Buccleuch Place by W. Forbes Gray

ONE of three Edinburgh merchants who founded the former Literary Institute, in South Clerk Street, was Josiah Livingston who in old age found congenial employment in writing his reminiscences of the Newington District, as it was a century ago. In 1893 he published a booklet entitled, "Our Street:

Memories of Buccleuch Place." The work is now scarce, but I should advise those interested in local history, and who can procure a copy, to read it, since it affords delightful recollections of a South Side street which many pass along daily without, perhaps, being aware that eminent citizens lived there in the time of Burns and Scott, both of whom must often have trod its pavements.

Admittedly Buccleuch Place is dull and monotonous-looking, though it is to be commended on the score of spaciousness. The houses are massive and very lofty. A number of them are seven storeys high, and reminiscent in some respects of the tall "lands" of the Old Town from which many of the original inhabitants had come. in some of the stairs there used to be from six to twelve separate houses, and if it be remembered that each was generally occupied by a large family, a considerable population could be accounted for.

Josiah Livingston tells us that his street was not fashionable. It is possible that by his time it had lost its aristocratic flavour, but aristocratic Buccleuch Place undoubtedly was at an earlier date. Did it not contain the "George's Square Assembly Rooms," where, as Lord Cockburn reminds us, was to be seen "the last and lingering remains of that stately courtesy and rigid ball-room discipline which characterised the preceding age?" Hither from the Archers' Hall came this institution in 1785, and in the lower portion of the tenement, facing up George Square, * rank and fashion foregathered on many a winter evening, the fair visitants being brought in Sedan chairs and welcomed in a handsome and well-lighted ballroom. At the Buccleuch Place assemblies "Lady Don and Mrs. Rochead of Inverleith both shone, first as hooped beauties in the minuet, and then as ladies of ceremonies." Here, too, young Walter Scott danced with his first love, Williamina Belsches. "It was a proud night with me," he writes, "when I first found that a pretty young lady could think it worth her while to sit and talk with me" in a corner of the Buccleuch Place Assembly Rooms.

But "Our Street" has also literary associations. In an adjoining tenement, No. 18, a group of brilliant young men met in the house of one of their number on a stormy night in March, 1802, and resolved to start a high-class magazine. The young men were Francis Jeffrey, Sydney Smith, Henry Brougham and Francis Horner, and the magazine projected was the famous Edinburgh Review, which carried on for more than a century and was a force to be reckoned with in politics and literature. The founders of the Edinburgh Review raised the whole character and tone of periodical criticism, and for the first time made it an effective instrument in guiding and controlling public opinion.

Then at 4 Buccleuch Place, at the house of James Gray, one of the classical masters in the High School, James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, met his future wife, who was a sister of Mrs. Gray. A poet himself, and a scholar and accomplished linguist as well, Gray was intimate with the poet Wordsworth. Hogg introduces him into the “Queen's Wake" as the fifteenth bard who sang the ballad of "King Edward's Dream.”

Nor must we forget the ecclesiastical memories of Buccleuch Place. At No. 28 Dr. William Henry Goold, one of the most distinguished Presbyterian ministers of his day, was born in Waterloo year, while at No. 29 Dr. James Hamilton of Regent Square Presbyterian Church London, spent his youth. Here on at least one occasion he was visited by that eminent Scottish preacher, Robert Murray McCheyne who was a companion of Hamilton's. Again in No. 30 were passed the early years of a Prime Minister of Canada, the Hon. George Brown.

Josiah Livingston received his schooling at the Southern Academy, which occupied No. 1 Buccleuch Place. It was a first-rate school founded by William Maxwell Gunn who, because of his reputation as a classicist, was honoured by Edinburgh University with the LL.D. degree. In his seminary Scott Russel, the designer of the Great Eastern ship, taught mathematics. The Southern Academy was attended by boys from all over the Newington district. It had the prestige of a great school and had classes of a much more manageable size than those of the High School.

• The reconstructed tenement is No. 15 Buccleuch Place. There is now no evidence of interior splendour but the extent of the building is evident when viewed from the rear. Some of the lower rear windows may be, original.