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”[ref]According to Henry Cockburn, reminiscing about his youth in Memorials of His Time[/ref], its entrance topped by a stone lintel carved with the date 1592.[ref]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.[/ref] It looked much the same until about 1830: an L-shaped, three-storey fortified mansion-house with six-foot thick stone walls. [ref]It is possible that windows in the third storey were altered during those centuries.[/ref]
As well as arable land and pasture, there were also mills, a doocot, and cottages for people working on the Grange estate.[ref]Specified in Disposition (legal document) when sold to William Dick in 1631, as transcribed by Jane Stewart Smith.[/ref] 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.[ref]Hearth tax records for Midlothian, volume 3 (Edinburgh and Leith), 1695[/ref]
“Conveniences for a great family”
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”[ref] 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.[/ref] (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,[ref]Midlothian window tax records 1755-56, vol 75[/ref] presumably not all in the main house.
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”.[ref]Caledonian Mercury 1766 and 1771[/ref] 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.[ref]Jane Stewart Smith[/ref] 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”
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. [ref]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.[/ref] People who rented the house included John Forrest, a merchant burgess and member of Edinburgh town council, who died in 1777.[ref]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.[/ref] The family of Robert Forrester, treasurer of the Bank of Scotland, lived at Grange House in the early 1800s.[ref]His daughter Anne married there in 1817 and he died at the house in 1824. Blackwood’s Magazine, Vols. 1 and 16[/ref]
The rural atmosphere at Grange House attracted a well-known Edinburgh citizen as tenant, the learned William Robertson. According to a biographer[ref]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[/ref], 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…
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[ref]From Relugas House in Morayshire[/ref] for the city’s educational and social opportunities, apparently.[ref]J.S. Smith, Chap 24. Though she does not give a source she had talked to Sir Thomas’ daughter, Cornelia.[/ref]
Before his builders set to work, Sir Thomas sketched the old house (above). The extension[ref]There were 35 rooms with windows, according to later censuses.[/ref] 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.
The gardens were dramatically re-designed. There was a bowling-green surrounded by statues,[ref]One of these statues, a “Greek maiden”, was in the garden of Huntly House at one time. Scotsman, 18 August 1939[/ref] shrubberies, seats, sun-dials and other ornaments. “Gas apparatus” for “lighting up the old terraced gardens” was acquired.[ref]Caledonian Mercury, 28 Sep 1840[/ref]
…the garden preserved but greatly improved…the place is rich (perhaps rather too rich) in evergreens, statues, vases, stairs, balustrades, terraces…[ref]Henry Cockburn, Memorials, Black 1856[/ref]
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[ref]Caledonian Mercury, 28 Sep 1840[/ref] 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.
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,[ref]Edinburgh Evening Courant and Scotsman advertising referring to Cousins’ and Raeburn’s Feuing Plans[/ref] but even in 1865 there were quiet, semi-rural patches nearby. The Grange estate still had a shepherd as one of its tenants.[ref]Valuation rolls[/ref] 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,[ref]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?[/ref] 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.
- 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:
- 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)
Most are from the books above, except for: