Situated on the Royal Mile, World’s End Close appears to be a typical alleyway in a part of the city that was once a fish market.
Records indicate that it was formerly referred to as Swift’s Close in the 15th century after a John Swyft; and later, Stanfield’s Close after Sir James Stanfield, who was supposedly drowned by his son. But it was an entrance toll by which this now-famous point of interest became known as World’s End Close.
Before architect James Craig designed the first iteration of Edinburgh’s expansive New Town area in the mid 18th-century, the Scottish capital was significantly smaller than it is today with a high-density population of mostly poor residents. World’s End Close had marked the city limit as it was once located inside a gatehouse called the Netherbow Port, which served as a passageway between the Royal Mile and the Canongate region of Edinburgh’s Old Town.
Illustrated as an imposing fortification adorned with the heads of executed prisoners, the Netherbow Port required travelers to pay a fee to both enter and leave the gates. Therefore, those who were unable to afford the toll were confined to Edinburgh for their entire lives.
When looking down at the cobblestone streets of the Royal Mile, you may come across occasional brass bricks. These bricks indicate where buildings once stood. Here at The World’s End, you can see where the Netherbow Port was located. Just up from here, at the John Knox House, there is a tower that contains the bell that once rang out to indicate when the gates were about to close for the night. You may inquire within at the shop to see the bell, but only if someone is available to take you up the three flights of stairs.
Know Before You Go
The Netherbow Port was demolished in 1764, but a neighboring pub called The World’s End, located on a corner where the Royal Mile intersects with St. Mary's Street, honors the history of World’s End Close.