This thread was originally written and published in May 2022. It has been edited and corrected as applicable for this post.
Here is an interesting house which was recently for sale in Trinity. Whenever there is a building like this, it piques my interest. Why is it at an irregular angle to its regularly ordered Georgian and Victorian neighbours, all of which are in neat plots perpendicular to the road? Why does the boundary follow that line? Shall we find out?
We can quite easily answer these first 2 questions by a quick glance at an old map. Even in 1804 our building stands out like it does now. The boundary is at an angle because it follows a much older property boundary – in this case the stream of the Anchorfield Burn, and the property is at an angle because it pre-dates the others and has been aligned to the burn rather than its neighbours.
Our house of interest is Peat Loan: it’s fairly obvious to look at that it’s a 3 bay building that has been extended at either side with additional wings, then end result being rather barn-like. The entrance door has been narrowed, making it somewhat awkwardly offset from the window above it. The whole building seems quite a bit lower than the modern (actually Victorian) road surface over the tall wall to the left
William Roy doesn’t record any buildings on the Newhaven Road in the 1750s, neither does a map of 1759 or one of 1765, so Peat Loan must be built in the later third of the 18th century. It is therefore amongst the oldest surviving buildings in the neighbourhood of Trinity. You can see below that a road marked by Roy is missing in the 1804 map, it runs from Ferry Road, to the west of Leith Mount in a direct line to the houses of Laverockbank and Lilliputhall, intersecting the Newhaven Road at almost exactly where the house of Peat Loan is marked in 1804. Note that in 1755 the Ferry Road was slightly further south than its current alignment, running about 150m closer to the houses of Old Bonnington and East Warriston, being widened and straightened by 1759 when a feuing map shows that it has moved to its current position.
Peat Loan means Peat Lane, loan being the Scots name for a lane. There was a Peat Neuk (a corner for storing peat) in Leith near the Coalhill since the 17th century, suggesting that peat was being transported to the town and stored for fuel. If it was being gathered on the Wardie Muir it stands to reason that this route to Leith would cross the Newhaven Road here, as there would be a way across the Anchorfield Burn. It is also obvious why it would be known as the Peat Loan.This track was removed by 1804, as the lands of the Trinity House and Hospital of Leith were laid out in plots for building villas and gardens on, and the Ferry Road and Newhaven Road were widened and improved.
The house of Peat Loan sits on a plot that Ainslie puts in the ownership of Mr T. Williamson, alongside villas called St. Catharines Bank (possibly named for his daughter, Catherine) and Northfield. The latter had been a farm, unsurprisingly referring to a subdivision in the northern part of an older landholding. Thomas Williamson of Northfield (1756-1838) was a merchant who had premises on Quality Street and is listed in the 1804-5 Post Office directory. His wife was Elizabeth Ramsay, daughter of his business partner Robert Ramsay of Camno.
He became Thomas Williamson of Lixmount when he bought the villa of this name in 1812. Lixmount had been built in 1792 by a lawyer, George Andrew, whose wife had a family connection to Lix in Perthshire.
Thomas became Williamson-Ramsay of Lixmount and Maxton in 1832 when he succeeded to this estate and its title on the death of his wife; her father having died in 1814, it fell to Thomas who himself died in 1838. He left a substantial legacy to Leith Hospital, which funded a £25,000, 7 ward extension in 1871 that was called Williamson-Ramsay House. The titles and property were inherited by George Williamson-Ramsay, eldest son of Thomas and Elizabeth.
By 1817, St. Catherine’s is owned by a Dr. Ireland. Northfield remains in the posession of a Mr Williamson, who I think Thomas Williamson junior, son of William-Ramsay of Lixmount. By 1849 Peat Loan was known as Northfield Cottage and by 1857 was in the ownership of Mrs Barbara Notman, who had inherited it through an aunt, Susan Williamson, suggesting it had stayed in the Williamson family all this time. The resident is later Mr James Hume Notman, son of Barbara, he was a law agent and was still there in 1884. By 1891, James is resident in Edinburgh. His father, William Notman, died at Northfield Cottage in 1893 and his mother Barbara dies there in 1904.
William Notman was an architect and the house was used as both the family residence and his place of work and had apparently lived at Northfield Cottage since the age of 11. He was apprenticed to William Henry Playfair, the architect of Edinburgh’s Third or Calton New Town and many of its neoclassical monuments, at the age of 14. He was Playfair’s assistant before setting up his own practice, the work in his own name being mainly shops, farmhouses, domestic and alterations to existing buildings.
The house in the property listing is stripped back to a bare shell however photos taken by Canmore show the building before it was gutted in 2016. It largely looks untouched since the 1950s and 60s, but a few older features peek through, DSL suggests they are the work of Notman.
And what of the Anchorfield Burn? Well, the little stream is still there, long since hidden underground within a culvert. You can still see it seeping out of this culvert and feeding a swamp alongside the cycle path on the old railway running through Trinity between the bridges which carry Clark Road and South Trinity Road across the path.
The burn flowed out into the sea east of Newhaven, where there stood an early 18th centurty house – appropriately enough known as Anchorfield. It’s nice to think it’s a fancy name with a nautical connection. But… you’d be wrong. Anchor is a mis-spelling of an older word, Anker, which refers to a winding or hook-shaped stream. The –field part of the name was simply a common suffix with which to name a house at the time..
The Mr Morrison referred to on the map was Sir Alexander Morison (1779 – 1866) who was born here. Sir Alexander specialised in mental health and treating a wealthy clientele. He was one of the consulting doctors to the Bethlem Royal Hospital in London in 1835; from where the word Bedlam comes from. An image of Morrison at Anchorfield was painted by a patient in Bethlem, the artist Richard Dadd, in 1835. Dadd had never seen this scene but based it off of drawings and descriptions from Morison’s daughter.
Anchorfield now lends its name to a late Victorian tenement built on its site.
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