Edinburgh's Old Town Close
Updated: Jun 15
Edinburgh's old Town is one of six of Scotland's UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The High Street or also known as the Royal Mile takes centre stage with many a close leading of to apartments, secret gardens and with incredible views of the city. Did you know the scottish word close comes from when the early inhabitants of Edinburgh couldn't get their horse and cart through. They said it was to "close".
View Down The Royal Mile From St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
A Closer Look At Edinburgh
Edinburgh's High Street, Lawnmarket and Royal Mile comprises of seventy narrow close lanes. Some of which date back to the 12th century and perhaps even earlier. They have a wide and varied history, today filled with atmospheric charm.
Cannonball House Close
"There are two stories about why it is there, The first story, which gunners dismiss as impossible, is that the cannonball was fired from the castle in 1745 and that it was aimed at Holyrood Palace, where Bonnie Prince Charlie was in residence during his march south (Edinburgh's allegiances were divided on this attempt by the Stuarts to regain the British throne). The second, more prosaic story is that the cannonball was carefully placed here by engineers to mark the precise height above sea-level of the fresh springs at Comiston, in the hills seven miles to the south, which provided Edinburgh with its first piped supply of fresh water, in about 1621.
Certainly the low building opposite on the north side of the street was until recently a large reservoir, serving the Old Town. Now, it is home to the The Tartan Weaving Mill." - Royal-Mile.com
Cannonball House Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
Named after an uncle of Dr. Johnson's biographer, James Boswell) Today its a private/dead end.
This close gets it's name from the Skinners & Furriers of Edinburgh who are recorded to occupy this spot in 1635. Skinner’s Close was the originally Built by the Incorporation of Skinner’s and Furriers and a William Brown Skinner had a house in the close. It was also the site of Fortunes tavern before moving Old Stamp Office Close then to Nicholson Square and finally to St Andrew’s Square.
Fortune’s Tavern was a place for the well-heeled and gentlemen of Edinburgh. This close was demolished circa 1850 Now replaced by 549 Castlehill-Camera Obscura. Today you can see the sign above a small doorway halfway along Castlehill elevation where the site of this old Close once was.
Skinner's Close ©MDHarding
Previously known as Hamilton's Close and Cant's Land, this is named in honour of Thomas Fisher, the first Chamberlain of Edinburgh, who built a tenement on this site at the end of the sixteenth century. Later to become home to the Duke of Buccleuch's family, much of the property was destroyed around 1835 to allow construction of Victoria Street. The close was restored by the Carnegie UK trust in 1953, and currently houses administrative staff for the nearby National Library on George IV Bridge. Today it leads to Victoria Terrace.
Fisher's Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
Semple’s Close was named after the owner Lady Semple, widow of Francis, 8th Lord Semple. Lords Semple of Castle Semple (SEMPILL). The mansion was originally built for Lady Semple in 1638. Lord Hugh Semple Purchase a property next door to increase the size of his present residence in 1743. A military officer, Major in the Cameronians, Commander of the Black Watch and Colonel of the Edinburgh Regiment and commanded the left wing of the Hanoverian Army at Culloden. Inscription above door of Semple’s Mansion PRAISED BE THE LORD, MY GOD, MY STRENGTH & MY REDEEMER ANNO DOM 1638. The remains of a mansion can be found here dating 1638. Now a dead end, no route remains.
Semple's Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
Brodie’s Close is named after the ‘gentleman by day, thief by night’ rascal, Deacon Brodie.
Brodie's Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
Named after Patrick Jollie then later, in 1859, after a writer Alexander Jollie. This close has recently been restored by The Witchery By The Castle owner James Thomson, and most of the buildings, effectively Sempill’s Court, now contain some of the Witchery’s suites.
Jollie's Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
Lady Stairs Close & Wardup's Close
Close by The Hub is Lady Stair’s Close, which together with its neighbour, Wardrup’s Close which has a stunning blue dragon entrance, creates a charming little square with quirky steps and buildings including the Writers’ Museum. The square is often photographed and featured in pieces about Edinburgh’s Old Town and with its beautiful flagstones and views across the city, it’s no wonder it is used so often as a photographic backdrop.
Writer's Museum Down Lady Stairs Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
Some of the more notable include Riddell’s Close, which is fortified and was where James VI once held a grand banquet in 1593.
This close has had many names and changed after the 2 separate fires of 1824 and 1700. Known as St Monan’s Wynd after a chapel that stood in the Wynd, Also Hangman’s Close as the city’s Hangman lived here and Steil’s Close after Patrick Steel a merchant, Later to be New Bank Close and Barry’s Close and Back of Parliament Close. This close still survives as it stood from the 1600s from the south east corner of Parliament Square previously Parliament Close in an L shape into Old Fishmarket Close which previously had two entrances from the High Street in a Y shape and one entrance from the Cowgate. Today it connects Parliament Sq. to Old Fishmarket Close.
Old Fishmarket Close
Old Fishmarket Close, which after its fishy history became home to a fire engine! There is a public connection to the Cowgate also open to vehicles. Once 'a steep, narrow stinking ravine' from the commercial heyday of this poultry and fishmarket.Home also to the City Hangman or 'Doomster', the last being a John High who died in 1817.George Heriot, benefactor and founder of the Hospital and School which bear his name, lived here in 1586.Daniel Defoe is also rumoured to have worked here as a secret agent to the English Government at the Treaty of Union in 1707.The head of the close was for many years a station for a primitive fire engine dragged out by rope in the event of emergency. Old Fishmarket Close leads to The Cowgate
Old Fishmarket Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
Byres Close is where Adam Bothwell the Bishop of Orkney’s Mansion stood. Last to reside in the Close was said to be one of the wealthiest people in Scotland Sir William Dick of Braid, Lord Provost of Edinburgh in 1638 and relation to the Baronets of Prestonfield. Now a private/dead end.
Borthwick’s Close originally called Lord Borthwick’s Close who built a house here circa 1450 to be close to the Scottish Parliament building and the signet being and advocate and siting in the parliament. The Borthwick clan were related through marriage to Henry VIII and were close to the royal courts of the kings of Scotland and England. Also see Borthwick Castle in Midlothian where the Borthwick’s lived over the centuries. Now leads to Tron Square.
Connecting to Cockburn Street.
Advocates Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
Old Assembly Close
Location of the original assembly rooms, originally called Little's Close after the brothers, Clement and William Little (the former founded the University Library; the latter became Provost of Edinburgh in 1585).Dancing assemblys held between 1720-1766 gave the close its current title.This site was also scene to Edinburgh's most disasterous fire which destroyed all the buildings between here and Parliament Square.
Said to possibly be named after John Roxburgh, a chef who lived here in 1635.
Today the upper section is accessible and the lower section now private and blocked.
Mary King's Close
Mary King’s Close which is now underground, having been built over, and is one of the city’s most haunted locations. Discover more about Mary King's Close and it's inhabitants from On The Luce.
Down Mary King's Close, Edinburgh ©Mary King's Close
The access to Craig’s Close from the High Street was closed when the Council offices were built in 1932. There were two parts to Craig’s Close, High Street – Cockburn Street (closed) and Cockburn Street – Market Street which is still open. Craig’s Close was the site of The Isle of Man Arms. The Edinburgh Cape Club’s main meeting place. The Close was named after John Craig, wright and burgess of Edinburgh who was the 3rd husband of Ann Hamilton who owned the lands . A town Councillor. You can see the Scotsman sign on the building near to where the close ran from the High Street to Market Street prior to the building of Cockburn Street. This is where the first Scotsman Newspaper was published and printed circa 1865. At the foot of Craig’s Close that at one time started in the High Street Royal Mile and ended the Nor Loch, then was split by the building of Cockburn Street there used to stand a tavern where the Cape Club met. The Plaque at the foot of the upper section of Craig’s Close reads; Craig’s Close | site of Cape Club | spiritual home of | Robert Fergusson | Distinguished Edinburgh Poet | Died October 16 1774
accessed only from Cockburn Street, connecting to Market Street)
Covenant Close is said to be named after the mansion house where the national covenant was kept. Taken from Greyfriars Kirkyard to collect signatures from other residents in the city. The copy was on display in one of the houses in the lane, and signatures were gathered on it. Today it's a dead end.
Warriston’s Close named after Lord Warriston who lived in the close, as did Sir Thomas Craig of Riccarton. William and Robert Chambers who lived in Writers’ Close on the west side of Warriston’s Close were just a few of the famous residents. The previous name of the close were Bruce’s Close after Robert Bruce of Stirling who lived here in 1566. Access to Warriston Close can also be gained from Roxburgh’s Close. Thee other more famous close which can be accessed from Warriston’s Close is Real Mary King’s Close. This close can only be accessed from the attraction as this is an underground street and possibly buried when the plague was at its height. Today it connect's to Cockburn Street.
Warriston's Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
"Burnet's Close was named for Samuel Burnet, brewer, who had a tenement in the High Street at the head of the close and was one of nineteen burgesses who set up The Society in 1598. The close was also Johnston's Close, for James Johnston, deacon of the Hammermen in 1537 and named in 1564 as having property here. It was also Mories or Morice Close, for Peter Mories or Morice, recorded in "Protocols of William Forbes" in 1746 as a later owner of Johnston's property". - Canmore National Record of The Historic Environment.
Burnet's Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
Dating back to 1521, this site was named from The Anchor Tavern in Fuller's Close in 1714, but is more notable for the 'Anchor Tavern Howff of the Crochallan Fencibles'.
The members of this club, Robert Burns included - anticipated a need for territorial resistance to invasion from the Continent.Anchor Close leads to Cockburn Street
On the east side of the Close there are two 17th-century buildings, originally of four storeys. Anchor Close has had many names as the name would change by the owner at the time.
It was also Smellie's printing works and printed Burns works as well as the 1st edition of Britanica Encylopedia's. Sir Walter Scott's Parents also resided here until 1771.
Anchor's Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
New Assembly Close
Location of the later assembly rooms.
The Plaque Outside New Assembly Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
North Foulis Close
The origin of the name is likely to be the apothecary, John Foulis who owned a tenement in the close.
James Gillespie of Spylaw Colinton, who founded the Schools and hospitals bearing his name, had a shop here ran by his brother. His main line in tobacco and snuff manufacture earned him the reputation of the man that 'put his business into other people's noses'.
North Foulis Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
The name of this close is taken from Steven Law, a supporter of Queen Mary during the Civil War of 1571. Prince Charles Edward Stewart worshipped at the Roman Catholic Chapel here.
Connecting to Cowgate.
Old Stamp Office Close
This close gets its name as it once housed the Government Stamp Office from before 1779 until 1821 when it was transferred to Waterloo place. The Royal Bank was also located here from 1727 to 1753. It also contained the home of The Countess of Eglinton and her seven beautiful daughters.
Dickson’s Close in the High Street on the Royal Mile Edinburgh was demolished when Niddry street was widened. All that remains is the Street sign above the door of the Radisson Blu Hotel, which was erected in 1990. One of the Close’s occupants was a David Allan who was dubbed the “Scottish Hogarth” his illustrations and etchings were of great quality. He died in Edinburgh and is gravestone can be seen in the Old Calton Graveyard.
Dickson's Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
"Very old, but without historical background, this close was once known as 'Stalker's Close'" - Royal-Mile.com
In early times this was a site to ecclesiastical buildings and subsequently called Alexander Cant's Close. The name is derived from the owners of Priestfield and St Giles' Grange who had residence here. It once ran down to the Cowgate and is now part of the Radisson Blu Hotel.
Sign only, erected 1990.
Cant's Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
Named after members of a family called Jackson, this close has no significant history, though the classical scholar William Nichols lived here from 1744-1794. Connects to Cockburn Street.
It takes its name from the residence of Andrew Durie, Abbot of Melrose Abbey, 1526. It was later occupied by Lord Strichen in the mid- 1700s and is now incorporated into The Radisson Blu Hotel. Sign only, erected 1990.
Named after the meat market which was situated here which led to a slaughterhouse at the side of the Nor' Loch. Four times Lord Provost, David Aitkenhead, lived here giving his title to the close. Other notable figures who took lodgings here include Henry Dundas, later Viscount Melville and William Creech the publisher.
This close leads to Market Street and was cut through by Cockburn Street when it was built in 1855-60.
'Fleshmarket Close' is the title of contemporary Edinburgh writer's Ian Rankin's number one bestselling book in his series of 'Rebus' novels. Connecting to Market Street via Cockburn Street.
Fleshmarket Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
As with many closes in the Royal Mile, the origin of this name is not definitive, but it is most often linked with William de Carriberis (aka Carroberos, Carabris), a magistrate and merchant who resided nearby in the early 1450's.
Other famous residents through the years have included the poet Allan Ramsay (1684-1758), and James Young Simpson, who discovered the anesthetic properties of chloroform while running a dispensary on this site. Connects to Jeffrey Street.
Its current name is attributed to Thomas Saintserf (1581-1663) who was appointed burgh minister in 1610, and was later to become Bishop of Brechin, Galloway, and Orkney.
Henry Dundas (aka Lord Melville) was born here in 1742, and Robert Burns visited the residence of Louis Cauvin for French lessons during 1786 and 1787.
North Gray's Close
The name of this close has been unchanged since 1480, when it was home to Alexander Gray, a burgess of the city and member of the great council.It has been historically linked to Jacobite sympathisers and Bishop Seabury, but is of little interest today apart from the view to Old St. Paul's Church which can be gained at the foot of the close. North Gray's Close links to Jeffery Street.
One of Edinburgh's Closes ©MDHarding
Noted on Edgar's map of 1742, this close is named after John Morrison (aka Moriesone), a merchant who owned property here in the mid eighteenth century.
However, all such buildings were replaced , and the only connection of historical significance is that John Ruskin's grandfather once lived here. Not open to the public.
Bailie Fyfe's Close
Previously known as Trotter's Close and Barrie's Close, it has existed from as early as 1572.
In 1686, it became known as Fyfe's Close in deference to Gilbert Fyfe, a merchant and magistrate (or 'bailie'), who lived here between 1677 and 1686.
Judge Francis Jeffrey (1773-1850), founder of 'The Edinburgh Review', was schooled here in 1781, and Nathaniel Gow (1766-1831) taught violin and piano on this site.
Old Playhouse Close
This close led to Edinburgh's very first theatre and hall, The Canongate Theatre. The cornerstone was laid in 1746 by John Ryan of London's Covent garden.
Between 1747 to 1786 many performances by famous actors and singers were enjoyed here including the Rev, John Home's tragedy 'Douglas' which had it's premier here in 1756. However the disapproval of The Church of Scotland who opposed all theatre the Rev. Home had to resign from the ministry and the theatre was closed down in 1786. Scottish author, surgeon and poet Tobias Smollet (1721-1771) lived here while writing his last novel 'The Expedition of Humphry Clinker' from this close.
Sealed/ private dead end.
The Edinburgh writer David Dunbar owned tenements on either side of this close in 1773 hence its nomenclature. Mrs. Love's oyster cellar was situated nearby, and in 1786 Robert Burns is known to have visited to enjoy the wine, women and song!
Leading to a knot garden.
Edinburgh Close ©MDHarding
This land was originally owned by the Earl of Dunkeld, but between 1752 and 1824 the principal business conducted on site was sugar refining.
The first refinery, or 'sugar workhouse', belonging to the trustees of the Edinburgh Sugar House, was destroyed by fire in 1800, but David Jardine & Co. rebuilt the property and continued a similar trade.
The present name comes from the bakehouse on the west side. This comprised the quarters of the bakers and hammermen (metalsmiths) in addition to the Acheson family - household staff to James VI and Charles I. Huntly House, purchased in 1924, is now a principal City Museum.
Bakehouse Close leads to Holyrood Road
Cooper's close royal mile canongate edinburgh. Cooper's Close was named after a wealthy merchant and engraver Richard Cooper in 1749
Edinburgh Close (2) ©MDHarding
The current home of the Scottish Poetry Library housed in an award winning building is tucked away in this Canongate close, situated behind the New Parliament Building. The library, which offers a huge collection of Scottish and International Poetry is free and open to the public. The courtyard to this building is stage to many planned and impromptu readings during the festival.
Crichton Close leads to Holyrood Road.
Once known as McKell's Close, the name change came about as a result of the construction of Panmure House in 1691.
Although Panmure Close is now privately gated, access to the house can be gained through Little Lochend Close.
The Plaque Outside Panmure Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
Partly sealed over newly built extension.
This close takes its name from wrighter and burgess Robert Bull, who owned property here at the turn of the eighteenth century. Today connecting to Holyrood Road.
There is sparse information available about these two closes, of which Little is the narrower, as all buildings on this site were demolished in the 196O's although the names were retained.
Vehicular access from Calton Road.
Lochend Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
Named with respect to Andrew Reid, Maltster and Bailie who in 1770 succeeded the occupation by the Earls of Aberdeen.
Currently no sign/ connects to Holyrood Road.
In earlier years called Rae's Close, the name is derived from Canongate magistrate and meal merchant George Campbell, who owned a tenement on the north side in 1682.
Cranked connection to Calton Road.
John Brown, a gardener, Joseph Brown, a merchant, or Andrew Brown, of undisclosed standing, any of whom would account for the current name.
No through traffic, dead end.
The picturesque White Horse Close acquired its current name when Ord rebuilt the existing tenement and erected an Inn, which he named in honour of Queen Mary's white palfrey.
During 1745 the inn acted as a headquarters for Jacobite officers, while Bonnie Prince Charlie resided at Holyrood Palace.
Site of a coaching inn; extensively restored.
White Horse Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
Forsyth, a burgess of Edinburgh and a local coachmaker. Forsyth also owned stables and a coach house nearby, serving travellers from London.
Sealed/ private entrance.
South Gray's Close
The name here refers to John Gray Burgess; though formerly, the close was occupied by the Grey Friars. It was also known as Mint Close because it housed Scotland's Royal Mint from 1574 till 1877.
Connecting to Cowgate.
South Gray's Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
Originally owned by George Henderson of Fordell, who sold the land to Henry Paisley (aka Paislie) in 1711. Read about the impressive sculpture and more at Royal-Mile.com.
No through way, dead end.
Paisley Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
The seventeenth century mansion of the Carmichael's stood here. The Earl of Selkirk resided here, as did the inventor Daniel Rutherford who developed the gas lamp. He was grandfather to Sir Walter Scott who visited as a child.
Links to South Gray's Close.
Named after Patrick Chalmers, belt maker and Captain of the Trained Bands, this was previously known as Chamber's Close, Dunsyre's Close, and Boyd's Close, and was once the home of Lord Jeffrey's grandfather.
Connecting to Jeffrey Street.
Chalmer's Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
This close, named for the street well adjacent to it, is the place where Thomas Bassendyne produced the earliest printed copy of the New Testament in Scotland.
Today home to the Saltire Society.
Links to South Gray's Close.
Fountain Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
James Kennedy, grandson of King Robert III, once had a residence on this site, but this no longer exists nor does the royal-tennis court owned by Fleming and rumoured to have sat on this site. Monteith's Close is now the entrance to a Cocktail Bar and Restaurant called Monteiths.
Monteith's Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
World's End Close
So called because this literally was the end of most people's world.
Situated just inside the Netherbow gate, poorer residence who couldn't afford the entrance fee back into the city stayed there whole lives within the confines of the City Walls.
Last close before reaching the former site of the city wall - Flodden's Wall.
World's End Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
There is no definitive account of how this close acquired its name, but it is commonly believed to be a derivation of the Turing family, who owned property on this site between 1478 and 1529.
Accessible but private.
Trunk's Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
The current name dates from 1763, when a stabler called James Gullan had premises here.
Connecting to Holyrood Road.
Baron Maule's Close
This was initially known as Panmure Close, then became Bassendyne's Close in 1624 after local printer Thomas Bassendyne.
Henry Maule purchased a property at the foot of the close in 1711, prior to becoming the Earl of Panmure in 1716.
His grandson, John Maule of Inverkeilor, became Baron of the Court of Exchequer in 1748, and his residence here until 1773 led to the current name of the close.
Private, leads to private garden.
Baron Maule's Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
The 4th Earl of Traquair erected a tall tenement on this site in 1700. Later in the same century, coachbuilder Robert Gibb made the close his residence and it still bears his name.
Gibb's Close gained notoriety in the 1820's when it was the scene of murder by the notorious duo Burke and Hare.
Sign only/ serves solely as access to a shop.
Named after either William or Alexander Pirrie, who owned property on this site in the early eighteenth century.
Connecting to Chessel's Court.
Mid Common Close
At one time this close allowed access to the High School of the Canongate, and was known as Veitch's Close until the early nineteenth century after John Veitch, a burgess who built a tenement here. The Moorish effigy affixed above the entrance to Mid Common Close has given rise to many urban legends, most prominently featuring the Moroccan adventures of Andrew Gray, a youngest son of a local noble family.
Sealed/ private dead end.
Door Effigy, Edinburgh ©MDHarding
I hope you have enjoyed reading about the "closes" of Edinburgh. Which one did you find the most interesting? Share, comment and send any questions to @Michelle'sMonologues. Discover more about Secret Edinburgh. Until next time, happy travels:)
References: Royal-Mile.com, Canmore.org.uk and Lothianandborders.com