John Mackenzie, gardener at Drylaw House and Grange Loan

Glass houses and frames in the Mackenzies' garden, shown by cross-hatching. From 1893 map after JM's death when his son was running the business. Their original cottage is colourd blue. They rented out the later house next door.
Glass houses and frames in the Mackenzies’ garden; glass shown by cross-hatching. This 1893 map was published after John’s death but there is earlier evidence of the glass houses. The Mackenzies’ original cottage is coloured blue. They rented out the next door house, built later. Map detail reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.

When John Mackenzie, an experienced gardener, bought a patch of land in the Grange, Edinburgh in 1852 he was choosing an area which would soon fill with potential customers. Mr. Mackenzie planned to cultivate seedlings and flowers, so he put glasshouses on his south-sloping plot. Here he could grow bedding plants for the bright displays that were part of Victorian garden style. All around the neighbourhood new villas with gardens were being built. These houses were bigger than John Mackenzie’s, and their occupants could afford his services.

Drylaw House today, 180 years after John Mackenzie was gardener there.
Drylaw House today, nearly two centuries after John Mackenzie was gardener there.

Born into a Stirlingshire weaver’s family in 1805, John Mackenzie worked as gardener at Drylaw House, a mansion-house with extensive grounds on the fringes of Edinburgh, owned by Mrs. Agnes Baillie. 1 In his thirties he was living in the gardener’s cottage on the Drylaw estate with his wife Margaret and two babies. 2 He had probably started his career as a boy apprentice, as most gardeners then did, and it is likely he was at Drylaw well before his marriage in 1838.

Two most superb and tastefully arranged bouquets of cut flowers ornamented the smaller tent on the lawn. Premiums were awarded for both; the highest for one which included a vast profusion of the blossoms of rare exotics, from the never failing garden of Balcarres; the other to Mr John Mackenzie, gardener to Mrs Baillie, Drylaw. (Horticultural Society Show, Inverleith, June 1838.) 3

By the time he set up independently in the Grange, as a man approaching 50, John Mackenzie must have had many years of gardening experience. 4 He also had £20 left to him in Mrs. Baillie’s will of 1842, which would have been helpful in buying his “176 decimal parts of an acre” ten years later. The purchase went through in 1852, while the family were living in Causewayside. A few weeks later Mr. Mackenzie borrowed £275 which presumably funded the modest cottage built on his plot. 5

Rose Cottage

John Mackenzie gardener and florist Rose Cottage
First appearance in the Edinburgh Post Office Directory in 1854-5.

By 1854 he had his own house, Rose Cottage, at the corner of Grange Loan and Findhorn Place. 6 His name was in the Post Office Directory: “John Mackenzie, gardener and florist”. Forget current ideas of a florist who designs wedding bouquets and Mother’s Day arrangements using flowers grown far away. At that time ‘florist’ meant an expert grower who sold bedding plants and flowers he had cultivated. As a gardener, Mackenzie could do the planting out in customers’ flower-beds himself. Garden owners who followed the advice in 19th century magazines would have wanted three different displays of flowers in the same bed between spring and autumn. 

Florist – One who cultivates flowers; one skilled in knowledge of flowering plants; also, one who raises flowers for sale, or who deals in flowers. [1897 Oxford English Dictionary definition]

John Mackenzie’s small business was not the kind that leaves many written records behind, but an executors’ inventory gives an impression of his customers. The majority lived very close by. Of those customers whose bills were unsettled at the time of Mackenzie’s death, nineteen lived in Findhorn Place alone. Most of the others lived within half a mile of Rose Cottage and owed one or two pounds. 7

The 1861 census shows the single-storey Mackenzie cottage crammed full by today’s standards. Living with John and Margaret Mackenzie were their four dressmaker daughters, three schoolboy sons and Margaret’s 76-year-old father, a retired bootmaker. At least one of the sons took over some of John’s work as he aged. His will spelled out in great detail exactly how the business and home were to be passed on after his death in 1884. Overall he left nearly £1000 in savings, furnishings etc. as well as the houses, garden and business. In the end it was Gordon, the youngest child, who continued trading from the Grange Loan garden, but he went bankrupt in 1890. 8

More details of the family – click here.

Prize for a Petunia

Modern white petunias.
Modern white petunias.

After acquiring a brand-new cottage and garden, and building up his own business, in his seventies John Mackenzie achieved something more. He won an award from the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society for cultivating a unique new variety of petunia, along with a prize for his “much-admired” display table of “hand-bouquets and seedling petunias”at their show. 9   The new petunia was white and named Countess of Rosebery. If he wanted public recognition for his skills, here it was, with his success reported in print. 10

Religious Views

The record of John’s baptism looks odd at first. None of the other newborns on that page had the words “Burgher Stirling” squashed into the narrow column where their names were written. It suggests his family belonged to one of the secessionist Presbyterian church groups using the name burgher.

This is not the only sign of a family interest in non-conformist religion. Margaret, John’s wife, was christened in the “independent” St Paul’s Chapel, Wigan. Their daughter Charlotte was married “according to the forms of the U.S. Church” – United Secession Church – and her wedding was celebrated in the St. Andrew’s Temperance (no alcohol) Hotel, Edinburgh. One of John Mackenzie’s friends was a City Missionary, James Gray, who lived a few minutes walk away. 11 Mr. Gray’s mission job was explicitly about getting people to stop drinking and live a sober, god-fearing life.

John Mackenzie seems to have been a very capable man who worked and saved until he was independent of landlords and employers. He had brothers who started out as gardeners too. One left Edinburgh for New Zealand: his son Thomas Noble Mackenzie, John’s nephew, went on to become Prime Minister there.

For more about the Mackenzie family click here.

Read about the Penny Well drinking fountain installed in the wall of the Mackenzie garden.

References and Pictures

  • Censuses, birth, marriage and death certificates, street directories, from websites on ‘About’ Page.
  • John Mackenzie’s will and inventories of 1885.
  • Instrument of sasine in favour of John Mackenzie, 24 November 1852
  • Bond – John McKenzie to the Trustees of the Scottish Property Investment Company, 12 January 1853
  • Will of Agnes Baillie, 17 February 1842
  • Drylaw House by Stephen C. Dickson, CC licence
  • White petunias by Dennis Jarvis, CC licence.
  • Caledonian Mercury, Scotsman newspapers etc.
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Notes:

  1. Mrs. Baillie was born Agnes Ramsay, daughter of William Ramsay of Barnton. Matthew Baillie (later lieutenant-general) and Agnes married in 1792, but were divorced in 1802. (See Appendix to The Letters and Journals of Robert Baillie, 1637-1662 and the National Records of Scotland catalogue.She took an interest in many good causes to which she gave money.
  2. 1841 census
  3. Caledonian Mercury
  4. He spent a few years in Ayrshire in the 1840s, but there are hardly any written traces of this period.
  5. Lot number 46 on the Grange feuing plan, says the legal record in the Register of Sasines.
  6. This appears in the 1855 valuation rolls as Pennywell Cottage.
  7. Another, smaller group of customers had debts “considered doubtful”. Their debts were bigger and several of them lived further away.
  8. Dundee Advertiser15 November 1890 
  9. Edinburgh Evening News, 7 July 1880
  10. Scotsman, 8 July 1880, and Journal of Horticulture and Practical Gardening, 1881.
  11. He was one of his executors.

Wyverns at Grange House, or the Griffin Gates

Wyvern in Grange today
Stone wyvern, 300 years old or more.

Strictly speaking they are wyverns, but they used to be known as griffins 1, or even dragons. Walking along Grange Loan today you will see the pair below have been separated. They now “serve to mark the southern corners of the grounds of Grange House” to east and west. 2

Ornamental gate pillars and stone wyverns marked the southern entrance. Usually said to be from the 17th century.
Ornamental gate pillars and stone wyverns marked the southern entrance. Usually said to be from the 17th century.

The wyverns probably started life on top of 17th century 3 gate pillars at the old northern entrance to the grounds of Grange House. 4 They were moved c1830 to decorate one of the many flights of steps in the terraced garden, which lay on a south-facing slope.

The Entrance to Grange House

Around that time the main entrance was moved too. The new drive began at an ornate arch in Grange Loan, to the south of the house, away from any of the new villas being planned. It turned right for the final 30 metres or so, and Lord Cockburn called it an approach “from the west”: 5

The old approach, which was from the north, and nearly inaccessible, has been given up for the more striking one from the west….

Steps leading down from the old gate pillars topped with wyverns
Steps leading down from the old gate pillars topped with wyverns, 1890s

There are photographs and drawings from the 19th century to show what the mythological creatures looked like as garden ornaments, but sadly no drawings of the pillars in their original position. (As well as the 1890s pictures on this page showing a rather overgrown garden, see this watercolour done in 1876.)

Just before the house was demolished in 1936,  a journalist who visited it with Henry F. Kerr, architect and antiquarian, as his guide, 6 said the “two elaborately-designed pillars surmounted by griffins” were “situated at the top of [a] flight of steps leading from the courtyard, but this probably is not their original site”. In the 1890s they were “at a few yards distance from the north side of the house”, according to McGibbon and Ross. The evidence strongly suggests it was the set of steps shown on the map below that was home to the wyverns after the extensive renovations of about 1830.

Most likely position for the wyverns in Grange House's last century.
Most likely position for the wyverns in Grange House’s last century. OS map from 1893 reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

A story about the wyverns – but is it true?

The wyverns at the top of the steps in the 1890s
The wyverns at the top of the steps in the 1890s

Various authors have repeated Jane Stewart Smith’s anecdote about the young Walter Scott climbing up the gateposts to check if the griffins’ tongues were red with fire or with paint. Is there clear evidence for this? Can anyone find it in Scott’s letters or memoirs? Or any biography? 7 Was outdoor stone statuary in Scotland often painted in the 18th century?

Jane Stewart Smith was an artist, not an academic. She put ‘veritable paint or veritable flame’ in italics and in inverted commas, but was she quoting, or building on a story she’d heard? Is there any earlier publication than her The Grange of St. Giles (1898) which mentions Scott playing near Grange House? 8

References and pictures

  • 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
  • NLS maps online
  • The wyvern aka a Lauder griffin, photographer Kim Traynor, licensed under Creative Commons
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Notes:

  1. “The Lauder griffins”, associated with the Lauder side of the Dick Lauder family, owners of Grange House.
  2. Scotsman, 23 March 1936
  3. Or early 18th century?
  4. A little SW of where Lauder Loan leads off Lauder Road, apparently. The old approach from town (pre-1840) appears to have roughly followed the line of today’s Tantallon Place and Cumin Place, passing Grange Farm on the right (west), then swinging towards the house in a straight line that ended in Lauder Loan. This is clearest when using the map layering available on the NLS website, where you can view semi-transparent old maps on top of a modern background.
  5. Journal of Henry Cockburn: Being a Continuation of the Memorials of His Time, Vol. 2, 1874
  6. As part of a visit organised for the Old Edinburgh Club, reported in the Scotsman, 23 March 1936.
  7. It is not in his Antiquities of Scotland which mentions Grange House.
  8. Nothing relevant can be found near the quotation JSS used in her previous sentence to make a point about Scott’s “love of adventure”: “I made a brighter figure in the yards than in class.” Walter Scott’s Biography, Vol 7, by his son-in-law, John Lockhart, an important source for information about Scott’s childhood.

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?