This thread was originally written and published in December 2019. It has been edited and corrected as applicable for this post.
This part in the Edinburgh and Leith themed Twelve Days of Christmas thread is preceded by a post about Pipe Street in Portobello and why it was so named.
On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me; The Drum. Drum is very common in Scottish place names, and comes from the Gaelic Druim meaning literally a “back” and figuratively a ridge of raised ground; in Edinburgh there are examples such as Drum Brae, Back Drum in Leith, Drumdryan (but not Drumsheugh, which is a shortening of Meldrumsheugh). But the Drum to which I am referring is The Drum, an estate and stately home on the outskirts of Edinburgh near Gilmerton.
The place name here refers to the “back” of high ground south of the city and is recorded as early as 1406. The earliest map to show it is John Adiar’s 1682 Map of Midlothian, and we can see it occupies the space between Edmonston, Woolmet, Sheriffhall and Gilmerton. The entire area was part of a hunting forest dating from the time of King David I and which was known as the Drumselch, or Willow Ridge.
The lands of The Drum came into the possession of Sir Walter de Somerville, Lord Somerville of Linton and Carnwath, when he acquired them through marriage to the daughter of the landowner Sir John Herring of Gilmerton. The Somervilles are yet another Norman noble family brought to pacify and civilise Scotland by King David I. A house was first built at The Drum in 1584 for Hugh Somerville, 7th Lord Somerville, after a court case ruled ownership in his favour over another family branch in Cambusnethan. The 11th Lord , James Somerville (who did not claim the title) wrote of it; “the rooms are few, but fair and large; the entire and staircase extremely ill-placed, neither is the outward form modish, being built all in length in form of a church.”
A tragedy befell the Somerville family in 1589 when William Somerville, heir to the Lord, accidentally shot his younger brother John, while drying and cleaning a loaded pistol that had gotten wet. Their father, in a fit of grief and rage swore vengeance upon his older son, who fled before him before the Lord Somerville came to his senses. King James VI on hearing of this, reprimanded the Lord and “commanded him to send for his eldest son, and be reconciled to him, for he knew he was a sober youth, and the very thoughts of his misfortune would afflict him enough, albeit he were not discountenanced by him“. William Somerville, “the Good Master of Drum“, never got over accidentally killing his brother and when he was stricken with fever two years later he suffered with it for 10 months before passing unhappily away.
The original house was replaced in 1720 by the 13th Lord, also James Somerville, who commissioned William Adam – father of Robert and James – to build a fashionable new Palladian country mansion. Writing of Adam’s masterpiece:
Had he never executed another edifice than Drum House, this alone would suffice to merit his distinction… There is an air of refinement about this residence almost equivalent to that which pervades the “Petit Trianon” at Versailles, where Marie Antoinette sought seclusion from the excitement of French Court and the distractions of the later years of her troubled life.The Architectural Record, Volume 47, Issue 6, June 1920
The original house was remodelled into a wing pavilion; a matching reflection on the other side was never completed.
The interior of the new house was as fine as the outside, the stucco being by the Dutch master Josef Enzer, who was also responsible for the interior of another of William Adam’s Palladian masterpieces in the Lothians, Arniston House.
From 1756 to 1866, The Drum was the location of the Edinburgh Mercat Cross after its removal to widen the High Street. An alternative reason for removal was that the Merchants of the city had persisted in meeting around it to do business, rather than using the fine new Royal Exchange built at great public expense only yards away! The cross was subsequently relocated back to a spot near its original in 1885, at the expense of William Ewart Gladstone. It was raised up on a reproduction podium and plinth to the designs of Sydney Mitchell. The head of the cross was replaced with a royal Unicorn, the original having been pulled down by the occupying forces of Oliver Cromwell as symbols of the monarchy when the city was occupied after the Battle of Dunbar.
The Drum was sold by the 19th Lord Somerville, Aubrey John, in 1800 to James Hay of Bhagalpur, who worked some of its lands for coal at Drum Colliery. He in turn sold it to Robert Cathcart WS around 1809. It then went in 1820 to Gilbert Innes of Stow and on his death to his sister. On his sister’s death it went to Alexander Mitchell of Stow who sold it in 1862 to John More Nisbett of Cairnhill in Ayrshire. More Nisbett bought back the estate park and farm lands at the same time, which had been gradually split up in the earlier part of that century.
More Nisbett’s second son, Hamilton, became an architect, his work mainly being monuments, church alterations and domestic. He succeeded to the estates of Drum and Cairnhill on the death of his older brother, North More Nisbett, in 1939 at which point he moved his practice from George Street to Drum House. He did much of his own work making improvements and alterations to the estate and its buildings and died there in 1955. He designed the Gilmerton Junior Friendly Society Hall, now Gilmerton Village Hall, which appropriately is on Drum Street. The Drum remains in the hands of the More Nisbett family to this day.
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