The narrow lanes of Edinburgh's Old Town - the thoroughfares named 'closes', 'wynds' and 'courts' - are historic spaces that I always encourage visitors to explore.
The Royal Mile itself is pretty heavily commercialised, and most people can manage to walk up (or down) it by themselves, but these areas just off the main street are where there's much more interesting history and plenty of small details to discover.
So here's a peep into Tweeddale Court - which features in my Royal Mile fixed route tour!
The narrow street is typical of just how enclosed many of Edinburgh's original lanes would have been - just three or four feet wide.
Tweeddale Court is named for the building along it, which in the 1670s was owned by the Marquess of Tweeddale. But the building existed for nearly a century before that, dating back to around 1576. It was built for a man named Neil Lang, who was Keeper of the Signet, one of the highest public officials in the Scottish legal system.
At that time it would have been a detached property set in its own grounds, with a garden behind running down to Cowgate - and, crucially, at one time this land would have been outside of Edinburgh itself.
The wall which runs along the right hand side of the lane as you enter from the Royal Mile is a remaining section of the King's Wall, built by James II in the 1450s.
Edinburgh had become the capital of Scotland only a few years previously, in 1437, and this wall was the first of the three walls constructed at different times to protect the city from invasion by the English.
The first wall would be replaced a century later by a larger and more effective structure called the Flodden Wall, built following the Scots' disastrous defeat by the English at the Battle of Flodden, in 1513.
Once the King's Wall was no longer needed for defence, it was dismantled in places and the stone was recycled. Only two short sections of it survive, including this one on Tweeddale Court.
The Marquess of Tweeddale - a representative in the court of Charles II - took the building in 1670 and redeveloped the space, planting an avenue of lime trees behind the property and creating a grand home for his family.
In the 1680s Edinburgh's first taxi service was established, by a businessman named Alexander Hay. At that time many of the lanes, such as Tweeddale Court, were so narrow horses and carts wouldn't be able to access them, so Hay secured a licence for hiring out sedan chairs...
These sedan chairs were seats enclosed in a wooden box, mounted on poles or handles to be carried between two sturdy Highland men - an original example of the sedan chair can be seen in the nearby Museum of Edinburgh on Canongate. These chairs could be hired at a number of storage sheds around the Old Town - one of which was on Tweeddale Court, where the small stone structure which housed the sedan chairs can still be seen today.
It's an unremarkable looking building built against the King's Wall, but as a historic structure it's very tightly protected - it has claims to being the smallest specifically protected building in the whole of Edinburgh's UNESCO World Heritage Site!
For a fixed fee the sedan chair could take you anywhere within the Old Town walls, and beyond for a higher rate.
By 1750 Tweeddale House was in a poor condition, and its demolition was advocated by no less a figure than Robert Adam, the architect who would give the New Town of Edinburgh its distinctive style. The structure was bought by the British Linen Bank, and for fifty years it was a bank branch serving customers of the Old Town.
On 13 November 1806 a notable murder took place in Tweeddale Court - then named Bank Close - when a banking courier named William Begbie arrived at the bank to transfer around £5,000 in cash to the British Linen Bank's central branch on St Andrew Square in the New Town. It was a journey he'd made many times before - but on this night neither Begbie nor the money would make it to their destination.
A young girl who lived on the lane was heading out to the nearby wellhead on the Royal Mile, when she had to step over a bundle of rags in the alleyway. Those rags turned out to be the body of William Begbie, with a knife still stuck in his chest...
Nobody was ever brought to justice for William Begbie's death, and the murder remains one of Edinburgh's notorious unsolved crimes. Most of the money was later recovered, stashed behind a wall in the New Town, and the only person charged with the crime was found dead in his prison cell before he could come to trial.
Shortly after the bank building was sold to a printing company, Oliver and Boyd, whose name remains over the entrance to the property.
Oliver and Boyd printed school text books, bibles and legal documents - if you look to the left hand side of the lane you'll see an iron winch on one of the balconies, with the letters O and B in the decorative ironwork. This is where paper stock would have been taken into the factory, and where the printed booked would have been winched back down for sale in local shops.
Oliver and Boyd traded from the premises on Tweeddale Court until the 1970s.
The property continues to have a connection with publishing and printing - the offices of the List magazine, established as Glasgow and Edinburgh's events guide in 1985 and continues to operate as an online listings site.
The publishing company Canongate Books was set up in 1973, and has its offices in Tweeddale Court. Authors who have achieved success through Canongate Books include Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting, Michel Faber, Yann Martel, and Barack Obama.
Tweeddale Court was also used as a filming location for the Outlander TV series, serving as a marketplace where Jamie and Claire meet in season 3. The lane is largely unrecognisable due to the amount of street furniture used during the filming, but eagle-eyed fans may be able to recognise it!
So there is far more history tucked away off Edinburgh's Royal Mile than you might expect - proving that the courts and wynds of the Old Town are always worth a closer look.
Explore more of the city's Old Town lanes with my private Edinburgh walking tours...
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