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.[ref]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[/ref]

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

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 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. [ref]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.[/ref] 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.[ref]Miller and Grainger‘s 1825 map of the Grange. Printed 1835 and held by National Records of Scotland[/ref] 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.[ref]Please let me know if you discover an early reference![/ref] 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.[ref]Scots Magazine, 1 May, 1807[/ref]

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.[ref]One of her books, Historic Stones, asserted that Shakespeare visited Edinburgh, with no evidence offered.[/ref] 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.[ref]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)[/ref] 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”.[ref]Scotsman, 1887 article referenced elsewhere. A mural tablet implies an inscription.[/ref]

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.[ref]The Scotsman, June 17 1861[/ref]

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. [ref] This picture was taken by J. G.Tunny in 1854. You can buy a bigger digital version.[/ref] 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.[ref]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[/ref]

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.[ref]Sir Thomas did not mention the Penny Well in his published writings about wells, or in his work on local rivers. [/ref]

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.[ref]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.[/ref] 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”.[ref] Both quotes from the article mentioned at the beginning, in the Scotsman, 11 Feb 1887.[/ref]

In 1877 there was a proposal that the Council should restore the “ancient” Penny Well, which by then had dried up.[ref]The Scotsman, 10 July 1877[/ref] 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.[ref]George Seton, The Convent of St Catherine of Siena near Edinburgh, 1871, privately printed. Seton does not mention the Penny Well.[/ref] 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.[ref]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.[/ref]

[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.[ref]George Seton, The Convent of St Catherine of Siena near Edinburgh, 1871, privately printed.[/ref]

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.[ref]Robert Chambers,
Gazetteer of Scotland, Blackie 1838, p. 358. Also see Cassell’s Old and New Edinburgh by James Grant, 1880s periodical.[/ref] 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.[ref] Walter Scott, Provincial Antiquities of Scotland, Arch 1826. The OED says a font-stone is simply a stone font.[/ref]

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.[ref]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.[/ref] 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


Jane Stewart Smith, artist and writer

Jane Stewart Smith, undated photgraph, possibly taken by her husband, who was a leading figure in the Edinburgh Photographic Society for many years.
Jane Stewart Smith, undated photograph, possibly taken by her husband.

As soon as Jane Stewart Smith (c1839-1925) settled in Edinburgh, as a young woman, she started sketching the historic Old Town. More than fifty years later she said she wanted to “catch the reverberating echoes of the past as they linger around the old historic buildings”.[ref]Quote from Historic Stones. JSS “settled in Edinburgh after her marriage”, said the Evening News, 27 Aug. 1924.[/ref]

Edinburgh’s past had a hold on her imagination all her adult life, but there is nothing to show when this started. Very little is known about her before she married an Edinburgh picture framer and dealer, John Stewart Smith, in 1864. She was Jane Eliza James, a governess aged 24, who had been born in London to William Henry Spinks James, a corn merchant, and Eliza Burnet.[ref]Both Jane’s parents had died by 1864. Her father’s middle name varied between Sprinks and Spinks in different documents. Her mother’s last name appeared as Burnet(t) on both Jane’s and her sister Eleanor’s marriage records. When they died, information supplied by John Stewart Smith’s son-in-law (James Rae) said Cuthbertson was their mother’s surname. There is one reference book which says she was born in Edinburgh, but that book was compiled before digitisation of documents made it clear that she was born in England with a sister born in Clapham (censuses) and came from London (newspapers). [/ref] She had an older sister, Eleanor Mary, who was married to Edinburgh artist John D. Michie.

Edinburgh, old tiled houses 1860s
Old houses opposite South Gray’s Close, 1868,  Jane Stewart Smith

Her watercolours of Edinburgh’s Old Town were shown in an 1868 exhibition in Princes Street.[ref] At Hill’s Gallery, which was started by Alexander Hill, brother of David Octavius Hill. By 1868 Alexander’s son was running the gallery.[/ref] Even at the time these were seen as a valuable record of areas that might soon be demolished, and their importance was evident to later commentators who had seen many changes in the city centre. The pictures are full of architectural detail as well as atmosphere. While chimneys, stairs and stonework are carefully drawn, so too is life in the street, with closely observed “human” touches: bonnets, baskets, carters, traders, and washing hanging from upper windows.

Drawing and painting these scenes meant rising early to get started before there were many people around. A lady at work in the poorest, most cramped parts of town amongst “the denizens of the closes”[ref]Edinburgh Evening News, 27 August 1924, looking back to her work in the 1860s[/ref] was seen as unconventional, even daring. In one notorious spot she bought protection with sixpences given to “the biggest bully among the swarm of rough boys”.[ref]At Crombie’s Land, described in Historic Stones[/ref]  Her obituaries called her “an interesting personality”.[ref]Aberdeen Journal, 3 December 1925[/ref].

Mrs Stewart Smith was a lady of marked intelligence, and had a large circle of friends who took delight in hearing her discussing with a note of originality all the many topics in which she was interested.[ref]Scotsman, 2 Dec 1925[/ref]

Victorian Duddingston
Duddingston Loch and Church, undated, Jane Stewart Smith

Her landscape paintings were included in almost every Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) exhibition from 1865 to 1887. As well as scenes of Edinburgh past and present, she painted in Fife and East Lothian, and further afield in Scotland. Other RSA pictures of hers were of Shrewsbury, Chester, Rouen and Genoa. Some were bought by Baroness Burdett-Coutts, who also collected the work of much better-known artists.

A Dream and a Book

In 1891 Jane Stewart Smith twice experienced a dream-like series of historical figures appearing one after another in dramatic scenes “like the moving pictures in a camera-obscura”. The first time followed a visit to Grange House where she speculated the vision arose from “…memories floating in the palpitating air surrounding these old historic buildings”. She was inspired to write a book about the Dick Lauder family who had lived there: The Grange of St. Giles. She took photographs for it as well as drawing and painting illustrations.

Belfry Tower, Grange House, published 1898
Belfry Tower, Grange House, 1890s

This book is full of interest, but it needs to be said that Jane Stewart Smith was not an experienced researcher. She was an artist, not an academic. Her creativity and intelligence shine through her work, but here she left herself open to criticism. Romantic imagination sometimes drowned out historical accuracy.  Nor did she have the solid grounding in history needed for such a project. When The Grange of St. Giles was published in 1898 Edinburgh reviews were polite enough, but one in a Glasgow newspaper was not at all complimentary.

…We are sorry to have to point out these serious blunders, especially when they occur in the work of a lady, and we do so only because they disclose an evident incompetence to the task undertaken, the signs of which are nowadays becoming alarmingly common in amateur antiquarian and historical works. [ref]Glasgow Herald, 10 March 1898[/ref]

War and Peace

The First World War broke out when the Stewart Smiths had been married fifty years. They helped with fund-raising for the Belgian relief effort through the Edinburgh French Protestant church, with which they were both involved.[ref]John Stewart Smith took an interest in the French Protestant Church in Edinburgh from its beginnings (c1860?), and Jane took part in its social life. She and her husband offered hospitality to young French-speaking visitors to Edinburgh. When her sister Eleanor married in 1867 one of the witnesses was the daughter of the French-speaking congregation’s minister: Lea Sumichrast-Roussy, whose Swiss father Eugen taught French in Edinburgh as well as preaching etc.[/ref] In 1915 Jane Stewart Smith also arranged an exhibition to raise money for the Red Cross. In a room full of her pictures of Old Edinburgh, one wall was dedicated to a new “symbolic” painting, The Dawn of Peace. She explained that it represented:

…the Mystic roll call of the White Cross warriors who have volunteered from every nation and every clime to fight against the Antichrist – the Demon of Hate and Destruction, whose overthrow they are here being called up to witness…[ref]Edinburgh Evening News, 31 March 1915[/ref] 

The exhibition got extra attention after a visit by Lord Rosebery, the ex-Prime Minister, who had been invited by the artist. He was “charmed with the drawings of Old Edinburgh”.[ref]Edinburgh Evening News, 19 April 1915[/ref]

Loss, a New Book and a Royal Visit

Bakehouse Close, 1870, Jane Stewart Smith
Bakehouse Close, 1870, Jane Stewart Smith

In 1921 John Stewart Smith died and then, six months later, Jane’s sister Eleanor. The three of them had been living together in Portobello along with a younger friend, Catherine Roberts.[ref]Retired dressmaker, born c1859[/ref] The twice-bereaved octogenarian widow decided to produce a new book filled with black-and-white versions of her “Old Edinburgh” watercolours and other illustrations. The text offered historical background, anecdotes and memories of her sketching visits. She dedicated it to “the memory of my dear husband John Stewart Smith in affectionate remembrance of our 59 years of happy wedded life”.

In 1924 Historic stones and stories of bygone Edinburgh was published by the author herself. Newspapers commented favourably on the quality and importance of the illustrations. Later that year Queen Mary visited Jane Stewart Smith’s modest suburban home called Fairyville.[ref]72 Argyle Crescent, Portobello[/ref] After a drive from Holyrood House she drank tea and admired her hostess’ art collection, taking a special interest in her views of 1860s Edinburgh.[ref]Edinburgh Evening News, 27 Aug 1824[/ref] The next year Jane died: on 1 December 1925.

A few years later Catherine Roberts gave 60 of Jane’s water-colours to the Huntly House Museum:

…a unique miniature picture gallery, which furnishes a record of Old Edinburgh … also a splendid and lasting memorial to the lady whose skill has revealed not only her artistry but a passionate love for the Scottish capital…[ref]Edinburgh Evening News, 17 June 1932[/ref]

Some of those pictures can be seen here .

There is a picture believed to be a self-portrait of Jane Stewart Smith here, but without a clear provenance. The company just has a description saying “Self-portrait of Jane Stewart Smith (1839-1925), Scottish painter who worked in Edinburgh“.


  • All pictures on this page are taken from Jane Stewart Smith’s books.
  • The title Old houses opposite South Gray’s Close comes from her 1924 book. On the Edinburgh Museums website it is called Antique buildings opposite Mint Close, Cowgate 
  • The date 1637 on the dormer window in the Belfry Tower picture was not an original feature of the house.


  • The Grange of St. Giles, the Bass: and the other homes of the Dick-Lauder family, written and illustrated with pen, pencil, and camera, Jane Stewart Smith, Edinburgh 1898
  • Historic stones and stories of bygone Edinburgh, Jane Stewart Smith, Edinburgh 1924
  • The Royal Scottish Academy exhibitors 1826-1990 : a dictionary of artists and their work in the annual exhibitions of the Royal Scottish Academy, Charles Baile de Laperriere, Hilmarton 1991.
  • Dictionary of Scottish art and architecture, Peter J.M. McEwan, Glengarden 2004
  • Birth, marriage, and death records, and censuses available at genealogy websites. (See ‘About’ page)
  • Will of John Stewart Smith, 1 July 1921
  • Street directories from NLS
  • Caledonian Mercury, Scotsman, Edinburgh Evening News and other newspapers
  • Marriage notice, Caledonian Mercury, 8 June 1864
  • Obituary, Scotsman, 2 Dec 1925

John Douglas Smith & John Stewart Smith

John D Smith's stamp used on the back of a picture frame.
John D. Smith’s stamp on the back of a painting. He was at 33 West Register Street from 1840-1866.

Look on the back of a painting framed in 19th century Edinburgh and you may see John Douglas Smith’s name. He (b. c1795) and his nephew, John Stewart Smith (b. c1832), were carvers, gilders, picture framers, restorers and dealers who also sold artists’ materials. They came from a family of craftsmen. John D. Smith’s father and elder brother were both marble cutters called Alexander Smith. His other brother, Robert, was a cabinet-maker. The younger Alexander was the father of John Stewart Smith, John Douglas’ assistant and, later, business partner.

In his seventies, John D. Smith made a will leaving his business and all its assets to his nephew. He had married twice but had no children. John Stewart had trained and worked with him, and in 1879 the older man wrote that everything business-related should be transferred…

…in favour of John Stewart Smith my Nephew,
presently a Partner with me in the business of Carver and Gilder carried on by me and the said John Stewart Smith at number twenty-one Frederick Street Edinburgh…”

Family genealogy lower down page

Shakespeare Square: The theatre took up most of the space, with taverns, shops and tenement flats tucked in behind and on the sides.
Shakespeare Square, Edinburgh: The Theatre Royal took up most of the square, with taverns, shops and tenement flats tucked in behind and on the sides.

Any story about the Smith family would have a scene set in Shakespeare Square. Most of the Smiths mentioned here lived or worked in the square at some point. John Smith, carver, gave it as his address in street directories for several years from 1827. His mother died there; his nephew lived there as a boy along with the rest of Alexander Smith the younger’s family. R. Smith, cabinetmaker, was there in 1833.[ref]When a number was given, e.g. in the 1841 census and some directories, it was often number 9 Shakespeare Square, but John D.. also seems to have worked at no. 13.[/ref]

1833, and John Smith's address is at 9 Shakespeare Square, the same address where is nephew's family were living in 1841.
1833 directory: John D. Smith’s address was 9 Shakespeare Square, where his nephew’s family were living in 1841.

Shakespeare Square was dominated by the Theatre Royal but it also had taverns, shops and tenement housing around the theatre, which faced outward onto the main street. Over time its reputation went downhill.  The southern and eastern sides were “alike mean in architecture and disreputable in character”, said a commentator after it had all been re-developed in the 1860s.[ref] Cassell’s Old and New Edinburgh, James Grant, Cassell 1881[/ref] Between the 1841 and 1851 censuses both John Smiths moved elsewhere.

Clearly John Douglas Smith built up a successful business. His own talents were essential, but £190 inherited from Robert in 1838 may have helped.[ref]On 12 October 1838 an inventory of Robert’s personal estate was “made up and given in by John Smith carver and gilder and Alexander Smith marble cutter both in Edinburgh brothers of the deceased.”[/ref] The next year, 1839, he was in a partnership called Smith & McFarlane.[ref]See National Portrait Gallery page on artists’ suppliers.[/ref] Five years later he was trading from his own shop in West Register Street. Five years after that he was appointed to wind up the affairs of Hamilton Wood and his Wood Carving Company. [ref]Caledonian Mercury23 November 1848 and 24 June 1850[/ref]

By 1871, in his seventies, he employed nine men and four boys. He was quite comfortably-off and owned rental property as well as his own home and workshop. He died on 15 May 1879, leaving his heirs various properties and nearly £1500 plus the same again in bills supposed to be repaid by a friend to whom he had lent money.[ref]The senior Mr Soutter of Soutter’s Bazaar, a souvenir, gift and craft shop in Princes Street which went bankrupt a few years later. Presumably a friend, since there seemed to be little hope of being repaid.[/ref] [ref]John Stewart, Alexander William and their sister Mary Jessie were the main beneficiaries.[/ref]

John Stewart Smith

21 frederick where John Douglas Smith ran his business with his nephew John Stuart Smith. The building is still there but with a later shopfront - now used by Barbour.
21 Frederick Street, Edinburgh, where John Douglas Smith ran his business with his nephew John Stewart Smith from c1867. The building is still there but with a later shopfront and attic extension. 1819 ‘plan and elevation’ with permission of NLS maps.

Mr Smith succeeded his uncle, and for many years carried on a business in Frederick Street as carver, gilder, and picture dealer.[ref]Scotsman, 23 May 1921[/ref]

John S. Smith kept his uncle’s name on for the business. It appeared in the Post Office Directory until 1885-6.

A little more is known about John Stewart Smith’s personal life than about his uncle’s. In 1864 he married Jane James, now known as Jane Stewart Smith, an artist, with whom he lived in southern Edinburgh before retiring to a house in Portobello called Fairyville. Jane’s sister Eleanor was the wife of Edinburgh artist John D. Michie.

John Stewart Smith was an active member of the Edinburgh Photographic Society, where he won prizes for his photographs and served on the committee. In later life he was one of its honorary presidents at the same time as the architect Hippolyte Blanc.

Another long-term interest of his was the French Protestant Church in Edinburgh. He chaired social and musical events associated with it, and he and his wife acted as hosts to French and Swiss students and visiting clergymen. His kindliness was remembered by the pastor after his death on 16 May 1921 at the age of 89. The pastor also spoke of his continuing “keen interest in his métier, which was art” and said that after his retirement he “still kept up his connection with art dealers, and was much sought after for his advice in art matters.”[ref]Scotsman, 23 May 1921[/ref]


Alexander Smith, mason in 1790, later ‘marble cutter (foreman)’ (On John S. Smith’s marriage record, and on son Alexander’s death certificate 1873, a “carver” on John D. Smith’s marriage record, died before 1827.) He married Janet Douglas(s) (called Janet on John D. Smith’s marriage record and son Alexander’s baptismal record, but Isabella on son’s death cert. 1873). She died  in 1827, aged 65, “relict of Alexander Smith from 17 Shakespeare Square”.

1. Alexander Smith born 26 Oct 1790 to Alexander Smith and Janet Douglass. He, marble cutter of Shakespeare Square, married Jane Stewart of same place on 5 March 1827. He died in 1873 at 31 Alva Place, address of his daughter Mary in 1881.

1 – Mary Jessie Smith b. c1828, milliner in 1851, died 1901
2 – Alexander William Smith b. c1830, wood carver in 1851, later a singing teacher, m. Isabella Carter 5 August 1863,

1. Alexander Smith b. 1866, became chemistry professor at  Columbia University, d. 1922
2. Isabella Carter Smith, b. 1869

3 – John Stewart Smith b. c1832, carver, gilder, called ‘picture dealer’ in 1911 and elsewhere, m. Jane Eliza James 1864, died 1921.
4 – Catherine Smith b. c1834

2. Robert Smith born c1792. On 23 April 1832, he, joiner in Shakespeare Square, married Margaret  Christie of Canal Street. Described as cabinet maker when his affairs were wound up after his death. He was buried January 1838, age 45, in a grave with his wife.

3. John Douglas Smith born c1795, carver, gilder, picture framer etc. He married in 1826 (1) Margaret McCallum, 9 Shakespeare Square, born 1803 Dunbartonshire, died 1863, and in 1864 (2) Margaret Dodds born 1799 Berwickshire. He died 15 May 1879.

Reference sources and pictures

  • Birth, marriage, and death records, and censuses available at genealogy websites, especially (See ‘About’ page)
  • Wills and inventories for Robert Smith (12 Oct 1838) and John Douglas Smith (28 Aug 1879), and valuation rolls.
  • Street directories from NLS
  • Caledonian Mercury and Scotsman newspapers
  • National Portrait Gallery artists’ suppliers page
  • Biographical Memoir of Alexander Smith 1866 -1922, by William A. Noyes, 12th memoir in Vol. XXI for National Academy of Sciences, 1923
  • Theatre Royal picture by John le Conte

John D. Michie, artist

JD Michie O whistle
Just whistle, and I’ll come to you, my lad, exhibited at the RSA in 1870, uses a Burns song for the title. Its “story” is set in a nostalgic past where even the smoking central hearth doesn’t interfere with the whiteness of the bonnet.

John Douglas Michie (c1828 – 1893) was an Edinburgh artist who exhibited and sold paintings for most of his adult life. At first he was known professionally as John Michie or John M. Michie, and later as John D. Michie.[ref]Comparing addresses from lists of exhibitors with addresses in genealogical records etc. proves this is one single person. In the 1840s/50s there may have been another John Michie painting around Kelso.[/ref]

He came from a modest background. His father Henry was an excise officer who had started out as a shoemaker, and died in 1833 when John was still very young. By 1841 John was an engraver’s apprentice, his brother a shoemaker’s apprentice, and one sister a milliner. His other two sisters became trimming makers. They all lived with their mother Elizabeth.[ref]Elizabeth Heriot, daughter of a nurseryman[/ref] Ten years later the census described John Michie as “Painter & Designer assist.”.[ref] In the same year, 1851, a John Michie, lithographer, won a prize at the Edinburgh School of Design for his design for a drawing-room.[/ref]

He called himself a figure painter. Sometimes his figures were part of a scene inspired by Walter Scott (Jeanie Deans), James Hogg (Kilmeny Glen) or other writers.[ref]Not always Scottish[/ref] The title might be a line from Robert Burns (Comin’ Thro’ the Rye) or from a song (Bide a Wee).

“Comin’ Thro’ the Rye” by Mr. J.D. Michie, is a pictorial representation of the song named, and the subject is treated in a most humorous fashion. The swain in the picture is evidently just about to steal the kiss alluded to in the poem, the only spectator being a very sagacious looking dog, who, it may be presumed, will not “tell”.[ref] Dundee Courier, 26 January 1888[/ref]

Many titles suggest a romantic Scottish past: not just the fictional subjects, but paintings of traditional domestic life too. It was, however, Michie’s paintings of Breton subjects which seem to have attracted the most praise in his lifetime.

Last year Mr. Michie made a hit in his Brittany picture … [This year’s] is very interesting…”Persecuted Breton Royalists celebrating the Mass at Sea in 1794.” … The subject as a whole is remarkably well expressed and the colour and distribution of the light natural and free from exaggeration...[Report of Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) Exhibition 1866][ref]Scotsman, 6 March 1866 —And in The Art Journal 1866: “Mr John Michie’s most ambitious work is a picture of ‘Persecuted Breton Royalists celebrating the Mass at Sea’. The artist deserves credit and encouragement for adventuring on a subject specially difficult, and which he has worked out with much ability. Garishness of colour used to be alleged against him, and in this picture he has gone to the other extreme, so that the general tone is a little black; but the drawing and composition are very clever, and the solemnity of the scene is fully impressed.”[/ref]

There is no record of his visit(s) to Brittany, but he painted Breton subjects over many years. After a Selkirk journalist met him on board the Scythia in 1879, bound for New York, Michie appeared at the end of a list of “celebrity” passengers:

John D. Michie Esq., Scottish Artist, whose sketches of life in Brittany are now so well known to frequenters of the “Exhibition of Paintings.”[ref]Southern Reporter, 26 June 1879[/ref]

In the 1870s he spent a few years living in West London with his wife Eleanor. During this time his work appeared in three exhibitions at the Royal Academy in London, which had also shown one of his paintings in 1864. Over Michie’s lifetime he exhibited dozens of works at the RSA, and often contributed to exhibitions elsewhere in central Scotland.

Eleanor’s brother-in-law was a successful Edinburgh picture dealer and framer, John Stewart Smith, and it would be interesting to know if this helped the Michies at all. In 1870 John D. Michie used Smith’s business address to submit paintings to the RSA.

His work was less popular at the end of his life than earlier. In 1893 Michie died suddenly. An obituary of this “very shy and retiring” man said he was well known to some of the “older painters” but not to the younger generation. His work was old-fashioned and “not of outstanding merit” but “invariably pleasing in subject and full of domestic sentiment”.[ref] Scotsman, 1 Sep 1893[/ref] A few months after his death a hundred paintings of his were put on sale and it was reported that “prices were low”. He apparently designed bookplates in his later years, perhaps using his engraver’s skills learnt young. A set for a John S. Martin by J.D. Michie showed a bust of Shakespeare on a pile of books with Edinburgh Castle in the background.[ref]Journal of the Ex Libris Society, Vol. 10. There is nothing but probability to link him to those bookplates or to the 1851 design prize mentioned in an earlier footnote.[/ref] He left £1000 for his widow Eleanor.

Eleanor Michie

Eleanor Mary James was born in Clapham in about 1836. Her parents, Eliza and William James, a merchant, had died before she, then a 31-year-old governess, married John Douglas Michie in Edinburgh in 1867. Her sister Jane had settled in Edinburgh three years earlier.

She painted watercolours of flowers and one of her works, Gladioli, was exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1878.

At some point after her husband died in 1893 she moved to London. In 1901 she was lodging in the same area where she had lived with him in the 1870s. By 1911 she owned a house in North Hanwell and it seems that her sister and brother-in-law spent some of their time with her there, though later she lived with them in Portobello, Edinburgh.[ref]On her 1911 census form this sentence has been struck out: “My sister and brother-in-law generally here – away in Scotland in present.”[/ref] She died in 1921 and her will left everything to “my dear sister Mrs Stewart Smith”.


  • The Royal Academy of Arts; a complete dictionary of contributors and their work from its foundation in 1769 to 1904, Algernon Graves, Graves and Bell 1905
  • The Royal Scottish Academy exhibitors 1826-1990 : a dictionary of artists and their work in the annual exhibitions of the Royal Scottish Academy, Charles Baile de Laperriere, Hilmarton 1991.
  • Dictionary of Scottish art and architecture, Peter J.M. McEwan, Glengarden 2004
  • Wills of John Douglas Michie, 19 October 1893, and Eleanor Mary Michie, 31 January 1922
  • Street directories from NLS
  • Caledonian Mercury and Scotsman newspapers
  • Birth, marriage, and death records, and censuses available at genealogy websites, especially (see ‘About’ page). One of the documents that is helpful in tying things together is the record of John Douglas Michie’s marriage to Eleanor Mary James on 21 Dec 1867, giving names and occupations for them and their parents, plus an address for JDM that matches one in the RSA records for John M. Michie.

In the absence of a birth record it is not possible to give John D. Michie’s year of birth precisely. Various censuses and other documents give a range of possibilities from 1826 – 1831. 1828 fits the age recorded at the time of his marriage, and is just one year off the age given by his sister-in-law at the time of his death.

The Mackenzies of St. Ninian’s, Edinburgh and New Zealand

St. Ninian's nr. Stirling, 1740s
Weaver Row, St. Ninian’s, to the left of the church tower, sixty years before John Mackenzie’s birth there. Original picture.

John Mackenzie, an Edinburgh gardenerwas baptised on 15 July 1805 in St Ninian’s near Stirling. His parents were James Mackenzie, a weaver, and Christian Hosie, living in Weaver Row. He had brothers: Peter baptised 1802, Andrew baptised 1808, Robert baptised 1815, and David Stewart born 25 April 1817. David, the youngest of these, was the one who went to New Zealand.

In 1849 David Stewart Mackenzie was a gardener at Canaan House, Edinburgh. In January that year he married Rebecca Noble, daughter of a Lasswade candlemaker. They had James on 5 November 1949 at Canaan House, Marion on 23 January 1851 at Bradford Street, Stockbridge, and Thomas Noble Mackenzie at Trinity House, Leith, on 10 March 1853.

Trinity House - birthplace of Thomas Noble Mackenzie.
Trinity House – birthplace of Thomas Noble Mackenzie. Photo MJ Richardson, CC licence

These three children were all baptised together in May 1853 at the United Presbyterian Church in Duncan Street, Edinburgh, very close to their uncle John Mackenzie’s new house, Rose Cottage, Grange Loan. In May David Mackenzie was residing at Wardie Lodge. Two more children were born before his family went to New Zealand in 1858. Thomas was Prime Minister there, briefly.

John Mackenzie was the gardener at Drylaw House before he married Margaret McLaren. Both were from Cramond parish, Edinburgh (which included Drylaw) on 14 October 1838.
Margaret was the daughter of John McLaren, a boot and shoe maker from Edinburgh, and Charlotte (possibly Hodson?) of Hindley, Lancs., and was born on 24 June 1811 and baptised at St Paul’s Chapel, Wigan. (John McLaren was the son of Peter McLaren, a weaver in Thornybauk, Edinburgh, and Margaret Lockhart.) Margaret died on 25 October 1890, after John, who died on 24 December 1884.

John and Margaret’s children were:

  • Christian Hosie Mackenzie, born c1839 at Drylaw, near Edinburgh, in 1861 a dressmaker, in 1871 no profession. Her father’s will made special provision for her because her health made her less able than her siblings to earn her own livelihood. Died 27 December 1894.
  • Charlotte Hodson Mackenzie, born 1841 at Drylaw, near Edinburgh, in 1861 a dressmaker, married 14 January 1868 Alexander Wilson, son of James Wilson and Helen Davidson, born Symington Lanarkshire c. 1844, a commercial traveller, later a draper at 427 Lawnmarket, with 5 employees in 1881. In 1908 living at 60 Fountainhall Road. Died 1923.
  • Sarah Tudor Mackenzie, born c1843 in Riccarton, Ayrshire near Kilmarnock,  in 1861 and 1871 a dressmaker. Married on 23 October 1878 Richard Lothian Dickson Roddick, an accountant, born 1834, son of James Roddick, once minister at Gretna, and Mary Dickson. In 1891 living in Morningside Road, died 1926.
  • Magdalene Mackenzie, born c1845 in Riccarton, Ayrshire near Kilmarnock, in 1861 an apprentice dressmaker, in 1871 a shopwoman, in 1894 a housekeeper, married 30 December 1894 John Turner, paper mill manager and widower, of Tower Street, Portobello, 54 years old, son of John Turner, paper maker, and Isabella Bryson. She died in Morningside Road on 14 January 1928.
  • James Mackenzie, born c1847 in Riccarton, Ayrshire near Kilmarnock. Schoolboy in 1861. Named in father’s will written 1877. Not mentioned in mother’s will 1890.
  • John Mackenzie, born c1850 in Riccarton, Ayrshire near Kilmarnock, in 1871 a clerk (booksellers). Later a bookseller of 37 Paternoster Row, London EC, “traveller to Messrs. William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh and London”, then residing in Lauriston Place, Edinburgh.[ref]See his will and inventory, naming Charlotte Mackenzie or Wilson as executrix and sole heir.[/ref], died 12 May 1908 in Edinburgh, leaving £7000 to Charlotte.
  • Gordon Mackenzie, born c1855 in Edinburgh, in 1871 an apprentice draper, in 1881 a draper. In late 1890 he was living at 68 Findhorn Place, and “carrying on business” in Grange Loan, before going bankrupt that year. In 1891 visiting in Linlithgow, draper on census form.

More about John Mackenzie – click here

The birth dates of the seven Mackenzie children have had to be deduced from censuses, in the absence of other records. The Ayrshire birthplace shown on censuses tells us where the family were in the 1840s.


  • Censuses, birth, marriage and death certificates, street directories, from websites on ‘About’ Page.
  • John Mackenzie’s will of 1885.
  • John Mackenzie the younger’s will of 1908
  • Caledonian Mercury, Scotsman newspapers etc.

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.[ref]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.[/ref] In his thirties he was living in the gardener’s cottage on the Drylaw estate with his wife Margaret and two babies.[ref]1841 census[/ref] 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.) [ref]Caledonian Mercury[/ref]

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. [ref]He spent a few years in Ayrshire in the 1840s, but there are hardly any written traces of this period.[/ref] 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.[ref]Lot number 46 on the Grange feuing plan, says the legal record in the Register of Sasines.[/ref]

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.[ref]This appears in the 1855 valuation rolls as Pennywell Cottage.[/ref] 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. [ref]Another, smaller group of customers had debts “considered doubtful”. Their debts were bigger and several of them lived further away.[/ref]

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.[ref]Dundee Advertiser15 November 1890 [/ref]

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.[ref]Edinburgh Evening News, 7 July 1880[/ref]   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.[ref]Scotsman, 8 July 1880, and Journal of Horticulture and Practical Gardening, 1881.[/ref]

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.[ref]He was one of his executors.[/ref] 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.

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[ref]Later known as Sir Andrew Lauder Dick of Fountainhall and Grange, he did not live at the Grange.[/ref] 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.


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.[ref]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.[/ref] 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.[ref]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.[/ref]

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.[ref]Some people said it followed the line of an old stone dyke that had been taken to build McLellan’s Land in the Cowgate.[/ref] Mr. Dick used it for his morning and evening walks, and had a seat made near it for his pleasure.[ref]Thomas Dick died in 1739 “…in an advanced Age. An honest, well-meaning Gentleman.” said the Caledonian Mercury, 1 Feb. 1739″[/ref] 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.[ref]Thomas Dick may have been a distant cousin to Andrew Dick, but this is not clear.[/ref]  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.[ref]Andrew Dick himself was annoyed by the ruling. He did not want to pay for shutting up the back doors.[/ref]

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”.[ref]Tenant meaning tenant farmer.[/ref]

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.


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)


  • 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.


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.)


  • 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.)

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,[ref]Mr. Sheriff Gordon[/ref] 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

Scottish farmhouse furnishings in 1789: Grange Mains

When James Ferrier, Farmer at Grange, died in 1789, there was a detailed inventory made of his household goods.[ref]James Ferrier: Testament Dative and Inventory,  2nd December 1789, with Eik dated 20 Oct 1790[/ref] He and his wife Margaret, or Peggy, Paxton were tenants on the “lands of Grange”, just to the south of Edinburgh.[ref]In the last few years of his life, Ferrier and his landlord, Andrew Lauder Dick, had an ongoing legal dispute about payment of rent.[/ref]

James started at Grange Farm c1762, and in that year subscribed to a book on double-entry book-keeping: one of the few things recorded in print about him.[ref]Book-keeping by double entry reduced in its theory to one simple rule, etc by William Stevenson (Teacher of Book-keeping), Edinburgh 1762[/ref]  He and Peggy married in 1769. Neither came from a poor family: both James and Peggy’s father were described as “portioners”.[ref]St. Cuthbert’s Parish record of their marriage in March 1769.[/ref] The list below, transcribed with original spelling, shows what they had twenty years later.

The Kitchen

girdle for oatcakes
Iron girdle (griddle) hanging over the fire, for making oatcakes etc.
    • a Grate Fender and Tongs
    • a Girdle Salt Backet and Cleeks
    • a Jack Spit and Raxes
    • a Brander and Frying pan
    • two Brass pans
    • a Brass pot
    • a Copper pot and Cover
    • an old fowling piece
    • a Copper Boiler
    • a yettling kettle and pan
    • a yetlen pot kettle and Laddle
    • a Copper Sauce pan
    • two Copper Goblets
    • a Copper tea kettle
    • a Copper Coffee Pot
    • Two Brass Mugs
    • a Brass Morter
    • four Brass candlesticks
    • three Spirit measures
    • two pair of Snuffers holders
    • a Dutch oven
    • three large pewther plates
    • Twenty Stone and Delf plates
    • Twenty two China plates Some of them cracked
    • a parcel of old iron
    • a Coffee Mill
    • Six Cannisters
    • a Copper ladle
    • a footman Flesh fork Minching knife and Collop tongs
    • three Smoothing Irons heater and rester [a stand for the iron?]
    • a Toaster pepper box and Cleaver
    • three Stone bottles
    • a pewther Bason Six pewther Spoons and a Dividing Spoon
besom broom
A besom
  • two knife Boxes
  • Six Stools
  • kitchen table and a small table old
  • a Small Looking Glass
  • An old press
  • two Besoms and Rubber
  • three pair of Scotch Blankits
  • a Chaff bed and Bolster
  • a Bell

Milk house

  • Two Churns three Boyens one Langlen [langle?]
  • two washing tubs
  • Eight Bicker
  • three milk measures and a drudge Box
  • a Milk Sieve and Barrow
  • a Bawk and boards
  • a Meal Ark
  • Two Screens and a flesh basket
  • a Flour Shade [flour spade?]

Low Parlour

Sugar nippers
Sugar nippers, for cutting lumps off a sugar loaf.
  • A Grate Fender, poker and tongs
  • Twelve Elm Chairs
  • A Scotch Carpet
  • a Square Mahogany table
  • An old wainscoat table
  • a Mahogany Cupboard
  • a looking Glass
  • a Mahogany Desk and Drawers
  • a weather Glass
  • two old Maps
  • seven punch bowels
  • Three China Mugs
  • four wine Glasses a wine Decanter and Carriff two Christal Salts and two Cruets
  • a Mahogany knife box Eight knives and Eight forks
  • Sugar nipers and punch laddle
  • a Stone decanter and Servor
  • a Mahogany tea board
  • a parcel of Books about fourty in number
  • a Mahogany Standard

Bed Closet off the Low Parlour

  • a Desk Bed and Smale feather Bed
  • a Wainscoat table
  • a Bed Stead and Curtains
  • three pair of Scotch Blankets and Bed Cover
  • a feather Bed and Bolster
  • an old horn and an old Carpet
  • a foot Stool

Dining Room

  • Grate Fender tongs and poker
  • a Scotch Carpet and piece
  • Two Elbow and Eight Small Mahogany Chairs
  • a large oval Dinning Table Mahogany
  • a round Mahogany table
  • a Mahogany tea table
  • two tea trays and a hand board
  • a Mahogany tea chest
  • a fire Screen
  • a pair of Mahogany Candlesticks
  • a Chimney Glass and Sconce Glass
  • thirteen prints and a Map
  • a Dial plate

Bed Closet of the Dining Room

  • Five Small Mahogany and an Elbow Chair
  • a Grate
  • a Bason Stand Bason and Bottle
  • a fly table
  • a bed Stead and Curtains
  • a feather bed Bolster and pillow
  • a Small Dressing Glass
  • Six pair of Scotch Blankets
  • a Manchester Bed Cover
  • a printed Ditto

China in the Dining Room

  • A Set of Tea China much broke and three Mugs
  • The Set of China consists of a Tea Pot and Flat Cream pot Cannister Slap bowl Sugar box Six cups and Seven Saucers Eleven Coffee Cups Spoons holder and Butter dish Eleven Cups Six Saucers of coloured china Butter plate Bread plate tea pot Milk pot Sugar box Slap bowl Cream pot Cannister and Six Coffee Cups much cracked a punch bowl and porter Mug Silver tea Spoons and tea tongs Six cups and five Saucers
  • Grotto/Grollo[??]

The Lobby

  • An Eight day Clock
  • four maps and a painting

a Closet of the Lobby

  • An old Oak press
  • old drawers

Bed Room up Stairs

  • A Grate Fender poker and tongs
  • A Small Chimney Glass
  • an Easy Chair
  • three Small Chairs
  • a Craddle
  • a Screen
  • a Mahogany fly table
  • a looking Glass cracked
  • a bed Stead and Curtains
  • a feather Bed Bolster and pillows
  • a Lanthorn

Lumber Room

  • An old Grate
  • a wheel and reel
  • a press Bed
  • an old table
  • a Chest and Bow [Box? Bowl?]


  • Seven pairs of Sheets
  • four table Cloths
  • Ten towels
  • five pillow Slips
  • a Copper and Grate

In the Stable Bed

  • three pair of Blankets and a half blanket

These furnishings were valued by “David Forrest auctioneer in Edinburgh” at “fifty pounds Seven Shillings and three pence Sterling”. The Ferriers also owned a pair of turkeys and a few chickens. The horses, cows, “labouring utensils”, and some dung were sold by roup (auction) a few months later and raised nearly fifty pounds, some of which went to settle bills with a local grocer and another merchant.

Unfamiliar Words

The spelling and (lack of) punctuation have been transcribed from the original inventory without alteration, though individual valuations have been omitted. Most of us will need this online Scots dictionary to help with unfamiliar words, as well as a good English dictionary. Puzzling items on the list are in italics. Comments are welcome. This book may be of interest:


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