The thread about an A to Z (almost!) of Edinburgh and Leith streets that are named after women

For International Women’s Day (on March 8th 2021), I thought I would flick through the books and do an A-Z (as far as possible) of Edinburgh and Leith places named after women. Unsurprisingly there are relatively few, to pick from – but there are some fascinating women behind some of the names

A is for Annfield in Newhaven. Named for Ann Steuart, wife of John Steuart of Blairhaw, who built a house in late Georgian times. There was a trend for giving places fancy names at the time in the form xfield, where x was the name of a wife or daughter.

Irene Jessie "Mouse" Brown, from her obituary in 2017
Irene Jessie “Mouse” Brown, from her obituary in 2017

B is for… Well B isn’t for anything as far as I can make out. There area few B names in the council’s streetname bank, and Mouse Brown becomes available next year, after Irene Jessie Brown, a Bletchley Park codebreaker who was born and lived in Edinburgh, passing away in 2017

C is for Clarice Mcnab Lane, a brand new street off West Bowling Green Street in Leith. Born in Leith and known usually by her married name Clarice Shaw, she was a prominent interwar Labour party member and activist. She was MP for Kilmarnock for a year, dying in 1946.

Clarise Shaw, © Parliamentary Archives
Clarice Shaw, © Parliamentary Archives
May Drummond

D is for May Drummond’s Close, I’m really struggling on D as this close in the Canongate hasn’t been known as such for at least 180 years… Named for Marion (May), sister of the Lord Provost George Drummond. She was known as the preaching Quakeress, a “remarkable woman

E is for Elizafield in Bonnington, two cottages named around 1830 for the wife or daughter of Patrick Dall, the supervisor at the time of Leith Docks.

1849 OS Town Plan. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
1849 OS Town Plan. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

F is for Flora Stevenson‘s, a primary school in Comely Bank named for the Glasgow-borne social reformer who was an early campaigner (with her sister Louisa) for women’s entry into universities and became an organiser of education in the city for poor children; particularly girls and would serve as a convenor on the Edinburgh School Board.

G is for Gibson’s Close. Another letter with almost 0 female representation, the best that I could do is an ancient close that hasn’t been there for some 200 years, last recorded in Ainslie’s map of 1784. Mrs Gibson was a proprietor of a stables in the Grassmarket about which we know nothing more.

The Grassmarket, 1784. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

H is for Hope Street. Not named after a woman, but named because of a woman. In 1803, Mrs Maxwell of Carriden (nee Mary Charlotte Bouverie) wrote to the town council to complain that she lived on a street with no name. The council obliged by naming it for a man, Charles Hope of Granton MP, Lord Advocate.

I is for Elsie Inglis Way, named in 2019 in Abbeyhill for the well known (but not well enough) WW1 military doctor, suffragist, teacher, campaigner, philanthropist, organiser and pioneer of women’s’ medicine in the city. A maternity hospital nearby once bore her name.

Elsie Inglis
Sophia Jex-Blake

J is for Jex-Blake Drive, a newbuild street in Abbeyhill named for Sophia Jex-Blake, one of the first seven women to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh, the first female doctor in Scotland and founder of 2 medical schools for women, Bruntsfield Maternity Hospital, amongst many other things.

K is for Mary King’s Close, that well known tourist trap, and subject of endless paranormal hot air. Mary King was the widow of Alexander King, a burgess of the city, in the early-mid 17th c. – except that she probably wasn’t… Who she actually was is not entirely clear. The close had been partially abandoned after the plague of 1645, and was still vacant in 1751 when a neighbouring tenement collapsed. This opened up a gap that was widened to create a space for the construction of the Royal Exchange, which would later become the City Chambers. The tenements in the upper parts of Mary King’s Close (and two others) were largely built over, but the lower parts remained occupied, and were so well into the 19th century. It was the construction of Cockburn Street in 1854 that really swept away Mary King’s Close.

The “Real” Mary King’s Close, a tourist attraction with a largely imagined mythology around it
Lady Lawson Street in 1914, by Robert Berry. © Edinburgh City Libraries
Lady Lawson Street in 1914, by Robert Berry. © Edinburgh City Libraries

L is for Lady Lawson Street, formed from Lady Lawson’s Wynd. The Lawsons were landowners in the West Port as early as the 15th century. That Lady Lawson herself became recorded as landowner is unusual and notable in itself

M is for Murray Cottages, named after David Murray, Deputy Controller for Excise in Scotland, on behalf of his last surviving daughter, who left the family fortune to a fund for providing housing for the “deserving (and pious) poor“. The Almonry Fund (an Almoner is someone who distributes funds to the poor, usually on behalf of the church) was set up on her behalf in 1905. Prospective candidates were to be “sober, respectable, men and women about sixty years” (i.e. a married couple) who “must have spent most of their lives in Edinburgh or its immediate vicinity and preferably have belonged to the Church of Scotland“.

Murray Cottages

M is also for Marionville, named for Maria Cecile le Maistre, wife of Captain James Macrae. If only for an excuse to re-tell that story, but also the house is highly unusual as it was built for two self-made women, the Sisters Ramsay

Lady Nicolson's Park. Edgar's Town Plan of 1765. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
Lady Nicolson’s Park. Edgar’s Town Plan of 1765. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

N is for Nicolson Square (and Street). These were built between 1765-1780 on the park lands and house of Lady Nicolson, Elizabeth Carnegie. She moved to the Pear Tree House (now the Pear Tree pub) to allow the road and square to be built. The Nicolson Baronets had owned the land here since the early 16th century, the title becoming dormant in 1743 on the death of her husband, the 7th Baronet. The house (highlighted yellow) remained here until around 1790 when Nicolson Street and South Bridge were connected.

O is for Lady Nairne a neighbourhood (and Beefeater pub and restaurant) in Duddingston with 4 streets taking the honorific name of Carolina Oliphant. Baroness Nairne lived here in the early 19th century. A prolific songwriter, and contemporary of Burns, amongst other well known romantic ballads she wrote “Will ye no’ come back again?” and “Charlie is my Darling“.

Lady Nairne by John Watson Gordon
Lady Nairne by John Watson Gordon
Pape's Cottages, AD1894. CC-by-SA 2.0 M J Richardson
Pape’s Cottages, AD1894. CC-by-SA 2.0 M J Richardson

P is for Pape’s Cottages in Roseburn, named by George Pape in his will, in memory of his wife Jessie Paterson, who was the landowner of Coltbridge House. The three cottages were built for “the use of poor widows in all time coming“.

Q is for Queens take your pick of Queens; Anne, Charlotte, Margaret, Alexandra, Mary of Guise or Ferry. Queen Charlotte Street in Leith, was originally Charlotte Street, but was renamed in the 1960s to avoid confusion with the street of the same name in Edinburgh’s New Town.

Rev. Elizabeth Wardlaw, Edinburgh City Archives SL134
Rev. Elizabeth Wardlaw, Edinburgh City Archives SL134

R is for the Reverend Elizabeth Wardlaw, whose name is on the name bank for Leith. The long time minister of Hermitage United Free Church and a Councillor for Leith Links from 1984 – 2003. She was a supporter of Leith Festival.

S is for Saint Triduana, long associated with Restalrig, and gives her name to some streets and a medical centre in the area. Her beautiful eyes were lusted after by a Pictish king, so she plucked them out and sent him them, thereafter devoting her life to the blind. The church at Restalrig and the cult of Triduana were both destroyed in the Scottish reformation in 1560.

Stained glass window dedicated to St. Triduana in St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall
Embroidered emblem of the Townswomen’s Guild

T is for Townswomen’s Guild Walk, one of the paths across the Meadows. It was named in 1973 after the gift to the city of the trees that line it by the guild.

I’m afraid I drew a blank on U

The Queen Victoria Statue at the bottom of Leith Walk and the Kirkgate CC-by-SA 4.0 StephenCDickson
The Queen Victoria Statue at the bottom of Leith Walk and the Kirkgate CC-by-SA 4.0 StephenCDickson

V is for anything named after Queen Victoria. Victoria Terrace, Park, School, Baths etc.

W is for Mary and Barbara Walker of Coates, sisters who lived at Coates Hall in the 19th c. They gifted the land for – and huge funds to – the Episcopal Church of Scotland in 1873 for the building of St Mary’s Cathedral. Coates Hall was left by them in their will as the Choir School.

St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral. CC-by-SA 4.0 Michael Artista
St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral. CC-by-SA 4.0 Michael Artista

X, Y and Z were blanks… Although there are no X streets anyway and only one with a Z (which is named for Zetland, the archaic form of Shetland).

I’ve frequently referred to the council’s name bank here, you can see it too at this link. There is meant to be a presumption towards giving women’s names priority, but look at the list and make of that priority what you will.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s