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.

The Hewits of Pennywell, Grange Loan

Thomas Hewit was an Edinburgh leather merchant, tanner and, in his early days, a shoemaker. He, his second wife, and three of his sons built up a substantial leather business, and acquired property over two generations. The last of them had a £100,000 fortune by the time of his death in 1887. Newspapers were impressed by his wealth, and commented on what a large proportion would go to charity. The Hewit leather business, which continues to this day, went to one of the descendants of the first marriage.[ref]George Lawson had been working in the business and was bequeathed first chance to own it, if he paid for the physical assets, valued without adding in the “good will” of a going concern. His uncle David left him and his brothers legacies of six thousand pounds each.[/ref]

First marriage and becoming a burgess

Through his first wife, Mary Moir, daughter of a burgess, Thomas Hewit got burgess status himself.[ref]Roll of Edinburgh Burgesses and Guild-brethren 1761 – 1841, ed. Charles Boog-Watson, Scottish Record Society 1933[/ref] This gave him civic responsibilities and rights, including the right to run a business in Edinburgh. The marriage record says that Thomas Hewit, shoemaker, of no. 20 Simon’s Square, married Mary, daughter of John Moir, shoemaker [of 39 Candlemaker Row], on 24th January 1822. Mary died in August 1828.

Children of Thomas and Mary Hewit:

  • Jane Gilchrist Hewit b. 27 Oct 1822,  m. Robert Lawson, corn merchant in the Grassmarket, in 1844. In 1851 they had 2 children: William 3 and John 1. A nurse for the children and a general servant lived with them in Lauriston Place. Other Lawson children were George (b.1862), Jane and Sarah.
  • John More/Moir Heriot Hewit b. 14 Sep 1826. In 1851 he was a journeyman optician living with wife Margaret (Caw) in Davie Street. He was “last heard of in New York”, according to David’s 1887 will.
  • Mary James Moir Hewit b. 2 July 1828

Second marriage and a move to Grange Loan

Thomas was already married to his second wife, Janet Murray, when he bought Pennywell House in Grange Loan. Their sons grew up there, and Janet’s sister, Ann Murray (see bottom of page), lived with them, and outlasted them all. They housed a few asylum patients there, as the previous owners had done. Janet’s sons Thomas, David, and Charles worked in the family leather business, with their mother playing a key role after she was widowed. The business was re-named J. Hewit and Sons after Thomas Senior’s death. Thomas, the oldest of Janet’s sons, was sixteen when his father died. Those three boys inherited equal shares of the family assets after their mother died, but Jane and John, Mary’s children, got nothing. Their father’s will said the children of his first marriage were already “amply and sufficiently” provided for.[ref] Possibly via their maternal grandparents whose children did not survive them.[/ref]

Janet’s will left her sister Ann a life interest in her house, which by this time was at number 7 Argyle Square, the “westmost lodging on the north row”. (Part of the site of today’s Chambers Street museum.) Ann stayed in Grange Loan till her death.

Janet had moved on from Pennywell, though she and her sons retained the ownership of all their Grange Loan property. In 1865 Janet Murray was owner of houses, workshops, and shops at 4, 6 and 8 Niddry St., houses at 191 Cowgate, 7 Argyle Square and 12-17 Grange Loan, and a garden at 17 Grange Loan.

Thomas Hewit, leather merchant, Niddry Street, married Janet Murray 21 June 1829, and died 30 December 1846. Janet Murray or Hewit died 20 May 1868, age 61, in Argyle Sq.. Her mother was Janet Murray or Gilchrist, and her father John Murray, broker, according to her death certificate. On her sister’s death certificate, John Murray’s profession was furniture dealer.

Children of Thomas and Janet Hewit:

Their three adult sons – Thomas, David, and Charles – expanded the business to London.

  • Thomas Hewit born 29 April 1830, died at Musselburgh in 1886. His will says he was a “tanner and currier, Edinburgh and London”, “residing at Langton Villa Grange Loan” and also occupier of Rosehall, Musselburgh.
  • Janet Gilchrist Hewit b. 22 Aug 1831
  • William Cox Hewit b. 19 Feb 1835
  • David Gavin Hewit  3 Dec 1836, In 1881 he was living in Bride Lane, London. He married Eliza Augustine Bourgois[ref]Daughter of the founder of the Bourgois Hotel, Fleshmarket Close[/ref] in Edinburgh in April 1886[ref]Scotsman 9 April 1886[/ref]. Their son, David Thomas, was born at Endsleigh, Highfield Hill, Upper Norwood in May 1887, but died on 24 August 1887 in Melville Street, Edinburgh. David Gavin Hewit died before his baby son, on 1st August 1887 at Upper Norwood, Surrey. He left about £100,000: a house and annuity to his widow, legacies to his nephews, aunt Ann Murray and other relatives, and the residue to a variety of hospitals and leather trades charities.[ref]Edinburgh Evening News, 24 September 1887[/ref]His nephew George Lawson, Jane’s son, was to be given first chance to buy the leather business.
  • Ann Murray Hewit b. 16 Mar 1838
  • Charles Murray Hewit  born 6 Aug 1842, died in 1875. His will says he was “residing at Langton Villa, Grange Loan, of Edinburgh”.

The lodgers in the Pennywell House asylum:

According to the 1841 census of Public Institutions in the Parish of St Cuthbert, there were two patients, neither born in Midlothian:

  • Marion Brown, 55
  • Thomas Orchardson, painter, 40

Also recorded:

  • Thomas Hewit, 40,  proprietor and keeper
  • Janet Hewit, 30, matron
  • Ann Murray, 25, female servant [Janet’s sister]
  • Live-in servant, Mary Muir
  • Thomas 10
  • David  4

In 1851 the patients were:

  • Miss MB, 66, Minister’s daughter, born Fifeshire Largo
  • Miss JG, 61, Captain’s daughter, born Morayshire
  • MR WR, 51, Journeyman Compositor, born Lanarkshire Glasgow

One of the women was able to go out alone and “make small purchases”. The other was said to be dirty and was kept in a “ground floor room, which she made “offensive”. The other two slept in attic rooms with clean and comfortable beds, and they all had their meals separately. A medical attendant was paid £5 a year to visit once a week. The patients’ families each paid £40 a year for this arrangement.

Record-keeping did not meet the legal standards: at all asylums in the area, not just this one. A doctor reporting in 1855 felt this asylum was not adequate to cope with the ground-floor patient who got excited and violent at times, and was put in a strait-jacket.

Also listed in 1851:

  • Janet Hewit, 42, Mistress of the Establishment
  • Ann Murray, her sister, 36, Housekeeper. In 1881 she was a retired housekeeper living with Charles Hewit at no. 13 Grange Loan, where she stayed until her death in 1899. One census gave her birth parish as Canongate, Edinburgh.
  • Thomas, 21, Keeper
  • David, 14
  • Charles, 8
  • Servant Agnes Bell, 22, born Glasgow


Charles Murray – with Janet, a trustee of Thomas Hewit’s estate. Described as “sometime printer in Edinburgh and thereafter in Bombay, now residing in Edinburgh” (1850).

Sources: parish registers, statutory records, censuses, street directories, newspapers, the wills of Thomas Hewit Sr., Janet Hewit, and David Gavin Hewit, the Hewit leather website, report of parliamentary inquiry into asylums.

Some of the children presumably died before reaching adulthood.