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


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.)

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

Festivities in the Grange, Edinburgh, in 1712

May 29 1712: birthday of Charles II and anniversary of his restoration to the throne

Charles II and William Carlos in oak tree
King Charles hiding in the “royal oak” that came to symbolise his escape in 1651.

In a field near Edinburgh there was music, merriment, a “diversity of liquors” and people celebrating a royal anniversary round a bonfire. On a tall standard flew a banner with a “very artfully drawn” picture of the “royal oak”, the tree in which his sacred Majesty” King Charles II hid from his enemies, reported a city newspaper.[ref]Quotes from Reliquiae Scoticae’s extract from a report in the Edinburgh Evening Courant. They say the Royal Oak was the name of a ship in which Charles escaped to continental Europe, but this does not seem to be historically accurate.[/ref]

Charles Jackson, a wealthy Edinburgh merchant, organised these festivities. He used a “public advertisement” to invite all “true loyalists” to join him, and supplied music, drink and then an after-party at his home in town. The gathering drank toasts to the monarch of the time, Queen Anne, but the event had been arranged to honour an earlier monarch: a king with controversial associations.

Jacobite or just jolly?

An “ingenious piece of masked Jacobitism” was a Victorian writer’s opinion of the celebration. When Robert Chambers said this[ref]Domestic Annals of Scotland, 1861[/ref], he was presumably thinking of King Charles’ Catholic brother James and his Jacobite supporters who met in secret. Yet Charles Jackson himself was not at all secretive. He was happy to express his respect for the current monarch at the same time as proclaiming his regard for Charles II, even though this touched on various troublesome political issues. He made his loyalties clear in print.

A generation earlier, in 1689, May 29th was definitely a pro-Jacobite day, with events in Edinburgh reported on disapprovingly in an anonymous London newsletter.[ref]An Account from Scotland and Londonderry of the proceedings against the Duke of Gordon in the castle of Edinburgh, printed by George Groom June 1689, included in Siege of the Castle of Edinburgh: MDCLXXXIX, presented by Robert Bell to the Bannatyne Club, 1828[/ref] Besieged in the castle, the Jacobite Duke of Gordon celebrated the day “very heartily” with guns, a bonfire and much “drinking of healths”. Meanwhile, in the town “one or two bonfires were made in the streets here, where several disaffected persons gathered who had the impudence to drink the healths of King James, the Duke of Gordon….[etc.]”. This ended with some of the “rabble” being put in prison.

A hautboy (oboe) of the kind the revellers would have used.
A hautboy (oboe) of the right era.

For Jackson’s published remarks about King Charles and Queen Anne click here.

Back to 1712:

The night concluded with mirth; and the standard being brought back to Mr Jackson’s lodgings, was carried by a loyal gentleman barehead, and followed by several others with trumpets, hautboys, violins and bagpipes playing before them, where they were kindly entertained.[ref]Extract from the Edinburgh Evening Courant in: Reliquiae Scoticae, Scotish [sic] remains, in prose and verse, from original MSS. and scarce tracts, ed. James Maidment and Robert Pitcairn, 1828][/ref]

A field in the Grange

The celebrations took place in “Charles’s Field”, one mile south of the city, said the Edinburgh Evening Courant. Not long after the party, Thomas Dick of Grange feued out eight acres of land in the “east park of Grainge” to Charles Jackson, and it is likely that this plot was the so-called Charles’s Field, even though the legal work was not complete until after the festivities.[ref]Thomas Dick’s marriage agreement slowed things down as he had to get his wife’s formal agreement to the transaction, finalised in March 1713. This meant legally valid approval from men designated as her “friends”: local bigwigs Sir James Dick of Prestonfield, Sir William Cunningham of Caprington and Master Patrick Leith of Craighall.[/ref]

There is a good case for saying “Charles’s Field” was the one immediately to the east of Grange House, even though neither the newspaper nor the legal documents give the precise location clearly. The legal record describes an eight acre plot of an irregular four-sided shape in the “east park of Grainge”. The only field that matches these details on maps had a “bleaching green” within it, and this fits with the Courant’s report in 1712 that Jackson had “erected a very useful bleaching-field” on the land where the party took place.

Grange House and field
Field (blue outline) in the Grange provisionally identified as the one where there were celebrations in 1712. Based on Kirkwood’s 1817 map, reproduced with permission of the National Library of Scotland.

The field was enclosed with walls and “dykes already digged”. Presumably Jackson had taken possession and started his bleaching enterprise before the feu charter was signed and sealed? Assuming it was this particular patch, its southern edge on Grange Loan is marked today by the eastern wyvern pillar at one end and the boundary between houses nos. 80 and 82 at the other. For more detail, check the footnotes.[ref]Using an 1817 map (Kirkwood) and an 1825 map (Miller and Grainger), the only field of roughly the right shape and size is the one outlined in blue on both maps. There are trees along some of the boundaries, suggesting a well-established field. Admittedly, the lengths of the sides don’t look like a perfect match, but there may be a mistake in the legal description anyway. How likely is that both the northern and the eastern side were exactly “forty one falls and two and a half ells” long? In the SW of this field was a bleaching ground (outlined in red), explicitly labelled as ‘Bleaching Green’ on the 1825 map. There do not appear to be any competing bleachfields in the area. These two maps, together with some details on the first OS map, suggest the bleachfield was walled with buildings along  the southern edge. The green outline shows the boundaries of the grounds of Grange House. Using georeferenced maps, with old layered over new, shows how the old boundaries match up with today’s layout.[/ref]

For more about Charles Jackson click here.

The field in the Grange

The legal description:

that piece or portion of land lying in the east park of Grainge with the dykes and ditches surrounding the samen bounded as follows viz.- beginning from the north east point of the dyke or wall of the said park and from thence proceeding along and within the said wall westward forty one falls and two and a half ells and from thence turning southwards along and including the dykes already digged twenty seven falls and from thence running eastward along and including the dykes also digged thirty seven falls and five ells and from thence turning northward along and within the east dyke and wall of the said park forty one falls and two and a half ells extending the area of the said piece or portion of land to eight acres ane rood and thirty three falls lying within the parish of St Cuthberts and sheriffdom of Edinburgh...[ref]Feu Charter by William Dick of Grange, with consent of Anna Seton, his spouse, to Charles Jackson, merchant in Edinburgh, March 1713[/ref]

And also…

William Dick and his wife, Anna Seton, are thought to have had Jacobite sympathies. Could that have any relevance to their business dealings with Jackson?

References and Pictures

  • Extract from the Edinburgh Evening Courant in: Reliquiae Scoticae, Scotish [sic] remains, in prose and verse, from original MSS. and scarce tracts, ed. James Maidment and Robert Pitcairn, 1828
  • Boscobel: or The compleat history of Charles II. most miraculous preservation, after the Battle of Worcester, 3d September 1651. The fourth edition. Edinburgh: printed by James Watson, for Charles Jackson Merchant. 1709.
  • Domestic Annals of Scotland, Chambers, 1861
  • Kirkwood’s 1817 map is on the NLS website.
  • Miller and Grainger’s 1825 map was included in The Grange of St. Giles by Jane Stewart Smith, Constable 1898.

Pictures from Wikimedia.

Wyverns at Grange House, or the Griffin Gates

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

Strictly speaking they are wyverns, but they used to be known as griffins[ref]”The Lauder griffins”, associated with the Lauder side of the Dick Lauder family, owners of Grange House.[/ref], or even dragons. Walking along Grange Loan today you will see the pair below have been separated. They now “serve to mark the southern corners of the grounds of Grange House” to east and west.[ref]Scotsman, 23 March 1936[/ref]

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

The wyverns probably started life on top of 17th century[ref]Or early 18th century?[/ref] gate pillars at the old northern entrance to the grounds of Grange House.[ref]A little SW of where Lauder Loan leads off Lauder Road, apparently. The old approach from town (pre-1840) appears to have roughly followed the line of today’s Tantallon Place and Cumin Place, passing Grange Farm on the right (west), then swinging towards the house in a straight line that ended in Lauder Loan. This is clearest when using the map layering available on the NLS website, where you can view semi-transparent old maps on top of a modern background.[/ref] They were moved c1830 to decorate one of the many flights of steps in the terraced garden, which lay on a south-facing slope.

The Entrance to Grange House

Around that time the main entrance was moved too. The new drive began at an ornate arch in Grange Loan, to the south of the house, away from any of the new villas being planned. It turned right for the final 30 metres or so, and Lord Cockburn called it an approach “from the west”:[ref]Journal of Henry Cockburn: Being a Continuation of the Memorials of His Time, Vol. 2, 1874[/ref]

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

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

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

Just before the house was demolished in 1936,  a journalist who visited it with Henry F. Kerr, architect and antiquarian, as his guide,[ref]As part of a visit organised for the Old Edinburgh Club, reported in the Scotsman, 23 March 1936.[/ref] said the “two elaborately-designed pillars surmounted by griffins” were “situated at the top of [a] flight of steps leading from the courtyard, but this probably is not their original site”. In the 1890s they were “at a few yards distance from the north side of the house”, according to McGibbon and Ross. The evidence strongly suggests it was the set of steps shown on the map below that was home to the wyverns after the extensive renovations of about 1830.

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

A story about the wyverns – but is it true?

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

Various authors have repeated Jane Stewart Smith’s anecdote about the young Walter Scott climbing up the gateposts to check if the griffins’ tongues were red with fire or with paint. Is there clear evidence for this? Can anyone find it in Scott’s letters or memoirs? Or any biography?[ref]It is not in his Antiquities of Scotland which mentions Grange House.[/ref] Was outdoor stone statuary in Scotland often painted in the 18th century?

Jane Stewart Smith was an artist, not an academic. She put ‘veritable paint or veritable flame’ in italics and in inverted commas, but was she quoting, or building on a story she’d heard? Is there any earlier publication than her The Grange of St. Giles (1898) which mentions Scott playing near Grange House? [ref]Nothing relevant can be found near the quotation JSS used in her previous sentence to make a point about Scott’s “love of adventure”: “I made a brighter figure in the yards than in class.” Walter Scott’s Biography, Vol 7, by his son-in-law, John Lockhart, an important source for information about Scott’s childhood.[/ref]

References and pictures

  • David MacGibbon and Thomas Ross, The Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland From the Twelfth to Eighteenth Century Vol V, Douglas 1892
  • Jane Stewart Smith, The Grange of St. Giles, the Bass: and the other baronial homes of the Dick-Lauder family, Constable 1898
  • NLS maps online
  • The wyvern aka a Lauder griffin, photographer Kim Traynor, licensed under Creative Commons

Grange House: from tower house to baronial mansion

Grange House in the early 19th century, before major changes hid its late 16th century shape.
Grange House in the early 19th century, before major changes hid its 16th century shape.

The Grange is an affluent Edinburgh suburb that once upon a time was a medieval farm belonging to the church. Then came a 16th century tower house: Grange House. For more than 200 years this was “a tall grey keep”[ref]According to Henry Cockburn, reminiscing about his youth in Memorials of His Time[/ref], its entrance topped by a stone lintel carved with the date 1592.[ref]There may well have been an earlier building there, but expert opinion including McGibbon and Ross suggests this particular house was built in the late 1500s.[/ref] It looked much the same until about 1830: an L-shaped, three-storey fortified mansion-house with six-foot thick stone walls. [ref]It is possible that windows in the third storey were altered during those centuries.[/ref]

1592 lintel set over the original doorway which was blocked off in the 1830s. Repos a[i]lleurs means 'rest elsewhere',
1592 lintel set over the original doorway.
As well as arable land and pasture, there were also mills, a doocot, and cottages for people working on the Grange estate.[ref]Specified in Disposition (legal document) when sold to William Dick in 1631, as transcribed by Jane Stewart Smith.[/ref] In the 1690s, the owner, William Dick, paid a property tax for sixteen dwellings as well as his own. The tax was based on the number of hearths, and reveals that most of the houses belonging to the laird had just one or two fireplaces, while Grange House itself had twelve.[ref]Hearth tax records for Midlothian, volume 3 (Edinburgh and Leith), 1695[/ref]

“Conveniences for a great family”

The 16th century structure is outlined in red within a ground floor plan of the Victorian mansion. The original entrance is labelled in blue.
The 16th century structure is outlined in red within a ground floor plan of the Victorian mansion. The original entrance is labelled in blue.

Seventy years later, the house was still the same twelve-hearth size. In 1766 the ground floor held a large entrance hall, a vaulted kitchen, a cellar and pantry, and one bedroom with a “light closet”[ref] 18th century house description mostly from “To Let” advertisements in the Caledonian Mercury during 1766 and 1771, plus details from other sources referenced on this page.[/ref] (a dressing room with window). A staircase from the entrance led to the second storey dining room and drawing room, and one more bedchamber. The next floor, up a spiral stair, had three bedrooms, two light closets, and various presses (cupboards). There was also a “large garret for lumber”. Tax was payable for thirty windows,[ref]Midlothian window tax records 1755-56, vol 75[/ref] presumably not all in the main house.

1613 coat of arms
1613 wall plaque from the Grange estate

There was a separate “court” with a stable, coach-house, brew-house, pit-well, “several other offices for servants” and “conveniences for a great family”.[ref]Caledonian Mercury 1766 and 1771[/ref] An arched entrance to this courtyard later displayed a coat of arms dated 1613, but it is not certain that it had always been there.[ref]Jane Stewart Smith[/ref] The laundry was done in a washing-house with its own supply of spring water and a drying green. Fruit and flowers were cultivated, as well as vegetables in a kitchen garden. The gardens were partly terraced.

Some of these outbuildings had been constructed in the 17th century. Ornamental gate pillars topped with stone wyverns were probably made in the 17th or early 18th century. These are assumed to have been for the main entrance though they were later moved to an ornamental flight of steps near the house.

“A quiet situation and a beautiful landscape”

Ornamental gate pillars and stone wyverns marked the southern entrance. Usually said to be from the 17th century.
These ornamental gate pillars with stone wyverns are thought to have been at the main entrance until about 1830.

For the next few decades the house was let out. The last resident members of the Dick family died in the 1760s; their ancestors had lived there since 1631. [ref]Isobel Dick, the one remaining descendant of the family, married Sir Andrew Lauder, and their children grew up at his Fountainhall estate near Pencaitland, East Lothian.[/ref] People who rented the house included John Forrest, a merchant burgess and member of Edinburgh town council, who died in 1777.[ref]J.S. Smith.  Debrett’s Baronetage of England (1839) calls him “John Forrest of the Grange”, says he married the daughter of a baronet and died in 1778. Parish records call him bailie and give his death date as 1777.[/ref] The family of Robert Forrester, treasurer of the Bank of Scotland, lived at Grange House in the early 1800s.[ref]His daughter Anne married there in 1817 and he died at the house in 1824. Blackwood’s Magazine, Vols. 1 and 16[/ref]

The rural atmosphere at Grange House attracted a well-known Edinburgh citizen as tenant, the learned William Robertson. According to a biographer[ref]Dugald Stewart, in his preface to Works of William Robertson DD to which is Prefaced an Account of the Life and Writings of the Author, Cadell 1827[/ref], in his last years (1790s) Dr Robertson appreciated Grange House for:

…the advantage of a freer air, and a more quiet situation, … the pleasure of rural objects, and of a beautiful landscape. While he was able to walk abroad, he commonly passed a part of the day in a small garden, enjoying the simple gratifications it afforded with all his wonted relish. Some who now hear me will long remember—among the trivial yet interesting incidents which marked these last weeks of his memorable life—his daily visits to the fruit trees, which were then in blossom…

Balconies and balustrades

View from south west in 1825
View from south west in 1825

Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, great-grandson of the last resident owner, decided to modernise and double the size of Grange House, and spend a good part of the year there. He wanted to move his large family to Edinburgh[ref]From Relugas House in Morayshire[/ref] for the city’s  educational and social opportunities, apparently.[ref]J.S. Smith, Chap 24. Though she does not give a source she had talked to Sir Thomas’ daughter, Cornelia.[/ref]

View from south-west in about 1890. Follow the battlements if you want to compare it with the 1825 drawing.
View from south-west in about 1890. Follow the battlements to help compare with the 1825 drawing.

Before his builders set to work, Sir Thomas sketched the old house (above). The extension[ref]There were 35 rooms with windows, according to later censuses.[/ref] and embellishments, in Scottish baronial style, blended quite easily with the old tower house, especially once it was all harled. Inside, the old dining and drawing rooms were knocked through to make a big new dining room, 45 feet long. Jane Stewart Smith, who described the house with great enthusiasm in the 1890s, was not sure how much of its “antique character” was original: for instance the panelling and a beamed ceiling in the old part of the house. The light, modern drawing room had a “lofty” ceiling and two large oriel windows. One window had a balcony leading to a romantic garden nook with stone seats, via a turret and steps.

One of the "antique fiery dragons": the wyvern at Lover's Loan. Photo by Kim Traynor.
One of the “antique fiery dragons”: the wyvern now at Lover’s Loan. Photo by Kim Traynor

The gardens were dramatically re-designed. There was a bowling-green surrounded by statues,[ref]One of these statues, a “Greek maiden”, was in the garden of Huntly House at one time. Scotsman, 18 August 1939[/ref] shrubberies, seats, sun-dials and other ornaments. “Gas apparatus” for “lighting up the old terraced gardens” was acquired.[ref]Caledonian Mercury, 28 Sep 1840[/ref]

…the garden preserved but greatly improved…the place is rich (perhaps rather too rich) in evergreens, statues, vases, stairs, balustrades, terraces…[ref]Henry Cockburn, Memorials, Black 1856[/ref]

This was a fine setting for a wealthy family to entertain friends. In 1840 they arranged particularly impressive festivities to follow the wedding of Charlotte Dick Lauder. The garden lamps shone on the house, light blazed from the windows, and a newspaper report[ref]Caledonian Mercury, 28 Sep 1840[/ref] of the splendour and spectacle even described the “antique fiery dragons” on the gate pillars as “spouting real fire”. After a 100lb wedding cake had been cut, and a band had played for a couple of hours, there was a fireworks display arranged by a “celebrated fireworker”. The supper room was dressed with evergreens and dahlias, and festooned with coloured lamps. Dancing continued “with great spirit” until five o’clock in the morning.

Cottages in 1865 at entrance to Grange House
Cottages in 1865 at entrance to Grange House

Beyond the grand house, times were changing. More than a hundred houses were planned for estate land to north and east of the mansion. Building plots for these were advertised in the 1850s and 1860s,[ref]Edinburgh Evening Courant and Scotsman advertising referring to Cousins’ and Raeburn’s Feuing Plans[/ref] but even in 1865 there were quiet, semi-rural patches nearby. The Grange estate still had a shepherd as one of its tenants.[ref]Valuation rolls[/ref] On the southern side of the mansion house, Grange Loan remained undeveloped, except for a couple of lamp-posts. The ivy-smothered cottages, said to date back to the mid-18th century at least,[ref]Date according to Jane Stewart Smith, who also said the cottages were a wonderfully picturesque subject for artists, a “constant theme for landscape painters”, and sketched them herself. George Harvey, president of the RSA, included them in his painting, The Bowlers. One painting shown at the RSA in 1878 was Old Cottages, Grange Loan, by John Reid. Another by James Heron exhibited in 1873 was Roadside Cottages, Grange Loan. Were they of these?[/ref] were eventually cleared in the 1880s to make way for a new Grange House Lodge. The ancient lane, Lovers’ Loan, reached through an opening in the wall just beyond the arched entrance next to the cotttages, has survived to this day, despite an attempt by Sir John Dick Lauder to close it and take possession. The mansion itself was demolished in 1936. For more about Grange House’s later days in the 19th and early 20th centuries click here.


  • David MacGibbon and Thomas Ross, The Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland From the Twelfth to Eighteenth Century Vol V, Douglas 1892
  • Jane Stewart Smith, The Grange of St. Giles, the Bass: and the other baronial homes of the Dick-Lauder family, Constable 1898
  • Historic South Edinburgh, Charles J. Smith, John Donald, 2000
  • Sciennes and the Grange, Malcolm Cant, John Donald, 1990
  • NLS maps online, especially the Ordnance Survey maps of Edinburgh of 1853, 1877, and 1894
  • Caledonian Mercury (newspaper)


Most are from the books above, except for:

  • The wyvern aka a Lauder griffin, photographer Kim Traynor, licensed under Creative Commons
  • The first picture of Grange House, from Views in Edinburgh and its Vicinity Vol I, J and H Storer,  Constable 1820

Grange House: three schools, change and decline, 1850-1930s

Grange House in the 1890s.
Grange House in the late 1890s, probably unoccupied.

Sir Thomas Dick Lauder laid the foundations for change all round the Grange Estate. After taking possession in 1825 he commissioned maps and had the preparatory legal work done for feuing out building plots. [ref]Feuing out land means selling it off under the old Scottish land ownership law where the original owner retained certain rights, including the right to a regular payment called feu duty. For this particular case the legal preparation involved an Act of Parliament.[/ref]  The first advertising for “the most beautiful sites for small villas” appeared while Sir Thomas was still alive.[ref]e.g. Caledonian Mercury, 20 August 1846[/ref] He also put his energies into expanding and enhancing Grange House, writing numerous books on history, nature etc., and keeping up with a large circle of literary and other acquaintances.

For the earlier history of Grange House click here.

His heir John had spent some years in India as a cavalry officer. When he inherited after his father’s death in 1848, the Grange Estate entered a new phase. Sir John’s interests seem to have been different from his father’s. There is little recorded about his life in Edinburgh apart from a report of his trial in 1850 for assault on a railway guard who challenged him about vandalism after a hunt dinner. He and his wife soon moved out of Grange House. [ref]A few years after inheriting, Sir John leased a country estate at Skene in Aberdeenshire.[/ref] George F. Barbour and his family lived there from c1853-1856.[ref]George Freeland Barbour (1810-1887) “landed proprietor” on 1861 census, with business and charitable interests, grandfather of more famous namesake.[/ref] There was a steady flow of advertisements offering land for new buildings to north and east of Grange House, and in 1857 the mansion and its “pleasure grounds” were rented out to John Dalgleish.

School for Young Gentlemen

Grange House School opening announcement, 1857
Grange House School opening announcement, 1857

Mr. and Mrs. Dalgleish had been running an educational institution for young ladies in George Square for more than twenty years. Now, joined by their son Walter Scott Dalgleish M.A., they announced the launch of a school for “young gentlemen of the highest ranks”. They praised Grange House’s ideal location – elevated, south-facing, and well-sheltered – and a convenient distance for teachers “of established reputation” to reach from Edinburgh. The curriculum would vary according to whether a boy was destined for university, “mercantile pursuits”, the British or Indian civil service or army.  More details here.

Dreghorn Castle School, once Grange House School
Dreghorn Castle, home to the boys’ school that started in Grange House.

The 1861 census showed nearly 40 boarders: many from Scotland, with some from England or distant parts of the British Empire.[ref] According to the birthplace given in the census.[/ref] The school seems to have done well and soon moved to Dreghorn Castle, where there was far more space: sixty acres of grounds and new classrooms as well.[ref]Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, Vol. 17, 1864[/ref]

The school’s 1864 advertising gushed about the move to one of the “healthiest” sites in Scotland, and explained that at the Grange there was some…[ref] Greenock Advertiser, 6 August 1864[/ref]

…difficulty, in a district which is fast becoming a populous suburb, of securing the requisite facilities in grounds and otherwise for conducting a High-class School for Boys.


Edinburgh Town Council thwarts the Grange Estate

Lovers' Loan today. This stretch ran close to Grange House and its gardens. Photo by Kim Traynor.
Lovers’ Loan today. Grange House and its gardens were on the left of this stretch, which had hedges not walls. Photo by Kim Traynor.

The year after Grange House School moved away, 1865, one of the new villa owners in the Grange was indignant to find John Dick Lauder had ordered the cutting down of a hedge beside the ancient pathway called Lovers’ Loan. The laird apparently assumed he would succeed in an application to close it off and add an extra strip to his landholding. A court case started, but faded away after firm negotiating by the Town Council meant that Sir John had to back down. What his motives were, it is hard to say. He said at the time that he had given so many new roads to the public, for the convenience of residents of the Grange, that no-one could possibly need the Loan any more.[ref]Caledonian Mercury,13 April, 1865, and Scotsman, 18 April  and 11 July 1865[/ref]

School for Young Ladies

Grange House School for girld, 1864
The Mouats announce they are moving their school to Grange House, 1864

Four sisters, the Misses Mouat, had been running an “establishment for the board and education of young ladies” in South Gray Street. They moved it to Grange House after the young gentlemen left. There were resident “foreign governesses” and the “best masters” attending for “the various branches of education”. The healthy and charming situation was emphasised in advertising, as were the private grounds, and the closeness to the town’s “educational resources”.[ref]Hull Packet, 26 August 1864[/ref] In 1871 there were over thirty boarders in their late teens living at the school, along with several servants, three governesses from Belgium, Germany, and Shetland and, of course, Barbara, Christina, Marion and Robina Mouat. They paid about £350 a year in rent.[ref]See John Dick Lauder’s executors’ inventory, 1867.[/ref]

Elocution and an Educational Garden

Botanical garden designed by Patrick Geddes for Grange House School in 1883
Botanical garden designed by Patrick Geddes for Grange House in 1883

A new establishment for “the daughters of gentlemen” replaced the Mouats’ in 1882. It may well have attracted the same parents, and yet there were differences of emphasis. Mrs. Whaley Bouchier Nutt, and her husband advertised a gymnasium: unusual for girls at the time, even for graceful exercises. The rose garden was replaced with a unique botanical garden, to support education in natural sciences. Mr. Nutt had expertise in “vocal physiology and elocution” which he believed was essential to good health as well being an art form.[ref]Lecture reported in The Dundee Courier & Argus, November 26, 1892[/ref] He was a tutor at several other educational establishments as well as Grange House.

In 1895 Whaley Nutt died and his widow left Edinburgh. Grange House was then unoccupied for a while except for the gardener, gate-keeper etc. in their cottages.

More about Mr and Mrs Whaley B. Nutt and their school here

Fashionable Society at Grange House again?

By 1901 a retired colonel and his wife were living in Grange House. Alexander Ferrier Kidston-Kerr was the son of a Lanarkshire shipping magnate and went to Merchiston Castle School near Edinburgh. He spent 33 years with the Black Watch, or Royal Highlanders, and won medals for his part in major campaigns in Africa.[ref]He was a Kidston like his father until 1903 when he inherited an entailed estate in Kinross requiring him to add the name Kerr.[/ref] He and his wife Jean were involved in military charities, went to smart social occasions connected with the Black Watch and the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Help Society, and hosted fund-raising events at Grange House.

There may not have been dancing into the small hours as in the house’s heyday, but at least there was a military band when they held an “American Tea” for charity, in 1904. The event was fulsomely described in the press. For one newspaper, it was the Lord High Commissioner’s appearance among the other 500 guests that led the story. He…

…had tea in the drawing-room and spent almost an hour in the house and grounds…there was a constant stream of carriages and motor cars to the principal gate, over the ivy-clad arch of which three Union Jacks fluttered gaily in the breeze.[ref]Scotsman, 27 May 1904[/ref]

Another paper concentrated on the ladies’ fashions, saying that some of the frocks were “really worth recording”.

Mrs. Kidston-Kerr’s toilette was grey crepe de chine trimmed with bands of ecru lace and her toque was composed of flowers.[ref]Dundee Evening Telegraph, 31 May 1904[/ref]

The rent on the valuation roll was £220 a year, including a home in the courtyard for the coachman, Horatio Snook. In the Nutts’ time the council’s assessed rental value was £328. Had the house deteriorated so much?


old terrace retaining wall
A section of wall likely to have been part of the original terracing in the Grange House gardens.

The colonel died in 1926, aged 84, his wife two years later. Lord and Lady Ashmore lived at the house briefly.[ref]Scotsman, 10 March, 1836, and P.O. directories. Lord Ashmore was a judge in the Court of Session.[/ref] Even before the next Dick Lauder baronet inherited in 1936, the property was in the hands of a Mr. A.R. Knox[ref]Scotsman 23 March 1836[/ref] and in that year the house was demolished. New housing and a new road, Grange Crescent, took its place. A section of retaining wall there is probably a remnant of the old garden terracing.[ref]It matches the alignment of lines on old maps, too.[/ref] Otherwise, only the (re-located) wyverns on gateposts remain nearby, though a few stone pieces with inscriptions and some garden ornaments went to the Huntly House museum, and heaped rubble from 17th century outbuildings lasted into the 1960s.


  • David MacGibbon and Thomas Ross, The Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland From the Twelfth to Eighteenth Century Vol V,Douglas 1892
  • Jane Stewart Smith, The Grange of St. Giles, the Bass: and the other baronial homes of the Dick-Lauder family, Constable 1898
  • Historic South Edinburgh, Charles J. Smith, John Donald, 2000
  • Sciennes and the Grange, Malcolm Cant, John Donald, 1990
  • NLS maps online, especially the Ordnance Survey maps of Edinburgh of 1853, 1877, and 1894
  • Caledonian Mercury, Scotsman etc.

Pictures and thanks

Alexander Ferrier Kidston-Kerr, Jean Howe McClure, Catherine Glen Kidston
Grave of Colonel and Mrs. Kidston-Kerr in Grange Cemetery, Edinburgh
  • Grange House was photographed by Jane Stewart Smith in the 1890s.
  • Lovers’ Loan photo is copyright Kim Traynor and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
  • Thanks to the book below, I discovered what the school “botanical garden” advertised was like, and was able to find Geddes’ design.

Learning from the Lasses: Geddes’s Women: by Walter Stephen, 2014 Edition, Publisher: Luath Press Ltd

Grange House School and Mrs. Whaley Bouchier Nutt

Dysart Harbour the year after Helen was born. In 1861 her family lived a few hundred yards away, in Quality Street.
Dysart Harbour the year after Helen was born. In 1861 her family lived a few hundred yards away, in Quality Street.

What kind of person would make a good headmistress for a Victorian school for young ladies in a mansion in the suburbs of Edinburgh? Presiding over the one in Grange House from 1883-1895 was Helen Hamilton Black: a strong character, her story suggests.

She was born in Fife in 1853 to a father who was a naval officer descended from naval officers, while her mother came from a family of Indian Army officers with Scottish roots. After a childhood in the small coastal town of Dysart, by 17 Helen was at a small boarding school near Bristol. When she was 20 she married in Frankfurt.

Helen Hamilton Black or Johnson or Nutt or Chamberlain

Helen Hamilton Black was a boarder here at Willsbridge House in April 1871. Photo Paul Townsend
Helen Hamilton Black was a boarder here at Willsbridge House near Bristol in April 1871. Photo Paul Townsend

Her husband,  Robert Helenus Johnson, was the son of a judge in Bombay. The couple went to India and lived in Guntur where Robert worked for the Bank of Madras. Their first son was born a couple of years later, but Robert soon died and Helen gave birth to their second child in London. By the time this little boy was three, Helen was “assistant lady superintendent” for an Edinburgh “Institute for Young Ladies”.[ref]Based in Charlotte Square[/ref] Her responsibilities included a dozen teenage girls boarding in the house where she, her children and three servants lived too.[ref]Her mother may have lived with her too. She is with Helen in both 1871 and 1881 censuses and died at Grange House.[/ref]

Her own school and a second marriage

In 1882 she announced in the press that she would be opening her own establishment in Grange House. A couple of months later came her marriage to Whaley Bouchier Nutt, a lecturer in “vocal physiology and elocution”. Whaley had already arranged to rent the Grange mansion house in Edinburgh. More about his life below.

Advertising the education on offer at Grange House, 1890.
Advertising the education on offer at Grange House, 1890.

It was called an “establishment” for the education of “the daughters of gentlemen” and not a “school”. However conventional this sounds, there are signs that Mr. and Mrs. Nutt had some unconventional and innovative ideas.

A “scientific” botanical garden, designed by Patrick Geddes, replaced the rose garden. Presumably the school taught natural sciences, which Geddes believed offered a “unique combination of educational advantages”.[ref]Transactions of Botanical Society of Edinburgh, Vol. 16[/ref] There was a gymnasium: quite progressive for girls’ education in the 1880s, even if they stuck to “ladylike” exercise. Whaley believed there should not be too much emphasis on cramming facts, and  thought that “fashioning the organs of speech” would help both mind and body.[ref]Lecture reported in Dundee Courier 26 November 1892[/ref]

Grange House in the late 19th century
Grange House in the late 19th century

The Nutts were friends of the pioneering Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women, and supported women’s suffrage.[ref]Englishwoman’s Review, December 15, 1886, and April 15, 1890[/ref] Whaley was said to be a “philanthropist”, and they involved the girls at Grange House in fund-raising sales and concerts for an Indian aid mission, with Helen especially supporting their Girls’ Union.[ref]The Indian Female Evangelist. July 1, 1886[/ref]

A new life in South Africa

During her time at Grange House, Helen gave birth to two children: a daughter in 1884 and, ten years later, a son. Whaley died the year after the baby boy was born, in 1895. He left Helen everything he had, but this was just furniture and school equipment and nine hundred pounds of life insurance.[ref]By June, the owners had started eviction proceedings against the Nutts, so there may have been financial difficulties even before Whaley’s death in March.[/ref] Soon she took out a tenancy on a smaller, cheaper house and announced that her school would open there that autumn.[ref]Carrielee in the Colinton Road – Glasgow Herald August 7, 1895[/ref] However, before the end of the year she married again, in London. Her new husband, Harold Goddard Chamberlain, son of a navy Paymaster-General,  was twenty years younger than she was. They moved to South Africa where their son was born in 1898: Helen’s fifth child. She was 44.

Two of her best-known relatives are traveller and publisher John Reddie Black, her step-brother, who had the same name as their father, and war-zone journalist George Steer, her grand-son.

Whaley Bouchier Nutt

Whaley lost his father, Major Justinian Nutt, when he was about twelve. His family were settled in Cheltenham, but he lived in Rugby for two years, and went to school there as a day boy. In his 20s he spent time in Melbourne, with trips back to England. While in Australia he patented an invention for scouring wool. The Rugby School register called him a “Merchant at Manchester”, and there is evidence of a short-lived textile business partnership based there.

Whaley Bouchier Nutt - sketch published after his death in 1895
Whaley Bouchier Nutt – sketch published after his death in 1895

During the 1860s and 1870s, his name crops up in Cheltenham and Leamington newspapers. Mostly these are bland reports on the social pages of him arriving or departing, but a description of a lavish “Bachelors’ Ball” in 1871 says he came in fancy dress “as a Greek”.

After his business partnership was dissolved he started performing “dramatic readings”. Many were near his home in Cheltenham, where he lived with his widowed mother, sister Mary and three servants, but some were further afield. When he was 34 a census gave his profession as “public reader and lecturer”. Reviews described good audiences (not unconnected with his family’s social standing, suggested one reporter) but they were not whole-heartedly enthusiastic.

In 1882 he married Helen in Cheltenham. A local paper called the occasion a fashionable wedding, with an “elegant déjeuner” for family guests including Whaley’s cousin the Rev. J. W. Nutt, who assisted at the ceremony, and Helen’s uncle General Fulton.[ref]Cheltenham Looker-On, 16 Dec. 1882[/ref]

Once in Edinburgh, Whaley’s profession was generally given as “vocal physiologist and elocution” tutor. He called this a “fine art” that brought charm and grace to people’s lives as well as being beneficial to physical health.[ref]Lecture reported in Dundee Courier 26 November 1892[/ref] He taught at Loretto School, the Watt Institute and elsewhere, as well as at Grange House.

In the 1890s he was a visiting tutor at St. Mary’s College in St. Andrews, and at the London-based Chaffee-Noble Training School of Expression. As well as elocution and gesture, the London curriculum included “aesthetic physical and vocal drill”, gymnastics, recitation and criticism.[ref]Advertising in the Morning Post etc.[/ref]

When he died in 1895, a brief obituary called him an “elocutionist of considerable ability”, a man “of a philanthropic disposition” and a “Liberal Unionist in politics”.[ref]Edinburgh Evening News, 6 March 1895[/ref]

More on Helen Hamilton Black’s parents, husbands, children and other genealogy

More on Whaley B. Nutt’s family and ancestors


  • Willsbridge House by Paul Townsend, with Creative Commons license. Added text from  P.O. directory 1863.
  • Dysart Harbour by Samuel Bough, 1854, from Wikimedia.
  • Grange House from McGibbon and Ross, The castellated and domestic architecture of Scotland, Douglas 1887-92
  • W.B.Nutt sketch from Edinburgh Evening News, 6 March 1895