Edinburgh World Heritage - News Article


Archive Anecdotes

Snippets from the city's archives

Jul 18, 2013

One of the less pleasant anecdotes from the Bank of Scotland archive relates to the bank's Head Office in Pearson's Close, Edinburgh (later renamed Old Bank Close). Pearson's Close became the home of the Bank's Head Office in 1700 after a great fire destroyed the previous premises at Parliament Close.

Pearson's Close was a narrow passageway between crowded tenement buildings situated off the Lawnmarket, below Castle Hill. It was pulled down during the 19th century to make way for George IV Bridge. The Bank of Scotland now has a modern branch in the Lawnmarket on the site of the original Close, but during the 18th century it was a densely populated residential and commercial area. Tenements here and all along the High Street were tall and tightly packed, and were often cramped and filthy.

Bank records show that Directors took pains to improve the property at Pearson's Close during their occupancy. They re-painted and re-glazed the building and even levelled the entrance to the Close. It is understandable therefore that the Bank's Directors were frustrated by their neighbours' habit of throwing refuse and the contents of chamber pots from upper windows into the Close.

On the 18th of July 1733 Bank Secretary David Spence wrote forcefully to the Guild Court of the City of Edinburgh to seek help in ending such practices. He argued that the Bank's Close was 'of great and publick Resort [use], by Persons of all Ranks' and should therefore be kept clean. He protested against his neighbours' 'abominable' habit of throwing 'Water & all manner of nestieness, both by day and by night'. He added that 'those who dayly pass through the sd Close … run great hazard of being wounded & bruised by broken Botles, & other heavy Things, thrown over Windows of a great hight.'


The practice of throwing waste from windows in Edinburgh was often accompanied by the warning cry 'gardyloo', thought to be derived from the French 'prenez garde de l'eau' (beware of the water). It was in breach of local bye-laws, but as the Secretary's petition shows, 'gardyloo' was still a feature of Edinburgh life in 1733.


This anecdote and the image of the archive are published courtesy of the Lloyds Banking Group Archives in Edinburgh, where the archives of the Bank of Scotland are held. Records relating to the Bank of Scotland can be consulted by appointment. 

The image entitled 'Tolbooth: Bank ... Land Market'  is published courtesy of Edinburgh City Libraries.

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