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header - part of West Bow
Our header shows a building at the head of West Bow. The full painting appears below, but smaller, and it's a shame to lose the impact of such a magnificent presence even in its years of gathering decay. So this slice is for those who like it as much as we do!

This page began as coverage for Scotland, but the wealth of images for Edinburgh means that the page now takes the city for its own. A page for Southern Scotland has begun and features Roslin. More subjects will be added as we receive material for them. The link is at the bottom of this page.

We don't have a history of Louise Rayner's visits to Edinburgh, but we do have fragments of evidence. Louise must have been up to the Edinburgh/Roslin area in the Autumn of 1860/Spring of 1861 as she exhibited a painting at the Royal Society of British Artists (Suffolk Street) in 1866 titled Roslin Chapel - The last view painted on the spot previous to its restoration. As this major restoration began in 1861 and was completed with a re-dedication in 1862, it gives us a clear marker. Louise also exhibited The house of John Knox the Reformer, Edinburgh at the Royal Academy in 1862, probably from sketches made during the same Scottish visit. Her brother Richard visited Roslin in 1863, and whilst not certain, it's quite likely she went as well. We also know of at least two paintings dated 1867; and there is a recorded joint visit by Richard, Louise and their sister Margaret to Edinburgh, Roslin, and other locations in 1877. Finally (for the present), Louise submitted a pencil sketch to The Queen magazine and painted a virtually identical painting called Foot of West Bow Edinburgh as rebuilt (see below). As the sketch was published in 1886 - and we would guess it was a new work then - it points to a visit circa 1885/6. We'll add to this note as more information surfaces.


Edinburgh's Royal Mile and nearby streets THE MAP
The map shows part of central Edinburgh, shortly before the joint art expedition by Louise, Margaret and Richard Rayner in 1877. The red line is the Royal Mile, which ran from the Castle down the Esplanade into Castle Hill, then the Lawnmarket, the High Street, the Canongate, and thus to Holyrood, and it marks the area covered by this section. As the page develops we'll indicate the paintings that we know of. The description "Royal Mile" is actually relatively new, appearing first in W M Gilbert's book Edinburgh in the Nineteenth Century (1901).

One thing to note on the map is that Johnston Terrace (left edge) was built as the New Western Approach (to the castle) around 1830 and it arrived hard alongside the Upper Bow. Later maps only name the lower half of West Bow, which merged into the new Victoria Street, and the upper part became anonymous on maps. But it had not been demolished, and the Head of West Bow was still at the top of the old road where it met the Lawnmarket when Louise came to paint it in 1877.

Other parts of Edinburgh were undergoing major changes throughout this period and the general dynamism of that process during her visits probably spurred Louise to capture subjects while they still lived. Two examples of loss are marked * just right of centre: the Physic Garden (growing plants for medical use) and most of Leith Wynd had disappeared with the coming of the North British Railway in the late 1840s. The remaining southern section of the Wynd and St. Mary's Wynd below it were later transformed by street improvements carried out in the wake of the Edinburgh City Improvement Act of 1867.

It was our intention to progress down the Royal Mile from the Castle to the Royal Palace, and we may do that in the future. But the images to hand are more commonly looking uphill, so we accepted the majority vote! At present we have no images of the Holyrood end of the route. Blue titles in the text below are the viewer's standpoint.

We begin with The Canongate Tolbooth looking up the Royal Mile towards the castle from Holyrood Palace and we are about halfway up the Canongate itself.
Holyrood Palace is about a quarter of a mile behind us. In the middle distance ahead, the long flash of light down the buildings and across the road is where St. Mary's Street arrives from the left to mark the end of the Canongate and the beginning of the High Street. Far ahead is the Tron Kirk on the High Street at its junction with South Bridge.

The impressive building to our right is the four-storey Tolbooth, rebuilt in 1591 from a 1477 or earlier predecessor. The rebuild was by Sir Lewis Bellenden of Auchintoul for what was then the independent burgh of the Canongate, outside the city walls (the Edinburgh Tolbooth was in Parliament Square). The Canongate Tolbooth is possibly the oldest surviving building on Edinburgh's Royal Mile, and wasn't just a roadside tax building. The building to the right of it here in the painting is the Council chamber block, and about the same age. The two buildings provided council administration, a jail, and a hall for council meetings and court sessions where justice could range from fines to beheading.

The amazing clock suspended outside the building is an 1820 replacement for a 17th century clock, and the front of the building had extensive restoration in 1879. But we don't have a date for the painting so we don't know if this was done before or after Louise painted it. The Tolbooth is now a museum of the history of Edinburgh's people. The painting was sold at the Scottish Sale auction in October 2002 for £15,535.
The Canongate Tolbooth, Edinburgh
The Royal Mile Edinburgh from the bottom of the High Street, with the Tron Kirk in the High Street and St Giles beyond it in the Lawnmarket. Kirk is the Scottish equivalent of church, in effect using a hard 'ch'. Both come from Old Norse "kirkja" or Old English "cirice".

The Tron Kirk had a short squat steeple until a fire in 1824. This more elegant spire replaced it in the rebuild. The view looks westwards up the road towards the castle, though it isn't visible yet.
The Royal Mile, Edinburgh
This painting sold for £26,450 in the 1999 Scottish Sale.

Our next views are almost adjacent to the one above in the High Street - as if we had moved on a few yards, then turned around to look back. Although it's a little hard to match some aspects of the architecture between the paintings, the first two paintings are what you would have seen until 1877. The small stone building seen in the road in the paintings is the neighbourhood water supply - the Netherbow Well. However, the main subject here is the house built around 1490 and once owned by Mary Queen of Scots' goldsmith, James Mossman, but its importance came a little later. John Knox (1510-1572) took minor orders in the Catholic Church but became influenced by the movement for reform. Through a series of events, this led to him being exiled to England where he worked in the Protestant church for a time. When Mary Tudor reached the throne and strenuously tried to convert England back to Catholicism, he felt compelled to leave England and in due course returned home to lead the Protestant Reformation in Scotland, fighting for the four binding covenants that they all believed in: the King with God; the King with the people; the people towards the King; and the people with God. He thus became an important figure in Scottish history and although he mainly lived in nearby Warriston Close his final few months were spent in this house (the central one in the view below), and its association with him has caused it to be preserved in his memory. The house alongside, Moubray House, survived destructive times in a similar way and these are two of the oldest houses in Edinburgh.

Active preservation was not sustained, and through the 1800s the house explored various states of decrepitude and change for the worse. In an 1837 sketch by Alexander Archer a wigmaker is in the corner shop, and the steps at right led to a somewhat smaller
house, no.35 Dryden. Though directly adjacent, John Knox's house was no.45, so the internal rooms were probably apartments. The sketch also shows a gable high on the street face which must have been demolished very soon afterwards, but left its outline in the wall as we see here.

An image by two photography pioneers in Edinburgh, Hill and Adamson (1844, reproduced in Hill and Adamson: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum) shows that the large jutting window in the roof looking towards the pump was at that time faced with horizontal wooden slats
John Knox's House (1861)
in dire need of repair (and they got worse before they got better). What this suggests is that the stone building was actually faced with lath and plaster in slight need of attention in the 1830s, but steadily decaying thereafter. If Louise saw the slats she still rendered the face purely as stone in John Knox's house, Edinburgh (1861), which was probably her first painting of the house. The hay wagon is by the steps to no.35. And note the street musicians in the foreground of Louise's painting to draw the viewer's eye.

Another pioneer, James Montgomery, took a calotype photograph of this building, probably not later than about 1855 as the process was superseded and dying out by then. It shows the ground floor shop a little more clearly - and with whitewashed walls. It also shows the upper of the two windows directly above the water supply in Louise's painting as completely hidden by cement or wood cladding. His photo can be seen on page 83 of his album in the National Library of Scotland.

This second painting is The Royal Mile, Edinburgh* (date not known but middle of these three), and comparison with details such as the first view's windows shows the same addition and omission of features as Louise sometimes applied to her Chester paintings. It also shows two windows blanked, which may be for adverts or just a regular defence against evening sun.
The Royal Mile, Edinburgh
(*Yes it does appear to be a duplicate title for a painting above, but it may not be Louise who made the error.)
The third painting, John Knox's house, Edinburgh shows a little more of the street and more modern-looking shop fronts. Though the other paintings don't suggest it, shops had wrapped round the ground frontages for at least a century. It's hard to tell if the original corner shop is whitewashed, but quite apparent are the roofline and other changes made by Louise herself. None of the paintings is entirely accurate, but the building was prone to change. The demolished street-facing gable was correctly absent from the first two paintings, but it was restored about 1877. So this painting comes after that restoration - but not by much as it features the same style of detail fade as found on Head of West Bow, Edinburgh (which we will come to shortly), making 1877 the likely date for it. Now absent from the scene is no. 35, the building next door, to make way for a church to be built there (coming possibly as part of a national concern that there were too few churches for the growing population).

Louise had a few artistic habits, and these three paintings share the same one: a covered wagon near the right side of the canvas to arrest the viewer's eye.

The building to the left of John Knox's House is Moubray House, which for a period in the 19th century was a temperance hotel. These two houses were among the few survivors of Henry VIII's demand that his English soldiers destroy the city in 1544. You'll find more on this here, but his instruction to "Do what you can out of hand, and without long tarrying" may have been what saved them.
John Knox's House, Edinburgh

We now turn to look uphill towards the castle again, viewing the Lawnmarket in the foreground of this photograph that Louise had taken of one of her paintings, An Edinburgh Wynd, and market may explain its somewhat chaotic look.
Edinburgh Lawnmarket  The Lawnmarket was once called the land market and land produce was sold here on market days. Later it was associated with linen sales. Note how the footpaths on either side are well stepped up from the thoroughfare/market area. In the friendly rivalry that exists between Scotland's two major cities, Glaswegians have sometimes been known to refer to Edinburgh people as "dainty folk", but we don't think the stepping is for daintiness. In bad weather - if that street was as steep as it looks - it might well have seen torrents of rain running down it. However, Louise is rather exaggerating the street's condition for effect. Photos show that a fair road and proper pavements were in place by this date.

It's likely that the rooms in these buildings were rented individually - possibly to more than one family, and that left only one place to put the washing where it might not get stolen: out of the window. Hence the forest of poles at every level along the buildings. We're told that a faded advertisement for “Lodgings For Rent” can still be found today on the tenements in the far-distance on the right.

If we look up the left side of the Lawnmarket, the final building in the row has the three peaks of the Head of West Bow, which we'll be coming to in a moment. Beyond that point we are into Castle Hill (now Castlehill). The impressive collection of spires and other things conical there belongs to Tolbooth Kirk, originally built as a meeting place of the General Assembly. It's also known as Highland Kirk, and at one time in its past as Tolbooth Highland St John's Church when congregations were merged. No longer a church, it is now known as The Hub, the home of the Edinburgh International Festival society.

In the well-researched Old and New Edinburgh by James Grant (6 vols, published by Cassell in 1880), the author refers to our next subject thus: "One of the finest specimens of the wooden-fronted houses of 1540 was on the south side of the Lawnmarket and was standing all unchanged after the lapse of more than 338 years, till its demolition in 1878-9. As may be observed, its north front, each storey of which advances a little over that below, is not deficient in elegance, there being Doric pilasters of timber interspersed with the windows of one floor, and some decorations present on the gable presented to the street. The west front is plainer, in consequence apparently of repairs; but we there see the covered space in front of the place for merchandise on the ground floor."

Old houses - Head of West Bow The painting is called Old Houses - Head of The West Bow. Past literature also referred to Head of West Bow as the Bowhead. Where we are standing, the foot of Castlehill comes from behind us to meet the top of the Lawnmarket on the left side of our subject (whose three small gables we noted on the painting above). The narrow road curving down at right is the upper segment of West Bow, and closer to us is the top of the relatively new and wider Johnston Terrace, which Nelson Publishers imprintpasses in front of the entrance to St John's Free Church and exits Louise's canvas to drop away round the southern flank of the castle.

It's interesting how Louise's painting bustles with life around a building full of character, whereas photos of this and other buildings from the area and period look duller, with things like washing absent. In fairness, though, that might be caused by taking photos early on a Sunday morning with long exposures wanting the minimum of moving people, horses, dogs, carts, etc., to ghost their passage across the image. And the washing would be gone out of respect for the Sabbath.

Thomas Neilson started a second-hand bookshop here in 1798 and soon began publishing his own cheap editions and reprints of mainly religious texts. He changed his name to Thomas Nelson in 1818, and made the West Bow part of their book imprint, as seen here. The business left the West Bow in 1839 and Thomas Nelson & Sons went on to grow into Scotland's biggest publisher, though the firm later became American and Canadian. At one time the building was numbered 7 West Bow; at another it carried a large 340 above the shop level where the three boards are. It carried other ownerships after Nelson, one being lettered "Provisions William Low Groceries" in capitals, while the painting here says "A SWORD WOOLLEN & RAG STORE" or something close to that. An identical copy of this painting except for darker colouring is titled The High Street from the West Bow, Edinburgh.

When Neilson started his bookshop, (but not in Louise's' time) its front was just a few yards from Edinburgh's Weigh House, on the road to the castle. And it's likely there would have been huge tenement buildings just by the Weigh House as well. We don't see them here, but we will refer to them again later on this page when considering the Foot of West Bow.

An engraving of 1829 in Modern Athens (a flattering nickname for Edinburgh, along with the less flattering "Auld Reekie") shows a small stone well-head in the road which would have been just ahead of the man leading the white horse in the painting here. This was clearly another neighbourhood water supply, but of a different design from the one in front of John Knox's house. A second engraving in the Mary Evans Library (dated c.1840 but at least 1846 when St. John's Free Church* was just being completed) shows it rebuilt larger near the rightmost pillar of our main subject and projecting about 16 feet into the road. We haven't seen it photographed** and we are advised that it was either fanciful or speculative as no other evidence is known for it to have existed.

(*This church has had several names. **Edinburgh had an active society of photographers from the very moment the Daguerre and Fox Talbot technologies became available in 1838.)

Head of West Bow, Edinburgh
This superb painting, Head of West Bow, Edinburgh (seen from the top of Johnston Terrace) has character in every brush-touch. Displaying the number '2' and lettered "Barron's Woollen Rag Store", it's the same building as above but a different interpretation of it. In both paintings this face has been slightly narrowed but otherwise the smaller image above is fairly accurate. Here, the same windows, etc., are there, but Louise has moved them around, and the colour scheme, ownership and general disorder are different, suggesting that the painting was done at a different time. Adding support to this is that the fading of the distant buildings on the left side is a relatively uncommon style for Louise, and not matched by any other painting here except the one of John Knox's House above. That would suggest a date of circa 1877.

Another difference is that this is not a general scene: the building is very definitely the star of this painting. Even the figures in the foreground of the scene are only sufficiently developed to serve their purpose and the ones behind quickly fade to shadows. And the building's features (even the ventilators - possibly attic dovecot entrances - below the nicely twisted roof ridge) are reset in a far more face-like arrangement with a touch of whimsy. Each row of windows forms a pair of eyes surveying you and the things around you - quite unlike the pattern in the painting before it. Margaret Rayner is the sister usually associated with humour in her paintings. This could be Louise showing that she could do it too - or maybe it just sang out to her and she couldn't resist the challenge of this characterisation before the building was gone forever.

Old and New Edinburgh, a 6-vol history by James Grant, issued in periodical parts during the 1880s, records that the Head of West Bow was demolished in Spring 1878. If the intent to demolish was well known, that would support the idea that Louise made her 1877 visit to capture it one last time, and Barron's may have been the last business to reside there.

Although we understand that Louise painted a view of the castle from its close approaches, we don't have a copy of that image. A bend in the road means that the Royal Mile offers no long views of it, so you then have to stand well away from the Royal Mile to get Edinburgh Castle onto canvas.

So here we have one of Louise's views from the short but steep Candlemaker Row to show how the castle dominates the city. The painting is called View of the Half Moon Battery of Edinburgh Castle from Candlemaker Row and the name refers, of course, to the curved gun platform at this end of the castle. The road out to the Royal Mile is just to the right of the battery but at a lower level, putting it out of our sight from here.

A common foreground feature in Louise's paintings is a horse and cart heading towards the viewer, but on this steep hill we see one of her alternatives: two very short, stout women in close company, with baskets on their backs. You will see them again - or women very like them!

We have another painting of this view just below, but the present one gives a clearer view of the bottom of the hill, where the building catching the light appears to be the bottom of West Bow, with the wide Grassmarket sloping downwards away to our left from West Bow - but invisibly from here. The present painting was auctioned by Christie's in November 2006 for £13,200.
  Half Moon Battery, Edinburgh

Edinburgh's Royal Mile and nearby streets
We're moving away from the Royal Mile to other parts of the city but the map has been
repeated above for quicker reference. We have very few images north of the Royal Mile at present.

Edinburgh - The Grassmarket, with Half Moon Battery in the distance
Segment of Candlemaker Row
Above: Edinburgh - The Grassmarket, with Half Moon Battery in the distance. Louise has compressed this scene to heighten the castle's majesty and presence. A second identical (or very close) painting is titled "Edinburgh The Grassmarket". The view is actually down Candlemaker Row (lower left on our map), which presents a little confusion as the Grassmarket is not in view. It is, however, just out of sight at the very bottom of the hill and off to the left as noted on our darker painting above the map. Before we get that far, we can see a turn off to the right and this is Merchant Street which, in a short distance out of our sight will pass under George IV Bridge, a street named for the bridge that carried it across Edinburgh's central gorge and up to the Royal Mile. This was the new route that replaced West Bow's difficult southern-side approach to the castle in 1832. George IV Bridge could be directly reached from the top of Candlemaker Row.

At left, a segment of The castle from Candlemaker Row. Although the colour is somewhat different, this painting is otherwise identical to the one we see above. However, there is more of the street on the left of the canvas, so we've copied that portion of it here for historical interest.

Louise certainly turned out paintings that were very nearly identical, but indistinguishable versions (apart from softer light) suggests that one (probably the bigger one above) was a fading print of part of the other, or that two canvases were painted together, possibly for clients who knew each other and wanted them that way. So far we've only seen this in Edinburgh paintings, so perhaps this is what happened.

Candlemaker Row got its name from a decree in 1645 when Edinburgh candlemakers were forbidden to have their workshops in the burgh owing to the noxious process and risk of fire. The unpleasantness was caused by the glycerine in the tallow used, which was objectionable enough for other towns to be similarly restrictive, and is why beeswax candles were preferred if you could afford them.

In Edinburgh, candlemakers were granted the use of waste ground near the Bristo Port (also called Society Port) in the Flodden Wall. This was one of the six gateways through Edinburgh's defensive wall built in the 1500s, to the east of Greyfriars churchyard. The left side of the street as we view it thus forms the eastern boundary of the churchyard. The rise of pleasanter lighting alternatives - oil, gas, electricity - eventually devastated the candle trade, but it seems that many of the buildings still survive, and the Candlemakers' Hall was the first renovation project of the Cockburn Conservation Trust, circa 1978.

Our next image is an unfinished view of the Greyfriars Churches Burying Ground, still awaiting figures to be added. It lies to the left (west) of Candlemaker Row seen above. One of the interests in the Burying Ground would be the grave of John Gray, a night watchman in the Edinburgh police force. He was accompanied everywhere he went by his Skye Terrier until John Gray died and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard in 1858. His dog - who came to be known as Greyfriars Bobby - refused to be parted from him and instead kept a vigil by his grave, broken only by the need for food, for 14 years until his own death. People would gather as the time for the 1.00 o'clock lunchtime gun drew near - the one time in the day when he would leave the grave for a meal provided by a local coffee house and bar. Immediately after Bobby's death in 1872, a drinking fountain topped by a statue was created in his honour. Bobby could not be buried in consecrated ground next to his master, but was found a space inside the burial walls. The story was still fresh at the time of Louise's visit and probably stirred her interest.

Greyfriars Churchyard - unfinished A point of interest in this work is that it shows the skyline of the Royal Mile - and you can see the dome installed in 1854 by Maria Theresa Short for her camera obscura. But what you don't see is the tower and steeple of Tolbooth St. John's, which is clearly visible from this viewpoint in modern times. The painting appears to show the backs of some of the old buildings along Castle Hill in the general direction of the West Bow. But from about 1860 (we don't know the exact date), a range of taller buildings was built between the West Bow and Johnston's Terrace, obscuring the lower parts of the Castle Hill buildings. It follows that the skyline depicted here was only visible in this form for the period between the two dates. There was some question as to whether this unfinished work was by Samuel Rayner, but the date and aspects of its style make it very likely that it's Louise's work, quite possibly created on the spot (she was here in late 1860/early 1861, and possibly again in 1863). What we don't know is whether she sold a finished version of the view.

Bert Hutchings, Guide at Greyfriars Kirks and Kirkyard, advises us that the very tall monument on the left of the painting, with the rectangular extension on top, was erected in 1633 by George Foulis of Ravelston in memory of his parents. The next monument to the right, with the ivy-clad arched top, was erected in 1636 by Sir Thomas Henryson to the memory of many of his forebears, family members, and friends. However, the artist has transferred its low wall and railings to it from another monument several places farther away. (It's outside the remit of this web page, but for those with an interest in the Latin inscriptions Greyfriars Kirks and Kirkyard has a book with the inscriptions, both in Latin and translated to English.)

Louise's sister Margaret was also at work in the Burying Ground, and her "Tombs of the Covenanters" can be seen as a clipping from The Studio on her page. The Covenanters were Presbyterians who opposed the attempts of Stuart monarchs to control the Church of Scotland. Those specifically commemorated at Greyfriars are from the period 1680-1689 (although Covenanters go back to 1638).
Foot of the West Bow before alteration streetscenes in Edinburgh(2)
Above: As noted already, the bottom of Candlemaker Row faces the bottom of the West Bow, which was the old way up to the castle. The picture at left, Foot of the West Bow before alteration, shows the old jettied houses near the foot of the West Bow before some of it was demolished and redeveloped to give an easier approach to the castle in 1822. This means that it was gone 10 years before Louise was born, and the painting is therefore a mix of other people's art and engravings and her own speculation.
Foot of West Bow before alteration (2)    The second picture, above right, is one of a pair sometimes referred to as Street scenes in Edinburgh(2), but more properly known as Houses in the West Bow. It appears to be just around the corner from the first view, and shows how narrow and twisty the road used to be at that point, so this is also from that pre-widening period. But we found it hard to match the left-side architecture, so unless Louise was editing the scene to pull interesting things together, it's possible that the view is actually further along the road. However, an Edinburgh resident has suggested that the perspective may be deceptive and that the painting actually shows the road looking downhill, and this would make more sense of the architecture.

At left (and also above left), the skyline dramatically changes between 1821 and Louise's personal visits, one casualty being the Wey-house (or Weigh-house). It seemed possible that this building could be the huge one with the tall chimneys which stood on the Royal Mile at the foot of Castle Hill. Its predecessor existed at the time of Cromwell's attack on the castle in 1650, and because it so assisted his attack he gave orders for it to be demolished so it could not in turn be used against him. In due time the English left Edinburgh and the Scots decided to rebuild the Wey-house, but it was apparently a much poorer building than the original and was hurriedly demolished when the 1822 widening work got under way. The problem it gave us was that no other record of this huge building had been traced, and it was hard to see how it came into Louise's painting.

The view here at left is Foot of the West Bow before alteration (2).
Whilst it is similar to the one already seen above it, it does have points of interest. It is closer into the same area as before; we thus get a closer look at the building frontages and we can see that Louise has indeed swapped the roofs around somewhat for her paintings. We also get a rather better view of the supposed Wey-House at the top of the hill with its multiple floors. It is dramatic, but was it real?

We decided (reluctantly) that it wasn't real. After all, Louise quite happily altered heights of spires, moved churches and other buildings forward for dramatic effect, and so forth. Why not in this case too?

Then we saw the engraving at right (not by Louise) which shows the Grassmarket Gallows in the foreground, and the soaring tenements at rear. Additionally, a print of an 1817 painting by I. Skene of the Weigh House at the head of West Bow was presented to us - the Weigh House was merely large and sat meekly in the shadow of those towering 8-floor tenements right beside it.

So, yes, those huge buildings really were up there on the skyline! Now, can anyone tell us for how long? Thank you!

Grassmarket gallows at foot of West Bow

In Foot of the West Bow Edinburgh as rebuilt (right) we now see the road after widening, showing a dramatic change along the left side in the foreground and behind; the right side also shows changes but we don't know the extent to which it was affected. The spire belongs to Tolbooth Highland St John's Church, built on the Royal Mile at the bottom of Castle Hill, 1842-4, and probably on the site of the Wey-house.

At right we see a public water supply which the widening may have facilitated. The pumphouses seem to be to individual designs, rather than built to a standard pattern.

Foot of West Bow widened
Foot of West Bow widened
The painting sold for £11,750 in the Scottish Sale of November 2001. A practically identical copy of this painting exists, called The Grass Market, Edinburgh. The principal difference is that the buildings are painted darker, but there are details that differ as well, such as the absence (as in the pencil sketch) of the boy and stick, right foreground, in the arrangement of the figures by the pump; and in chimney smoke and sun/shadow patterns on the right-hand buildings. All these are enough for each client to have the same painting and yet a unique version. But all we actually see of the Grassmarket (a wide market road coming up from our left) is the shop facing us and the road in the foreground. An oddity in all these images is that the modern position of the well-head is in the middle of the road - and it probably was then. So the likelihood is that Louise moved it to suit her composition.

The pencil sketch above appeared in The Queen magazine on 25 September 1886. We cannot say whether it is a late product from the 1877 visit or new study from a subsequent visit, but the magazine would usually report new work. As the painting is identical in all but minor details, it was probably produced about the same time as the sketch. A second known painting, even closer to the engraving in its resemblance, is titled Victoria Street from the Grass Market, Edinburgh. Below, the write-up for the sketch (retyped for legibility) declares how well-regarded Louise's work was, despite her being a woman in what was still very much a man's world - as the last sentence gently reminds us.

The Queen caption

streetscenes in Edinburgh(1)       The painting at left, often seen paired with one of the narrow images above and referred to as Streetscenes in Edinburgh(1) is actually called Libberton's Wynd and John Dowie's Tavern to right. Again, it's one of Louise's retrospective paintings: she could never have seen this view (to paint) because the street was demolished in 1834 (2 years after she was born) in the course of building the George IV Bridge. It's possibly based on George Cattermole’s painting of the same scene.

Below we have Musicians at the gate from St John's Street to Canongate. This is the north-west corner of St John's Street, and the passage through the building (known as a pend) approaches the Canongate from the south side. Smollett's Lodging was here, immediately over the pend. Tobias Smollet was a satirical writer and the lodgings were actually his sister's; he stayed there 1766 to work on a book, and possibly at other times. The buildings are all tenements which were very common in Scotland and equate to modern blocks of apartments (with all the variety that that implies). The tenements on the east side of St John's Street were begun in 1767 as a development by the Earl of Hopetoun, and for many years were high status buildings with lords and earls in residence before other developments caused such people to move out and be replaced by more ordinary folk. Those in the painting are on the west side, possibly built in 1755, and not necessarily of the same status.

Louise calls this a courtyard, but if the pend was gated, the inhabitants could well have called it a close (pronounced as in "close to me"). In Scotland, a wynd (rhymes with kind) is a road that goes somewhere, and a close is a narrow passage that could be locked at night, usually leading to a walled yard or dead-end. The yard might contain communal washhouses, shared on a rota by the various tenants. The focus of the picture here is the two street musicians to the left, gathering a small crowd of appreciative listeners in the hope of collecting a few pence. In the middle a small girl stands by a remarkably shiny pail. To the right we see more of the omnipresent ladies with their baskets. It's possible that some such women are laundry women, providing service for people (e.g. single men) who had no time to do their own; but many - especially those with the torpedo-shaped baskets - will probably be Newhaven or Musselburgh fishwives who sold their fish in Edinburgh.
Figures in an Edinburgh Courtyard


Round towers with conical roofs were once very typical Scottish architecture, often used for stairways as in the gate from St. John's Street to the Canongate above, and not necessarily confined to high streets. In Edinburgh they could be found in minor streets and closes, so Louise sought out these and other Scottish characteristics in places such as the slopes off the side of the Royal Mile. One of her locations was Warriston's Close, which still exists but can be hard to find on a map. Its main feature today is a long, wide stone stairway that starts opposite St. Giles in the High Street (i.e. from the north side of the street) beginning there as Writers Close, before dropping to reach the foot of Cockburn Street. It makes for good moody night photos after rainfall even now. But the area is more complex than just the steps, and we haven't seen Louise's painting, so we don't know its precise subject.

The area is now a tourist attraction following the discovery of old 17th and 18th century streets below the current ones.

The so-called Warrender's Close, right, may have lost its name (the names of these closes were usually derived from one of their notable inhabitants/residents - so when they changed, the close name might do so as well). Nowadays, the name is untraceable. It thus might have been a former name for Advocate's Close but this name was long-lived, and Louise also did a painting with that name, so she would have known it was the same. Whatever the given title, we are looking up the steps of Advocate's Close towards the High Street (see Advocate's Close, Our image is a monochrome from a Sotheby's catalogue for 1993 when the pre-sale estimate was £3000 to £4000, but the highest offer may have been only £1700.

Warrender's Close
Two views from the northern edge of Edinburgh on the Firth of Forth.

At right we have Newhaven, Edinburgh, from one of the photos Louise had taken of her paintings. No sign of the harbour itself here, but a workaday view of Main Street showing two women leaving the village on their way to the city to sell recently caught fish. The bags hanging from the overhead line are sheep's bladders.

Below, we have a view of Port of Leith, Edinburgh, taken from a Christies catalogue of 1991. In that year it was hoped to attract bids of around £2000 to £4000, but we don't know the outcome. We don't know Leith, so we would only guess that the drum-shaped building was once the Harbourmaster's office, though the Harbourmaster would have probably been housed in the Custom House on the opposite side of the harbour by the time Louise painted the scene. The tide is clearly out, and so many people out in the mud has to suggest they were seeking stranded fish and any other edible or valuable items left uncovered by the receding waters.
Newhaven< Edinburgh
Port of Leith, Edinburgh

Our thanks to Kim Traynor for his generous help in improving the historical descriptions and accuracy of this page.

A few miles south of Edinburgh is the village of Roslin, famous for its chapel.
Use this link to go there:
Louise in Southern Scotland


In some cases these will be slight variants of similar scenes.
Advocates Close, Edinburgh
Ancient close, Canongate, Edinburgh [Royal Academy 1867]
The Canongate Tolbooth looking up the Royal Mile towards the Castle [variant]
Children playing in Graveyard, Edinburgh Castle behind [Greyfriars?]
Edinburgh city of dreams [thought to be a variant of a picture above]
Edinburgh Street Scene with numerous figures in a Courtyard [possibly as below]
Figures in an Edinburgh Courtyard [possibly a copy of Musicians at the gate, above]
Foot of the West Bow, Edinburgh
Heriot's hospital from Greyfriars churchyard, Edinburgh
The High Street from the West Bow, Edinburgh
The house of John Knox, the Reformer, Edinburgh [RA 1862]
John Knox's house, the High Street, Edinburgh
Old Houses - Head of West Bow
The Old Town/Near the Grassmarket Edinburgh [pair?]
Reid's Close, Canongate, Edinburgh
The Royal Mile, Edinburgh [variant?]
Warriston's Close, Edinburgh
West Bow, Edinburgh
Wester Close, Newhaven
White Horse Close, Canongate, Edinburgh, 1867 [but we do have a view of this]

Roslin Chapel [interior] (oil) [before 1877]

Harry Drummond, January 2015.
DudleyMall pages about Louise:
Louise at Dudley - Front page introduction, Dudley, link to Richard Rayner's work at Dudley.
Louise Rayner - the main biography, listing some of her early paintings
Louise at Chester - where Louise made her home and did some of her best work.
Louise at Flint - her drawings for Henry Taylor's book.

Louise on expedition:

North to South progression, West before East
Louise in Scotland - Edinburgh
Louise in Southern Scotland - Roslin Chapel (we have no other Scottish paintings at present)
Louise in Northern England - York... Selby... Beverley... Durham
Louise in Wales and the west Midlands - Conway... Ludlow... Gloucester
Louise in the South and South West - Oxford... Chippenham... Salisbury
Louise in Eastern England - Lincoln... Derby... Cambridge
Louise in London and its region - Temple Bar, Drury Lane, Holborn, Greenwich, Eton and Windsor
Louise in the South East - Tunbridge Wells, Knole, Herstmonceux, Canterbury, Hastings... more
Louise Abroad - Rheims, Nuremberg, Bruges... and possibly Venice
In preparation: - The Rayners at Windsor
Please take note: we claim no art expertise, and in no way do we offer provenance for any paintings. What you see here was compiled out of interest in Louise Rayner's paintings and those by her family, but is based on sometimes very fragmentary evidence. As such, it is inevitable that there will be errors, though we do hope to reduce these over time.

We would gratefully receive any information or corrections that will help us to fill the gaps and resolve unproved links - for example confirmation of dates of birth, death, etc., and details of other addresses the family lived at (and roughly when). Images of any of the family's paintings would also be very welcome. Thank you! And our thanks also to the many people who have already provided image for our pages.

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