What better way to start the day than with a quick refresher on why this unusual and distinctive block is so called and a little of its history.
Rose Mount was an old “big hoose” that once occupied this area of town, the domain of William Morison, a Writer (in Scottish law a Writer is a Solicitor). Morison feud his land from the Heriot’s Trust in 1790. (That is, under old Scottish feudal property law, a smaller portion of land was split off of the larger for development by its owner, and the latter remained the feudal superior of the former.)
Morison owned the plot of land south of the road to Glasgow via Linlithgow, and surrounded by the Dalry House estate to the west, Bonar of Grove to the south and Walker of Gardner’s Hall to the east. Note at this time the modern street name of Morrison Street did not exist (Morrison is a modern rendering of the traditional Morison). Instead of a single street name, the road was progressively Rose Mount, Tobago Street and then the more ancient lost placenames of Castle Barns and Orchardfield. Morison also owned the properties of Whitehouse and Adiefield in the same stretch.
Tobago Street was so called because the owner of the land here was one Nathaniel Davidson “of the Island of Tobago“. We can assume a plantation owner of some description. Castle Barns and Orchardfield dated back to the early Kings of Scotland, David I having an orchard and barns there in 1120 to service the castle with produce. Morison and Rose Mount are first mentioned in the feuing of 1790s and by the 1817 revision of the Town Plan, a bay-fronted house can be seen looking down an ornamental driveway and avenue along the Glasgow Road, perfectly positioned to catch the evening sun and make a statement to anyone arriving in the city from the direction of West Lothian, Stirling and Glasgow.
Morison is “the late” William Morison by 1824, when his lands here called “Morison’s Park” are offered for feuing. It is noted at this time that the street that would later be called Morrison Street was intended to be called St. Cuthbert’s Street. By 1849 the city is growing up around Rose Mount, the driveway and avenue seem somewhat suppressed and the structure to the rear of the house is in ruin. By this time Morrison Street (note the different spelling) is clearly established, but the buildings along its north side are not as of yet.
Morrison Street was probably not named for our William Morison, but for Thomas Morison or Morrison – a wealthy builder from Muthill near Crieff in Pertshire – whose bequest founded the Morrison’s Academy private school in Crieff. After Thomas Morison’s death, the trustees of his estate – lead by one Captain Hugh Morrison – bought William Morison’s land to the north of what would become Morrison Street and developed the streets of Dewar Place, Torphicen Street etc. By 1848, Rose Mount (site marked X) falls into disuse and is swallowed up by the Caledonian Railway coal yard, By 1854 it is struck off the Post Office Directory but the name is commemorated with an entry for Rosebank Cottages (confusingly on the old Grove lands to the east.)
Rosebank Cottages were built between 1854 and 1857 and are a charming Colonies-style housing scheme (but not by the Edinburgh Cooperative Building Company) modelled on Shaw’s Houses in Pilrig. The Rosebank Cottages were designed by Alexander MacGregor to provide “flatted cottages for the better class of mechanics“. Each house contained living room, two bedrooms, a scullery and a toilet.
The interior layouts and construction were by a young James Gowans, later Sir James; architect, builder, quarrymaster, local politician and businessman extraordinaire. At Rosebank, Gowans strived to give the working man and his family a small, self-contained house with its own front door, this was one of the reasons for the “deck access” of the upper level flats, accessed by a common external staircase that Gowans designed the ironwork for.
Inside there was the luxury of a hallway, meaning there were no rooms accessed by first passing through another. He also pioneered soil pipe vents at roof level for the water closets to vent the smells away from the properties (a standard feature of toilet plumbing that we now all take for granted) and an innovative passive ventilation system which was pre-heated by drawing air in past the kitchen range grate and extracting it through a flue in the roof ridge. As if to prove a point (or perhaps because of his financial circumstances), Gowans moved into the recently completed Rosebank Cottages, living at number 34 for 4 years.
At around the same time, John Taylor and Son of Princes Street, “Cabinet makers and Upholsterers to Her Majesty the Queen” opened a large cabinet works to the south, the Rosemount Cabinet Works.
I can’t find a good photo of the Rosemount Works, but it’s noted as being built in brick, and it can be seen in the corner of these dark and grainy Britain From Above aerial photos. Taylor and Son went into liquidation in 1946 although it was communicated in the local papers that the business was being continued by some of its management. By 1951, it was a saleroom for second-hand furniture being operated by Findlater Smith Ltd.
The year following the construction of the Rosemount Works, 1858, the Rosemount Buildings were built to the plans of William Lambie Moffatt, to provide “model industrial housing” comprising of 96 brick-built flats in a around a private quadrangle.
The styling was very industrial itself, making extensive use of cream brick details. Moffatt (who incidentally had spent some of the younger years of his life at 8 Morrison Street), made his name designing poorhouses in Scotland and North England. Most of Moffatt’s poorhouses (or workhouses as they were known in England). These buildings were in a traditional, stone-built style, but clearly something influenced him in the radically different, dare I say “English”, style of Rosemount Buildings.
Again, Rosemount Buildings used deck access, with corner stair wells rather than external staircases, to provide each house with a private entrance. There was a great concern around public health at this time and it was felt that such arrangements were more sanitary for workers housing than the traditional Scottish “close”. The traditional tenement drying green was turned on its head by this design, being a central feature of the quadrangle, rather than hidden away behind the block.
In later life, Moffatt designed schools for the Free Church and – after the 1872 Education Act – for the School Boards, but these generally seem to be again in the now traditional stone, gothic style, preferred by the clients, e.g. the Portobello Board School on Duddingston Park.
Moffatt’s Gothic style in these schools is quite distinctive, they are more ecclesiastical looking than the style favoured by later School Board architects – e.g. “Lovers Loan Board School“, now Leith Walk Primary School.
Those unnecessarily grand buttresses at Lover’s Loan could easily have come off a cathedral, and were repeated by him on the visually similar Bristo (later Marshall Street) Board School, and the corner tower could have been lifted directly off of the plans for Lover’s Loan with only a few small adjustments.
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