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Edinburgh, 265-267 Canongate, Morocco Land

Shop (17th Century), Tenement (17th Century)

Site Name Edinburgh, 265-267 Canongate, Morocco Land

Classification Shop (17th Century), Tenement (17th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Seaton's Close

Canmore ID 52361

Site Number NT27SE 332

NGR NT 26200 73723

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2021.

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Digital Images

Administrative Areas

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

Architecture Notes

NT27SE 332 26199 73728

Depicted on the coloured 1st edition of the O.S. 1:1056 scale map (Edinburgh and its Environs, 1854, sheet 36)


City Architect's Collection

Photostat of drawing of Bible, Morocco and Shoemaker's Lands as in 1677 by A A MacCulloch 1943

Edinburgh 267 Canongate - Seaton's Close


Wright work at Lady Margaret Macdonald's lodgings in the Canongate.

Receipted account from James Runciman, Wright in Edinburgh.

1744 GD 221/65

Wright work at Lady Margaret Macdonald's lodgings in the Canongate.

Receipted accouint from James Runciman, Wright in Edinburgh.

1743-1747 GD 221/65

Laying of a syver at the back of the lodging occupied by Sir Alexander Macdonald of the Isles.

Receipted account from Thomas Mylne, Mason in Edinburgh.

1743 GD 221/65


['Professor Oliphant's Land'.

Sir Alexander Macdonald rented 'that great lodging or stone tenement of land' lying in the Canongate of Edinburgh on the North side of the street, belonging to William Dick of Grange. After renting it for a year, Sir alexander Macdonald bought it in 1743.]


Publication Account (1951)

117. 273-277 Canongate and adjoining properties.*

This antique-looking, gabled tenement, which contains the entry to Morocco Close beneath its E. end, is known as Morocco Land on account of the half-length effigy of a Moor that adorns the front. Round the house have grown some curious legends, which agree only in connecting the building with the later plague-years of the 17th century. The most romantic of them, as given by Wilson (1), is to the effect that Andrew Gray, a younger son of the Master of Gray, took an active parts in the riots that occurred ten years after the accession of Charles I. He was arrested as the ringleader and condemned to death, but escaped to sea. In the year 1645, when the city lay stricken with the pestilence and scarcely sixty able men were left to guard it in the event of an attack, a vessel, pronounced by experienced seamen to be a Sallee rover, was seen to enter the Firth and cast anchor in Leith Roads. From this ship a detachment landed and threatened to sack the city; a ransom offered by the magistrates was declined, but the Lord Provost, Sir John Smith of Grothill, went in person to make an amended proposal and this was ultimately accepted, with the proviso that his son should also be handed over. It so happened, however, that the Lord Provost's only child was a daughter, who then lay sick with plague, of which her cousin Egidia, daughter of Sir William Gray, had just died. On learning this the leader of the Moors announced that he possessed a specific remedy, demanded that the patient be entrusted to his care, and offered to free the city without ransom if he failed to effect a cure. The girl was accordingly carried to the Moor's lodgings, which were in a house at the head of the Canongate and just outside the walls of the city. Here she duly recovered. Her physician then revealed himself as Andrew Gray, the former fugitive, who had been sold into slavery by pirates but had won the favour of the Emperor of Morocco, and had ultimately attained both rank and wealth. Desiring to avenge himself upon the civic heads for the wrongs done him, he had returned to his native town after vowing to re-enter it only with sword in hand; but recognising the Provost as his uncle and the sick girl as his cousin, he eventually married the latter and setup house in the tenement in which her cure had been performed. Although all thought of revenge was henceforth abandoned, Gray kept the letter of his vow until his death and steadfastly refused to pass the threshold of the city.

On the face of it this story is clearly fanciful, as Wilson admits, but the persons mentioned in it undoubtedly existed. Patrick, 6th Lord Gray, fell into disgrace, was banished in 1587, and was succeeded by Andrew, the Master of Gray, in 1612. Sir John Smith, of Grothill and King's Cramond, was Lord Provost in 1645, and his sister Egidia had married the merchant prince Sir William Gray of Pittendrum in 1620. Their eldest son William married Anne, daughter of Andrew, 7th Lord Gray, in 1637 and became Master of Gray, while Andrew, the fifth of their eighteen children, who was no rioter but, an eminent and popular divine, married Rachael Baillie of Jerviswood and died in 1656 (2). Giles (Egidia) Smith, Lady Gray, died in September1686 and was buried beside the S. door of Greyfriars Church (3). The Grays of Pittendrum and their kin can be eliminated as they were gentlefolk and unlikely to be concerned in rioting. Moreover, there is no mention of the Sallee rover in the City records. But the effigy of the Moor, which is a piece of mid-17th century work, supports a cartouche bearing a shield charged with a saltire, once cantoned with two garbs in the flanks and another in base, for Smith; while in 1653 the property was bought by Thomas Gray, merchant, for the sum of 1215 pounds Scots, so that a Smith-Gray connection is not only possible but probable. Moreover, Morocco Close has always gone under this name and is singular in having no alias; "Morrocco's Land," further, is on record in a charter of 20th May, 1710.

As it now stands, however, Morocco Land resembles a building of the early 18th century rather than one of the 17th; but it may have been heightened only, and not built in its entirety, at this later period, seeing that when it was first described it had only three storeys in addition to a garret whereas it now has five. Built of rubble throughout, it is rectangular on plan with a newel-stair at the back giving access to the upper floors, on each of which there are three rooms. At one stage of its existence the first floor could also be gained from a forestair which emerged at the S.W. corner, at the point where a modern doorway now appears. The lower part of this corner was originally recessed beneath an encorbellment, a device usual in the 17th century, and there is some reason to suppose that an internal turret-stair may have risen directly above.

A modern shop occupies the street floor. Each of the upper storeys has four windows, with back-set and chamfered margins, facing towards the S., those of the fourth floor and attic being narrower than the others. The effigy mentioned above is housed within a roughly-formed niche at the W. end of the front, between the first and second floors; it wears a turban and is adorned with ear-rings, armlets, bracelets, and a necklet. The interior of the building is uninteresting except for a corbelled fireplace, probably of the 17th century, in the back room of the second floor. The inscription mentioned by Monteith (4) has disappeared.

Reference may also be made here to two neighbouring properties. Although No. 277 Canongate has been almost entirely rebuilt, the lower part of the back wall facing Morocco Close dates from the 17th century. To the same period may be assigned a two-storeyed range extending N. from Rae's Close on the W.


(1) Memorials, ii, p. 60. (2) Scots Peerage, iv, p. 288. (3) Reg. of Interments, Greyfriars, 1658-1700, S.R.S., p. 599. (4) Further Collection, 1713, p. 248

*These buildings came under demolition while the following description was in the press. The effigy of the Moor being preserved by the Corporation.

Project (1997)

The Public Monuments and Sculpture Association ( 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.

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 (24 September 1999)

Moor with hat faces forward with arms down at his sides supporting a blank shield. All supported by a corbel.

Inspected By : K.M.Withey

Inscriptions : None

Signatures : None Visible

Design period : 1956-1957 (redevelopment of building)

Information from Public Monuments and Sculpture Association (PMSA Work Ref : EDIN0536)


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