Edinburgh's Old Town Close

Updated: Jun 15, 2020


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

Boswell Close

Named after an uncle of Dr. Johnson's biographer, James Boswell) Today its a private/dead end.

Skinner's Close

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

Fisher's Close

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

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

Brodie’s Close is named after the ‘gentleman by day, thief by night’ rascal, Deacon Brodie.

Brodie's Close, Edinburgh ©MDHarding

Jollie's Close

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

Riddell's Close

Some of the more notable include Riddell’s Close, which is fortified and was where James VI once held a grand banquet in 1593.

Barrie's Close

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

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

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.

Advocates Close

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.

Roxburgh Close

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

Craig'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

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

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

"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

Anchor Close

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

Stevenson's Close

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

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

Lyon's Close

"Very old, but without historical background, this close was once known as 'Stalker's Close'" - Royal-Mile.com

Cant's Close

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

Jackson Close

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.

Melrose Close

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.

Fleshmarket Close

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

Carrubber's Close

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.

Bishop's Close

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

Morrison's Close

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.

Dead end.