Edinburgh, High Street, Market Cross

Market Cross

Site Name Edinburgh, High Street, Market Cross

Classification Market Cross

Alternative Name(s) Mercat Cross

Canmore ID 52546

Site Number NT27SE 8

NGR NT 25771 73597

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Ordnance Survey licence number 100020548. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Edinburgh, City Of
  • Parish Edinburgh (edinburgh, City Of)
  • Former Region Lothian
  • Former District City Of Edinburgh
  • Former County Midlothian

Archaeology Notes

NT27SE 8 25771 73597.

(NT 2577 7359) Market Cross (NR) (restored)

(NT 2579 7361 and NT 2577 7360) Market Cross (NR) (sites of)

OS 1:1250 plan, (1970)

The Mercat Cross of Edinburgh is first mentioned in a charter of 1365 which indicates that it stood on the S side of the High Street, about 45ft E of the present E end of St Giles' Church (at NT 2577 7360). In 1617, the cross was taken down and re-erected on a new substructure lower down the High Street (at NT 2579 7361). This site is still marked by an octagonal arrangement of cobble stones. In 1756, the cross of 1617 was demolished; some parts were preserved, notably the capital and parts of the shaft, and re-erected at Drum House, Gilmerton (see NT36NW 35). Five of the eight circular medallions that had adorned the understructure are now built into the garden wall at Abbotsford (NT53SW 41), where there is also the basin of a fountain from which it is said that the central pillar of the Cross origianlly rose. A small oblong finial of freestone, which once formed part of the Cross, is preserved in the garden of Viewforth, Cammo Road, Barnton; it is dated 1641. The shaft, prior to 1756, was a single stone, but was broken, and five pieces were dressed square and clamped together to form the shaft at Drum, 13ft 11ins high. In 1866, the pieces from Drum House were set up on a new pedestal within the railings on the N side of St Giles' Church. In 1885, a new substructure was commissioned, and the cross was rebuilt on its present site. Finally, in 1970, Edinburgh Corporation replaced the shaft, preserving the unicorn finial, the capital, and two pieces of one of the old shaft stones.

The RCAHMS, who examined the capital in 1971, concluded that it belongs to the first half of the 15th century. The unicorn finial was set up in 1869 to represent the unicorn mentioned in accounts of the 1617 cross.

J C Robbie 1908; RCAHMS 1951; S Harris 1972.

As described.

Visited by OS (S F S) 26 November 1975.

Architecture Notes

See also EDINBURGH, High Street, City Chambers for photographs.

ARCHITECTS: David Bryce (Submitted design for restoration of Mercat Cross, Edinburgh)-not carried out

David Cousin (Submitted design for restoration of Mercat Cross, Edinburgh)-not carried out

Sydney Mitchell & Wilson-restoration


"Drum of the Somervilles" 1928 by Hamilton Moir Nisbet, for the position of the Cross at Drum


Robert Louis Stevenson's "Edinburgh"-a sketch entitled "A Royal Proclamation"

"History of the Mercat Cross of Edinburgh" by Thomas Arnold, 1885- "Prospect of ye Mercat Crosse of Edinburgh 1750" and a reduced copy of the Architect's drawing of "The Market Cross as restored in 1885".


Project (1997)

The Public Monuments and Sculpture Association (http://www.pmsa.org.uk/) set up a National Recording Project in 1997 with the aim of making a survey of public monuments and sculpture in Britain ranging from medieval monuments to the most contemporary works. Information from the Edinburgh project was added to the RCAHMS database in October 2010 and again in 2012. As a temporary measure, PMSA data on any site with multiple sculptures, such as the Scott Monument, can be found under Collection Items, then Digital Files; click on the PDF icon.

The PMSA (Public Monuments and Sculpture Association) Edinburgh Sculpture Project has been supported by Eastern Photocolour, Edinburgh College of Art, the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, Historic Scotland, the Hope Scott Trust, The Old Edinburgh Club, the Pilgrim Trust, the RCAHMS, and the Scottish Archive Network.

Field Visit (1 October 2002)

White and gilt unicorn with a red and white shield carrying a saltire pennant sits on top of a capital carved with dragons and foliage (the only original part), which surmounts a tall octagonal shaft; the whole supported by an octagonal drum with eight coloured heraldic medallions (one on each side with the city arms facing the High Street). The structure can be entered and provides a platform for proclamations.

The first Mercat Cross stood in the middle of the High Street until 1617, when it was taken down 'to give greater effect to the royal procession of James VI on hid first visit to Scotland after his accession to the English crown.' (1) After the visit, the foundation of a new cross was laid a few yards to the south of the former site and the shaft of the old cross was placed on a new octagon building about 16 feet across. In 1756 this cross was ordered to be removed, because it was considered an encumbrance to the street. In 'Marmion', Sir Walter Scott laments this removal: "Dun-Edin's Cross, a pillar'd stone, / Rose on a turret octagon; / But now is razed that monument, / Whence royal edict rang, / And voice of Scotland's law was sent / In glorious trumpet clang. / Oh ! be his tomb as lead to lead / Upon its dull destroyer's head ! - / A minstrel's malison is said."

In about 1860 William Chambers, Lord Provost of Edinburgh, proposed to restore the cross. In 1861 The Builder reported that 'workmen have commenced to erect on the High-street, a little to the east of St. Giles's, and opposite to the opening in Parliament-square, a rough wooden outline or model of the cross which was taken down in 1756, and which it is now proposed to restore.' (2) However in November 1861 The Builder reported that the proposal to restore the cross had been abandoned, because the town-council had refused to grant the site. (3)

William Chambers' wish to restore the cross was eventually fulfilled, and The Builder could announce in February 1866 that 'the work of restoring the old city cross, in the space within the railing on the north side of St. Giles's Cathedral, is now in progress.' (4)

In March 1885 William Ewart Gladstone M.P. wrote to the Town Council of Edinburgh expressing his desire to undertake the restoration.

On 23 November 1885 the Town Council of Edinburgh took over the custody of the Mercat Cross, by accepting the key from William Gladstone.

Inspected By : D. King

Inscriptions : In tympanum above wooden studded door (incised Gothic letters):


Signatures : None Visible

Design period : Early 15th century to 1970

Year of unveiling : 1885 (present site)

Information from Public Monuments and Sculpture Association (PMSA Work Ref : EDIN0769)


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