EdRLS

The New Edinburgh Edition of the Collected Works of Robert Louis Stevenson

Posts Tagged ‘Merchiston Tower

Two stones: antiquarianism in St. Ives

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A post contributed by Neil Macara Brown

In ‘Going into St. Ives’ (JSS 10, 2013), I tried to show how Stevenson makes that novel ring true, even in its smallest details. On his many travels in the story, the eponymous hero visits two obscure places in Scotland featuring old stones: one near Merchiston in Edinburgh; the other, by a drove road somewhere in Ettrick Forest in the Borders. Sites for these stones are suggested here.

 The Douglas stone

The first stone is seen by St. Ives when returning to Edinburgh from Swanston, and his roistering encounter with the drunken Six Feet High Club at the Hunters’ Tryst inn.

 

‘Hard by Merchiston’ he chances, fortuitously, upon the lawyer, Mr. Robbie. ‘Merchiston’ was a villa suburb by Stevenson’s day, but in 1814 when St. Ives is set, comprised the policies surrounding Merchiston Tower, once home of mathematician, John Napier, and now Edinburgh Napier University, on Colinton Road.

St. Ives had spotted Robbie stooping low in endeavouring to decipher a stone, built ‘sideways’ into a wall and offering ‘traces of heraldic sculpture.’ Because the stone bears a chevron on a chief three mullets (i.e. five-pointed stars), St. Ives suggests it resembles the crest of a Douglas family. Robbie concurs, but states that without knowing the tinctures (colours) involved, and because the whole thing is ‘so battered and broken up’, no-one could venture a definitive opinion. Through this common interest in heraldry St. Ives contrives to ingratiate himself with the weekend antiquarian who, unknowingly, has business with the Frenchman the next day…

The stone in question appears similar to one recorded by John Geddie, in his ‘Sculptured Stones of Edinburgh III: Miscellaneous’ (The Book of the Old Edinburgh Club Vol. 3, 1910): one of a cache of such, mainly ecclesiastical, built into the walls of an outhouse attached to the then Bloomsbury Laundry in Grange Loan (Newbattle Terrace), near its junction with Canaan Lane, about half a mile from Merchiston Tower. He suggests that the ecclesiastical stones, mainly richly decorated canopies of altar-tombs, may have come from the chapel of St. Roque noted in Scott’s Provincial Antiquities, which was sited a short distance to the east in the grounds of the Astley Ainslie Hospital; but as to the origins of the secular stones no explanation is offered.

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from a 1914 map of Edinbugh (NLS)

Geddie continues, however, that among the other sculptured fragments collected in this ‘nook’, beside a canopied recess, is a memorial panel. Bearing a long Latin inscription, this is defaced and made only partly readable on account of a strip of two or three inches on the right-hand side of the stone having been used in sharpening a knife. This, he says, commemorates “Thomas Douglasius [Douglas]” of the Cavers branch of that illustrious family, a man honourable in business, the holder of offices in the city and its suburbs, and the possessor, according to the inscription, of many virtues, who died on the 9th of August “MDC_”. Geddie adds it was erected by Richard Douglas, advocate, Robert Bennet, and Robert Blackwood, the lamenting heirs under his testament.’ His footnote fleshes out that in 1679 the ‘second bailie’ of Edinburgh was a Thomas Douglas, and, according to the Register of Interments in Greyfriars’ Churchyard, one Thomas Douglas, merchant in Edinburgh, was buried 15th August 1686. He was ‘second brother to Douglas of Cavers’, and the son of Sir William Douglas of Cavers and of his second wife, a daughter of Sir James Macgill.

Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 15.44.57Most interestingly, Geddie also states that the arms of Thomas Douglas are recorded in the Lyon Office for 1680-87, and are shown in G. Harvey Johnston’s Heraldry of the Douglases (1907), p.94. There, the Douglas of Edinburgh arms are described as: Argent, a man’s heart proper, on a chief azure three mullets of the first, within a bordure of the second charged with [5] crescents of the field. The associated crest comprises: A dexter hand holding a broken spear endways proper. The motto: Do or die. 

The peculiar setting of the canopied recess (or, ogee-shaped niche) can be seen in a photograph taken by F. M. Chrystal in c1900, which can be viewed on the Canmore website.

My contention is that Stevenson was clearly describing this stone in St.Ives, despite his only partial recall of the Douglas arms, which he may never have been able to view fully anyway. Given his great interest in Covenanting matters, he is likely to have admired the long involvement of the Cavers family in that religious tradition, from its inception in 1638. As to how he knew of the actual Douglas stone, he possibly saw it almost thirty years before writing St. Ives, while staying in 1865 with George Norman Williamson, a fellow pupil at Thomson’s School in Frederick Street, at his home in Whitehouse Terrace, a part of Grange Loan lying eastwards of the stone. A photo taken in early summer 1865 shows Stevenson, aged fourteen-and-a-half and in a dark, top-buttoned jacket, standing in the bowered garden of 8 Whitehouse Terrace, a short walk from the Douglas stone.

 

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8 Whitehouse Terrace, Edinburgh (between Morningside Road and Kilgraston Road)

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Robert Thomson and H.C. Baildon (not clear which is which) and RLS, early summer 1865, 8 Whitehouse Terrace, Edinburgh (photograph posted on flickr.com by “rmanders” (Richard Anderson), from a family photo album which identifies the two men).

The central and southern parts of the former Bloomsbury laundry site were visited by me recently; the northern part only seen, unsatisfactorily, through a gate and over a wall. The laundry, marked on an OS map for 1914, is demolished, its blocked-up doors and windows ghostly reminders in the boundary wall to the street. The grounds hold four residences, one a block of flats. A helpful resident, of thirty years standing, directed me into the adjacent grounds of the Astley Ainslie, where the ecclesiastical stones are now displayed uniformly in a stepped, panelled wall setting, probably executed sometime within the last fifty or sixty years. At the base of this striking ensemble lies a forlorn, secular stone also recorded by Geddie; a lintel with the arms of Marjoribanks impaled beside those of Trotter of Mortonhall – also showing three mullets on a chief – but not, of course, the stone which so excited St. Ives. If the Douglas stone survives, might it lie in the old laundry garden at its north end?

The Cockburn stone

The second stone was seen by St. Ives in an earlier scene, when, during his flight south as an escaped prisoner-of-war with the two crusty drovers, he enjoyed briefly the company of Walter Scott and his daughter. They, being on on horseback, had overtaken the slow-moving droving party on a stretch of heath somewhere in the Ettrick Forest. Engaging St. Ives in conversation, Scott directed his attention to ‘a little fragment of broken wall no greater than a tombstone’, and told him the story of its earlier inhabitants. Scott was, of course, then utterly unknown to St. Ives, and it was only years after, when ‘diverting himself with a Waverley Novel’, that he says that he came upon ‘the identical narrative’ related to him by the ‘Great Unknown’ himself by the wayside. (No Waverley novel, however, makes mention of the place and historical incident described below.)

Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 14.46.45This episode rightly for the reader recalls Scott’s own stirring tale ‘The Two Drovers’. However, it is also suggested here that this ‘broken wall’ is in fact the tombstone of the 16th century Border reiver, Piers Cockburn of Henderland, and his wife, Marjory. This is to be seen on Chapel Knowe, among the scant remains of the foundations of the Kirk of Henderland above the Megget Valley. Branching west from St. Mary’s Loch, this vale lies at the end of an old hill road running from the head of the Manor Valley, south-west of Peebles – an alternative droving route to the main one through the Gypsy Glen, south-east of that ‘heaven’ (as Stevenson calls it in ‘Popular Authors’), where he holidayed in 1864 and 1865. (The name ‘Henderland’ will be familiar from Kidnapped as that of the friendly catechist, whom David Balfour meets while wandering across Morvern.).

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Nearby, Piers Cockburn was hanged over the door of his tower by James V, during the royal raid of the Borders in 1529. This was, as noted by Scott in his Border Antiquities (1814), also fatal to fellow freebooters like Johnie Armstrang, and Adam Scott of Tushielaw, Sir Walter’s own ancestor.

The tomb cover-slab was, according to the ‘Canmore’ online site, found within Henderland Kirk during the 18th century and, in 1841, its three broken pieces were repaired and erected on supporting stones, ‘table-wise’, above its original position. The whole resembles a short section of wall, as Stevenson has it in his tale, but it has since been enclosed by a railing. The inscription on the stone suggests that it was cut in the 16th century, on a 14th century memorial carved with a sword and other emblems. Although defaced and in a Gothic script, according to William Chambers’s Guide to Peebles and its Vicinity (1856), it reads simply ‘here lyis perys of Cokburne and hys Wyfe mariory’.

The execution of Cockburn and its aftermath are traditionally associated with the fragment of romantic ballad known as ’The Lament of the Border Widow’. Included by Scott in his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, it was, he claimed, collected from ‘recitation in the Forest of Ettrick’; but in cold fact, the ‘Shirra’ (Sheriff) had it from the shepherd, James Hogg. Close to the tower, where the Henderland Burn rushes through the rocky chasm of the Dow Linn, beside a cataract lies ‘The Lady’s Seat’, where Marjory Cockburn is said to have retreated during the execution of her husband – so as to drown out the tumultuous din which accompanied his dying.

I sew’d his sheet, making my mane;
I watch’d the corpse, myself alane;
I watch’d his body night and day;
No living creature came that way.

I took his body on my back,
And whiles I gaed, and whiles I sat;
I digg’d a grave, and laid him in,
And happ’d him with the sod sae green.

 

 

 

 

 

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Written by rdury

02/08/2017 at 3:41 pm