World’s End Close, Edinburgh

Royal Mile‘World’s End’ – an interesting name for one of the many ‘closes’ or narrow passageways that lead off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.

Looking into the database of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, I thought I might find a simple reason for the name.  But no:   I should have learned by now!  Stories seem to unravel in all directions, all of them rather sinister – which, it has got to be said, is in keeping with most of the properties that line the Royal Mile.

To be fair, the most logical suggestion is that the name reflects the close’s location at the foot of the High Street;  but then there’s a connection with a rather mysterious-sounding ‘Endmyleis Well’, the precise location of which has now been lost, but which is believed to be in this vicinity.  How fascinating to discover that this is mentioned in the evidence given in 1567 by the Earl of Bothwell’s accomplices, after the murder of Lord Darnley, the husband of Mary, Queen of Scots:

Royal Mile (11)

Looking down the Royal Mile

“In the evidence of the Earl of Bothwell’s accomplices, already referred to, it is stated by William Powrie, that after “thai hard the crack, thai past away togidder out at the Frier Yet, and sinderit quhen thai came to the Cowgate, pairt up the Blackfrier Wynd, and pairt up the cloiss which is under the Endmyleis Well.”

From ‘Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time’, by Daniel Wilson (1875)

Notes: a ‘yet’ or ‘yett’ is a fortified door, similar to a portcullis but on hinges;  ‘hard’ – ‘heard’;  ‘sinderit’ means they split up;   ‘quhen’ – ‘when’.   I suspect the ‘crack’ was the explosion caused by the gunpowder that Darnley’s murderers had placed in rooms beneath his chamber (he was staying in lodgings nearby, at Kirk o’Field.)

But there’s more…

The RCAHMS reveals that the close was also known as ‘Sir James Stansfield’s Close’:

“…for Sir James Stansfield of Newmills, who had a house in it prior to his death in 1687 and whose son Philip… was convicted of his supposed murder, chiefly on the ground that the corpse bled when he touched it – according to superstition, a sure sign of guilt of secret murder.”

Crikey.  It might be lined with boutiques, kilt-makers’ shops and hotels, but when you walk down the Royal Mile you’re still treading in the rather bloody footsteps of history!

The World's End PubThe World’s End Pub

Sources:

World’s End Close is marked on this map of Old Edinburgh from 1742, which shows all the street names at the time of the Jacobite Rebellion.

Photos copyright © Jo Woolf


 

Further reading…

St Giles' Cathedral (1)Just a short walk away is the beautiful St Giles’ Cathedral – take a look!

Comments

  1. Thanks for those fascinating glimpses into the dark history of Edinburgh.

    • I’m so glad you enjoy them, Viv. There is a close every few yards or so, on both sides of the Royal Mile. I’m thinking there’s a fair bit more history to come! 🙂

  2. Yes I’ve done a post on this one and its amazing how much history you can dig up for one passageway, love it 🙂

  3. Fascinating! And James Stansfield, murdered by his son, had mills in Haddington! http://www.amisfield.org.uk/2013/12/30/the-new-mills-cloth-manufactory-1681-1713/

    • Goodness! I have learned a lot, just by taking that photo of World’s End. I was interested to read about the offenders at the Mercat Cross in Haddington. Is it still standing?

  4. Susan Abernethy says:

    Looks familiar Jo! We heard about the World’s End today on our tour.

  5. Wonderful! I love that type of historic detail, sometimes in London I try to imagine all the things that have taken place in particular spots too – it gives me a little shiver of pleasure.
    I’ve never had a proper visit to Edinburgh (only managed a couple of quick diversions from Waverley while waiting for trains), but sad geek that I am, I really want to go The Oxford Bar to indulge my Rebus fantasy!

    • Thanks, Anny! 🙂 These old places do have such an irresistible lure – I think you’ve put your finger on it! I’m pretty sure you would love Edinburgh as much as London. I certainly never thought I would be visiting it as often as I do, and there is still SO much to discover. I am barely scratching the surface!

  6. I love all the dark and mysterious closes of the Old Town – definitely rather magical!

    • They have a really mysterious air about them, that’s very true! There are countless ghost tours operating around that area, and of course Mary King’s Close is nearby. I sometimes think I should pluck up courage to go on one! 🙂

      • Yes Mary Kings Close is definitely worth a visit – although when I went a few years ago the guided tour was taken by someone in 18th Century character, which I found a bit off-putting!

      • Yes, I guess if you’re going to do one of those tours, you can’t overlook Mary King’s Close. The thing is, I have a secret feeling that I might be a wimp! 🙂 Dark confined spaces are not my favourite habitat! Did you hear/see anything spooky?

      • It’s not that claustrophobic, and very interesting, so I would recommend it. And the only disturbing thing I heard or saw was the guide’s dodgy accent and costume!

  7. I was always led to believe that ‘World’s End’ referred to the presence near to what was formally the Netherbow Gate (the gold markers on the ground show where it once stood). Apparently the laws inside the gate, ie Edinburgh, were different to those outside and it was seen as the kind of ‘boundary of civilisation’. Therefore, the ‘World’s End’ meant that it was the drop off point where the civilised and barbaric world met, if that makes sense.

    That was what was explained to me anyway, whether it is true or not I have absolutely no idea.

    • That’s very interesting. Would it have been the only gate, at that time, then? I read something similar elsewhere – to the effect that some travellers could not afford some kind of fee to get into the city, so for them it was the ‘world’s end’.

      • Yes, you get the idea exactly as it was relayed to me. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the only gate, although in saying that it certainly would have been the main gate, and the most prominent and well known. I guess it would be interesting to see if there are other ‘World’s End’ anecdotes for where the other entrances into the city once stood.

        I know the Jacobite Army passed through the Netherbrow Gate during the ’45, and I’m sure it must have had a lot of other history that was wiped away when it was demolished.

      • Wonderful! I love snippets like this – thank you. When you think of all the characters that have most likely passed through that gate, it’s mind-boggling. Yes, it would be good to know if the other entrances once had doom-laden names!

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