The Real Mary King’s Close is not the only street in Edinburgh with an interesting story behind its name. In a city with such a rich history, it’s not surprising that the street names reflect its past.
The New Town was built during the Georgian period. Those who could afford it moved from the deteriorating Old Town’s overcrowding and poor sanitation to the new area purpose-built to provide better living conditions.
The New Town’s street names reflect the political change that Scotland was undergoing when it was built. It was constructed in the mid-to-late-18th century, during the reign of George III. This inspired names like George Street and Hanover Street. Princes Street, now a busy shopping area, was dedicated to the King’s sons. Charlotte’s Square was originally named George’s Square after the patron saint of England, though it was changed and named after the King’s wife. St Andrew’s Square was named after the patron saint of Scotland. Rose Street and Thistle Street are named after the royal emblems for England and Scotland, inspired by the union of the crowns.
Arguably Edinburgh’s most famous street, the Royal Mile travels through the heart of the Old Town. It is actually a busy thoroughfare made up of multiple streets. It connects Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse and is one Scots mile, explaining the name.
The Closes of the Old Town were often named after the businesses you would find on the street. For example, Advocate’s Close would have had the offices of lawyers and meat was sold on Fleshmarket Close.
Other streets named after businesses include Cowgate, which was first recorded by this name in 1428. The name literally means “Cow Road” because in medieval times cattle were herded down the street to Grassmarket.
Influential people also inspired the names of the Closes. Lady Stair’s Close was named after the Close’s wealthiest occupant.
It was not only the Closes in the Old Town that were named after famous people. Victoria Street was built more recently then the surrounding medieval streets. It was built between 1829 and 1834 to improve access around the city. The picturesque street is named after Queen Victoria.
Mary King moved to the Close in 1635. It was called Alexander King’s Close at the time, after a successful lawyer. She purchased not one, but two properties. The street was used as a market at the time, which is likely what appealed to Mary. She had a stall on the Close where she would sell clothes and cloth to support her family (and a few luxuries for herself). Unfortunately, she never lived to see herself recognised. She died in 1644 and Mary King’s Close was not recognised in a council meeting until half a century later.
Step down into Edinburgh’s hidden history with a visit to The Real Mary King’s Close. Explore the labyrinth of well-preserved 17th-century alleys and houses on a tour with one of our costumed guides. Book now: https://bookings.realmarykingsclose.com/book.