This thread was originally written and published in March 2023.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day from St. Patrick’s Square, Edinburgh in 1914.
In the background below the spire of the Buccleuch Free Church, is the original row of 18th century tenements of St. Patrick’s Street, for which the square is named. But why was a street in Presbyterian Edinburgh named for the Irish patron saint? Well the simple answer is it probably wasn’t. It was most likely named for Patrick Tod, a local merchant and landowner. It wouldn’t be the first or second saintly Edinburgh placename to have a strictly civic root (see also St. James’s Square and St. Ann Street etc.) Those original tenements – demolished in the 1930s – had been built in 1782 by William Archibald, who had acquired “five acres and a bit” known as Cabbagehall from the late James Carfrae.
In the mid-18th century, Cabbagehall was one of a number of “feus” (a portion of land that had been split up from a larger one under the Scottish system of land tenure) to the south of the city that formed an early suburb, outwith the confines of the City Walls. Most of these suburbs were houses with portions of market garden. The feuars here clearly had a practical sense of naming; other plots included Gairnshall, Huntershall, Summerhall, Orangehall and Turniphall.
Cabbagehall was built in the garden of David Stevenson in 1734, and he lived there with his wife and daughter. He took the unusual step of conveying it to his daughter, to provide her with an income from which she could maintain her father and stepmother in their dotage. The daughter – Elizabeth – was a widow, but remarried a preacher called James Robertson, who attempted (and failed) to run some sort of mission from Cabbagehall, pompously referring to himself as “Minister of the Gospel at the Collegehall“. In the 1780s, Cabbagehall was the location of the public sale of municipal “street dung”. Those old tenements of St. Patrick Street were built on part of the Cabbagehall garden in 1782 by a slater by the name of William Archibald.
The end tenement of the square, above the pend through to Buccleuch Place, was demolished in the 1970s. It is reputed to have been the final lodging place of Robert Burns during his time in the city.
There were other Cabbagehalls; in Inveresk (near Musselburgh), Peebles and also an estate in Fife near Leslie, where there was a Laird of Cabbagehall. Turniphall may have been unique. It was closer to the Pleasance and tenements were built on it in 1758 by James Carfrae. Part of the Turniphall grounds were sold in 1786. The Nicholson referred to here is from the family who were the ancient landowners, and thus gave their name to Nicholson Street, Square etc. further to the north.
The pushing through of Nicholson Street southwards in 1777 – as a grand new road into the city – cut through the land of Cabbagehall and Turniphall and led to the area being progressively sub-fued to build new tenements. This planned road shown in Edgar’s 1765 Town Plan.
Kincaid’s Town Plan of 1784 shows that St. Patrick Square was not the original plan for this area. But by 1804, Ainslie’s Plan shows the garden had been formed and the early 19th century wing of tenements on the west and south sides was planned.
If you want something actually named for St. Patrick in Edinburgh, then you need to go to St. Patrick’s Catholic Church on the Cowgate. But it wasn’t always so, it started life as an Episcopalian Chapel (the “English Chapel” as it was known) in 1770. By 1821 it was occupied by the Relief Church (an organisation that split off the Kirk in Fife in 1763 as the Presbytery of Relief for the “Relief of Christians oppressed in their Christian privileges”, and later the United Presbyterian Church
The Catholic Church bought the chapel, with a 50% contribution by local public subscription, and it was consecrated and opened for Mass in 1856. This reflected the swelling number of Irish immigrant Catholics in the Cowgate at this time. Up until 1918, the RC Church controlled RC schooling, after which St. Patricks’ School became the local Catholic primary school for the Cowgate and Dumbiedykes area, moving to a building on St. John’s Hill.
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