Audio Point Twelve – The Canongate.

A short sample from Edinburgh Audio Guide – Audio Point Twelve.

The Canongate.

The Canongate is one of the four streets that form the Royal Mile. The street is named after the Augustinian Monks of Holyrood Abbey, which was located in the area.

The monks were known as ‘canons’ and the word ‘gate’ means a ‘walk’ or a ‘way’. Therefore, the walk between the Abbey and the walled town of Edinburgh became known as ‘Canon’s Gait’ or ‘walk of the monks’.

There are several important historical landmarks along the Canongate – the Scottish Parliament, Canongate Tolbooth, Huntly House (now the Museum of Edinburgh) and the Canongate Kirk.

Located on the north side of the street is Canongate Tolbooth. This visually striking building with a distinctive clock tower was built in 1591.

Up until the middle of the 19th century Canongate was a separate burgh from the Royal Burgh of Edinburgh and had its own Tolbooth – a building which served as court house, meeting place of the town council, and police station. The ground floor was used as a prison – mostly for people who couldn’t pay fines or for minor felonies.

Today the Tolbooth is home to a museum called “The People’s Story”. The museum tells the story of the people of Edinburgh from the 18th century to the present day.

During 17th and 18th centuries Canongate was a prosperous burgh popular with the ‘noble and genteel families’ who moved here away from Edinburgh’s filth and squalor of overcrowded tenements.

By the end to the 18th century two dukes, sixteen earls, seven barons, seven judges and thirteen baronets lived Canongate in spacious houses with gardens and orchards.

Canongate’s decline started with the loss of the Scottish parliament in 1707 following the Acts of Union which led to the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

Once a popular and prosperous area neighbouring Holyrood Palace, the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland, Canongate continued to suffer from loss of population and decline in economic prosperity well into the 20th century.

Canongate Kirk.

Canongate Kirk is a beautiful old church Located next to the Tolbooth.

The church was designed by Sir William Bruce, a leading architect of the time. Construction of the church started in 1688 and it was completed in 1690.

At the time the building of the church was unique and unlike anything seen in Scotland. The building of the church is a simple, classical structure with an unusual flat facade, heavy Doric porch and Dutch style gable.

If you look at the top of the church you will see a golden stag’s head with pair of antlers and a golden cross. The antlers at the apex of the roof of the church are real – they were supplied by Her Majesty the Queen from her own estate at Balmoral. The antlers are from a stag shot by King George VI in 1949.

The church has been the site of several royal weddings including the wedding of the Queen’s granddaughter Zara Phillips to rugby player Mike Tindall in 2011.

The late Queen Elizabeth II attended services at Canongate Church on many occasions during her visits to Edinburgh.

Just as interesting as the church itself is the Kirkyard, as it is the final resting place for many notable residents of Edinburgh. These include the economist Adam Smith, Mary Queen of Scots’ Italian secretary, David Rizzio, and Scottish poet Robert Ferguson, whose bronze statue stands just outside the Kirkyard gates.