The thread about Gorgie and Dalry and some of the bits in between; the derivation of their place names; some of their early history and an infamous murderer

This thread was originally written and published in August 2021. It has been lightly edited and corrected as applicable for this post.

It’s been a while, so I thought I would take a dive into the placename books and have a look around Gorgie and Dalry. The pic is the wonderfully 80s neighbourhood branding that some of the streetsigns got for reasons I don’t know of. It is now used by the Community Council.

Gorgie Dalry Community Council logo

Gorgie? It’s very old name, records go back to the late 12th century when William “The Lion” I of Scotland was on the throne and it was Gorgine on charters of Holyrood Abbey.

The seal of William I of Scotland
The seal of William I of Scotland

The land was a Royal Manor, with a Provost in charge. The earliest recorded owner was “Serlo”, a burgher of Edinburgh. Serlo is a Norman name, from Norse. As to what Gorgie means, the thinking is it comes from the Brytonnic Gor Gyn, a geographic description for an “upper wedge” of land, probably defined between the Water of Leith and Craiglockhart hills, seen here on Roy’s map of the 1750s.

William Roy's Lowland Map, c. 1750, showing the approximate lands of Gorgie. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
William Roy’s Lowland Map, c. 1750, showing the approximate lands of Gorgie. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Indeed it’s possible that an old 14th century placename Craggis de Gorgin may refer to the Craiglockhart Hills, with Estircrag de Gorgyne, the east hill of Gorgie, being Craighouse Hill. By the 13th century the name began to evolve, through Gorgyne, Gorgyn and Gorgye until by the early 16th century it got to Gorgy or Gorgie. The Blaeu atlas of 1654 gives Gorgy (although on the wrong side of the river) and Adair’s of 1682 gives Gorgie.

Gorgy and Gorgy mill, on Cornelius Blaeu's map of 1654. Note Darry m. (Dalry Mill) to the north. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
Gorgy and Gorgy mill, on Cornelius Blaeu’s map of 1654. Note Darry m. (Dalry Mill) to the north. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Roy’s map of the 1750s clearly shows the line of Gorgie Road (yellow) and Slateford Road (green), with Gorgiehouse on the east bank of a lade (the “Rose Burn” of Roseburn) which diverted the Water of Leith for milling. Damhead just to the north emphasises the point. Gorgie Mill dates to the late 15th century and Gorgie House to the early 16th. Clearly the estate was important and industrious in nature.

William Roy's Lowland Map, c. 1750, showing the Gorgie and Slateford Roads. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
William Roy’s Lowland Map, c. 1750, showing the Gorgie and Slateford Roads. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

By the mid 19th century, Gorgie House had disappeared as a name for the district thanks to the dominant importance of Gorgie Mills, which was as a result of the success and growth of Cox’s glue and gelatine works. I’m assuming it is Gorgie House in the centre of this 1852 advert.

Cox's Patent Gelatine Works, from Grace's Guide
Cox’s Patent Gelatine Works, from Grace’s Guide

This contemporary Ordnance Survey map clearly shows Gorgie as a rural setting on the fringe of the city. Gorgie Mills is surrounded by Gorgie (West Mains of Gorgie) to the west, Gorgie Park to the south and Gorgie Mains to the east. In the centre is Gorgie Station on the North British Railway.

OS 6 inch map, 1877 survey. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
OS 6 inch map, 1877 survey. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

The use of Mains (i.e. Mains farm) is a connection back to when this was a feudal estate. The mains (a Scots word, from Norman Domain) was the principal farm of the estate. If you have a mains farm, you have an estate. After Serlo, the lands of Gorgie estate had passed by the late 13th c. to a Fergus Comyn, from whom it was bought by Sir William de Levington (Livingston) of Drury, who became Lord of Gorgyn, Craigmillar and Drumry.

After William, Lord of Gorgyn, the lands appear to have gone back to Holyrood Abbey before being sold off in the 16th century to “portioners” (in Scots feudal land law, “the proprietor of a small feu or portion of land“). This process was reversed by Sir Thomas Mudie (Moodie), a wealthy Edinburgh burgess of the family of Mudies of Angus. Mudie bought up the portions of Gorgie and Saughton from 1637, joining them with lands he bought in Dalry in 1642 and styling himself Sir Thomas Mudie of Dalry.

On the death of Sir Thomas, the lands passed to his daughter Jonet, whose husband then became Sir Alexander Maxwell of Saughtonhall, after one of the principal houses on the estate.

Saughtonhall House

In 1669, Jonet sold the estate to Sir Robert Baird, another wealthy Edinburgh merchant, who became Robert Baird of Saughtonhall. In 1695 he was created 1st Baronet of Saughtonhall in the peerage of Nova Scotia, hence the Nova Scotian emblem on the arms.

It was Baird who rebuilt Saughtonhall house, which the Baird Baronets continued to occupy for 100 or so years before it was let out. The lands were parcelled up and sold off over the years, with Saughtonhall becoming a “Private Lunatic Asylum” in 1824. The Corporation of Edinburgh bought the lands in 1900 and the house in 1907. The Bairds and Saughtonhall are commemorated by a small number of streets to the north in Balgreen built in the 1920s.

Baird and Saughtonhall streetnames around Balgreen

And now onto Dalry. Stuart Harris, an authority on such matters, does not support the obvious derivation of the Gaelic Dail Righ (or King’s meadow). Instead he prefers the Bryttonic Dol Rug, via Gaelic Dail Fhraoigh (or heathery meadow). Dalry goes back to the early 14th century as Dalrye, with Dailry also being given in the 15th c. and the Dalry Mills were important waulking and grinding mills from that time, on that same lade as Gorgie Mills known as the Rose Burn.

Adair's map of 1682, showing Delry and De(l)ry Mil(l). Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
Adair’s map of 1682, showing Delry and De(l)ry Mil(l). Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Dalry Mills saw the first recorded paper making in Scotland in 1591, when father and son merchants Mungo and Gideon Russell contracted two German papermakers, Haere and Keysar, to convert a mill to paper making. For their efforts King James VI granted them a 19 year monopoly. Dalry House, “a classy villa institutionalised in a back street” dates from the 17th century and has been considerably modified and extended since.

Dalry House in Victorian times, from Old & New Edinburgh by James Grant
Dalry House in Victorian times, from Old & New Edinburgh by James Grant

Dalry House was once home of John Chiesly, a man of “violent and ungovernable passions“, who infamously shot and murdered the Lord President, Sir George Lockhart, in 1689.

Dalry House, CC-BY-SA Mr H
Dalry House, CC-BY-SA Mr H

Chiesly had arrived infront of Lockhart’s bench due to divorce proceedings involving his long suffering and estranged wife Margaret Nicholson. When Lockhart found in Margaret’s favour, the barely sane Chiesly went into a rage and swore revenge. Although Lockhart was forewarned, he brushed aside the concerns and went about his business. He was followed from Church at St. Giles on Easter Sunday, 1689 by Chiesly, who shot him in the back at close range, outside his house on the High Street.

Sir George Lockhart
Sir George Lockhart

Chiesly was apprehended at the scene and reputedly said “I am not wont to do things by halves, and now I have taught the president how to do justice.” For his pains he was tortured to find out if he had accomplices and was then sentenced to death by the Lord Provost . He was dragged across Edinburgh to the Mercat Cross to be hung in chains, before which the arm which had fired the pistol was cut off. He was left to die on the scaffold with his pistol hanging from his neck. What became of “Johnny One Arm” was unknown, but it was alleged his supporters rescued his body and buried it in secret on the Dalry estate and that his ghost haunts Dalry House. In 1965 a one-armed, 300 year old skeleton was reputedly uncovered in the grounds…

In 1696, Dalry House was bought by Sir Alexander Brand, who renamed it Brandsfield, but it reverted to its previous name when sold off in 1714. In 1870, Dalry House was sold by its residents, the Walkers, to the Scottish Episcopal Church as a training college.

OS 1893 Town Plan. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
OS 1893 Town Plan. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

This undoubtedly saved the house from being swallowed up by the tenements that had by then surrounded it, to provide workers housing for what was now an industrial suburb. Dalry House became a Normal School, from the French école normale, a model school for teaching teachers; in this case, specifically teachers of the Scottish Episcopal Church, who at the time ran many schools in the country. Part of the Normal School itself was run as a primary school by the Episcopal Church, the Normal Practising School. Although it later passed to the Edinburgh School Board, the name stuck as Normal Primary. My Dad attended here in the 1950s and being called Normal was a slur. It was only later that it was renamed, at the school’s own request, Orwell Primary, after the street which it is located.

Dalry House from the south. You can see the sane pediment and porchway in the photo below, but the roof has since been altered into a mansard style to accomodate an attic storey. William Channing c. 1850. © Edinburgh City Libraries
Dalry House from the south. You can see the sane pediment and porchway in the photo below, but the roof has since been altered into a mansard style to accomodate an attic storey. William Channing c. 1850. © Edinburgh City Libraries

It was still however leased by the council from the Episcopal Church and it was something of a tiny oddity until it closed in 2004. My Mum taught there in the 1990s. It and the former old folks home in Dalry House are now luxury flats, with small portion retained as an arts / community / charity centre. The house and school were interlinked, I can remember being in the attic store room with my Mum and being shown the door that connected the buildings.

The "Normal School" building, with Dalry House on its left and the janitor's house on the right
The “Normal School” building, with Dalry House on its left and the janitor’s house on the right

Gorgie is of course best known for its maroon-clad residents at Tynecastle Park, a place name that apparently has little to do with rivers or castles, but is more likely Tigh na Caiseal, or house on a hill or rock.

Stuart Harris thinks that the original Tynecastle may have been the tollhouse on the where the old Calder and Slateford roads diverged (the Dalry Road at this time was nothing but a lane and not the principal way out of the city) .

1776, Taylor & Skinner Road Strip maps showing Tynecastle Toll. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
1776, Taylor & Skinner Road Strip maps showing Tynecastle Toll. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

In 1817 it is shown as Tynecastle Toll on Kirkwood’s County Map and in 1831 on the maps drawn up for the Great Reform Act boundaries, it’s certainly marked as Tynecastle Toll and distinct and separated from the Slateford Toll.


Moving west a bit, another curious place name is Moat, given to a short section of Slateford Road as Moat Place, and also covering a couple of side streets. In his 1750 map, William Roy records it as Mote in the 1750s and in the 1840s the OS has it as ruinous and called Mount.

Mote on Roy's map of the 1750s. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
Mote on Roy’s map of the 1750s. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
Mount. OS 6 inch map, 1877 survey. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

It likely refers to a promontory; Mote and Moat are used in Scots placenames for this and are derived from the Norman Motte for a defensive mound (see also “Motte and Bailey” castles). The OS came along and Anglicised it descriptively to Mount, but that didn’t stick and it found it’s way back to Moat.

As Dalry turns into Gorgie as you go west, Gorgie in turn moves on to Saughton, a placename that covers a wide section of land all the way back to 1128. The old form was Salectun or Salchtone, from Old English for Willow Farm, with Salig for Willow from the Latin Salix. Sauch or Saugh frequently comes up in Scottish placenames (e.g. Sauchie, Saughtree) and it has the same derivation.

OS 6 inch map, 1877 survey. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Note also that “Old” Saughton House and Saughtonhall House are two different places – the first where Broomhouse Primary School now stands, dated to 1623 but burnt down in 1918, the second where Saughton Gardens now is, demolished by the city in 1954.

Saughton finally lends its name to another local landmark.

HM Prison Edinburgh. CC-BY-SA 2.0, Thomas Nugent
HM Prison Edinburgh. CC-BY-SA 2.0, Thomas Nugent

Strictly speaking I think it’s always been officially named HM Prison Edinburgh and technically is on the lands of Stenhouse (a corruption of Stenhope, the landowners in the distant past). The site of the prison was sold to the Government by the Earls of Morton who as lairds of the Saughton estate held the superiority of Stenhouse.

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These threads © 2017-2023, Andy Arthur

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