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Edinburgh, 172 High Street, Old Assembly Close

Alley (18th Century)

Site Name Edinburgh, 172 High Street, Old Assembly Close

Classification Alley (18th Century)

Canmore ID 115467

Site Number NT27SE 1170

NGR NT 2582 7360

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. 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

Architecture Notes

Old Assembly Close is still shown on Edgar 1742 as Assembly Close, named for the once "new Edinburgh Assembly" which began to meet here "in the great hall in Patrick Steil's Close" in 1723. This "Assembly House" was part of a tenement then newly built on the former site of Lord Durie's mansion which in 1839 became the site of the Heriot School building still extant on the west side of the close. The Assembly's dances continued here until 1736, when they were transferred to new premises in 142 High Street (see NT 27SE 876 -New Assembly Close) and the close began to be called the "Old" or "former Assembly Close". Much earlier it was Yaris Close, recorded in 1537 and deriving from Thomas Yhare, burgess in 1473 and bailie in 1488 (variant spellings of the surname -Yair, Zair, Hair). The close was also known as Gillespie's Close, first recorded in 1570 and derived from David Gillespie, baxter, mentioned in Town Council Minutes 1523-31, and owner of Gillespie's Land near the south end of the close in 1523. In 1580 it was also Little's Close or Clement Little's Close, presumably for Maister Clement Little, advocate, whose bequest of books in 1580 became the nucleus of the University Library. The close was also Durie's Close, or, as recorded in 1635, Lord Durie's Close, and this last makes it clear that although a John Durie, fish curer, had property in the close at some time prior to 1720, the close was named not for him but for Sir Alexander Gibson, the eminent jurist, whose "Praticks" pioneered the collection of decisions in Scots law. He lived in a mansion on the west side of the close and is listed as its owner in 1635, under his judicial title Lord Durie, which he had assumed in 1621. A charter of 1759 notes the close as also known as Barnes's Close; there is nothing to indicate when or why this was, but possibly connected with James Barnes, member of town council in 1642 and treasurer of the town's College or University. The close was also Steil's or Patrick Steil's Close, from Patrick Steill, vintner, who kept the Crosskeys tavern in it in the last decades of the seventeenth century and whose enthusiasm for music, according to Arnot, led to the formation of a weekly music club in the Crosskeys and eventually to the founding of the Musical Society of Edinburgh in 1728. The variant name Patrick Shiel's Close is probably a confused version, but may refer to an Archibald Shiels, a son of a merchant of the same name, who had property on the east side of the close at some date prior to 1767. (from Stuart Harris, "Place Names of Edinburgh", 1996, pages 472-3)


'The Great Room' in Patrick Stell's Close.

Sketch plan with a drawing of the new room proposed for the Edinburgh Assembly.

1723 GD 45/25/6

RHP 5565 1761 -plan of area & elevations of buildings


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