Lasswade, pp.227-229.

[Gazetteer of Scotland Contents]

   LASSWADE,1 a parish in Edinburghshire; bounded on the north by Colinton and Libberton; on the north-east by Dalkeith and Newbattle; on the east by Cockpen and Carrington; on the south by Penicuick; and on the west by Penicuick and Glencross. Its greatest length, from north to south, is 8 miles; and its greatest breadth 6; but nowhere, except over a very brief distance at its north end, is it broader than 3 miles. A projecting wing at the north-west extremity is occupied by the eastern termination of the Pentland hills, covered partly with heath, and partly with fine pasture. An extensive tract, from the southern boundary to about 2 miles into the interior, is moorish and mossy upland, bleak and unsheltered. The rest of the surface, comprising much the greater part, is a rich and beautiful plain, generally fertile in its soil, primely managed in its husbandry, opulently shaded and adorned with wood, and very picturesquely featured and diversified in its scenery. About 1,000 acres are covered with copsewood and plantation, – oak, ash, elm, Scotch fir, spruce, and larix. The North Esk comes down upon a point about a mile from the south-west extremity, runs 1½ mile along the western boundary, and then, assuming a north-easterly direction, cuts the rest of the parish into nearly equal parts. Its bed, while traversing the plain, is a deep and singularly romantic, long, sinuous, bold ravine; paved, in many places, at the bottom, with ledging and variform rocks; often steep, perpendicular, and even overhanging on its sides; and almost everywhere, in tiny plain or slope or swell or precipice, profusely adorned with copsewood and trees. Recesses, contractions, angularities, rapid and circling sinuosities, combine with the remarkably varied surface of its sides to render its scenery equal in mingled picturesqueness and romance to any in Scotland. The river seems all the way to be merrily frolicsome; now rushing along a shelving gradient, now hiding itself behind rocks and weeping wood, and making sudden but always mirthful transitions in its woods. Various ancient and interesting edifices, and a series of modern mansions and villas, crown the precipices, or sit ensconced in the fairy nooks. The most remarkable, of the former, are the castle and the chapel of ROSLIN, and the old mansion and the caves of HAWTHORNDEN: which see. – Among the numerous gentlemen’s seats which line both sides of the river, Mavisbank, resembling an Italian villa, Dryden and Rosebank, on the left bank, and Auchindinny, Polton, Glenesk, Goston, and Eldin, on the right bank, are the chief. Eldin, the last of these, was the seat of John Clerk, Esq., the author of the celebrated work on naval tactics. Man villas and cottages straggle along at intervals, or hang on the outskirts of Lasswade and Roslin; and are occupied chiefly as summer-houses, as scenes of ruralizing, as places which vie in sunniness and beauty with retreats among the fascinating streams and lakes of Lombardy, by the citizens of Edinburgh. One of the cottages near the village of Lasswade was the residence, during some of the happiest years of his life, of Sir Walter Scott. But the grandest modern structure is Melville-castle, situated, nearly a mile below the village, on a secluded but charming piece of low ground, on the left margin of the Esk, surrounded by high banks, picturesque, wooded, and adorned. This fine castellated edifice, with circular towers, the seat of Viscount Melville, was built near the end of last century on the site of an ancient edifice of the same name, which tradition incorrectly says belonged to David Rizzio, and was occasionally inhabited by Mary. Melville-castle was visited in 1822, and much admired, by George IV. – Along the Esk, chiefly between Roslin and Lasswade, are several paper-mills and bleachfields; at 1½ mile above Roslin, is an extensive gunpowder manufactory; and at Lasswade are a paper-mill, a distillery, a candle manufactory, oatmeal and barley mills, an iron and brass foundry, and a manufactory of fine carpets and damasks. The carpet manufactory is peculiarly celebrated. While Brussels and Wilton fabrics, similar to those of Kilmarnock, are produced, a mechanical improvement has superseded the necessity of draw-boys, and the new machine is simpler than a jacquard. The Persian fabric produced at Kilinarnock is here extended to broad carpets, the weft being shot across by means of a cross bow; and carpets are woven in this way in their entire breadth, the pattern being tied in by boys, as in the Persian rugs. The workmen earn in gross wages from 20s. to 25s. per week; but are frequently idle, waiting six or eight days for webs. The number of looms, in 1828, was 21; in 1838, 50. The parish has been famous for its oatmeal. Through the recommendation, as is believed, of the first Lord Melville, its produce in this article, drew the notice of George llI., became the breakfast material of his numerous family during their years of childhood, and was regularly furnished to the royal residence by a miller of the village named Muter. Great quantities of fruit, vegetables, and daily produce are sent to the market of Edinburgh. Except the north-west corner, where primitive rocks rise up in the Pentlands, the whole parish lies upon the various secondary formations summarily called the coal-metals, including sandstone, clays of great variety, a very great number of distinct seams of coal, and three strata of limestone. On the west side of the river the metals stand much on edge, having, in some places, a dip of 65 degrees. The workable coal-seams, in the barony of Loanhead, are 25 in number, and from 2 to 10 feet thick; and by a cross level mine from the river, have been worked from the grass downward to the depth of 270 feet. On the east side of the river, the metals have so small a dip, amounting to about 1 in 7 or 8, that the coal-seams, in contradistinction to the edge coals, as they are called, on the west side, have got the name of the flat broad coals. One of the coal-mines, on the boundary with Libberton, was accidentally ignited about the year 1770, and during upwards of twenty years resisted every effort made for the extinction of its fire. Besides furnishing supplies for local consumpt and to other quarters, the parish sends annually about 30,000 tons of coals to Edinburgh. – Near the house of Mavisbank is a supposed Roman station, pointed out in General Roy’s maps as the place where the Romans passed the North Esk on their way to Cramond. The chief object is a circular earthen mound of considerable height, begirt with ramparts, now cut into terraces; where have been found antique weapons, bridle bits, surgical instruments, and other relics. In a neighbouring farm is a tumulus, whence have been dug urns filled with burnt bones. Near Roslin is the scene of a battle, or rather of three battles in one day, fought, on the 24th February, 1303, between the Scotch and the English, conflictingly narrated by the historians of the two nations, but painted by those of Scotland in colours not a little flattering to Scottish bravery. During a truce, Ralph Confrey, treasurer to Edward I., invaded Scotland at the head of 30,000 men, well-armed, and mostly horsemen. With a view to plunder, he divided them into three bodies, and, on reaching the neighbourhood of Roslin encamped them in three stations. Hearing of his invasion, Sir Simon Fraser and Sir John Comyn, drew together at Biggar as many men as they could hastily muster, amounting to 8,000, or at most to 10,000; and with these they expeditiously marched in search of the enemy. Falling unexpectedly on the first division of the English, the Scottish forces totally overthrew and routed them, driving those who escaped the sword and capture confusedly back on the second camp. While the Scotch were dividing the spoil, the second English division suddenly alarmed, and in motion, precipitated themselves to the conflict, and met the same fate as the first division. Scarcely had the Scotch begun to take a refreshment, when a third army appeared in view; and though thinned in numbers and exhausted by fatigue, they were strong in the moral energy of having in so brief a space won two battles, and rushing impetuously on the crestfallen reserved body of the English, soon dealt them the carnage and discomfiture with which the other invading bodies had been punished. Blundering tactics on the English side, and skill and animation on the side of the Scotch, thus worked out for the latter the boast of conquering in one day three armies, each of which was fully equal to them in numbers, and probably superior in appointments. – The village of Lasswade is most picturesquely situated on the left bank of the North Esk, 6 miles south-east of Edinburgh, and 2 miles west of Dalkeith; and it is united by a good stone-bridge to the village of Westmill of Lasswade, politically comprehended in the parish of Cockpen, but forming compactly with it one little town. On the Cockpen side are some of the public works, and a large proportion of the population. The united village stands on too romantic a site to have regularity of street arrangement consistently with picturesqueness of effect. Its white-washed church surmounts a height rising up from the left side of the dell, and its pretty stone cottages lie embosomed below in woods and luxuriant gardens, the whole encompassed with scenery of uncommon beauty. The fixed population in Lasswade proper is about 260; but owing to the influx during summer of numerous lodgers from Edinburgh and elsewhere, it receives for that part of the year large additions. The village of ROSLIN [which see] is 3 miles distant. The populous village of LOANHEAD [which see], stands half-way between Lasswade and Roslin, half-a-mile north of the river. Springfield, with a population of about 200, chiefly paper-makers, and situated 1½ mile above Lasswade, immediately on the right bank of the Esk, at the bottom of the dell, is noted for its rural beauty. Auchindenny, also inhabited by paper-makers, and on the right bank of the river at the boundary with Penicuick, is distant from the villages of Lasswade and Penicuick respectively 5 miles and 1½ mile. Harper’s brae and Pentland are hamlets on the outskirts of the parish. The turnpike from Edinburgh to Dumfries, by way of Howgate, bisects the parish lengthways; that from Edinburgh to Peebles runs across it through the village of Lasswade; and that from Edinburgh, down Gala-water, briefly touches its northern extremity. But a prime facility of communication is connexion with the Edinburgh and Dalkeith railway. Population, in 1801, 3,348; in 1831, 4,252. Houses 874. Assessed property, in 1815, £19,417. – Lasswade is in the presbytery of Dalkeith, and synod of Lothian and Tweeddale. Patron, Sir George Clerk, Baronet. Stipend £180 4s. 1d.; glebe £35. Unappropriated teinds £15 11s. 1d. Church built about 1792. Sittings 1,000.. – An United Secession congregation was established in the village of Lasswade in 1830; and their place of worship, built in the same year, cost, along with a manse, £1,950. Sittings 655. Stipend £160, with a manse and garden worth £50. – The Reformed Presbyterian congregation of Loanhead was established in its present form in 1818; but dates, through meetings held in the village of Pentland and in adjacent places among the Pentland hills, as high as the times of the persecution. Their place of worship was built about 53 years ago. Sittings 400. Stipend £90, with a house and half-an-acre of ground, and expenses of attending church courts. – The southern part of the parish was erected, in 1835, into the quoad sacra parish of ROSLIN: which see. Deducting that district, the parish measures 6 miles by 3, and, in 1838, was reported by the minister to have a population of 1,800 churchmen, and 810 dissenters, – in all, 2,610 persons. The quoad sacra parish comprehends the original parish of Lasswade, the chief part of Melville, and a considerable part of Pentland: see MELVILLE and PENTLAND. – Lasswade was anciently the richest parish in Mid-Lothian except St. Cuthberts. The church, with its pertinents, became, in the 12th century, a mensal church of the bishop of St. Andrews; it afterwards was a prebend of St. Salvator’s college, St. Andrews; and, in the reign of James III., it was, by the Pope’s authority, transferred to the dean of the collegiate church of Restalrig. Long after the large accessions from Pentland on the west, and Melville on the north, were made to the territory, the old parochial place of worship, which had witnessed every change from before the Reformation till the final settlement of the Church of Scotland in her present form, continued to be in use; and it now exists, not far from its conspicuous modern successor, in the form of a frail ruin, timidly ensconced from the public gaze amidst a cluster of trees. One of its aisles is the burying-place of the noble family of Melville, and contains the ashes of the first Lord Melville, the distinguished figurant in the ministry of Mr. Pitt. – The parochial school is attended by at most 70 scholars. Master’s salary £34 4s. 4½d., with £48 fees. Eleven private schools are attended by a maximum of 637 scholars; and afford tuition in French, music, drawing, and the more common departments.

1  The name is popularly said to have originated in the circumstance of a lass doing the service of a ferry-boat, and wading across the river with travellers; but is derived by the learned George Chalmers from the Anglo-Saxon Laeswe, and the Old English weyde, meaning jointly ‘a well-watered pasture of common use,’ and not obscurely descriptive of the site of the village.

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