The Silver Eel

"A gape-jawed serpentine shape of pale metal crested with soot hung high for a sign."

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


I'll come back to the vendetta thing next post. There's not a lot more. But in the meantime...

I've been reading Andrew Lownie's The Edinburgh Literary Companion, which is chock-full of useful quotes and selections, and on pages 19-20 has a section on the Luckenbooths:

'Matthew Bramble in The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker thought the High Street:

would undoubtedly be one of the noblest streets in Europe, if an ugly mass of mean buildings, called the Lucken-Booths, had not thrust itself, by what accident I know not, into the middle of the way...

This view was shared by Scott in his famous description of the Luckenbooths in The Heart of Midlothian:

For some inconceivable reason, our ancestors had jammed into the middle of the principal street of the town, leaving for passage a narrow street on the north, and on the south, into which the prison opens, a narrow crooked lane [...]'

Both Allan Ramsay and William Creech, booksellers and publishers, had their premises in the Luckenbooths, and Ramsay opened the first public lending library in Britain there in 1725.

But it was difficult to visualise, given the pleasant, airy width of the High Street today next to St Giles Cathedral, with its view down to the Forth, until totally by chance I came across a fold-out map of Edinburgh of 1765 in my Nanna's copy of, erm, Ranger's Impartial List of the Ladies of Pleasure in Edinburgh (1775). (I hasten to add this is a 1978 reprint by Paul Harris Publishing, and not an original edition.)

One can see Old Church (St Giles, presumably), Parliament Square, Parliament House, and the Exchange (now Edinburgh City Council Chambers). B is the Tolbooth prison, C is Hadden's Hold[?] Church, and D the Tolbooth Church, and the strip to the right of B, one can just read, is marked Luckenbooth.

(Thanks to the United Nations Command for Law Enforcement for the title of this post.)


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