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STAIRS AND WYNDS; WHERE WILL IT ALL LEAD?

For me, the narrow pends and wynds with their stone houses and staircases are integral to the character of St. Andrews. Once the Cathedral and Castle had fallen into disrepair it made good sense for the townspeople to re-use the convenient quarry to construct their houses. It is doubtful if the residents had sustainability or preservation of character uppermost in their mind but distributing the same type of stone gave the town its main characteristic.

There is the grand:

of the 1846 college halls at the university, the humble and the forgotten:

This impressive gatepost is at the eastern edge of the former grounds of Kinburn House. Built in 1855 by David Buddo, a retiring medical officer in the Indian Army, the house was named after a victory at Kinburn during the Crimea War. It then became home to Provost John Paterson before being converted to a telephone exchange. The house and grounds were then purchased in 1920 by the town at a cost of £10,000. The Town Clerk and Burgh Chamberlain were installed in offices and the grounds were converted for use as a public park. Public leisure activities included 9 hard surface tennis courts, a bowling green and 18-hole putting course.

The stone stairs of relatively humble homes are reminders of earlier homes when external timber staircases were the norm.

When you see a door one flight up, especially on tower houses, it is because the stairs are missing.

The names of the lanes are evocative and suggestive of occupations, places to visit or people who once merited recognition. Very often there are two names on a street sign to acknowledge the origins and common name.

Since Robert the Bruce decreed that all men of worth (defined as owning a cow) must possess a ‘gude bow with a schaff of arrowys’ medieval burghs provided a place to practice archery. These places generally became known as Bow Butts. In 1424 James I ordered that all males over aged 12 must train as archers. He suggested that the bowmerkis should be close to the parish kirk. That is why St. Andrews has a Butts Wynd adjacent to St. Salvators Chapel.

As St. Andrews Castle existed from the 1200s it is easy to assume Castle St has been the only name for the approach. However, pre-13th century residents would have called the lane either Fishergate or Seagate and, after the Castle’s construction, Castle Wynd. There is still a house in this lane that bears the name of Fishergate.

Similarly the long stretch now known as the Scores (after the geological formations in the bays) was two linked roads known as Castlegate (guess why?) and the west half was known as Swallowgate. Swail in old Scots means hollow and it sat west of Swallow port. There has been an unsubstantiated rumour that this was the town’s 4th medieval street. Castlegate and Swallowgate were merged and opened up in the 18th century.

When students of the university pass through Baker Lane as a shortcut I wonder how many realise that this is probably the oldest close in the town. In 1895 repairs to a harled house revealed a face on a wall; a crowned angry face with fanged teeth, long hair and whiskers. The house once belonged to the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. The image was probably designed to convey the perfidy of infidels. Although the house is now gone the stone survives in a gable wall to the south of a garden now on the site.

Coincidentally it is reputed that Mary, Queen of Scots, stayed at another house that belonged to the Knights. There is no record of her being scared by fearful ghouls.

It can pay to be nosy when workmen are removing modern coverings. At present Crail’s Lane is being renovated and has revealed a plaque to the former Public Reading Rooms Library and the Black Smith who worked in this lane.

When done well a renovation can still incorporate the heritage of a place.

To the enquiring mind that raises more questions and a desire to get out an old map.

Street widening continued under successive Provosts. After widening took place, Church Wynd became too wide to justify the name so, in 1891, became a street. In 1896 North Bell St became Greyfriars Gardens.

Street widening often involved altering the levels. Both the principal routes of South St. and North St. have been raised. The original name of Priors Wynd was changed to East Burn Wynd during the 16th century. This was then changed to Abbey St at the request of the residents in 1843. The next time you walk Abbey St. you may wish to know there is a causeway of rounded stones 5ft below your feet.

Renaming also had the convenient benefit of anglicising a town to befit a nation that had merged with its bigger neighbour at the Union of the Parliaments. The simple names that describe a location or occupation fell from favour as their replacements, often paying tribute to the Hanoverian monarchs, aided the eradication of the Scots language and identity.

The largest gateway in the town has to be The Pends leading to the cathedral. Pend (or penn) means an overhead covering like an arch or vault. The Pends of the Cathedral may go back as far as the 14th century. The road was ‘slapped’ into place in 1822 for vehicular access whilst the footpath opening was created in 1896.

Close by is an impressive gateway. The hospitium novum (New Inn) built behind these gates was likely to be the last construction made by the Priory of St. Andrews before the Reformation.

This survived until 1845 when rebuilding involved lowering the footpath and straightening the road. As if that wasn’t enough adaptation for one century the Victorians soon felt another need to rebuild. In 1894 a Hospice of the Girls School was constructed. All that survives is the arch, which bears the arms of Prior John Hepburn and the Scottish royal arms.  It is said that the reforming zealot, John Knox, stayed there from July 1571 to August 1572. The next royal visitor to the town, James VI, also stayed here in July 1580.

The pleasure of walking around St. Andrews is enhanced by the multitude of individualistic staircases, openings, gates and pends. Whether from sheer curiosity or a desire to connect with the past I always have the urge to look beyond gates and doors. You never know what you’ll see!