Monday, March 30, 2009

My Town Monday - Mary King Close - Edinburgh

While I was in Edinburgh I visited a fascinating place called Mary King Close.
It was hard to get my head around how Mary King Close came into being !! So a brief history!!
Edinburgh Castle is built on top of a hill and looks over the whole of Edinburgh. The rock it is built on was formed in a volcanic eruption millions of years ago. In the middle ages the main street from the castle was called The Royal Mile, it was the approach used by the kings and Queens of their day, so this main road was very affluent and as a trader it was the place to be to sell your wares.
Running off of the Royal Mile were lots of Closes, these were VERY small roads with houses on each side, on average these closes were only 6 to 8 feet wide. The Closes all ran down hill from the Royal Mile and in some places very steeply. The class system meant that the more affluent you were the nearer to the Royal Mile that you lived and the higher up in the building you lived.
In the 1600's there was no toilet facilities beyond a bucket and all waste was thrown into the street, so those living at the bottom of the street must have had a very unpleasant time of things!
Folk living there also had to share their living space with their animals so in the mix was cows, sheep and goats, these actually lived in the lower levels of the houses.
The photo above shows one of the animal barns, the door on the end leads directly onto Mary King Close.
So who was Mary King? Well she was a merchant who lived in the late 1500's she moved into the close with her family. Her husband was a very well to do Merchant who had permission to trade on the Royal Mile, they lived in a house several floors up and were very well to do. Sadly Marys husband died shortly after they arrived in their new house and Mary took over his trading to provide a living for herself and her family. She became a very successful trader and it was decided to name the close after her.
So why is Mary King Close so interesting today?? Well in the mid 1700's a decision was taken to build over the closes!! Not in the traditional demolish everything and start again way, but literally to level the tops of the houses and build over them, using the houses as foundation for new houses above! So the houses closest to the Royal Mile lost most of their floors while those at the bottom lost very little. They simply evicted all the residents and sealed the houses in.
These houses were long forgotten until in the 1980's someone excavating in the basement of a building off the Royal mile found themselves in a void below the building. After breaking through they found that there were complete streets down there untouched since 1750, including workshops, houses and stables.

It was like stepping back in history, the door above was to a well to do residence fairly high up the street, the top floors had been removed, lower down the street the houses were far more intact. We went on a guided tour, just 15 people, we were shown lots of different places a really great day out for me as I am an avid family history fan!!

Looking into one of the houses from the Close.


Barrie said...

That is AMAZING! I would love to see this place!

Travis Erwin said...

Interesting. Seems like it would have been easier to tear down and build again but it is neat they did not.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I just love the look of those old walls-and so we copies that with rags in our house. The texturees are wonderful.

Manna said...

What fabulous read, again! Love your photos too!

debra said...

What a wonderful place! Thanks for posting the photos.

Barbara Martin said...

Terrific post, Lyzzydee! I love stories like these, about the history behind the buildings.

suzann said...

This is so interesting. Thanks for the great pictures and the history lesson!!

J. L. Krueger said...

Came your way via Travis.

Couldn't skip a post about Mary King's Close.

The wife and I visited in January when we spent a week in Edinburgh during my break from Afghanistan.

It's come a long way since the first time we saw it in 1999.

Katie said...

Wow Lyzzy, how interesting. It must have been amazing to see.