Pennywell House and grounds, Grange Loan

Grange Loan today has a Victorian look, with stone walls and 19th century houses on both sides. But two centuries before these were built, there was a mile of open ground between Grange Loan and the nearest gate in the city wall. Edinburgh started to stretch southwards in the 18th century, while Grange Loan was still little more than a cart track. Away from the main roads leading into town the landscape was rural, with a few cottages and an occasional mansion, like Grange House. One modest property near that particular house has now been almost forgotten: the Pennywell pendicle. This plot of land had a house, outbuildings, garden ground and a good supply of spring water. (Pendicle here means a small piece of land that was once part of a large estate.[ref]Pendicle entry in DSL[/ref])

That Pendicle of the Lands of GRANGE called PENNY-WELL lying on the north side of the Grange-loan: containing 1 rood 6 falls and a half large measure [roughly 1500 square metres], with Houses built thereon, and a Garden inclosed with a stone-wall, lately built, and plenished with the best trees and fruits. There is an excellent spring in the ground, which renders this a very fit place for country quarters, or carrying on any business that requires good water, being within a few minutes of the High Street of Edinburgh. [ref]Caledonian Mercury, 6 March 1776[/ref]

The “for sale” notice above appeared in a 1776 newspaper. Owners came and went several times over the next quarter-century. Some owners were presumably landlord-investors, like Lt.-Col. James Douglas, brother of the Earl of Aboyne, who acquired it in 1776. Some may have lived there, like William Stevenson, painter and glazier, who borrowed money to buy the Pennywell property in 1797. One advertised with similar wording in 1789:

That HOUSE and GARDEN called Pennywell, lying on the north side of Grange Loan, a little westward of Grange Toll-bar, extending in whole to one rood six falls and a half of land or thereby. The house consists of two stories, has been lately repaired, and the garden is enclosed with an excellent stone wall. The situation is pleasant and healthy, commanding a fine prospect, and having a spring of water just at the door.[ref]Caledonian Mercury, 18 April 1789[/ref]

1817:The Irvings were living at Penny Well. From Kirkwood's map, reproduced by permission of the Naional Library of Scotland.
1817: “Penny Well” was owned by Mr. Irving. From Robert Kirkwood’s map, reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.

Maps generally show the Pennywell plot as a wedge-shaped piece of land, with an L-shaped set of adjoining houses: “Pennywell where are built a Range of houses” as a 1766 sketch map described it.[ref]Sketch plan of the lands between Grange Loan and the Meadows, 1766. (Unattributed, National Records of Scotland)[/ref] One must have been the main house, the one with two stories (see advert) and the name “Pennywell House”. The plot’s eastern corner was near the current Penny Well plaque. There will be more to say about the map evidence later on, especially about the disappearance of the Pennywell/Penny Well name for this property.[ref]Legal documents of the 18th century (in the Register of Sasines) use this description:…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 […] Sir Andrew Lauder Dick on the west […] with houses and biggings thereon which lands are commonly called the Pennywell in the parish of St. Cuthbert…These words were copied almost exactly from document to document over the years. This particular version is from 1788.[/ref]

James Irving, horse and chaise hirer

Irving James, stabler and chaise hyrer, in a street directory in 1800.
James Irving, “stabler and chaise hyrer, opposite Cornmarket, east side”, in a street directory of 1800.

In June 1800 the property had an owner-occupier: James Irving. Over the years his job always involved horses and transport, whether he was described as a stabler – looking after other people’s horses – or a chaise (carriage) hirer with his own. In his will[ref]1840[/ref] he was a “horse hirer … residing at Pennywell, Grange Loan”. He owned at least two horses during the 1790s, and ran his business from premises in the Grassmarket area.[ref]Carriage and saddle horse tax records, street directories, and Register of Sasines[/ref] Did he keep any horses in Grange Loan? He had a hive of bees, but there are no records of anything bigger.[ref]Caledonian Mercury, 17 May, 1828[/ref]

A “private asylum for lunatics”

James and his wife Jacobina had paying guests of a particular kind. The Irvings’ house was registered as a “private asylum for lunatics”. The rural site with fresh air and a pleasant view was the kind of place people chose for a troubled member of their family. An 1816 parliamentary inquiry looking into “madhouses” sent an inspector who reported that “the garden is good, and the situation retired”, but on one visit he saw a “patient confined in a sort of hovel out of doors”. The patients were “very comfortable on the whole”, a compliment not given to numerous other dirty, “ill-aired” and “slovenly” asylums.[ref]Parliamentary Papers, House of Commons and Command, Volume 6, H.M. Stationery Office, 1816[/ref]

Mrs. Irving was probably the one who ran the house and saw to the day-to-day needs of the patients, but her husband had a part to play sometimes.

WHEREAS a YOUNG MAN, about 22 years of age, being a little deranged, made his Elopement on the 7th October 1805, from a house in the vicinity of Edinburgh. The person alluded to has dark brown hair, and was dressed when he thus made his escape with a bottle-green coat, yellow coloured silk neck-cloth, stript vest, blue cassimere pantaloons, and white stockings…[If you see him]..give notice thereof to James Irving, East End of the Corn Market, Edinburgh….[ref]Caledonian Mercury, 11 Nov 1805[/ref]

More on the Irving family – click here

The Hewits at Pennywell

Pennywell House listed in an 1844 directory.
“Pennywell House” listed in an 1844 directory.

The next family to acquire the pendicle had a lasting influence on the land, as will become clear. The Hewits were an entrepreneurial family of tanners and leather merchants. Thomas Hewit, burgess, purchased Pennywell around 1840 and, although he himself only lived another few years, it was in his family’s hands for the next half century.

 1873: Janet Hewit and her sons owned various business premises as well as rental properties.
By 1873 Janet Hewit and her sons owned various business premises as well as rental properties.

His main business was in Niddry Street, and he owned rental properties nearby in Edinburgh’s Old Town.[ref]See Thomas Hewit’s will of 1847.[/ref] After his death in 1846 at “Pennywell House, 16, Grange Loan”,[ref]Caledonian Mercury, 7 Jan 1847[/ref] his widow Janet played an active part in managing both the business (still going today) and the Grange Loan property.

Perhaps Thomas Hewit had bought the property after seeing this newspaper announcement.

THESE HOUSES & TWO GARDENS, called PENNYWELL, situate in the Grange Loan, near Edinburgh. These premises have been occupied as an Establishment for the Insane for about forty years, and under the superintendence of the late Mr and Mrs Irving, have been carried on with great success. The property has a southern exposure, commands an enlivening prospect, and the situation is healthy, and well adapted for Patients. The Gardens are surrounded with substantial walls, and the whole fitted up for the accommodation of Ten Patients. [The upset price was £400.][ref]Caledonian Mercury, 13 Jan 1840[/ref]

More on the Hewit family – click here

How was the name of the Pennywell property forgotten?

On the 1817 map near the top of the page, the words “Penny Well” are half-way along the plot which is also labelled with Mr. Irving’s name. At first one might think this is a carelessly-positioned reference to the well remembered by a plaque today, near the junction with Findhorn Place. But now we know it was the established name of the land and house, the question is: why is it not also on the mid-19th century Ordnance Survey (OS) map?

Around 1850 there was an ambitious, innovative project to map the entire UK in detail. Surveyors and their colleagues went in search of authoritative people with local knowledge, asking them about place names and recording the information in “Name Books”. The first person they asked about the Pennywell plot was “Mrs. Hewit, Proprietor”. She told them it was called Hewit’s Place, and so it appears on the 1853 OS map, just a few years after Thomas Hewit’s will and newspaper death announcement had both used the traditional name of “Pennywell”. The Hewit’s Place name carried on in some contexts for several years.[ref]1850s street directories, 1860s valuation rolls.[/ref]

The 1853 map shows the new pair of villas, the subdivisions of the old building, and garden layout at "Hewit's Place".
The 1853 OS map shows the new pair of villas, the subdivisions of the old building, and garden layout at “Hewit’s Place”. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

Hewit’s Place was “about 17 chains E by S of Grange House” (about 340 metres) according to the surveyors[ref]Midlothian Name Book vol 121, Parish of St. Cuthbert’s, sheet 38[/ref], who said, “This name applies to a range of small cottages and also the two handsome cottages recently erected the property of Mrs Hewit.” (The latter are now 54 and 56 Grange Loan.)

The name Hewit’s Place was soon forgotten, while the Pennywell name would probably have faded, except for the actual spring, even without Mrs. Hewit’s help. In 1855 an inspector of “Private Institutions licensed for the reception of the Insane” still used the name “Pennywell House”, but by then the family and their lodgers were actually living in one of the new houses: a “modern, moderate-sized house” said the official report. This became known as Langton Villa.[ref] It was number 13 at the time and is today’s no. 56. (The Hewits were owners of five addresses in Grange Loan: at that time these were numbered 12-17, then 30-44, before today’s numbering was decided.)[/ref] One of the homes in the old building was called Pennywell Cottage for a while,[ref]Dating all this precisely is made harder by different attitudes to addresses in that era, and by changes in Post Office numbering in Grange Loan: done at least twice in the later 19th century.[/ref] but change was coming.

In 1895 the Pennywell property still belonged to the trustees administering David Hewit’s will, and his aunt Ann Murray lived in one of the houses[ref]Then number 32, now 56, previously 13[/ref] until her death in 1899. A month later, the property was advertised for sale without any names at all: just two semi-detached villas and “a large piece of vacant ground” with “old cottages” on.[ref]Scotsman, 11 Feb 1899[/ref] Soon the walled garden and the old house where the Hewit sons grew up were replaced with a new terrace (numbers 58-76 Grange Loan).[ref]A small patch of land between the Hewits’ plot and some Dalrymple Crescent gardens was included in this building project. [/ref]

Penny Well or Pennywell?

In the 18th century the spelling varied but most often it was a single word: Pennywell.  Surely it is no coincidence that this “pendicle” was just next to the plaque which today marks the spot of a Victorian drinking fountain called the Penny Well, believed to be the site of a much older well or spring.

Pennywell – a “spring in the ground”?

Were the sales blurbs for the property in the 18th century (quoted above) a little over-enthusiastic about the convenience of the Pennywell spring? One had it “in the ground”: the other “just at the door”. However, the usual understanding of the Penny Well’s position before the 19th century would place it just the “wrong” side of the existing old wall that once marked the eastern end of the plot, and so outside the boundaries of the Pennywell pendicle. The name almost demands that the spring of water and the house and grounds belong together.  Perhaps the simplest explanation is the best: the well marked the edge of, or entrance to, the property, a bit like a shop sign or a nameplate on a garden wall.

Penny Well map 1825
James Irving’s Pennywell property with a well on the western side. Derived from a small-scale version of Miller and Grainger’s 1825 map in Smith’s Grange of St. Giles and labelled after consulting full-size original (printed 1835) held by the National Records of Scotland. Click to enlarge.

And yet …

Why does a detailed 1825 map[ref]Grainger and Miller’s map[/ref] not show a well just east of the Pennywell land, even though it has marked one on the other side of the pendicle?  (There is a trough in that position on the 1853 OS map.) Was the western well (marked in blue on the plan shown) the one people used for practical purposes?  The wells shown on that map are associated with places where water would be particularly useful: a farm steading, a bleaching green. Were other wells ignored by map-makers? Why was a field further west called Pennywell Park? This article grew out of a wish to understand the pre-Victorian lie of the land. Despite some interesting discoveries, there are still plenty of loose ends to explore.

History of the property next door with the “modern” Penny Well plaque


    • Censuses. Statutory and parish birth, marriage and death records. See “About” page.
    • Wills of James Irving, and of Thomas and Janet Hewit.
    • 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 Kirkwood’s 1817 map of Edinburgh and the Ordnance Survey maps of 1853, 1877, and 1894.
    • Plans referred to in text, held by National Records of Scotland
    • Traditional Scottish measurements
    • Caledonian Mercury and The Scotsman
    • Register of Sasines and feu charters held by National Records of Scotland

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