Site NumberNT27SE 284
NGRNT 2575 7366
NGR accuracyNGR given to the nearest 10m
Record created1989-08-17
Last updated2010-11-24

Archaeology Notes

NT27SE 284 2575 7366 See also: NT27SE 285 Edinburgh, 245-329 High Street, City Chambers (Royal Exchange) REFERENCE: NMRS HISTORICAL FILE 2 pages of text with details of City Chambers/Royal Exchange and Mary King's Close - filed under 'THE ROYAL EXCHANGE' REFERENCE: PLANS City Architect's Dept, Edinburgh -Plan showing cellars part of Mary King's Close (Undated) information in NMRS. There are substantial remains of the 16th-century Mary King's Close, abandoned about the middle of the 17th century, following outbreaks of plague, incorporated beneath the present City Chambers. A 15th-century carved stone, apparently a panel of an altar retable, found when the foundations of a house at the bottom of this close were being cleared in 1859, during the construction at Cockburn Street, is now in RMS(NMAS) (Acc No: KG 35). J Peddie 1871; J S Richardson 1928; RCAHMS 1951. Alexander or Mary King's Close is recorded in 1530 as John Towris Close, for Touris of Inverleith, owner on its East side, and also as Livingstoun's Close, probably for Henry Livingstoun, a burgess in 1500. In 1615 and 1621 it is recorded as M(r) Alex(ander) King's Close, which firmly links it with M. Alexander King of Dreden, advocate in Edinburgh from about 1580-1617. In Town Council Minutes 1694 the close is Mary King's Close, but in 1720 it is given as "King's Close, now Alexr King's Close", while a "Protocol" of 1735 refers to it as "Brown's, later King's, now Mary King's Close". Nothing is known of the origin of Brown's Close, but it appears that in the seventeenth century the name Alexr King's Close evolved into King's Close and then into Mary King's Close. It is also evident that Alexander King had no daughter Mary, nor is there a record of any Mary King resident in the close; but the Valuation Roll of 1635 lists a Mary King as tenant in William Fairlie's property, not in the close but in the High Street immediately West of the close mouth, and also records a William King as an owner-occupier on the West side of Stewart's Close, to the East of King's Close. How King's Close became Mary King's Close remains a matter of speculation. The ruinous state of the buildings in the close in 1754 has been exaggerated by Wilson and others: they were only partly demolished when the Royal Exchange was built, and the lower parts of their walls have proved sound enough to support much of that building ever since. S Harris 1996. (NT 257 736) A baseline archaeological assessment was carried out between July and August 2002 on the area generally referred to as Mary King's Close, beneath Edinburgh's City Chambers. The programme of work consisted of detailed site inspection, photographic survey and desk-based research. The site is on several levels, due originally to the use of the steep natural slope on the N side of the High Street. Occupation and subsequent building phases saw exploitation of the slope in the form of terracing, cutting or projecting the natural bedrock profile. Despite the small scale of the programme, a record of the principal archaeological features was completed, and sufficient evidence gathered to define the archaeological sequence: 1. The gradual infill of medieval burgage plots behind the High Street frontages. 2. The sudden imposition of a large complex public building after 1754 on the residual streetscape. 3. The total abandonment of parts of the site after c 1900. 4. Occasional public access. As the site itself is a combination of residual medieval occupation with 18th- and 19th-century cellars superimposed, its overall archaeological significance centres on how the elaborate streetscape of late medieval Edinburgh was developed as part of a radical new architectural vision for the capital in the later 18th century. The site combines structural evidence of 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century occupation which reflects the evolution of the medieval High Street - the focus for prestige building for centuries. Archive to be deposited in the NMRS. Sponsor: PastForward. G Ewart, D Gallagher and A Hollinrake (Kirkdale Archaeology) 2002 (NT 257 736) Further to an initial programme (DES 2002, 50) of baseline archaeological recording undertaken in the area generally referred to as Mary King's Close, beneath the City Chambers, a more detailed record was made in October 2002 of the suite of rooms towards the E end of the study area. The rooms are an interesting survival from an Old Town property. They show the development of a 17th-century set of rooms sub-divided due to the increase in multi-occupancy into a single-floor Georgian flat. At this time, the flat was occupied by people with some social aspiration, as exhibited by the decor. As with the rest of the Old Town, the property fell down the social scale after the construction of the New Town in the late 18th and early 19th century, when the wealthier classes abandoned the High Street en masse. The flat was decorated in a typical 19th-century Edinburgh tenement style, decaying to such an extent that at the end of its domestic life it could be classed as a slum dwelling. It is rare that such a sequence can be followed so clearly, because earlier features are mostly obscured in Old Town tenements still under domestic occupation. After the rooms were merged into the City Chambers, the state of decay accelerated until the intrinsic historic value of this survival was recognised: an example of an evolving Old Town Edinburgh dwelling. Archive to be deposited in the NMRS. Sponsor: PastForward. G Ewart 2003.

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