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.