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History & Heritage

Lanark's Vennels and Closes

Hidden in plain sight either side of Lanark's High Street are twelve historic closes, their footprint and fragments of architecture dating back to medieval times.

At first glance the streets and buildings of Lanark look mainly Victorian and later in style. However, the centre of the town was first set down in the medieval period.

Vennel comes from the old French word meaning lane. These lanes would originally have been beyond the town wall, which consisted mainly of the rear walls of gardens. These would be maintained by individual owners, a responsibility often neglected in peaceful times.

Lanark’s town wall was not meant as a proper defensive wall but as a deterrent. Its main purpose was to force visitors to enter via one of the four town ports or gates where they would have to pay a tax on any goods and livestock brought in to sell at market. 

Opposite this outer wall was orchard land and croft land or rigs belonging to the burgesses of the town; and between these common lands and the main thoroughfares of the town are a series of closes. In medieval times, there would have been many more than survive today. Now, there remain about twelve which continue to be open to the public.

In addition to being used as a route between the main street and the common lands these closes also acted as a gauge of social status with the most well-off living nearest the main street and the poorest living nearer the external Vennels. 

The closes were often named after the best known or wealthiest resident. This meant that the same close could have different names over the centuries but the practice died out in the latter half of the 1800s.


Standing in the bakers queue

Huddled against the morning air,

The sweet smell of baking bread,

Chatting idly without a care.

 

Walking briskly through the closes

The smell of hops so clear,

Dreaming of the end of day

When hops have turned to beer.

 

The clamour of Lanark at work

Hammering, chiselling, the whir of a spinning wheel.

Dogs barking children larking 

The drummer’s drum, the church bell’s peal.

 

Scrambling to leave the cosy inn

Shouted partings of cheerful fun.

All the noises of ‘Close living’

Till the day is done.

                                     Elma Barr


In 2019, Discover Lanark Business Improvement District started a programme of refurnishment and improvement. The first stage of the project was to repair and repaint the closes and install new LED lighting. The second phase saw new information panels installed in each of the 12 closes, each with a brief history and an illustration depicting the type of bustling activity that may have been found there in previous centuries.

 

Designed & built by Mucky Puddle