History (dev page)

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History of the Grange

In medieval times, the area that is now the Meadows was a loch, the Burgh Loch. It was drained in 1744.  The area around the loch formed the for­est of Drumsheugh, a royal hunting ground.  South of the forest was the vast Burgh Muir, an area of common grazing, gently sloping towards Blackford Hill. Sanct Geilies Grange – the grange or farm of St. Giles was an important early medieval farming estate in this area. It was given to St Giles Kirk by David I in 1153. 

A chapel dedicated to St Roque, patron of plague sufferers, was established in the Canaan area, west of the Grange. It was built between 1501 and 1504 within what is now the Astley Ainslie hospital. Plague victims banished from Edinburgh were housed in huts beside the chapel and administered to by religious communities including the monks of the Grange of St Giles. In 1513 James IV mustered troops on the Burgh Muir before the battle of Flodden. He is said to have prayed in the Chapel of St Roque. The chapel became derelict by 1789. An early attempt to demolish the dangerous building had to be abandoned when scaffolding collapsed with several fatalities, thought to be retribution for destroying a sacred building. It was finally demolished in 1791 and now nothing remains and the exact site of it and an associated burial ground is unknown. 

Another ecclesiastical development of the medieval period was the convent of St. Catherine of Siena, which stood on the north-west corner of what is now St. Catherine’s Place. It was founded by a Bull of Pope Leo X in 1517. (Stewart Smith 1898, P. 15). Three ladies of high birth were the founder members of the nunnery: Lady Jane Hepburn, daughter of Patrick Hepburn, the first Earl of Bothwell, and wife of George, third Lord Seton; Elizabeth Auchinleck; and Agnes Fairland, wife of Sir Robert Lauder of the Bass.  The convent was never big, though the nuns were always held in high esteem. Their number was restricted to thirty, and it must have been the last religious house to be founded in Edinburgh before the Reformation. There is some evidence of high walls surrounding the convent buildings. (JG Gray 1962. P. 29).

The nunnery was dedicated to St. Catherine, of Siena in Italy, of which Sienne is a French derivative. The name then was corrupted into Sciennes, or Sheens as it appears in some maps of the eighteenth century.  The convent’s presence in the area must have stimulated all kinds of economic activity, and soon there was a small settlement of handloom weavers which became known as the village of Sciennes. On the presumed site of the old village now stand Grange Court; Sciennes Hill House (1741), where Burns and Scott met, Sciennes House and the old Jewish Cemetery (established 1816).

The feuing of the Burgh Muir in 1586 created, to the west, the Canaan Estate in which St Roque’s chapel lay. The collection of Biblical place names around the Canaan area, including Little Egypt, may originate from the site of a gypsy camp; the term gypsy being a corruption of Egyptian, based on a misunderstanding of their origins. 

To the east was the farm of St Giles. Following the Reformation, this formed part of the estate associated with Grange House, built in 1592. The land was largely common grazing, sloping to the south. William Dick, a very wealthy merchant and at one time the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, purchased the lands of the Grange in 1631. Two centuries later, his family became the feudal superiors of the Victorian residential development which forms the basis of the Grange Conservation Area. 

Grange House demolished in 1936

The estates were used for farming and related industries up until 1803, when the Canaan area between Grange Loan and Canaan Lane was feued out into large (c.3 acre) plots for residential development. Small country mansions or villas with private, walled grounds and extensive gardens were developed by a group of intellectuals, university professors and medical practitioners. The development of the Canaan Estate therefore prefaces the development of the main area of the Grange through the Dick Lauder and subsequent plans by 20 – 30 years. The current use of the Astley Ainslie site as a medical and educational establishment maintains the connection with the professions and interests of the first feuars. 

1825 Feuing Plan 

Map from National Library of Scotland

In 1825, Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, made land from the Grange Estate available for development. This required an act of Parliament. The Grange Feuing Plan of 1825, which comprised a series of parallel streets between two major roads: Grange Road to the north and Dick Place to the south, remains a core townscape element of the area.

Grange Road appears on the Plan as an access road linking the estate with a new road, now Newington Road. Other streets were proposed at right angles to the main east-west axes: Mansionhouse Road, Lauder Road and Cumin Place. In 1851, part of the estate north of Grange Road was also feued.

From the mid 19th century, increased demand for housing prompted Dick Lauder to commission Robert Reid Raeburn to design further feuing plans in 1858, 1864 and 1877. Under the first two plans, all available land as far south as Grange Loan was to be divided into smaller plots for individual houses set within their own private gardens. Minor variations to this pattern included a series of flatted dwellings with shops at the comers of Hatton Place. These were the only shops in Raeburn’s plans. Individual or semi-detached houses in separate gardens remained the norm. The 1877 Feuing Plan continued the established street pattern as far south as St. Alban’s Road.

Open spaces 

The Astley Ainslie Hospital and Grange Cemetery form the principal open spaces. Grange Cemetery was established in 1847 by the Edinburgh Southern Cemetery Company Ltd. The site was selected for its natural beauty, seclusion, freedom from pollution and close proximity to the city. David Bryce designed and laid out the Cemetery, which comprised an open space of twelve acres with a mortuary chapel above vaults in the centre of the ground. 

By the early 20th century, the Canaan Estate had become a nine hole golf course bordered by villas. This area was acquired under the will of John Ainslie in 1921 and became the site of the new Astley Ainslie Hospital in 1922. Most of the villas were retained and converted for hospital use, thus preserving the essential character of the earlier villa development. The distinctive butterfly-plan pavilions facing Blackford Hill were erected in the 1930s. 

Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries 

The character of the Grange was well established by the end of the 19th century. No major changes took place in the Grange in the first half of the 20th century apart from some notable additions in the inter- war years and the controversial demolition of Grange House in 1936, to make way for a new development of bungalows and flatted villas. The gatepiers from Grange House, surmounted by the Lauder Wyverns, were re-erected on Grange Loan, one at the corner of Lover’s Loan and the other c.65m west of Lauder Road. 

Since the Second World War, development has mainly occurred within the gardens of some of the larger villas, although a small number of villas have been demolished to make way for new developments. Concern about the loss of its character and especially loss of garden space led to the creation of the Grange Conservation area in 1982. Notable examples of inter- and post-war architecture in the Grange have been recognised by listing, and contribute to its architectural quality, including the Strathearn Road Postal Sorting Office (1919); the Astley Ainslie Scientific Block (1929); 40-42 and 46a Dick Place (1934); 14 Kilgraston Road (1937) and 10 St Thomas Rd (1961). More recently, a number of striking contemporary extensions have added further to the evolution of the area’s architecture. 

Historical activity 

Although the Dick Lauder feuing conditions restricted non-residential uses in that part of the area, changes appeared over time, primarily introducing uses connected with health, social and community care such as nursing homes, schools/colleges, churches/ community centres and a library. A certain amount of industrial activity also developed at the peripheries of the area during the 19th century, such as the William Younger & Co. Artesian Wells in Grange Loan. The evolution of the Astley Ainslie site is the only example of the development of non-residential activities on a large scale in the Grange area. 


The development of the Grange reflected changes to the settlement pattern and suburban expansion which occurred in Edinburgh in the mid-19th century. While the rigorous terms and conditions of the historic feuing plans controlled the standards and scale of development in the Grange, the characteristic styles of its architecture and landscape features were fashioned more by picturesque influences which became popular during the Victorian era. 

A large part of the Grange was developed around 1830, when such ideas were being adopted by the growing middle class of merchants and professionals in Edinburgh who were seeking a more secluded environment in which to raise their families. The Grange had the advantages of physical separation from the overcrowded medieval city core and offered individual dwellings in a predominantly suburban setting in contrast to the tenements of the Georgian New Town. Detached or semi-detached houses within their own private gardens bounded by high stone walls provided an attractive contrast to the communal living of the central area, and the fashions and desires of property owners are reflected in the profusion of architectural styles and individual or idiosyncratic features. The outstanding quality of many of the villas is due to the insistence of the Dick Lauder family on high architectural standards. The suburb, virtually complete by 1890, represented the idealisation of country living within an urban setting. 

This article is based on sections of

“Conservation Area Character Appraisal” – City of Edinburgh Council

The Grange a Case for Conservation” – Grange Association