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Richard Cooper's Edinburgh properties

Between 1736 and 1742 Sir Robert Strange (1721-1792) was apprenticed to the engraver Richard Cooper senior and lived in his house in the Canongate of Edinburgh. As the editor of Strange’s memoirs in 1855, Robert Dennistoun described the house in a lengthy footnote:

The elder Cooper built for himself a house of more pretension than was generally occupied by the gentry of Edinburgh, which, sharing the common lot of their dwellings, is now sadly degraded, and has become a hat manufactory. It is situated on the east side of St John Street; has three stories, each with three well-proportioned rooms, and, connected by a spacious stair, ornamented with a handsome balustrade. Rumour speaks of compositions in oil on the ceilings; but alas! whitewash alone remains to tell a tale of decorations barbarously defaced. On the wall, however, of the adjoining dining room, there is still a landscape in the classical taste, about 5½ by 9 feet, which, from the tendency of mural paintings to darken, and from accumulated smoke, is scarcely discernible. The house afterwards belonged to the Earl of Wemyss, and within the last thirty years looked upon a private garden tastefully kept up.

New research has revealed that Cooper owned other houses in Edinburgh and in Restalrig village and that the house in St John Street stood on the west of the street, not the east. He also owned a theatre and developed other properties with members of his family. This article will set out a brief biography of Cooper senior and for the first time look at his properties in the city.

Cooper was born in London on 26 October 1701, the  the son of William Cooper, citizen and bricklayer and his wife, Elizabeth Smith. William died in 1708 and Elizabeth the following year, leaving Richard in the care of his grandmother and two individuals appointed by his parents; the carpenter and citizen of London, Henry Sell and a City alderman and brewer, Felix Feast, appointed sheriff of London and knighted shortly before his death in 1723. Richard had a sister Elizabeth, mentioned in his testament in 1757.

As a boy Cooper may have attended Merchant Taylors’ School, leaving in 1711-12, and Robert Strange suggests he then studied under John Pine but in fact he was apprenticed as a stationer to one of Pine's close associates, the Scottish stationer/engraver, John Clarke in 1717. According to the terms of his mother's will, Richard entered into his inheritance on his 26th year, in 1727 but the dates of his Grand Tour, said to have been funded by this inheritance, remain stubbornly elusive. It can now be suggested that Cooper had some contact with the French artist Louis Cheron (1660-1725) at the first St Martin’s Lane Academy in London. As evidence, and in a tradition practised by artist members of the Rose and Crown Club, he had his portrait taken by a member of the Academy, George Englehart Schröder (1684-1750), who returned to Sweden in 1725 (fig. 1). Cooper can thus be associated with a very influential academy whose membership included a largely unremarked but active group of Scottish artists and patrons.

Cooper too seems to have left London shortly after 1725 for Edinburgh but until 1735 his address in the city is unknown. He was soon involved in the artistic and publishing life of the Scottish capital, engraving the plates for William Adam’s Vitruvius Scoticus and Allan Ramsay’s Collection of Scots Songs, a commission that led him to engrave almost all of the music published in Scotland for the next thirty years. On the feast day of St Luke, 18 October 1729, Cooper signed an indenture establishing the Edinburgh School of St Luke, the earliest academy of artists in Scotland, and it is significant, but previously unnoticed, that the membership included a substantial number of Jacobite supporters. The prominent members were: the poet Allan Ramsay (1684-1758); John Alexander (1686-c.1766) painter and engraver; William Adam (1689-1748) architect; James Norie senior (1684-1736) interior decorator; Andrew Hay (1690-1754) painter and art dealer; and Roderick Chalmers (c.1685-1746) heraldic painter, and Ross Herald from 1724-46. There were a number of legal and aristocratic supporters: Gilbert Elliot, Lord Minto (1693-1766); Alexander, Lord Garlies, later 6th Earl of Galloway (c.1694-1786); and Charles, Lord Linton, later 5th Earl of Traquair (c.1694-1764). Members could assign their places in the drawing classes to worthy pupils, often their own children - the painter Alan Ramsay junior (1713-1784) and Robert Norie (d.1766) being the most notable. The President was the still life and portrait painter George Marshall, and Cooper is listed as Treasurer. He was also the drawing master and it now seems likely that his engagement with academic staff in the University before 1728, including Alexander Monro primus (1698-1767), professor of Anatomy, was one of the contributing factors that led to the formation of the Academy.

The academy is known to have occupied rooms in the University buildings between 1731 and 1733 and it was almost certainly the same ‘winter academy’ that Robert Strange attended between 1736 and 1742. With so many Jacobite members, activities were probably curtailed by 1745 and it seems unlikely to have survived the bad feeling generated when Cooper began to emerge as a theatrical impresario in 1747 - the University, Church and city fathers were all loud in their objections to the corrupting influence of stage plays. By 1748 leading members of the Academy such as William Adam, James Norie and Roderick Chalmers had died. Cooper was teaching again by 1754 under the auspices of the Select Society in the Edinburgh Infirmary, where Alexander Monro primus was manager from the same date. Cooper’s pupils, including his son Richard (1740-1814), placed their work on display in the Infirmary and were awarded premiums by an off-shoot of the Society, the Edinburgh Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Science, Manufactures and Commerce. It may be significant that the premiums ceased in 1764, the year of Cooper senior’s death.

In 1738 Cooper married Ann Lind (1708-1775), daughter of George Lind of Gorgie (d.1722), a wealthy Edinburgh merchant and landowner. Ann was the youngest daughter and probably brought a substantial dowry, but more importantly, the marriage brought kinship with several of the most influential aristocratic families in Scotland, and members of this extended family appear among Cooper’s patrons. Ann’s mother, Jean Montgomery, was related to the Earls of Eglinton in a line that reached back to their common ancestor, the second Lord Montgomery, in the fifteenth century. The beautiful Susanna, Countess of Eglinton, widow of Alexander 9th Earl (d.1729), was the doyenne of Scottish artistic society. According to Chambers she had a portrait of Prince Charles Edward in her bedroom, ‘so situated as to be the first object which met her sight on awaking in the morning’. She was a patron of the poets Allan Ramsay and Samuel Boyse, and Cooper stylishly engraved her arms as part of the dedication page to Boyse’s Translations and Poems in 1731. Of her sons, Alexander 10th Earl (1723-1769) was a Lord of the Bedchamber to George III, and Archibald (d.1796), later 11th Earl, was equerry to the Queen from 1761. As an example of the influence such connections gave Cooper, when Alexander was elected Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Scotland in 1750, Cooper was appointed Grand Steward - the only office he held with the Grand Lodge. It can be assumed that these family connections, as much as his formidable skill with the pencil, secured for Cooper’s son Richard the post of drawing master at Eton College and a similar position with Queen Charlotte and Princess Elizabeth.

Ann Lind’s brother, the advocate Alexander (1695-1756) was married to Helen Allardice, a granddaughter of James, 3rd Earl of Findlater (c.1689-1764) and, as an indication of Cooper’s new connections, the baptism of Alexander’s son Charles was witnessed by Charles, 6th Earl of Lauderdale, in 1738. Alexander was a man of his time, experimenting with peat-fired furnaces and with the production of porcelain on his estate at Gorgie. He was Chamberlain to Alexander, 12th Baron Saltoun (1684-1748), and was briefly appointed Sheriff Deputy of Edinburgh but lost the post in 1746 for his over-zealous support of Viscountess Strathallan, whose husband fell at Culloden leading the Prince’s army.

In May 1735 Richard Cooper purchased a tenement and land on the south side of the Canongate from John Grierson, Deputy Clerk of the Burgh, which included a brewery and a garden stretching 457 feet southwards to the Cowgate. From the description in the sasine his house stood behind the tenement fronting the street and ran at right angles to it and this building, occupied today by the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, is all that remains of Cooper's purchase. In 1729 Grierson’s house had been valued for insurance purposes at £333 sterling (c.£27,000 at 2000 prices). This amount may be compared with the value of the houses of Roderick Chalmers, opposite Skinner’s Close (£70), James Norie, opposite Blackfriars Wynd (£200), Alexander Guthrie, limner, High Street, opposite the Tolbooth (£330), William Aikman, painter, three properties in the High Street (£633), George Marshall, in Borthwick’s Close (£725), and Joseph Cave, engraver to the Mint, in Robertson’s Close (£833). Cooper was obviously a man of ready means, well connected and fully aware of his place in society. At some time after 1735 he built himself a splendid new house that faced south, with a rear (north) wall, abutting and interconnecting with the tenement he purchased from Grierson. His architect was almost certainly William Adam. This substantial house, where Robert Strange served his apprenticeship, had magnificent views over a garden towards Salisbury Crags, from a row of five large windows on the first floor and it is clearly visible in a fine view attributed to Thomas Sandby, of around 1752 (fig. 2). In drawings submitted to the Dean of Guild Court in 1820, when the surrounding buildings were turned into a hat manufactory for Messrs Grieve and Scott, the house is shown to measure 35 by 47 ft, but unfortunately no internal arrangements are indicated. It had a single story brewery attached to its western gable and brewery buildings in the yard to the south, suggesting Cooper may have dabbled in brewing himself, as did his contemporary, the engraver Joseph Cave. (fig. 3 no. 1)

Cooper was deeply involved in the construction of the building immediately to the north of the tenement he purchased - the Canongate Kilwinning Lodge - which was built in 1737. (fig. 3 no. 3) The Lodge had existed from 1677 but was dormant by the time of its revival as a speculative lodge in 1735, and Cooper playing a leading role in its revival. The first minute of the adjourned lodge was taken on 13 February 1735 and is signed by the Master, Thomas Trotter (1686-1767), a highly respected grocer who supplied foodstuffs and delicacies to the aristocracy. On 6 March the minutes record for the first time the members present: Richard Cooper is listed as a Master Mason, suggesting he had taken all three of his degrees before that date. He acted as Junior and later Senior Warden and was appointed to various committees, including the one on 15 November 1736 to consider the election of a Grand Master for Scotland, a post eventually filled by Sir William St Clair of Roslin (d.1778). Some members of the Lodge - David Clelland, James Norie, William Adam, William Robertson, Andrew Hay and Thomas Trotter - were also members of the Academy of St Luke and in 1748-49 Robertson, Hay and Cooper held all three of the main offices in the Lodge.

With no permanent meeting place, the Lodge met in Cooper’s house on 15 October 1735, and by early 1736 unsuccessful efforts were being made to rent a hall from the Incorporation of Shoemakers of the Canongate. In August that year work began on building a new Lodge to the north of Cooper's house and the first meeting was held in the new building on 27 December, the feast day of St John the Evangelist. The original title deeds to the Lodge were lost at an early date but the minutes for 1 August 1739 record that ‘the Treasurer reported that he had paid Isobel Grierson the sum of £4 4s for a piece of ground upon which part of this Lodge Room was built’. In 1741 Cooper extended his property holdings to the west, purchasing a piece of land roughly 200 by 50 feet, behind a tenement fronting the Canongate. The sasine, registered on 1 May 1741, refers to the new purchase having ‘the Ingurium Calmentarium [i.e. the mason’s lodge] and the house and garden formerly belonging to [blank - in fact, John Grierson] and now belonging to Richard Cooper on the east’. The language is not clear but it suggests that Cooper may have owned some of the land on which the Lodge was built.

Taking advantage of his family connections, on 23 January 1745 Cooper purchased a one third share in a further, much larger area of land immediately to the east of his house, between it and the great town house and garden of the Earl of Moray. The purchase was a joint one with a slater, James Syme, and Cooper’s brother-in-law, the cabinetmaker and wright Robert Moubray of Castlelaw (d.1746), ‘His Majesty’s Master Carpenter in Scotland’. The property comprised about eight small houses and barns fronting the High Street with gardens that stretched beside Cooper’s own, down to the Cowgate. In February 1749 Cooper bought out the other two shares in this property and, for reasons that will be suggested below, sold the new house he had built to the advocate George Middleton of Seton, nephew of the London banker of the same name. This house was sold on to Francis Charteris (1723-1808, later 6th Earl of Wemyss) by Lady Diana Middleton on 22 July 1752. The entire area, with the houses was sold to Francis Charteris in 1775 on the death of Mrs. Cooper.

It is often assumed that the Canongate Kilwinning Lodge was built on Wemyss property when in fact the Charter of July 1775 specifically leaves the ownership of the lodge blank. There can be little doubt that the Cooper family transactions with George Middleton, a member of a Jacobite family, and with Charteris, whose elder brother David was attainted for his part in the Rebellion, represent a small part of the elaborate means by which Jacobite families protected their property interests after 1745. In 1748, Charteris provided Cooper with a bond for £1,000 sterling (£81,500 at 2000 prices) that made it possible for him to purchase another property further down the Canongate. This entire area of the Canongate was developed by the Governors of Moray House College of Education in the 1960's and 70's when they demolished most of the eighteenth century buildings in the street. Cooper’s great house was demolished in 1964 by their architects Gordon & Dey.

On 15 July 1747 Richard Cooper applied to the Edinburgh Dean of Guild Court to build ‘a house in a garden opposite to St John’s Cross, Canongate, wholly belonging to himself in property’. This was to be on part of the property he had purchased to the west of his house in 1741. No drawings accompanied the petition and it is necessary to digress for a moment to understand the extraordinary significance of what he proposed.

As noted previously, one of Cooper’s earliest friends in Scotland was the poet Allan Ramsay, who between 1732 and 1735 managed the Edinburgh Company of Comedians, who performed in the Tailors’ Hall in the Cowgate, and he did much to improve their standing. New scenery was made for a performance of The Tempest (‘an entire new sea scene’, possibly by Cooper) and a special performance of Henry IV was arranged for the Freemasons, who processed to the theatre ‘with aprons and white gloves, attended with flambeaux’. Encouraged by this success, in 1736 Ramsay rented premises in a tenement in Carrubbers Close from the wright and builder, Charles Butter, and paid him to fit the space out for theatrical performances. It opened in November with Dryden’s The Recruiting Officer and Farquhar’s The Virgin Unmasked and the Caledonian Mercury reported that 'the new theatre is thought by all judges to be as complete and finished with as good a taste as any one of its size in the three Kingdoms'. But the venture met with stiff opposition from the church and the Edinburgh Town Council, who employed the Licensing Act of June 1737, forbidding all stage plays outside Westminster, to close him down. After a brief reopening on 5 January 1739 municipal officers attempted to arrest members of the cast on the 23rd and the enterprise collapsed.

Charles Butter, Ramsay’s builder, had begun his career as a shipwright and with his son William, was later responsible for building and decorating Gayfield House. It now seems that his work for Ramsay survived into the era of photography and was recorded for James Gall’s The Carrubbers Close Mission, published in 1860 (fig. 4). The church liked nothing more than to dance on the grave of a theatre and Butter’s hall appears to have been used as a chapel for most of the rest of its existence, the Carrubbers Close Mission taking up residence in 1858. They moved out shortly before the tenement was demolished in 1872 to make way for Jeffrey Street. The photograph published in 1860 shows their ‘old hall’ with slender Ionic columns supporting a gallery, apparently on three sides of the room. The choice of order is interesting as Butter was required to carve ‘one whole entabulation on the head of the Ionic order after Paladio’ as his essay for entry to the Incorporation of Mary’s Chapel in 1727 and this is the order that appears in the chapel and at the entrance to Gayfield House. The room used by the theatre was almost certainly the one extended upwards by an additional story that according to the biographical sketch of William Butter in Kay’s Portraits, was ‘added to his dwelling house in Carrubber’s Close without taking down the roof. This he accomplished by means of screws’. In effect Butter raised the roof, creating an upper story with clerestory windows on two sides and it seems very likely that this elegant room was Allan Ramsay’s theatre.

This had been the first attempt to design a public theatre in Scotland and Ramsay deserves great credit for his determination, although the choice of the top floor in a tenement did little to ensure success. However, Richard Cooper was to have more luck, although at the time he could not have imagined the trouble it would cause him. In August 1747, the actor Lacy Ryan came from London to lay the foundation stone of the ‘house’ Cooper proposed to build in his garden and on 2 September 1747 the engraver signed a twenty-five year lease with the Edinburgh Company of Comedians for its use.(fig. 3 no. 4) The Canongate Concert Hall opened on Monday 16 November 1747, with Hamlet, performed as part of a musical concert to circumvent the hostile legislation, and the venture continued, strictly speaking outside the law, until the opening of the first legal theatre in Shakespeare Square in 1767. Cooper made a regular income, drawing for example £51 2s 6d (£4,130) from the Company in January 1748. It ran performances of all the important plays, and in December 1756 the ground breaking tragedy Douglas, written by the Rev. John Home. What is surprising is that none of the literature on Scottish theatre or art history recognises Cooper’s part in this extraordinary contribution to Scottish culture.

Until now, the exact size and location of the Canongate Concert Hall was unknown. But using the description given in Cooper’s lease and comparing this with architectural drawings made by Frank C. Mears in 1911 and by John Alexander McWilliam in 1927 for the extension of the Canongate Kilwinning Lodge, a plan of the building has been recovered. McWilliam indicated the shape of the Concert Hall he altered in red on his plans and surprisingly most of it still exists, incorporated into the rear of the Lodge in 1927 as a bar, and now housing a modern staircase (fig. 5). The Concert Hall was remarkably small, measuring 30 feet, by 15 feet at its widest end as the plan indicates. The accompanying elevations and nineteenth century photographs of the exterior suggest that it had two floors, with access to the upper by an outside stair on the north, although the upper floor may have been a gallery on three sides. The doorway shown here in the centre of the north wall is probably a later insertion and the original entrance to the ground floor may have been the small door at the south western corner, enlarged in 1927. The extension to the south was added before 1911. What is fascinating is that two institutions employing the skills of ritual, movement and memory in learning should have stood back to back, albeit separated by a three-foot gap, insisted upon by Cooper in his lease, as a means of reducing noise.

Confirming the new evidence for the size of the Concert Hall, William Delacour (1710-1766) revealed in a letter to the press in 1763 that he never received ‘above £7 7s for the front scenes, such as towns, chambers, forests &c. of 15 feet square each’ and one guinea ‘for the wings’. He had provided scenery for Home’s Douglas, The Tempest and Twelfth Night in 1756 and for Voltaire’s Orphan of China in 1759. It may be reasonably assumed that Cooper was involved in the production of scenery in the years before the arrival of Delacour in 1756 and that his students benefited from the study in his theatre of perspective and framing. Cooper's theatre and his subversive attitudes and friendships should now be recognised as the source for John Runciman’s remarkable Shakespearean subjects, for John Brown’s tense and melodramatic drawings and for Jacob More’s otherwise precocious debut in designing scenery at the Theatre Royal in 1767. But Cooper’s attempt to prevent disagreements over noise (an argument commonly used to close theatres) was not successful. In April 1749 a group of soldiers in the audience requested the musicians play ‘Culloden’, to which a large Jacobite contingency took exception. A riot ensued and the theatre and furniture were badly damaged. The only window of the Lodge on the western side, facing the theatre, was plastered over shortly afterwards and a few months later Cooper moved house.

In a complex financial arrangement mentioned earlier, involving a bond for £1,000 sterling granted to him by Francis Charteris on 23 November 1748, Richard Cooper was able to purchase a large property further down the Canongate towards Holyrood Palace, in September 1749. The property was extensive and historic, consisting of a number of buildings that had been granted to the Incorporation of Tailors in Canongate, by Robert Logan of Restalrig and the Abbot of Holyrood in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Without the support of Royal patronage after the union of the Crowns, the Canongate Tailors had struggled to survive and were declared bankrupt in 1747. Cooper lived initially in a large tenement fronting the street and in the 1753 window tax records he is listed with 25 windows, a number which fell to 19 the following year when he moved into the house at the rear of Wilson’s Court. This house can be seen in the Sandby drawing, standing immediately to the right of Acheson’s House, with two dormer windows and a narrow walled garden stretching down to the Cowgate (figs 2 and 6). Cooper extended the house upwards by one floor, creating a central Venetian window (blocked up by the time of the photograph) and he converted the entire first floor into an engraving workshop. He then leased his 25-window house on the Canongate to the Countess of Traquair and there, with Cooper’s servants in attendance, her son-in-law, the Duke of Perth, and his Duchess, entertained the Duke of Gordon in 1757 with great merriment and music. Cooper's group of properties included a great timber-frame tenement of seven stories fronting the Canongate that he sold to his sitting tenant, the brewer James Gentle in 1753. In 1758 he sold a flat on the second floor of his large tenement to Janet, widow of Lt. Col. Robert Brown of General Gooch's Regiment and the tax records suggest he had closed his engraving workshop by 1760 when he was charged for only 14 windows. His granddaughter Margaret Cooper (Mrs John Baines) still had an interest in the property in 1840 but the tall house, standing in splendid isolation with uninterrupted views across to Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags was demolished in 1961. It was known in his family as the ‘Tower of Babel’ because of the number of foreign artists he entertained there.

In one final purchase in January 1751, Cooper acquired another historic property, the Dean’s House in Restalrig village, then outside the City. The church at Restalrig had been a collegiate chapel from 1487, and as an indication of the antiquity of the surrounding buildings, the Abbot of Holyrood on his appointment in 1386 was designated as ‘formerly Dean of Leith’. The instrument of Sasine describes Cooper’s purchase as ‘that great house, commonly called the Deans House, also cellars, lofts, garden, dovecote, well and office houses’. While the language is formal, the extent and rambling nature of the property is evident. Some of the buildings were probably ruinous but in seeking out such a house Cooper was in the forefront of picturesque taste for the Gothic and this is confirmed by the discovery of two watercolour drawings by his son, Richard junior, with the Society of Antiquaries of London. Presented to the Society in 1766 by the Earl of Buchan they show Holyrood Abbey, before the collapse of the roof, and Melrose Abbey. From the naive style the drawings were probably made in the late 1750s, making the one of Melrose possibly the earliest topographical view of that building by a native artist.

In an album of drawings compiled by Cooper’s great-granddaughter, Margaret Eularia Baines, she annotated a view of Restalrig etched by Andrew Robertson before 1791 (fig. 7). Like a postcard from the past, the lower inscription reads ‘The Pigeon house (the tall tower marked with a cross) & the white house next to it; my Room & the Gate next to it.’ Between the ruins of the Church and the white house she has written ‘Castle’ above a clump of trees. The scale of the dovecote and castle (both now gone) and the pair of massive fifteenth century gate piers that still survive in the village, suggest these were the remnants of Sir Robert Logan’s castle, demolished by the Edinburgh Town Council as a punishment for some misdemeanour around 1586. Richard Cooper junior eventually sold the Dean’s House to the French teacher, Louis Cauvin, in May 1812.

In 1757 Cooper may have suffered ill health and he made out his testament, leaving his stock in trade to his son Richard. In that year he also retreated from a development he had undertaken with another of his relatives, the wright John Moubray. The site was on the south side of the High Street at the head of Assembly Close and between it and Borthwick’s Close. Cooper sold his share of the development for £313 (c.£22,500) at the point where a ‘large new fore tenement’ had been erected, ‘the whole mason work’ of which was complete.

Away from the bustle of the Canongate and the occasional attacks by the anti-Jacobite mob who took advantage of any disorder to smash a few windows, Cooper found peace and contentment in Restalrig. The collegiate chapel built there for James II had been demolished in 1560 and some of the stones removed to repair the Netherbow Port in 1571, leaving the magnificent chapel of St Triduana under a protective mound of earth. In the same way that the Chapel Royal at Holyrood became a favoured burial place for Jacobite families (including the Duke and Duchess of Perth), Restalrig became another focus for Stuart supporters. Cooper’s neighbouring landowners were John Hay of Restalrig (d.1784), Writer to the Signet and Treasurer to Prince Charles, and Margaret Chalmers (1709-1765) widow of Lord Balmerino, executed for his part in the ’45. In January 1764 Richard was buried in a family aisle that abutted St Triduana’s chapel on the south west, joining a son William who had died in infancy and followed by his wife in 1775 and son George the following year. A drawing of the burial aisle survives but the structure itself, which had probably fallen into disrepair with the migration of Cooper’s children Richard and Ann to London, was swept away in the restoration of the chapel in 1907-08.

It is not surprising that in one of the earliest attempts to record Edinburgh’s vanishing past, John Runciman, who was probably taught etching by Cooper, recorded in a fine print the demolition of the Netherbow Port in 1764, a few months after Cooper’s death. The gatehouse had become an obstacle to traffic but in demolishing it the City fathers did much to remove the sense of difference - political, religious and cultural - that had characterised this half of the City and had so attracted Richard Cooper senior in 1735.

Joe Rock, October 2009

A fully referenced version of this paper was published in the Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, New Series Vol. 6 (2005) pp. 11-23. This article has been slightly abbreviated and updated with the latest research.

POSTSCRIPT - February 2018

    It is now possible to update and correct some of the assumptions made in the article above, using material in the Edinburgh Dean of Guild Court (City Archives), recently catalogued by the author. 

    The suggestion regarding the use of the hall, built by Charles Butter and occupied by the Carrubbers Close mission in the later 19th century, can now be explored with more accuracy. The new evidence is very helpful in pinpointing exactly the building used by Alan Ramsay, but given that it was only submitted to the Court in 1767 with a full explanation of the history of the site, it is unlikely it would have been found without the cataloguing process. Charles Butter was granted a warrant to rebuild his property, the 'St. Andrews Meeting house' at the foot of Carrubbers Close and Halkerston's Wynd, on 6 May 1767. He was challenged by his neighbours who believed Butter had no right to build his property higher than it was and that if he was allowed to do so, it would be detrimental to their light (and probably more importantly, their uninterrupted view to the Forth and beyond). In answers to the Court, Butter referred to his first building warrant for the site, granted in January 1735 ... ‘As to the respondents building the meeting house, it was only a temporary step which occurred after the act and warrant, in order to accommodate Madam Violante the rope dancer, but at the time Mr. Butter got his act and warrant, his intention was to have built to the full statutory height...’ The challenge was dismissed by the Court. Butter submitted a drawing (below) which is inscribed ‘January 1735 D. G. Simpson’ It seems very likely that this is the building used by Alan Ramsay between 1736-9 and only extended upwards to the statutory five stories in 1767.

    James Gall described the chapel occupied by the Carrubbers Close Mission in 1858;

The chapel itself is at the very foot of the close, and opens from the side of the passage that leads into an open space behind, called Chapel Court. I have been unable to trace its history further than to discover that it has been used for almost every purpose, and by almost every denomination, including Roman Catholics, Unitarians, and Irvingites. Its age and original purpose are very uncertain, but being a small but comfortable chapel, with a little gallery running along the two sides, and what might accommodate an organ or orchestra in front, it seems likely to have been built as a private Episcopal Chapel, at a time when the close itself was more fashionable than episcopacy. The whole occupies exactly the space of two flats of the building in which it is set, and the two large windows at one extremity, show that "the chapel" was really a part of the original design. Fortunately for our purposes, the pews had been removed and replaced by loose forms, and these could be easily set aside or conveniently arranged, according as it should be used, either as a dancing saloon or as a theatre. With pews, it could scarcely accommodate more than three hundred; but on the Sabbath evenings, when every corner is packed, and a large proportion of the audience obliged to stand, it may contain probably about five hundred. Below the chapel there are other two flats, the lower of which has long been unused, with the exception of two rooms, which have their entry from Halkerston's Wynd. The flat immediately below the chapel has this year been rented for the mission...

This fits exactly with the plan below; the northern end of Carrubbers Close in the bottom right corner, blocked by two buildings, an earlier tenement on the east and the new building erected by Charles Butter in 1735 with a narrow passage leading between them into the Court or area beyond. The entrance to the chapel is shown in the centre of the east wall. It is important to realise that the ground falls away steeply to the north, easily accommodating two flats below the chapel, probably, given the description of the chapel 'occupying the space of two flats',  taking up half the width of the tenement each. From this evidence and from the photograph published by Gall (Fig. 4 above), it seems very likely that Butter did not demolish St Andrews Chapel in 1767 but simply increased its height. Gall's description of 'two large windows at one extremity' corresponds to the light spilling in behind the photographer, probably from windows on the west wall, but seems at odds with the windows in the photograph along one, if not both sides, perfectly possible with an open area to the north and south. 

    One further drawing has emerged, submitted shortly before the 24th October 1755 by John Lee (1725-1731), manager of the New Concert Hall and it sheds a completely new light on the theatre.

This drawing, in two pieces held together by a pin, is probably in Lee's hand and it shows the theatre from the west. The original 1747 building is on the left with an arched entry between it and the extension Lee proposed on the south, to be used as wardrobe space. The Court became concerned about the safety of what he was doing and sent a group of tradesmen to inspect. They made suggestions for improving the work and Lee was allowed to proceed on the 24 October.  On 8 November a neighbour, James Cockburn, complained to the Court that Lee was going beyond his building warrant and had begun to place windows in the west wall (against a servitude in Richard Cooper's lease which prevented windows there) and was also adding a superstructure in brick. He noted that John and James Buchan, masons and a wright or carpenter, Thomas Bain were carrying out the work. 
    The drawing has a note '18 feet high' along the left edge and an indication of vertical brick or stone pillars and possibly timber supports and cross beams with lath and plaster panels between. The upper 'floor' is more of a clerestory and it probably indicates the insertion of a gallery at this time, which would have been a safety issue for the Court although Lee refers in his answers to space for 'dressing rooms'. This is altogether a much flimsier structure than the building discussed in the article above and is entirely in keeping with the old timber frame tenements built in the High Street and Canongate before the Act of Parliament of 1698 which laid down that tenements of five floors should in future be built of stone and to very strict standards.  The measurement given also suggests the 1747 building was closer to 36 or 38 feet in length, or had been quickly extended without recourse to the Dean of Guild. This building is said to have been destroyed by fire in January 1767 following an anti-Jacobite riot but as no application was ever made to the Dean of Guild Court to rebuild the Concert Hall, it may be assumed that the damage was minimal. The hall was opened again in December 1767 to a great deal of opposition.

                            Fig. 1. ‘Ricardus Cooper Pictor’, mezzotint (plate mark 34.3 x 24.5 cm) by Richard Cooper senior(?) after George Englehart Schröder. 


Plan and elevation of the brewery at the head of Old Playhouse Close as it stood in May 1803, the property then of Robert Stein, brewer. He had a warrant from the Edinburgh Dean of Guild Court  dated 19 May 1803, to make alterations and expand the brewery, described as 'not now in use'.  The petition includes drawings of his intended improvements. Stein was sequestrated in 1819.

Fig. 2. Detail of a panorama of Edinburgh attributed to Thomas Sandby, c.1752. Cooper's house is in the centre.

Fig. 3. 'Plan of the area at the head of St. John Street. OS map, revised 1877, Sheet 36. (1) Cooper's new house, c.1735. (2) House purchased in 1735. (3) St. John's Lodge. (4) Canongate Concert Hall. (5) Two houses built by Francis Charteris in 1768.

                    Additional figure. House purchased by Cooper in 1735.


Fig. 4. ‘Interior Old Hall’, photograph, published in These Fifty Years: The Story of the Carrubber’s Close Mission, 1858-1909 (Edinburgh 1909), opposite p. 18. 


Additional figure. Cooper's house is at the right (rear view) and the Canongate Concert Hall is the wall with three long windows at the left. The area in between has been expanded into by the Canongate Kilwinning Lodge but the original lodge building is represented here by the central hip to the left of the chimney.

Fig. 5. Restored plan of the Canongate Concert Hall after John Alexander McWilliam. The dotted line indicates the walls removed in 1927. Note the gap between the Hall and the Lodge buildings to the right.


Fig. 6. House at the rear of Wilson’s Court, Canongate, photograph c.1890, demolished 1961.


Fig. 7. ‘Restalrig’, etching by Alexander Robertson after F. Dick, before 1791, with manuscript annotations by Margaret Euleria Baines.