This post in the Edinburgh and Leith themed Twelve Days of Christmas is preceded by a thread about Little France.
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me; Four Collie Burdiehouses. I thought I had a really clever link here with the old Scots for blackbird, but it was a red (black?) herring. So let’s instead turn our attention to the suburb of Burdiehouse. This name goes back in record to the 17th century, as Burdehouse and other forms such as Burdiehouse, Bordiehouse and Burdihouse. But what does it mean and does it have anything to do with wee birdies?
There is an intriguing and (most probable) dead-end theory that this – like Little France before it – is another one of those Mary Queen of Scots and her French connections; some early references referring to it as Bordeaux. But that does not happen until a century after the mapmakers began to write it down and the confusion may arise because of a simple misunderstanding. Burdeous was one of the principal ways that the French town is spelled in Scots. It’s not a huge leap to imagine a mapmarker removed the “h” by mistake from Burdehous, leaving Burdeous, which inevitably lead to modernisation as Bordeaux.
The “Great” mapmaker William Roy gives us a clue as to another, more likely meaning of the placename in his 1750s Lowland map of Scotland (even though he can’t always be relied on to give accurate place names – the ones he gets wrong are usually pretty obvious and far from the mark); he calls it Bardy Burn.
Bardy may be the Scots Borde, from the Anglian Brerd, for a bank or a border, which would be a perfect toponymy for the Burdiehouse Burn that has long defined a boundary here. An alternative may be Bord house; a farm that supplied the laird’s table, although to me the former seems preferable. Anyway, by the time the Ordnance Survey came along and formalised spellings, it was recorded as Burdiehouse in the Name Books for Midlothian of 1852, as was the story about the French connection:.
This name is corrupted from the French word Bordeaux which was given it in the last century when the first house was built.Ordnance Survey Name Books 1852-3, Midlothian, Volume 17, OS1/11/17/101
Burdiehouse gives its name to a thick and regionally important layer of limestone that was first quarried here, and on the slopes above the village are the remains of its old lime kilns, which were worked right up until the early 1930s.
These extensive quarries are situated on the farm of Burdiehouse Mains, the property of Mr David Baird who continually keeps about 20 men employed constantly at them. They are of immense depth and present to the the eye prodigious arcades, supported by natural Gothic pillarsOrdnance Survey Name Books 1852-3, Midlothian, Volume 17, OS1/11/17/103
The 1842 Gazetteer of Scotland recoded that Burdiehouse produced 15,000 bolls of lime annually. The landowner and proprietor of the quarries at this time was noted as being Sir David Baird of Newbyth in Haddingtonshire – it might be a reasonable avenue of exploration to see if the place was owned by the Bairds in the 1750s when Roy came along and called it “Bardy House“…
For much of its existence, the village was a “neat and commodious” little roadside hamlet, with two-storey cottages for farm and limestone workers, a mains (the principal farm of an estate), the lime quarries and kilns to the south, a school and a public house – the romantically named Old Bordeaux. Later, Shale was mined just to the south of the lime workings and nearby at Straiton too by the Clippens Oil Company, but working stopped in the 1890s after a dispute with the Edinburgh & District Water Trust whose pipes ran above the workings and directly underneath the village.
In 1929, as suburban Edinburgh marched ever southwards, the section of what was then known as the Penicuik Road here was renamed as the Burdiehouse Road. New streets were drawn up off of it named for one of the old farms in the area – Southhouse Avenue, Road, Terrace, Broadway – for those typically prim but dreary streets of interwar suburban bungalows. In Burdiehouse itself, Edinburgh Corporation built a small addition of 18 cottage flats arranged around Burdiehouse Square in 1938, completed just before the outbreak of war.
The war put paid to any more bungalows, but the Southhouse scheme was revived post-war as one of permanent, prefabricated council housing. The streets to the north of Southhouse Road kept that name, those to the south of it took the Burdiehouse name. The prefabs were a mix of types provided by the Scottish Housing Group, a portion of which were intentionally temporary until permanent houses could replace them, others were permanent, being a mix of BISF Houses, the Framed Orlits and Whitson-Fairhurst Houses. These all remain to this day, but heavily updated with new insulation and rendering, roofs, windows and doors.
The vast expansion of housing in 1947 relocated the epicentre of Burdiehouse to the north, with a parade of shops and a new (temporary) school. A modern, permanent school was completed in 1957 ( closing due to falling rolls and council cuts in 2009).
The little village became left behind as Old Burdiehouse; when it was decided to upgrade the Penicuik Road to dual carriageway in the late 1960s, the road was bypassed around it and cut it off as a cul-de-sac, with the road renamed Old Burdiehouse Road. More recently, acres of new-build housing estates have begun to spring up between Burdiehouse and Gilmerton, totally changing the character of the village once again.
The Edinburgh and Leith twelve days of Christmas threads continue with a post about “Fiveways” and Goldenacre.
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