In total, there are close to a hundred closes or small alleyways that run along Holyrood Palace. Each of them contains a name that denotes a certain business or profession, and in some cases, a person of wealth and prestige. Paisley Close, just a few feet up from John Knox’s House, is such a place. It was named after landowner Henry Paisley, who lived in an adjacent building during the late 1600s.
This area, known as the Old Town, was a filthy and congested place to inhabit during the early 19th century with no indoor plumbing. Building codes were unheard of, nor were institutions that provided guidelines for health and safety. To house the increasing population, buildings were quickly erected, some reaching 14 stories and accommodating up to 30 people per floor. It was commonplace for these buildings to be constantly engulfed in flames or crumbling under their own supports.
Such an event took place in the wee hours of November 24, 1861, when a 250-year-old, seven-storied tenement building in Paisley Close collapsed. The incident killed 35 of the building’s 77 tenants. Rescue workers dug frantically, looking for any signs of survivors when they heard a voice from the rubble: “Heave Awa Chaps, I’m No Dead Yet!” This was the voice of 12-year-old Joseph McIvor, who had miraculously survived the calamity.
The tragedy forced local authorities to remedy the unsafe and appalling living conditions. A Minster Officer of Health was appointed, and many of the dilapidated buildings were torn down and rebuilt. The structure that replaced McIvor’s fallen home became known as Heave Awa Hoose. A monument was erected above the entrance to Paisley Close to honor the boy and his words of inspiration. It was sculpted by John Rhind, an Edinburgh based artist responsible for many works located throughout the city.