The Grange is a gently rolling suburb, and lacks both the historic monuments of central Edinburgh, and the grand geography of Arthur’s Seat or Calton Hill. But it sits to the north of Blackford Hill, an amenity to many residents. And as well as one or two small monuments, there are both institutions and green spaces of real local importance.

The Wyverns are gryphon-like creatures who decorated the gateposts of Grange House. With the demolition of Grange House, and building of Grange Crescent, the Wyverns were moved to new spots, but are both still to be found on the stretch of Grange Loan between Lauder Road and Lover’s Loan. Another monument that has changed over time—but hardly moved—is the Penny Well in Grange Loan. It is the only one of several local wells whose location is still obviously marked.

The Library in Fountainhall Road is just down the hill from the Penny Well, and this important local institution was built the site of a church whose congregation united with North Mayfield in 1958.

The Grange (or Southern) Cemetery lies to the north of the area, on Grange Road, between Lover’s Loan and Kilgraston Road. It contains the graves and tombs of many local residents, including two murdered by Dr Pritchard (see section 1). It is a peaceful place, with attractive trees. Standing at the top of the area’s gentle sothward slope, it has impressive views to both Arthur’s Seat and Blackford Hill. At the southern side of the Grange lie the grounds of the Astley Ainslie Hospital, and this provides another green, wooded space, essential to the character of the area. In this section, the Astley Ainslie is remembered as it was around the time of second world war, by Mary Cunningham, daughter of the first Medical Superintendent. One green space that has been lost—the Mortonhall Road allotments—are here described, as they were before they were developed. A final important green landmark of the area is remembered by Alun Davies, in section 4, which follows this one.

Newington Library

Newington Library

‘This southern oasis, where once a temple stood.’ Thus ran the description of the library, penned by a local newspaper columnist as he sat waxing poetic in the sun on the rear patio of the newly opened building.

Newington Library was officially opened on Thursday 13th March 1975 by Councillor Robert Lorimer, Chairman of the Libraries and Museums Committee of the then Corporation of the City of Edinburgh. The opening ceremony was attended by representatives of interested parties from within the commu- nity including the East Grange Association, the congregation of Mayfield Church of Scotland and the Mayfield Book Group, all of whom had campaigned vigorously for the provision of a library service point in the area.

From the outset the library proved a tremendous success. Its advent had been eagerly awaited as ev- idenced by the stream of enquirers trying the doors during the final stages of fitting out and by the queue of people which had already formed outside by 9:00 a.m. on the first morning of operation. This enthusiasm was reflected in the initial reader registration and book issue statistics which surpassed all expectations. Many elderly residents of the area who, due to problems of mobility and transport, had been unable to make use of the facilities of the hitherto nearest service points of Morningside Branch and the Central Library found the new library particularly welcome. This latter point was borne out in the case of one senior citizen who presented a borrowers’ ticket issued and last used at Morningside library in 1948!

During the first year of operation the audio library alone attracted in excess of 6,000 members whose borrowing habits reflected a broad cross section of contemporary taste in music. The initial collection of some 7,000 records and cassettes provided a wide choice of classical, jazz, folk, ‘pop’ and light or- chestral/instrumental music as well as spoken word recordings in the fields of both prose and poetry and foreign language courses. Grateful parents made good use of the attractive collection of recordings for children as this service appeared to relieve them of the onerous task of reading bed-time stories! A public listening area furnished with sets of headphones allowed users to sample their choice of music prior to borrowing and this proved popular for those with time on their hands.

Shortly after the opening of the library a special ‘At Home’ was held on a Saturday afternoon for the elderly and handicapped. Parties were brought along by staff of the Simon Square Centre, the WRVS and members of local community organisations. After a cup of tea, the visitors were shown the re- sources of the library and themselves contributed some interesting observations on points which might be considered in future design. Within a year of opening, and in recognition of the provision it made for disabled people, Newington Library was awarded the prestigious ‘Building Award Scheme 1976’ certificate by the Scottish Council on Disability. The publicity generated by this award brought librar- ians and architects involved in similar projects from far afield to view our facilities. One such visitor arrived on a Wednesday afternoon to find eight elderly wheelchair users from Liberton Hospital deftly manoeuvering their vehicles around the bookshelves and a labrador guide dog waiting patiently as her master was assisted in his choice of music.

Like any other public branch library Newington soon attracted its fair share of local ‘characters’. Users of the library during its early days were regularly entertained by the retired army Major who spent long afternoons in the audio ‘listening area’ vigorously conducting military brass bands with a pencil! Another local worthy who had forgotten his library ticket offered to leave a hat and walking stick as surety on the loan of his chosen thriller.

A further happy occurrence was the ‘adoption’ of the library by a neighbouring feline resident. ‘Lick- a-paw’, the fluffy, snow-white library cat, strode into the library one autumn morning, perched himself comfortably on one of the lounge chairs in the casual reading area and thereafter spent his days in the building returning home each twilight to St. Alban’s Road for his evening meal. He was a great favourite with the readers, especially the children, and the staff, whom he tolerated with equanimity, and was sadly missed when his owner moved from the area.

The past fifteen years have witnessed the consolidation of the library as a community asset. The book-stock has been continuously extended and enhanced, the audio provision rationalised (mainly due to the opening of the Central Audio Library) and facilities within the building reorganised and improved. The introduction of the automated book issuing system, the computerised catalogue and the sophisti- cated information unit, giving free access to council information and the internet, have all added to the value of the service. Recent innovations have included a ‘self-charging unit’ which allows library users to personally record details of the books which they are borrowing, thus helping to relieve the pressure on staff during particularly busy periods.

A measure of the affection and appreciation in which Newington Library as a community resource is regarded was ably demonstrated in early 1998 when it was threatened with closure as part of a local government cost cutting exercise. Almost immediately after the announcement a vigorous campaign to save the library was mounted and letters of protest poured into the offices of the local councillors and the Member of Parliament. Mr Albert Morris, the Scotsman columnist, a lifelong champion of library services and a regular user of Newington branch, lent his valuable support to the campaign. In a contribution headed ‘Ardent readers betrayed for thirty pieces of silver’ he put the case, in his own eloquent and inimitable style, for the preservation of our service point. The local author Ian Rankin also spoke out in defence of the library thus adding weight to the case for reprieve. The public outcry on this issue led to a speedy reversal of the decision and a satisfactory outcome for the community. ‘People power’ is alive and well and thriving in the Grange!

Bert Robertson – September 2003


In 2002, there was considerable excitement in the immediate neighbourhood of Seton Place. Workmen from the Water Board, working on pipes just below Grange Road had uncovered an old well. It was extremely attractive, with its complete circle of large stones and was very deep. Many people came to see it, to photograph it and perhaps even to imagine sun-bonnetted maids and their swains taking their ease around it on warm Summer evenings long ago! It was a real anticlimax when the well was capped off and the tarmac again hid this piece of history. ‘Our’ well was not the first to be discovered in the area, however. In October, 1953 a well was discovered in the garden of a house in Kilgraston Road. It, too, was built on the drystane principle and was 20 feet deep.

Well found in Seton Place 2002

Many people in the area will remember a rather strange but interesting building which stood in Grange Loan almost opposite the Carlton Cricket Club. It was built in 1905 to cover and manage the artesian well sunk in 1889 by Wm Younger and Co., the water being used for brewing. However, by 1985 it was no longer needed and in its turn, that well too was capped, the building pulled down and the site used for building flats. For those who did not know this building, there is a splendid photogragh in ‘Marchmont, Sciennes and Grange’, by Malcolm Cant.

But some wells in the Grange have a much longer history, the best-known being the Penny Well, which was closely connected with the Convent of St. Katherine of Siena in Sciennes. The sisters at the convent made an annual pilgrimage to the Balm Well at Liberton, which was believed to have healing properties, principally for skin diseases. The story goes that the sisters took some of the water to Queen Margaret at the Castle.

The Penny Well water too was reputedly a healing spring, especially for eyes. It also ran very clear and even in times of drought the water did not dry up. The spring ran through the lands of Grange House, so Sir Thomas Dick Lauder installed a new basin for the well in Grange Loan. Lord Cockburn speaks of the old woman in the neighbouring cottage who had charge of the well and who sold glasses of water at a penny or a ‘stoupful’ for family use at the same price. Before a public system with water supplied from the Pentlands was instituted, many local households had their water supply needs met by the Penny Well.

Unfortunately around 1870 the stream ceased to flow – perhaps because of the preparation of the ground for the building of the many new houses. But a report in the Scotsman newspaper in 1887 tells us that during a digging operation, the old basin of the well was unearthed and there was a large popular move to have the well reinstated. Unfortunately tests showed that the water had become contaminated so could no longer be used. But such was the weight of public opinion that the Council allocated 30 pounds for the connection of the well to the public supply system and for the provision of a handsome basin, and at the pavement level a basin for the use of animals. The Penny Well was in use for many years and was selected by John Gray, the author of a book on the Southside, as one of the 12 features of Edinburgh worth knowing!

By 1945 it was felt that the Penny Well no longer served a useful purpose and could not be converted to a more hygenic form of drinking fountain. So the basins were removed and a Cruachan red sandstone bearing the inscription – the Penny Well – was retained.

(We are indebted to material from the book ‘The Grange of St. Giles’ by F.E. Smith, published in 1898, for the early history of the Penny Well, and to the archive material in the Edinburgh Room of the Central library).

Sheila Reid – July 2003

Penny Well Specification 1887

Specification of work to be executed . . . for the erection of
A Granite Fountain at the site of the Old Penny Well, Grange Loan Burgh Engineer’s Office Edinburgh 7th December 1887

Penny Well specifications 1887

1 The fountain to be made entirely of the best Red or Grey Granite, to be selected from specimens to be furnished by the Offerer and to be free from all flaws or blemishes, to be as the dimensions and design shown on drawings prepared by the Burgh Engineer.

2 The whole of the dog trough . . . flutings of columns and flutings of shell is to be . . . All flat sections of front sides also upper bed and . . . of . . . is to be brightly polished.

3 Four holes 1 1/4 diameter or thereby as directed to be worked through the granite …wall of the passage of a water supply and wash(?) pipes.

4 The present wall on which the fountain is to be fixed is to be cut or . . . out to receive the granite work and must be properly and solidly built up round and behind the same when die fountain has been fixed. The face of the wall round the new work to be properly and neatly pointed with cement or lime as may be directed.

5 The Contractor to pay all carriage of granite or other material required by him, provide all . . .
The whole work to be completed to the satisfaction of the Burgh Engineer which shall be . . . . . . required. Contractor must include in his Tender . . . . . . finish the work . . .
Burgh Engineer
This is the Specification referred to in my offer of date . . . December 1887
(sgd) A W Forbes Witness (sgd) James H Kerr
(sgd) William Fairley Witness
Typed from a manuscript copy in an unknown hand by Graham Dickson – July 2000

Grange Cemetery

As you stand at this cemetery’s gate, south of the old city of Edinburgh, you are at the ridge of the ancient Burgh Muir. Here, from the earliest times to the Jacobites, were common grazings and the haunts of vagrants. Kings hunted over the moor and its forests, and assembled armies there.

Grange Cemetery

By 1513, enclosed by its Flodden Wall, Edinburgh could only expand upwards. Overcrowding increased and so eyes and minds turned to the north and, based on James Craig’s plan, the new town was growing, across the Nor Loch, by the turn of the 18th Century.

Soon, the richer townsfolk, again seeking even more space—and some perhaps wanting to turn a coin— built George Square, drained the Burgh Loch (now the Meadows), and longingly looking even further out from town, thought of developing the south-sloping land of the Burgh Muir. Sir Thomas Dick Lauder obtained an enabling Act of Parliament (1825) and, under rigorous conditions, planned to ar- range feus on: ‘. . . the lands of Grange, called St Geillie Grange, with the Manor Place of Grange, Houses, Biggins, Yards, Orcheards, Dovecoats . . . also . . . arable land of Schynes . . . with Houses and Biggins now waste, and Pertinents thereof, lying betwixt the other land of Saint Geillie Grange on the West and South Parts, and the Common Muir of Edinburgh on the East and North Parts . . . ’ At this time, housebuilding had already started further south-west on the lands of Canaan (areas of present-day Morningside).

In 1753, Edinburgh’s urban population was about 48,000 and this had increased to just over 90,000 by 1801, the year of the first official census. In 1851 the population of Edinburgh exceeded 200,000.

Even at the start of the 19th Century, the city’s old churchyards, all in heavily populated neighbour- hoods, and some having been extended more than once, were more than full. Often bad maintenance, and tombs with encircling protection against body-snatchers, allowed filth to pile up.

To meet the problems, private companies made cemeteries near the then outer limits of Edinburgh. Five cemeteries were opened from 1843 to 1846, and the largest, the Southern or Grange Cemetery, owned by the Edinburgh Southern Cemetery Company, was able to receive its first interment, that of Dr Thomas Chalmers, in June 1847.

Grange Cemetery, designed by the architect David Bryce, was planned to provide for ordinary burials and for lodgements in vaults. However, fashions changed quickly. The vaults rapidly became un- popular, as monuments, easily seen, and for some so readily exhibiting a conspicuous connection to substantial wealth, became voguish. An intended mortuary chapel was never erected, but there was an extension westwards in the 1920s.

It is, maybe, interesting to note that cremation became available in Edinburgh in 1929. Nevertheless, the Grange Cemetery remains open for all who wish to pay respects to forebears and for the use of families possessing lairs. In 1976 the Grange Cemetery was taken over by the City of Edinburgh District Council.

Gerald H. France – 1999

Astley Ainslie Hospital

The large green site, with its gardens, was from the beginning considered as an important contributor to the improved health of patients referred from the Royal Infirmary. The care of the grounds and the provision of fresh vegetables was a particular concern of those responsible for the management of the hospital.

Astley Ainslie Hospital

The large green site, with its gardens, was from the beginning considered as an important contributor to the improved health of patients referred from the Royal Infirmary. The care of the grounds and the provision of fresh vegetables was a particular concern of those responsible for the management of the hospital.

The original one-storey pavilions were built with enough south facing verandah space for all the beds to be outside and most patients quickly learned to prefer staying out all the time, even in winter. They could ask for as many blankets as they wanted and hot bottles were provided whenever asked for. In bad weather, tarpaulins covered the blankets and could be tied down in windy weather. Patients in bed were only wheeled in for bed making, bathing and treatment. The staff were the people who had to become hardy! The rows of red blankets were a familiar sight to walkers on Blackford Hill, who probably did not realize that patients with binoculars found them a constant source of interest and entertainment.

Once up and about, the patients were encouraged to make use of their surroundings: walking, playing croquet, putting, and bowls and – under supervision – helping in the gardens. In 1929, when the devel- opment of the hospital was about to begin, the grounds of the old houses were still being managed as separate estates with their walled gardens. There were extensive greenhouses where peaches, vines, figs and some exotic fruits were grown as well as camellias and orchids, etc. Two of the old gardeners, both in their nineties, were still employed and one of them used to visit his ‘glass’ every Sunday morning dressed in a frock coat and silk hat.

There were many old wells on the site and one was found under the dining room floor of Millbank. Care was taken to preserve the mature trees and as a matter of policy most of the old garden walls were retained. The Head Gardener was well qualified; he had trained at Floors Castle and then at the Botanic Gardens. He was responsible for developing the new grounds to the south which had been a ladies nine hole golf course. There was also a Deputy Head, two under-gardeners and twelve labourers, proof of the interest of the Board of Governors.

South Bank, the house which was built for the Medical Superintendent, beside the Memorial gates, was a delightful family home. With its large garden and tennis court, entertaining staff as well as family friends became a regular activity. There was an annual New Year dinner party for senior staff, at which boisterous games were played using the front and back staircases. The Matron, in particular, had to be prevented from cheating and several of the young doctors involved are now retired from distinguished medical careers and professorial chairs.

Having been the main area to which plague victims were brought in the Middle Ages, relics still come to light when digging. There have been several episodes when the finding of human bones has been reported and the Professor of Forensic Medicine has come rushing out to investigate a suspected murder.

The outbreak of war brought about changes in the use of the hospital. In the expectation of many civilian casualties and possible poison gas attacks, the hospital became a centre for the collection and decontamination of casualties. The amount of glass was a problem so it was decided to sandbag all possible windows. Volunteers from the hospital and University students were called for. In three weeks, the volunteers, probation nurses and other women staff members filled 8,000 sandbags with 700 tons of sand and built walls up to 15 feet high. It was hard work, done at speed. To save time, lunch was provided daily followed by a short rest lying on the grass in the sun. In the vacuum before war was declared, everyone was glad to have something useful to do – not to mention the fun the volunteers had among themselves.

The expected casualties did not materialise, but the extreme cold of the winter of 1939 caused many cases of exposure and pneumonia among the reservists called up to man searchlights and ack ack guns on the hill tops. Although it was a military hospital, the civilian medical staff remained. In the Services, one was either sick or well with no half measures, which was very different from our rehabilitation nursing. We had E.N.S.A. concerts and other entertainments; some were excellent, others the reverse. Two in particular stand out. Waldo Lanchester (brother of Elsa, the film star) came with his 30” marionettes and the effect on the troops of the little figures walking about among them was extraordinary – they were completely fascinated. The other unforgettable evening was a ‘Recital’ by Sybil Thorndyke. Staff were very nervous, first, whether anyone would turn up – and second, if they did, would they stay? Staff were posted at the doors to prevent an exodus of the sparse audience. The recital began with poems and a scene from Macbeth in which she played all the parts. Several men got up and made for the door but when asked to stay, they said they were going to collect their friends who ‘were missing something’. There were no empty seats after half an hour!

To mark V.E. Day a tree, Cedar Atlanticus, was ceremonially planted and there was a party for all staff and patients. Some patients were allowed passes up to 8pm. At 9pm, the Matron went on her rounds to see that all had returned. Only one man, still dressed, was sitting on the edge of his bed, rather muzzy but very cheerful. She said ‘. . . get into bed at once’; the patient rocking backwards and forwards looked at her medal ribbons and said ‘You’ve been in twa wars, maybe three, but y’re no such a bad-looking old girl – I’ll get into bed for ye if ye dinna mak a fourth’. This was all round the hospital by next morning, to everyone’s delight – not least the Matron’s.

The hospital was handed back by the Army late in 1945 and after a period of returning to its prewar form, resumed its civilian function of providing rehabilitation services for Royal Infirmary patients. It took a little time to get used to treating civilians instead of servicemen, but we soon did and began looking forward to developing our ideas and techniques, as well as preparing for the great changes which would come with the introduction of the National Health Service.

Mary Cunningham, daughter of former Medical Superintendent, via Dorothy Ryle

Mortonhall Road Allotments

Looking down on the Grange from Blackford Hill . . . the allotments in Mortonhall Road [used to] form one of the few remaining pieces of open ground. [I] remember my father planting potatoes and tending cabbages there and trundling home the wheelbarrow laden with leeks and broccoli or the ingredients for a salad.

That allotment was in fact the last of three he maintained from the early days of the Second World War. Do the present inhabitants of Blackford House and Charterhall Grove realise that the ground they now live on kept not a few families in vegetables for many years? The gardeners moved in after the original house was reduced to rubble (not by a bomb – I understand that the building had become unsafe) and once they had erected wire-netting fences to keep out the rabbits, were soon digging and planting, hoeing and harvesting. These men may not have been fighting in North Africa or Normandy but they did respond to the poster ‘Dig for Victory’.

My mother must have been glad of the healthy additions to our food rations and encouraged my fa- ther to grow more. How he was offered another piece of ground in what is now Monkwood Court in Kilgraston Road I do not know. I suspect the owner of the large house and garden was also one of the ARP wardens centred at 6 Oswald Road. (Perhaps someone else remembers about that group?) The handsome gates behind which the rather dark and mysterious house stood were heavy for a small girl to open, the surrounding trees and bushes seemed a bit frightening to walk through, but the lower gar- den was open and sunny and the row of Dad’s peas provided an extra snack as I picked enough for the family’s meal.

Boiled leeks in a cheese sauce or spinach and a poached egg – we kept six hens in the back garden – made a good high tea in winter, while we would be enticed home in the long evenings of double summer time by the promise of lettuce and Marmite sandwiches. Ah! those games of kick-the-can in the forecourt of the garages at the end of West Savile – but the places where we played is another story.

Lorna Mill – Newsletter No 57 – Autumn 1994