money to pay for the rope. Goes to show that us Scots are a bit wild, but honest.
The shops, to the right of the road, below have changed little but the area is becoming less of a “working area” as the properties command huge prices. Not all that long ago a great wee shop closed after hundreds of years. It sold nothing other than many different types of brushes for sweeping and scrubbing and – wait for it – rope! Yes, the same place.