The old Penny Well in Grange Loan: fact and fiction

Most of what we know about the Penny Well stems from a newspaper article of 1887. Headlined “Interesting ‘Find’ at the Penny Well, Grange Loan”, it describes the discovery of an old stone basin dug out from five feet down in a garden, just near a dried-up drinking fountain called the Penny Well.

Section drawing of stone basin dug up in 1887. A sideways perspective giving an idea of shape and proportions. The whole thing was two and a half feet across. (76 cms.)
Section drawing of stone basin dug up near the Penny Well in 1887. The whole thing, believed to be an old font, was two and a half feet across. (76 cms.) The basin was 10 inches deep.

This got Edinburgh residents and antiquarians talking, and the find was written up in a mish-mash of memories, speculation, legend and facts. Reports from that time are the core of the “evidence” we have today about the Penny Well. 1

Local interest led to a campaign for a new well : an ornate drinking fountain installed the next year, 1888, and connected to the mains water supply. It lasted about 60 years before being capped behind a sandstone plaque. (Pictures lower down page.)

How much can we establish about the well’s history?

Quick guide to fact and fiction

Yes
Sketch of basin dug up in 1887 at the Penny Well site.
Sketch of basin or font dug up at the Penny Well site. It contained a “stalactite mass”, which was examined by the Edinburgh Geological Society. The hole had a lead pipe in it.
  • There was a quarter-acre of land called Pennywell in the Grange before 1716. This suggests an actual Penny Well in the area by the 18th century.
  • A stone basin was found buried just behind a 19th century drinking fountain in 1887.
  • An old wall changes direction as if to accommodate the basin.
  • A Penny Well drinking fountain with an inscribed  “mural tablet” was built into a retaining wall between about 1830 and 1850.
NO
  • No evidence for a connection with the old Sciennes convent.
  • No proof that the well was known for the water’s healing powers.
  • The name has nothing to do with selling water for a penny a cup.

And now for more detail….

The well in the distant past

Side view of basin
Side view of basin, which had a stone cover. All sketches by J. Russell Walker, FSA Scot., 1887

After the exciting discovery of 1887, a narrative developed which was a mixture of facts, assumptions and stories. Once upon a time the “Penny Well” water must have flowed into a circular stone basin. This basin’s position was fixed long ago, it seemed, as this would account for the curious kink in an ancient wall. 2 Today, just as in 1887, and on some earlier maps, this wall curves unexpectedly just where the old basin was found five feet below the garden surface: below current pavement level, apparently.

This narrative is quite plausible. However, there is surprisingly little evidence for a pre-19th century well in that particular place, especially not for a noteworthy one. It does not appear on any maps before 1890, not even on a detailed plan of the Grange estate drawn up in 1825, though other wells are shown. 3 Written references to it are hard to find. It does not fall within the boundaries of the property called Pennywell; it is just very close. Furthermore, it does not seem to be mentioned in pre-1887 writing about healing wells, nor in property descriptions. 4 With such a shortage of written references to the well, an 1807 mention stands out, despite revealing almost nothing. According to a satirical piece of writing about patent medicines, someone who was very ill could…

….taste nothing stronger than Duffus’ whey at the meadow, and water from the penny-well at the Grange, for a month together. 5

The curve in the wall and the old stone basin (which was probably a baptismal font) are perhaps the strongest evidence for the usual narrative. Some accounts say that when a drinking fountain called the Penny Well was built into a wall, probably between 1830 and 1850, it was a “renovation” of an earlier well by the keenly-interested owner of the Grange Estate, Sir Thomas Dick Lauder. This may be correct, but the only source appears to be a book by Jane Stewart Smith, who was not the most accurate of historians. 6 This non-ancient, mid-Victorian well will be discussed later.

Penny Well in 1716?

One or two books say the well is mentioned in early 18th century documents. Not quite true. A legal record of a land transaction in 1716 did indeed use the words “penny well” and “pennywell”, but they were quite likely referring to the plot of land called Pennywell, and not to an actual well or spring. Lawyers defining a particular three-acre plot said it was bounded on one side by “the lands belonging to the said William Dick and the pennywell”. Ambiguous? Certainly not a definite reference to a well. 7 Because the Pennywell property had been re-named Hewit’s Place around 1850, before the area was built up and filled with new residents, it seems as if the late Victorian antiquarians and early 20th century writers either did not know of it or did not take it into consideration.

The well in the mid-19th century

1890s - a new granite drinking fountain, replacing the older Penny Well. Photographed by Jane Stewart Smith.
1890s – a new drinking fountain replaced the older Penny Well in 1888. Note the cup hanging down on a chain.

So what was the well like for the few decades before the discovery of the old basin buried deep in the garden? People in the late 1800s clearly remembered it but unfortunately did not write their memories down in much detail, except to say it had dried up some years earlier. It had  a “quaint mural tablet” and “Ionic ornamentation”. 8

There are a few clues in an 1861 letter to the Scotsman:

Sir – I dare say you are familiar with the “Penny Well” at Grange. A quaff out of that crystal fountain is healthful at any time, but more particularly in summer; and dozens of passers-by, I believe, daily enjoy the luxury…

…Last night I paid my customary visit to the spot, and found that the water had so accumulated about the Well…as to create a species of obstruction on the footpath. [The writer goes on to suggest there should be a new granite fountain and at the same time]…

…the water should be raised to a height of at least four feet. 9

A week later came a response.

The “Penny Well” has this advantage over all our other wells, that it never runs dry, requires no repair, and cannot be damaged. All that is wanting is to repair the trough….

The wall with this mid-Victorian Penny Well was there by the early 1850s. The wall, but no well, is shown on an Ordance Survey map drawn up c1850. The land behind the retaining wall was feued out (sold) in 1852 to John Mackenzie, father of the man who discovered the old stone basin. His patch was included in a comprehensive feuing plan for the whole area. Maps suggest there were trees along the Grange Loan boundary until shortly before he became owner. Quite possibly the ground was levelled off and the wall built as part of the development process.

There is even an early photograph showing the Penny Well wall, but it is frustrating for anyone seeking answers. Taken from Causewayside in 1854, the perspective is confusing and the relevant bit of wall is fuzzily in the background. 10 The best guess anyone squinting at the picture can make is that the “well” was not flat on the wall where the plaque is now, but a few inches away in the corner where the north-south wall and the east-west wall meet. 11

Jane Stewart Smith says the drinking fountain was installed by the wish of the laird himself, Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, who “seem[ed]” to take a great interest in it after coming to live at Grange House. While this may well be true, she tended to add flourishes to what she knew, and no one has found actual evidence of his personal involvement. 12

The wall with the drinking fountain was built by 1852, when the OS map shows the wall but no Penny Well, but earlier maps are unclear. Installing the Penny Well stone tablet and trough seems to have been one of the many changes introduced by the Grange Estate between the 1820s and 1860. 13 It is important to note that local residents “always contended that the bore [for water] had been sunk into an old drain”, despite the popular belief that the drinking fountain had been an outlet for an ancient flowing spring: “a clear, steady little rill”. 14

In 1877 there was a proposal that the Council should restore the “ancient” Penny Well, which by then had dried up. 15 This is just one sign that the residents of the newly-built Grange villas were interested in the well as an attractive historical feature. However, there is no record of any research being done into its origins by local antiquarians.

Myth and scepticism

Ruins of the Sciennes convent in 1802.
Ruins of the Sciennes convent in 1802, with sheepfold built inside. Hutton collection, NLS, Creative Commons.

After the 1887 discovery, it was said that the Penny Well had some association with the ruined convent of St Catherine in Sciennes. This was said about several of the numerous wells in the area – for instance a “Ladies Well” in the garden of 2 Lauder Road, and a well in Sciennes Court – not to mention the well that had been part of the actual convent. 16 The nuns may have made an annual visit to the Liberton Balm Well, but there is a shortage of reliable records linking any well outside the convent walls to the nunnery. 17

[On the former convent land a] circular stone built well, about 4 feet in diameter and eight or 10 feet deep … was discovered by Mr McLachlan in 1864. … The well … appears to have been in the centre of the enclosure or courtyard. … It is thoroughly built with large ashlar dressed stones. The tradition about the brook supplying the monastery with water, must have arisen after the filling up of the well, and all remembrance of it having died out; for the water in the well is good and abundant, standing within a couple of feet of the surface, and therefore the monastery had no need of the brook except for its cattle. 18

Can we really rely on vague reports of late Victorian “tradition” to link the Penny Well with the Sciennes nuns or with stories of the water’s healing powers? It did not have a well-established reputation as a sacred well and was not included in books about such places. It is “omitted from the primary Scottish surveys on holy wells”. It was not important enough to be identified on maps before the new drinking fountain was erected in 1888, and was not noted in the huge Ordnance Survey project around 1850. Nor was it included in historical accounts of the Grange/Sciennes area.

St. Roque Chapel 1789
Ruins of St. Roque’s Chapel to the south of Edinburgh. 1789 drawing by Hooper, from Grose’s Antiquities of Scotland.

If the Penny Well has a connection with a holy place it may be with the old chapel of St Roque. John Russell Walker, the antiquarian expert on baptismal fonts who studied the stone basin after it was excavated, was confident it was a font and speculated that it might have been hauled from the chapel less than a mile away. (The site is now part of the Astley Ainslie hospital.) Other stone from the ruined chapel had been used at a cottage nearby. 19 The font itself was probably still in the chapel in the 1780s as Walter Scott thought he remembered it there. Does that make it more or less likely that it was the one found 5 feet underground in 1887?

[The ruins] stood in the open field (as the author of this description well remembers), and exhibited an oblong, square, without any architectural ornament; the windows and roof totally demolished, and the font-stone alone remaining, to mark that the place had been ever dedicated to the service of religion. 20

Any suggestion that the Penny Well  was named after the sale of cups of water can be dismissed. The name pre-dates any memories anyone in 1887 could have had of an old woman asking for pennies. There were wishing wells and springs throughout the British Isles with traditions involving coins, pins, or other small items being thrown into water for luck and healing. Some were called “penny wells”  or “silver wells”.

Will we ever know more about the early Penny Well?  

A crumbling plaque marks the site of the ornate drinking fountain installed in1888.
A crumbling plaque marks the site of the ornate drinking fountain installed in 1888.

The Pennywell property’s name inspires confidence that there was such a well somewhere in the Grange before the 18th century: probably at or quite near the current site. Sadly, there seems to be no definite written reference to an actual penny well in the Grange during the 18th century. In the 19th century we have to consider the tendency of that era to romanticise history. If Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, the landowner, had a hand in “restoring” the well, we must note his loss of historical judgment when he was drawn into the Sobieski tartan scam. 21 Later in the 19th century journalists and Jane Stewart Smith offered unsupported anecdotes as “tradition”.

But a basin is a basin and a wall is a wall. Their solidity adds some strength to the Penny Well story.

Some of the many definitions of “well” in the Oxford English Dictionary:

A spring of water rising to the surface of the earth and forming a small pool or flowing in a stream…..

(Chiefly Scottish:) A fountain fed by a spring; a pump, pipe, or similar device erected above a spring or water supply; a drinking fountain…..

A spring of water supposed to be of miraculous origin or to have supernatural healing powers.

Read about the house with the garden where the basin was dug up.

Read about the land and houses in Grange Loan called Pennywell.

  • Scottish Baptismal Fonts, John Russell Walker, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, 13 June 1887
  • Interesting “Find” at the Penny Well, Grange Loan, Scotsman, 11 Feb 1887
  • Contract of Excambion Betwixt Johnston and the Laird of Grange, 20 Dec 1716 and 29 Jan 1717, Books of the Lords of Council and Session (Dalrymple), vol. 178, 20 Nov 1740, catalogued at the National Records of Scotland under the title Register of Deeds Second Series, Dalrymple’s Office
  • The Burgh Muir by William Moir Bryce, (Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, Vol 10), Constable 1918
  • J.M. Mackinlay, Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, Hodge 1893

 

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Notes:

  1. Newspapers, Jane Stewart Smith’s unsourced account in the Grange of St. Giles and a careful description of the basin in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
  2. The “new” six-foot retaining wall outside today’s no. 52 was not there before the 19th century, but the north-south wall that separates nos. 52 and 54 had been there for a long time, possibly since the 17th century.
  3. Miller and Grainger‘s 1825 map of the Grange. Printed 1835 and held by National Records of Scotland
  4. Please let me know if you discover an early reference!
  5. Scots Magazine, 1 May, 1807
  6. One of her books, Historic Stones, asserted that Shakespeare visited Edinburgh, with no evidence offered.
  7. The 1716 date is mentioned in the The South Side Story, an Anthology of the South Side of Edinburgh by John Gray. He probably found this in the Old Edinburgh Club’s book (Vol 10, 1918) on The Burgh Muir of Edinburgh by William Moir Bryce. Bryce gives a detailed history of land ownership in the area. However, he seems not to know about the Pennywell pendicle, and assumes the 1716 reference is to water, not land.  His source, and mine, is a Contract of Excambion Betwixt Johnston and the Laird of Grange – full details above. It seems to be describing shared boundaries, not single points of reference like a well. When the Pennywell property changed hands 18th and 19th century legal documents typically described it as “the pennywell”, repeating this formula: “all and whole that one rood six falls and an half of land having Scheens lands lying on the north and east the common loan on the south and the land belonging to the said Sir Andrew Lauder Dick on the west parts respectively with houses and biggings thereon which lands are commonly called the Pennywell” (This from 1788 sasine)
  8. Scotsman, 1887 article referenced elsewhere. A mural tablet implies an inscription.
  9. The Scotsman, June 17 1861
  10.  This picture was taken by J. G.Tunny in 1854. You can buy a bigger digital version.
  11. There had to be some kind of legal agreement with the owner of 52 Grange Loan about fixing the new well into the wall, which suggests it wasn’t a simple replacement of something else in the same place. Scotsman, 9 Dec 1887
  12. Sir Thomas did not mention the Penny Well in his published writings about wells, or in his work on local rivers. 
  13. Maps, combined with the 19th century development of the ‘lands of Grange’, suggest the wall was built between the late 1820s and 1850, but not conclusively.
  14. Both quotes from the article mentioned at the beginning, in the Scotsman, 11 Feb 1887.
  15. The Scotsman, 10 July 1877
  16. George Seton, The Convent of St Catherine of Siena near Edinburgh, 1871, privately printed. Seton does not mention the Penny Well.
  17. The Balm Well connection with a different St. Catherine goes back to Boece in the 16th century, but I’ve not found the nuns’ visit explicitly mentioned before the early 1800s.
  18. George Seton, The Convent of St Catherine of Siena near Edinburgh, 1871, privately printed.
  19. Robert Chambers,
    Gazetteer of Scotland, Blackie 1838, p. 358. Also see Cassell’s Old and New Edinburgh by James Grant, 1880s periodical.
  20. Walter Scott, Provincial Antiquities of Scotland, Arch 1826. The OED says a font-stone is simply a stone font.
  21. Hugh Trevor-Roper, The Invention of Tradition: The Highland Tradition of Scotland, in Eric Hobsbawm’s The Invention of Tradition, Cambridge 1983. Sir Walter Scott’s Journal, 5 and 7 June 1829.

Grange footpaths in the 1760s – public access or enclosure?

Isobel Dick, wife of Sir Andrew Lauder
Isobel Dick “heiress of Grange” and mother of Andrew Dick. She and her parents all died at Grange House not long before Andrew Dick started a number of law suits.

Should the 18th century Grange estate be an enclosed area of “fine fruitful corn grounds” or “open upon all quarters and resorted to by the Rabble from Edinburgh”? In the 1760s the owner wanted to limit access to his estate. Like other lairds of the time he planned to improve his agricultural land by keeping people away.

Andrew Dick Esq. of Grange 1 had reckoned without the rich merchants living on the eastern fringes of his estate. They were outraged by his demand that they close up the doors in their garden walls, and by his attempt to stop people using paths that had been there “immemorially”. Legal action went on for nearly four years, from 1765-1769. The surviving evidence is often one-sided, bad-tempered, and overloaded with repetitive detail, but it still gives an interesting view of the area at that time.

Grangegateside map
The red paths are the ones explicitly named in the dispute. The red north-south route runs alongside a green patch where the merchants’ houses were, with the much-contested back doors in their garden walls. Turquoise lines are routes that have not changed for centuries: Grange Loan and Causewayside, Sciennes and Sciennes Road. Blue indicates the old “cart road” that gave access to Grange Farm and a track that turned off to the west past Grange House. Dotted lines show today’s Cumin Place, Grange Road and Lauder Road. More about this below.

Grangegateside

The merchants who challenged Andrew Dick’s plans lived in fine houses facing “the Street”, known as Causewayside today.  They were “feuars” (proprietors) of properties on the eastern fringe of the Grange estate in an area called Grangegateside. 2 The back doors in their garden walls were a key element in the access row.

A 1766 plan of the “lands of Grange” shows a path leading westward from the “high stone and lime dyke” at the back of the feuars’ gardens. It crossed a “cart road” before passing the northern entrance of Grange House and then meeting another track. The eastern part of this path was labelled “Dean of Gild’s [sic] Walk”.

Alongside the garden walls was a north-south road parallel to Causewayside, but this had been interrupted by a wall since the 1730s, though the feuars claimed there was a way round. Wider than the east-west path, the north-south route had been constantly in use as far back as anyone could remember, and “the back doors which [gave access] were all made a great many years ago indeed past memory of man” said the householders. Meanwhile the laird of Grange said the road had been of no use since Mr. Bayne built a wall round his property and furthermore it encroached illegally on Grange land. 3

Dean of Guild’s Walk

Sheens Walls, the remains of the Sciennes convent, source of stone for the Dean of Guild's Walk.
Sheens Walls, the remains of the Sciennes convent, source of materials used for the Dean of Guild’s Walk and seat.

This walk was gravelled in the 1720s or 30s, and named for Dean of Guild Thomas Dick, a merchant burgess, who had moved out to Grangegateside in 1725. The path was laid upon an older track, according to some evidence. 4 Mr. Dick used it for his morning and evening walks, and had a seat made near it for his pleasure. 5 One witness said he had helped make the path when “the Rubbish which was laid upon this walk was brought from the Sheens Walls [the old Sciennes convent]…as also the stones for building the Dean of Guild’s seat.” The feuars claimed they or their predecessors had shared the expense of the project. Andrew Dick said “the family of Grange” had given “a particular concession” to the Dean of Guild alone. 6  A few witnesses backed his case, though some of them were accused of being under his thumb, as his tenants or employees. One of these claimed the walk was used by “drunken washerwomen and smugglers” in winter and regularly ploughed up in spring.

Anna Seton, wife of William Dick
Anne Seton, Lady Grange (d.1764), who went shopping in Causewayside with two of her sisters, according to a witness in her grandson’s legal action.

The feuars had dozens of supportive witnesses reminiscing about past usage of the east-west path and the supposedly constant traffic on the north-south one. Lady Grange and her two sisters used to come along the Dean of Guild’s Walk to get to a local shop via one of the controversial back doors, said one witness. Two children living at the mansion-house were taken to school that way. These paths were indispensable for anyone walking from Grangegateside to the parish church: the West Kirk, St. Cuthbert’s. The north-south path was regularly ridden by Provost Drummond when he lived at Liberton, and it was the “common way which washerwomen took with their burdens”. It was essential to have an alternative to the main road. Since the “Turnpike was made” (c1754) the Street was “for at least one half of the year made impassable”. Walking on it then meant “wading up to the ancles”. It had become “so crowded with Horses and Carriages that foot passengers [could] not travel upon it.”

The West Kirk, St. Cuthbert's, parish church for a lot of the southern outskirts of Edinburgh.
The West Kirk, St. Cuthbert’s, parish church for the Grange and much of the southern outskirts of Edinburgh.

The laird’s “sworn measurer” said the north-south path was not part of the land feued out for houses in the 1680s. A surveyor produced a plan of the land that left out paths for getting around Mr. Bayne’s enclosure, according to the feuars.  An early ruling by a sheriff said the back doors should be shut up, at Andrew Dick’s expense. The indignant feuars, “Robert Tennent, Thos. McGrugar and George Boyd all merchants in Edinburgh and Mary Heron spouse to James Pinkerton likewise merchant in Edinburgh”, went to a higher court, generating a series of argumentative documents. 7

The laird made accusations that people using the back doors were stealing his corn and “cutt grass”. He also asserted that the disputed paths were neither needed nor well-established. The feuars said his ancestors had allowed these ancient paths to be freely used, and they themselves – wealthy merchants – could not possibly be stealing crops in the middle of the night. Indeed, any damage was more likely to be from Andrew Dick’s “tenant’s servants going betwixt the Causewayside and the Grange Farm”. 8

The Outcome

It appears Andrew Dick got his way sooner or later, as maps in 1817 and 1825 do not show the paths, although the field boundaries still follow their lines. There is no record in the bundles of documents referenced below of the finale to this process. Maybe they agreed things between themselves. Maybe a ruling has been lost – or maybe someone will find it.

References

Two bundles of documents and a plan, all held by the National Records of Scotland and covering 1765-1769:

  • Robert Tennant & others (Feuars at Grangegateside) v Andrew Dick of Grange (Court of Session: Bill Chamber Processes, Old Series, 1765)
  • Andrew Dick v Robert Tenant (Court of Session: Unextracted processes, 1st arrangement, Innes-Mackenzie office, 1768)
  • Sketch plan of the lands between Grange Loan and the Meadows, 1766. (Unattributed)

Also:

  • Miller and Grainger’s 1825 map of the Grange, held by the National Records of Scotland. Also see the smaller version in Smith’s The Grange of St. Giles.
  • Robert Kirkwood’s 1817 map of Edinburgh, in the National Library of Scotland map collection.

All quotes are from the documents above. It should be clear which side produced which remark, except for the second quotation about the Rabble. This was the feuars’ side arguing that they could not possibly be responsible for any damage since the land was open…to the Rabble etc. etc.

Map

Please note the illustrative “map” above is based on documentary evidence and early 19th century maps, as well as on the 1766 sketch plan. On that plan the east-west route is a straight line crossing the “cart road from the Grange to Edinburgh” almost at right angles. It shows the “Dean of Gild’s Walk” starting just north of the boundary between the feus of Mr. Cook and Mr. McGrugor. Cook’s one-acre property had belonged to Thomas Dick, Dean of Guild who bought it from the Black family in 1725. (The line the path took is also suggested by the 1764 Plan of the Ground of Sheens in Malcolm Cant’s Sciennes and the Grange, John Donald, 1990, p.41.)

Written evidence said there was “a road leading westward from the back of James Cook’s garden passing the north side of the house of Grange leading to an avenue which leads down to Mr. Forrest’s House.” (West Grange)  This track joined a north-south route at a stile, according to the 1766 plan, but it has not been possible to work out exactly where the stile was. It is shown at a T-junction between a path from West Grange to the West Kirk – “the Kirk Road thro Bruntsfield links”- and the path running past the entrance to Grange House.

Some evidence said access to Dean of Guild’s Walk was often through Mr. McGrugor’s back door which “was rarely more than sneckered”. Using the NLS georeferenced version of Kirkwood’s 1817 map, which shows the relevant properties and owners’ names, helps anyone exploring this. By 1817 Cook’s property had passed to Mr. Cowan. Miss McGregor is probably one of Thomas McGrugor’s four daughters.

A lot of argument centred on whether Professor Bayne’s interruption of the old, straight north-south path harmed the feuars’ case or not. The surveyor who sketched the 1766 plan mis-represented the reality on the ground, said Dick’s opponents, who claimed their back doors still led to a useful route into town, even if less direct than before.

On the 1766 plan the north-south route was labelled “old foot road to Edinburgh” north of Dean of Guild’s Walk, and “foot path behind the Garden walls” on the other stretch.

(An 1825 map has been used as a framework for this illustration so some background details will not apply. It includes roads planned for later in the 19th century.)

Pictures

  • 1724 portrait of Anne Seton, daughter of Lord Pitmedden, wife of William Dick 3rd baron of Grange, by Richard Waitt
  • Ruins of Sciennes Convent, Edinburgh, in the Hutton collection, c1800, CC license, NLS
  • St. Cuthbert’s West Kirk from Views in Edinburgh and Its Vicinity by J. and H.S. Storer , Vol. 2, 1820
  • Isobel Dick in 1731, from Grange of St. Giles, by Jane Stewart Smith. (Smith’s book is also the source for the 1825 map.)
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Notes:

  1. Later known as Sir Andrew Lauder Dick of Fountainhall and Grange, he did not live at the Grange.
  2. Their feus were on a strip of land 40 yards wide. Grangegateside included more land too, on the eastern side of the road, and down towards the Grange Toll.
  3. Surprisingly for readers who know Edinburgh today, the documents sometimes mention the “village of Causewayside”. The road that goes by that name now was generally referred to as “the Street” or sometimes the high road.
  4. Some people said it followed the line of an old stone dyke that had been taken to build McLellan’s Land in the Cowgate.
  5. Thomas Dick died in 1739 “…in an advanced Age. An honest, well-meaning Gentleman.” said the Caledonian Mercury, 1 Feb. 1739″
  6. Thomas Dick may have been a distant cousin to Andrew Dick, but this is not clear.
  7. Andrew Dick himself was annoyed by the ruling. He did not want to pay for shutting up the back doors.
  8. Tenant meaning tenant farmer.

Boozy hunt dinner leads to trial for laird of Grange

Star and Garter Hotel
The Star and Garter Hotel where the Hunt Dinner was held in 1850. (Photographed in 1910.)

Members of the Linlithgow and Stirlingshire Hunt who liked a good day out on horseback also enjoyed meeting up at hunt dinners. After an evening’s drinking and eating at a Linlithgow hotel a few of the diners rounded things off with some window-smashing fun. Two of them ended up in court.  Sir William Henry Don faced charges in a Linlithgow court of malicious mischief and breach of the peace at the station there and on a train to Edinburgh.

The other case was a bit of an Edinburgh sensation, with Sir John Dick Lauder of Grange accused of assaulting a railway guard who challenged him about damage to a carriage. The trial was reported in great detail. The jury must “shut out entirely from their minds any rumours they might have heard” ordered the Edinburgh sheriff, while at Linlithgow the jury were warned against “being influenced to the slightest degree by the reports they might have heard out of doors regarding this matter” as some had been “exaggerated even beyond what the Crown [had accused Sir William of]”

Broxburn Inn hunt dinner
Members of the Linlithgow and Stirlingshire Hunt at a dinner in Broxburn, painted in 1840 by Benjamin Crombie.

The story was obviously good for plenty of gossip, all across the country. One version not mentioned in court was carried by the John O’ Groats Journal:

A Couple of Larking Baronets

… it is said … they pitched the waiter out of the window, and when remonstrated with by the landlord, told him to put the waiter “on the bill”, which was done, and no injury set down at £50, and promptly paid.

The Master of the Hunt, William Ramsay of Barnton, pictured in 1830. He died before the trial but his pre-trial evidence was used.

That headline makes it clear the story is not just about drunken vandalism after a hunt dinner. It is also about class and Victorian attitudes to the gentry. When dealing with “larking baronets”, some journalists, witnesses and lawyers tended to emphasise the “frolic” and  “light-hearted” side of the men’s “pranks”. The Edinburgh station-master suggested, via a messenger, that staff might take the “gentleman’s card”, and at first the police were also reluctant to get involved.

The Linlithgow jury found the case against Sir William “not proven” even after evidence from two of his fellow diners that he had pulled down notices at the station, turned off gas-lights and “rattled” the station-master’s hat with a cane. On the train he had torn down green silk curtains, brass curtain rods and hat-straps, thrown a bell out of the window and climbed on the roof. And that was just the evidence from other members of the Hunt, including its Master, who might have been expected to tone down anything incriminating.

Sir William Don
Sir William Henry Don,  date unknown.

Other witnesses said the wining and dining at the Star and Garter Hotel had ended with smashed windows, and with stolen potatoes later used to break glass at the station. A railway bell was taken away and found the next day a few miles along the track. There was “strutting”, a “good deal of singing” and “humorous” aggression towards the station staff. The defence thought it was natural for the gents to be “hearty”, and there had been no breach of the peace. Nor was there proof of any crime being committed within the county of Linlithgow, they said. The charge of “malicious mischief” was more appropriate for men who “having an ill-will towards their masters, burned their mills, or killed and strangled their cattle”. The sheriff said the not proven verdict “relieved him of what might naturally be expected to be very painful to himself” as well as “the party at the bar”.

The Edinburgh sheriff, 1 however, was placed in the “painful position” of having to pass sentence after Sir John was found guilty of “simple assault”.

There are a hundred recollections and associations stretching back even to the playful companionship of infancy, which make the task imposed upon me a very bitter one.

Sir John Dick Lauder

Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway uniform
Guard in uniform of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway Company c1860.

The vandalism to the train carriage with its “cut cushions”, missing foot-rug and cracked lamp was a prelude to the main incident discussed in the Edinburgh court: an assault on a railway guard, William Jesse Basset. He had dared ask John Dick Lauder about the damage when he came back looking for his hat, with his friends already gone. There were different stories about whether Sir John gave the guard “two or three rapid pushes”, several blows with a clenched fist, or blows plus a kick in the belly.

Donald Monro, [a] policeman, stated that … Sir John said, “Let me have a kick at him.” Witness told him there was no kicking allowed. The gentleman then called out, “My name is Sir John Dick Lauder.” … [He was] working through the effects of drink.

The policeman had seen kicks attempted, but did not know whether they landed. He was facing the wrong way to see clearly, he said.

Before the trial Sir John had apologised to Basset and sent him a letter and £5. This was honourable and “conceived in a good spirit”, said the sheriff. The jury found Sir John not guilty of the kick or of injury to the person. For “simple” assault he was fined £10 or 30 days imprisonment.

This fine was immediately paid, and Sir John accompanied by his friends then left the court, which was crowded during the whole trial, which lasted from eleven till four o’clock.

References and Pictures

  • Caledonian Mercury, 15 April, 1850
  • Scotsman, 30 March, 1850
  • The History of the Linlithgow and Stirlingshire Hunt, 1775-1910, James Rutherfurd, Blackwood 1911

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Notes:

  1. Mr. Sheriff Gordon

Grange House: from tower house to baronial mansion

Grange House in the early 19th century, before major changes hid its late 16th century shape.
Grange House in the early 19th century, before major changes hid its 16th century shape.

The Grange is an affluent Edinburgh suburb that once upon a time was a medieval farm belonging to the church. Then came a 16th century tower house: Grange House. For more than 200 years this was “a tall grey keep” 1, its entrance topped by a stone lintel carved with the date 1592. 2 It looked much the same until about 1830: an L-shaped, three-storey fortified mansion-house with six-foot thick stone walls. 3

1592 lintel set over the original doorway which was blocked off in the 1830s. Repos a[i]lleurs means 'rest elsewhere',
1592 lintel set over the original doorway.
As well as arable land and pasture, there were also mills, a doocot, and cottages for people working on the Grange estate. 4 In the 1690s, the owner, William Dick, paid a property tax for sixteen dwellings as well as his own. The tax was based on the number of hearths, and reveals that most of the houses belonging to the laird had just one or two fireplaces, while Grange House itself had twelve. 5

“Conveniences for a great family”

The 16th century structure is outlined in red within a ground floor plan of the Victorian mansion. The original entrance is labelled in blue.
The 16th century structure is outlined in red within a ground floor plan of the Victorian mansion. The original entrance is labelled in blue.

Seventy years later, the house was still the same twelve-hearth size. In 1766 the ground floor held a large entrance hall, a vaulted kitchen, a cellar and pantry, and one bedroom with a “light closet” 6 (a dressing room with window). A staircase from the entrance led to the second storey dining room and drawing room, and one more bedchamber. The next floor, up a spiral stair, had three bedrooms, two light closets, and various presses (cupboards). There was also a “large garret for lumber”. Tax was payable for thirty windows, 7 presumably not all in the main house.

1613 coat of arms
1613 wall plaque from the Grange estate

There was a separate “court” with a stable, coach-house, brew-house, pit-well, “several other offices for servants” and “conveniences for a great family”. 8 An arched entrance to this courtyard later displayed a coat of arms dated 1613, but it is not certain that it had always been there. 9 The laundry was done in a washing-house with its own supply of spring water and a drying green. Fruit and flowers were cultivated, as well as vegetables in a kitchen garden. The gardens were partly terraced.

Some of these outbuildings had been constructed in the 17th century. Ornamental gate pillars topped with stone wyverns were probably made in the 17th or early 18th century. These are assumed to have been for the main entrance though they were later moved to an ornamental flight of steps near the house.

“A quiet situation and a beautiful landscape”

Ornamental gate pillars and stone wyverns marked the southern entrance. Usually said to be from the 17th century.
These ornamental gate pillars with stone wyverns are thought to have been at the main entrance until about 1830.

For the next few decades the house was let out. The last resident members of the Dick family died in the 1760s; their ancestors had lived there since 1631. 10 People who rented the house included John Forrest, a merchant burgess and member of Edinburgh town council, who died in 1777. 11 The family of Robert Forrester, treasurer of the Bank of Scotland, lived at Grange House in the early 1800s. 12

The rural atmosphere at Grange House attracted a well-known Edinburgh citizen as tenant, the learned William Robertson. According to a biographer 13, in his last years (1790s) Dr Robertson appreciated Grange House for:

…the advantage of a freer air, and a more quiet situation, … the pleasure of rural objects, and of a beautiful landscape. While he was able to walk abroad, he commonly passed a part of the day in a small garden, enjoying the simple gratifications it afforded with all his wonted relish. Some who now hear me will long remember—among the trivial yet interesting incidents which marked these last weeks of his memorable life—his daily visits to the fruit trees, which were then in blossom…

Balconies and balustrades

View from south west in 1825
View from south west in 1825

Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, great-grandson of the last resident owner, decided to modernise and double the size of Grange House, and spend a good part of the year there. He wanted to move his large family to Edinburgh 14 for the city’s  educational and social opportunities, apparently. 15

View from south-west in about 1890. Follow the battlements if you want to compare it with the 1825 drawing.
View from south-west in about 1890. Follow the battlements to help compare with the 1825 drawing.

Before his builders set to work, Sir Thomas sketched the old house (above). The extension 16 and embellishments, in Scottish baronial style, blended quite easily with the old tower house, especially once it was all harled. Inside, the old dining and drawing rooms were knocked through to make a big new dining room, 45 feet long. Jane Stewart Smith, who described the house with great enthusiasm in the 1890s, was not sure how much of its “antique character” was original: for instance the panelling and a beamed ceiling in the old part of the house. The light, modern drawing room had a “lofty” ceiling and two large oriel windows. One window had a balcony leading to a romantic garden nook with stone seats, via a turret and steps.

One of the "antique fiery dragons": the wyvern at Lover's Loan. Photo by Kim Traynor.
One of the “antique fiery dragons”: the wyvern now at Lover’s Loan. Photo by Kim Traynor

The gardens were dramatically re-designed. There was a bowling-green surrounded by statues, 17 shrubberies, seats, sun-dials and other ornaments. “Gas apparatus” for “lighting up the old terraced gardens” was acquired. 18

…the garden preserved but greatly improved…the place is rich (perhaps rather too rich) in evergreens, statues, vases, stairs, balustrades, terraces… 19

This was a fine setting for a wealthy family to entertain friends. In 1840 they arranged particularly impressive festivities to follow the wedding of Charlotte Dick Lauder. The garden lamps shone on the house, light blazed from the windows, and a newspaper report 20 of the splendour and spectacle even described the “antique fiery dragons” on the gate pillars as “spouting real fire”. After a 100lb wedding cake had been cut, and a band had played for a couple of hours, there was a fireworks display arranged by a “celebrated fireworker”. The supper room was dressed with evergreens and dahlias, and festooned with coloured lamps. Dancing continued “with great spirit” until five o’clock in the morning.

Cottages in 1865 at entrance to Grange House
Cottages in 1865 at entrance to Grange House

Beyond the grand house, times were changing. More than a hundred houses were planned for estate land to north and east of the mansion. Building plots for these were advertised in the 1850s and 1860s, 21 but even in 1865 there were quiet, semi-rural patches nearby. The Grange estate still had a shepherd as one of its tenants. 22 On the southern side of the mansion house, Grange Loan remained undeveloped, except for a couple of lamp-posts. The ivy-smothered cottages, said to date back to the mid-18th century at least, 23 were eventually cleared in the 1880s to make way for a new Grange House Lodge. The ancient lane, Lovers’ Loan, reached through an opening in the wall just beyond the arched entrance next to the cotttages, has survived to this day, despite an attempt by Sir John Dick Lauder to close it and take possession. The mansion itself was demolished in 1936. For more about Grange House’s later days in the 19th and early 20th centuries click here.

References

  • David MacGibbon and Thomas Ross, The Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland From the Twelfth to Eighteenth Century Vol V, Douglas 1892
  • Jane Stewart Smith, The Grange of St. Giles, the Bass: and the other baronial homes of the Dick-Lauder family, Constable 1898
  • Historic South Edinburgh, Charles J. Smith, John Donald, 2000
  • Sciennes and the Grange, Malcolm Cant, John Donald, 1990
  • NLS maps online, especially the Ordnance Survey maps of Edinburgh of 1853, 1877, and 1894
  • Caledonian Mercury (newspaper)

Pictures

Most are from the books above, except for:

  • The wyvern aka a Lauder griffin, photographer Kim Traynor, licensed under Creative Commons
  • The first picture of Grange House, from Views in Edinburgh and its Vicinity Vol I, J and H Storer,  Constable 1820
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Notes:

  1. According to Henry Cockburn, reminiscing about his youth in Memorials of His Time
  2. There may well have been an earlier building there, but expert opinion including McGibbon and Ross suggests this particular house was built in the late 1500s.
  3. It is possible that windows in the third storey were altered during those centuries.
  4. Specified in Disposition (legal document) when sold to William Dick in 1631, as transcribed by Jane Stewart Smith.
  5. Hearth tax records for Midlothian, volume 3 (Edinburgh and Leith), 1695
  6. 18th century house description mostly from “To Let” advertisements in the Caledonian Mercury during 1766 and 1771, plus details from other sources referenced on this page.
  7. Midlothian window tax records 1755-56, vol 75
  8. Caledonian Mercury 1766 and 1771
  9. Jane Stewart Smith
  10. Isobel Dick, the one remaining descendant of the family, married Sir Andrew Lauder, and their children grew up at his Fountainhall estate near Pencaitland, East Lothian.
  11. J.S. Smith.  Debrett’s Baronetage of England (1839) calls him “John Forrest of the Grange”, says he married the daughter of a baronet and died in 1778. Parish records call him bailie and give his death date as 1777.
  12. His daughter Anne married there in 1817 and he died at the house in 1824. Blackwood’s Magazine, Vols. 1 and 16
  13. Dugald Stewart, in his preface to Works of William Robertson DD to which is Prefaced an Account of the Life and Writings of the Author, Cadell 1827
  14. From Relugas House in Morayshire
  15. J.S. Smith, Chap 24. Though she does not give a source she had talked to Sir Thomas’ daughter, Cornelia.
  16. There were 35 rooms with windows, according to later censuses.
  17. One of these statues, a “Greek maiden”, was in the garden of Huntly House at one time. Scotsman, 18 August 1939
  18. Caledonian Mercury, 28 Sep 1840
  19. Henry Cockburn, Memorials, Black 1856
  20. Caledonian Mercury, 28 Sep 1840
  21. Edinburgh Evening Courant and Scotsman advertising referring to Cousins’ and Raeburn’s Feuing Plans
  22. Valuation rolls
  23. Date according to Jane Stewart Smith, who also said the cottages were a wonderfully picturesque subject for artists, a “constant theme for landscape painters”, and sketched them herself. George Harvey, president of the RSA, included them in his painting, The Bowlers. One painting shown at the RSA in 1878 was Old Cottages, Grange Loan, by John Reid. Another by James Heron exhibited in 1873 was Roadside Cottages, Grange Loan. Were they of these?

Grange House: three schools, change and decline, 1850-1930s

Grange House in the 1890s.
Grange House in the late 1890s, probably unoccupied.

Sir Thomas Dick Lauder laid the foundations for change all round the Grange Estate. After taking possession in 1825 he commissioned maps and had the preparatory legal work done for feuing out building plots. 1  The first advertising for “the most beautiful sites for small villas” appeared while Sir Thomas was still alive. 2 He also put his energies into expanding and enhancing Grange House, writing numerous books on history, nature etc., and keeping up with a large circle of literary and other acquaintances.

For the earlier history of Grange House click here.

His heir John had spent some years in India as a cavalry officer. When he inherited after his father’s death in 1848, the Grange Estate entered a new phase. Sir John’s interests seem to have been different from his father’s. There is little recorded about his life in Edinburgh apart from a report of his trial in 1850 for assault on a railway guard who challenged him about vandalism after a hunt dinner. He and his wife soon moved out of Grange House.  3 George F. Barbour and his family lived there from c1853-1856. 4 There was a steady flow of advertisements offering land for new buildings to north and east of Grange House, and in 1857 the mansion and its “pleasure grounds” were rented out to John Dalgleish.

School for Young Gentlemen

Grange House School opening announcement, 1857
Grange House School opening announcement, 1857

Mr. and Mrs. Dalgleish had been running an educational institution for young ladies in George Square for more than twenty years. Now, joined by their son Walter Scott Dalgleish M.A., they announced the launch of a school for “young gentlemen of the highest ranks”. They praised Grange House’s ideal location – elevated, south-facing, and well-sheltered – and a convenient distance for teachers “of established reputation” to reach from Edinburgh. The curriculum would vary according to whether a boy was destined for university, “mercantile pursuits”, the British or Indian civil service or army.  More details here.

Dreghorn Castle School, once Grange House School
Dreghorn Castle, home to the boys’ school that started in Grange House.

The 1861 census showed nearly 40 boarders: many from Scotland, with some from England or distant parts of the British Empire. 5 The school seems to have done well and soon moved to Dreghorn Castle, where there was far more space: sixty acres of grounds and new classrooms as well. 6

The school’s 1864 advertising gushed about the move to one of the “healthiest” sites in Scotland, and explained that at the Grange there was some… 7

…difficulty, in a district which is fast becoming a populous suburb, of securing the requisite facilities in grounds and otherwise for conducting a High-class School for Boys.

 

Edinburgh Town Council thwarts the Grange Estate

Lovers' Loan today. This stretch ran close to Grange House and its gardens. Photo by Kim Traynor.
Lovers’ Loan today. Grange House and its gardens were on the left of this stretch, which had hedges not walls. Photo by Kim Traynor.

The year after Grange House School moved away, 1865, one of the new villa owners in the Grange was indignant to find John Dick Lauder had ordered the cutting down of a hedge beside the ancient pathway called Lovers’ Loan. The laird apparently assumed he would succeed in an application to close it off and add an extra strip to his landholding. A court case started, but faded away after firm negotiating by the Town Council meant that Sir John had to back down. What his motives were, it is hard to say. He said at the time that he had given so many new roads to the public, for the convenience of residents of the Grange, that no-one could possibly need the Loan any more. 8

School for Young Ladies

Grange House School for girld, 1864
The Mouats announce they are moving their school to Grange House, 1864

Four sisters, the Misses Mouat, had been running an “establishment for the board and education of young ladies” in South Gray Street. They moved it to Grange House after the young gentlemen left. There were resident “foreign governesses” and the “best masters” attending for “the various branches of education”. The healthy and charming situation was emphasised in advertising, as were the private grounds, and the closeness to the town’s “educational resources”. 9 In 1871 there were over thirty boarders in their late teens living at the school, along with several servants, three governesses from Belgium, Germany, and Shetland and, of course, Barbara, Christina, Marion and Robina Mouat. They paid about £350 a year in rent. 10

Elocution and an Educational Garden

Botanical garden designed by Patrick Geddes for Grange House School in 1883
Botanical garden designed by Patrick Geddes for Grange House in 1883

A new establishment for “the daughters of gentlemen” replaced the Mouats’ in 1882. It may well have attracted the same parents, and yet there were differences of emphasis. Mrs. Whaley Bouchier Nutt, and her husband advertised a gymnasium: unusual for girls at the time, even for graceful exercises. The rose garden was replaced with a unique botanical garden, to support education in natural sciences. Mr. Nutt had expertise in “vocal physiology and elocution” which he believed was essential to good health as well being an art form. 11 He was a tutor at several other educational establishments as well as Grange House.

In 1895 Whaley Nutt died and his widow left Edinburgh. Grange House was then unoccupied for a while except for the gardener, gate-keeper etc. in their cottages.

More about Mr and Mrs Whaley B. Nutt and their school here

Fashionable Society at Grange House again?

By 1901 a retired colonel and his wife were living in Grange House. Alexander Ferrier Kidston-Kerr was the son of a Lanarkshire shipping magnate and went to Merchiston Castle School near Edinburgh. He spent 33 years with the Black Watch, or Royal Highlanders, and won medals for his part in major campaigns in Africa. 12 He and his wife Jean were involved in military charities, went to smart social occasions connected with the Black Watch and the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Help Society, and hosted fund-raising events at Grange House.

There may not have been dancing into the small hours as in the house’s heyday, but at least there was a military band when they held an “American Tea” for charity, in 1904. The event was fulsomely described in the press. For one newspaper, it was the Lord High Commissioner’s appearance among the other 500 guests that led the story. He…

…had tea in the drawing-room and spent almost an hour in the house and grounds…there was a constant stream of carriages and motor cars to the principal gate, over the ivy-clad arch of which three Union Jacks fluttered gaily in the breeze. 13

Another paper concentrated on the ladies’ fashions, saying that some of the frocks were “really worth recording”.

Mrs. Kidston-Kerr’s toilette was grey crepe de chine trimmed with bands of ecru lace and her toque was composed of flowers. 14

The rent on the valuation roll was £220 a year, including a home in the courtyard for the coachman, Horatio Snook. In the Nutts’ time the council’s assessed rental value was £328. Had the house deteriorated so much?

Rubble

old terrace retaining wall
A section of wall likely to have been part of the original terracing in the Grange House gardens.

The colonel died in 1926, aged 84, his wife two years later. Lord and Lady Ashmore lived at the house briefly. 15 Even before the next Dick Lauder baronet inherited in 1936, the property was in the hands of a Mr. A.R. Knox 16 and in that year the house was demolished. New housing and a new road, Grange Crescent, took its place. A section of retaining wall there is probably a remnant of the old garden terracing. 17 Otherwise, only the (re-located) wyverns on gateposts remain nearby, though a few stone pieces with inscriptions and some garden ornaments went to the Huntly House museum, and heaped rubble from 17th century outbuildings lasted into the 1960s.

References

  • David MacGibbon and Thomas Ross, The Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland From the Twelfth to Eighteenth Century Vol V,Douglas 1892
  • Jane Stewart Smith, The Grange of St. Giles, the Bass: and the other baronial homes of the Dick-Lauder family, Constable 1898
  • Historic South Edinburgh, Charles J. Smith, John Donald, 2000
  • Sciennes and the Grange, Malcolm Cant, John Donald, 1990
  • NLS maps online, especially the Ordnance Survey maps of Edinburgh of 1853, 1877, and 1894
  • Caledonian Mercury, Scotsman etc.

Pictures and thanks

Alexander Ferrier Kidston-Kerr, Jean Howe McClure, Catherine Glen Kidston
Grave of Colonel and Mrs. Kidston-Kerr in Grange Cemetery, Edinburgh
  • Grange House was photographed by Jane Stewart Smith in the 1890s.
  • Lovers’ Loan photo is copyright Kim Traynor and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
  • Thanks to the book below, I discovered what the school “botanical garden” advertised was like, and was able to find Geddes’ design.

Learning from the Lasses: Geddes’s Women: by Walter Stephen, 2014 Edition, Publisher: Luath Press Ltd

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Notes:

  1. Feuing out land means selling it off under the old Scottish land ownership law where the original owner retained certain rights, including the right to a regular payment called feu duty. For this particular case the legal preparation involved an Act of Parliament.
  2. e.g. Caledonian Mercury, 20 August 1846
  3. A few years after inheriting, Sir John leased a country estate at Skene in Aberdeenshire.
  4. George Freeland Barbour (1810-1887) “landed proprietor” on 1861 census, with business and charitable interests, grandfather of more famous namesake.
  5. According to the birthplace given in the census.
  6. Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, Vol. 17, 1864
  7.  Greenock Advertiser, 6 August 1864
  8. Caledonian Mercury,13 April, 1865, and Scotsman, 18 April  and 11 July 1865
  9. Hull Packet, 26 August 1864
  10. See John Dick Lauder’s executors’ inventory, 1867.
  11. Lecture reported in The Dundee Courier & Argus, November 26, 1892
  12. He was a Kidston like his father until 1903 when he inherited an entailed estate in Kinross requiring him to add the name Kerr.
  13. Scotsman, 27 May 1904
  14. Dundee Evening Telegraph, 31 May 1904
  15. Scotsman, 10 March, 1836, and P.O. directories. Lord Ashmore was a judge in the Court of Session.
  16. Scotsman 23 March 1836
  17. It matches the alignment of lines on old maps, too.