Chapter 22 – St. Andrew Square., pp.166-171.

[Old & New Edinburgh Contents]

St. Andrew Square – List of Early Residents – Count Borowlaski – Miss Gordon of Cluny – Scottish Widows’ Fund – Dr. A. K. Johnston – Scottish Provident Institution – House in which Lord Brougham was Born – Scottish Equitable Society – Charteris of Amisfield – Douglas’s Hotel – Sir Philip Ainslie – British Linen Company – National Bank – Royal Bank – The Melville and Hopetoun Monuments – Ambrose’’ Tavern. 

   BEFORE its conversion into a place for public offices, St. Andrew Square was the residence of many families of the first rank and position. It measures 510 feet by 520. Arnot speaks of it as “the finest square we ever saw. Its dimensions, indeed, are small when compared with those in London, but the houses are much of a size. They are of a uniform height, and are all built of free-stone.” 

   The entire square, though most of the original houses still exist, has undergone such changes that, says Chambers, “the time is not far distant when the whole of this district will meet with a fate similar to that which we have to record respecting the Cowgate and Canongate, and when the idea of noblemen inhabiting St. Andrew Square will seem, to modern conceptions, as strange as that of their living in the Mint Close.” 

   The following is a list of the first denizens of the square, between its completion in 1778 and 1784:- 

   1. Major-General Stewart. 

   2. The Earl of Aboyne. He died here in his sixty-eighth year, in 1794. He was the eldest son of John, third Earl of Aboyne, by Grace, daughter of Lockhart of Carnwath, afterwards Countess of Murray. 

   3. Lord Ankerville (David Ross). 

   5. John, Viscount Arbuthnott, who died 1791. 

   6. Dr. Colin Drummond. 

   7. David Hume, afterwards Lord Dreghorn. 

   8. John Campbell of Errol. (The Earls of Errol have ceased since the middle of the seventeenth century to possess any property in the part from whence they took their ancient title.) 

   11. Mrs. Campbell of Balmore. 

   13. Robert Boswell, W.S. 

   15. Mrs. Cullen of Parkhead. 

   16. Mrs. Scott of Horslie Hill. 

   18. Alexander Menzies, Clerk of Session. 

   19. Lady Betty Cunningham. 

   20. Mrs. Boswell of Auchinleck (mother of “Corsica Boswell,” R. Chambers, 1824). 

   22. James Farquhar Gordon, Esq. 

   23. Mrs. Smith of Methven. 

   24. Sir John Whiteford. (25 in “Williamson’s Directory.”) 

   25. William Fergusson of Raith. 

   26. Gilbert Meason, Esq., and the Rev. Dr. Hunter. 

   27. Alexander Boswell, Esq. (afterwards Lord Auchinleck), and Eneis Morrison, Esq. 

   28. Lord Methven. 

   30. Hon. Mrs. Hope. 

   32. Patrick, Earl of Dumfries, who died in 1803.  

   33. Sir John Colquhoun. 

   34. George, Earl of Dalhousie, Lord High Commissioner, 1777-82. 

   35. Hon. Mrs. Gordon. 

   38. Mrs. Campbell of Saddel, Gilbert Kerr of Stodrig, and Sir William Ramsay, Bait., of Banff House, who died in 1807. 

   By 1784, when Peter Williamson published his tiny “Directory,” many changes had taken place among the occupants of the square. The Countess of Errol and Lord Auchinleck were residents, and Thomas, Earl of Selkirk, had a house there before he went to America, to form that settlement in the Gulf of St. Lawrence which involved him in so much trouble, expense, and disappointment. No. 1 was occupied by the Countess of Leven; the Earl of Northesk, K.C.B., who distinguished himself afterwards as third in command at Trafalgar, occupied No. 2, now an hotel; and Lord Arbuthnott had been succeeded in the occupancy of No. 5 by Patrick, Lord Elibank, who married the widow of Lord North and Grey. 

   By 1788 an hotel had been started in the square by a man named Dun. It was there that the celebrated Polish dwarf, Joseph Borowlaski, occasionally exhibited himself. In his memoirs, written by himself, he tells that he was one of a family of five sons and one daughter, “and by one of those freaks of nature which it is impossible to account for, or perhaps to find another instance of in the annals of the human species, three of these children were above the middle stature, whilst the two others, like myself, reached only that of children at the age of four or five years.” 

   Notwithstanding this pigmy stature, the count, by his narrative, would seem to have married, performed many wonderful voyages and travels, and been involved in many romantic adventures. At thirty years of age his stature was three feet three inches. Being recommended by Sir Robert Murray Keith, then British Ambassador at Vienna, to visit the shores of Britain, after being presented, with his family, to royalty in London, he duly came to Edinburgh, where, according to Kay’s Editor, “he was taken notice of by several gentlemen, among others by Mr. Fergusson, who generously endeavoured by their attentions to sweeten the bitter cup of life to the unfortunate gentleman.” 

   The count, it would appear, did not exhibit – his “fine feelings” would not have permitted such a thing – he merely received in company. He gave a public breakfast, at which the small charge of 3s. 6d. was demanded, and the following is a copy of one of his advertisements:- 

   “Dun’s Hotel, St. Andrew Square. On Saturday next, the 1st August (1788), at twelve o’clock, there will be a public breakfast, for the benefit of Count Borowlaski, in the course of which the count will perform some select pieces on the guitar. Tickets (at 3s. 6d. each) may be had at the hotel or at the count’s lodgings, No. 4, St. Andrew Street, where he continues to receive company every day, from ten in the morning till three, and from five till nine. Admittance, one shilling. The count will positively leave this place on Friday.” 

   Count Barrel-of-Whiskey, as he was called in Edinburgh, was still alive in 1838, though close on his hundredth year, and was the occupant of a pretty cottage near the Wear, at Prebend Bridge, in the county of Durham. 

   Among the earlier residents in the square was Charles Gordon, Esq., of Cluny, in Aberdeenshire, whose daughter Johanna became in 1804 the wife of John, seventh Earl of Stair. His house was No. 4, a large one on the south side, and it was the scene for years of a dark and painful story, still remembered in Edinburgh, and which we will touch with great brevity. The lady was beautiful, brilliant, and witty, but the earl would seem to have tired of her; and though his marriage was deemed a valid one by the laws of Scotland (as Burke records) and though he was a Scottish peer and she the daughter of a Scottish landholder of ancient descent, he contrived to repudiate the ceremony, and in 1808 contracted another marriage with Louisa, daughter of John Manners. Esq., of Grantham Grange, by Louisa his wife, late Countess of Dysart. In the following year this marriage was dissolved in consequence of the Scottish one with Miss Gordon, and after years of misery and mortification the latter alliance was formally annulled in June, 1820. In this matter a noted gambler who figures in the pages of the “Hermit in Edinburgh” as “Colonel Bobadil,” or “Bob Devil,” acted an unpleasant part. 

   The earl died at Paris on the 22nd of March, 1840, when – according to Burke – that line of the Dalrymples became extinct; and the once beautiful Johanna – the repudiated wife – died seven years afterwards in No. 4, St. Andrew Square, aged, shrivelled, and utterly imbecile. Her tomb may still be seen on the north side of St. Cuthbert’s burial-ground, simply inscribed – 


WHO DIED 16TH FEB., 1847. 

   No. 4 was the residence in 1830 of Lieutenant-Colonel John Gordon of Cluny, M.P., but, combined with No. 5, afterwards became the office of the Scottish Widows’ Fund, a society instituted in 1815 – a period at which there existed scarcely any other life assurance office in Scotland; but the extraordinary success of the Equitable Society of London, which had then been in existence about half a century, led to the proposal on the part of various individuals to establish an Association in Scotland based upon similar principles. Many difficulties had to be overcome ere the object could be accomplished, and after much consideration, in which some of the most able men in the city lent their assistance and co-operation, the Articles of Constitution were finally adjusted, and the Scottish Widows’ Fund Society was founded on the original model of the London Equitable, so far, at least, as regarded the principle of mutual assurance – the policy-holders being members of, and in fact, constituting the Society, each member paying the premium for his assurance into a common fund, the joint property of the whole, and the profits, as from time to time ascertained, being allocated amongst them. 

   So little, however, was the system of life assurance understood or appreciated during the first years of the Society’s existence, that four years after its institution the amount effected by those who had become members, and the accumulated fund and the annual revenue, were comparatively small. Thus at the close of 1818 the total sum of assurances effected had been only £7,900, the realised fund amounted to no more than £3,500, and the annual revenue from premiums to £2,500; figures that are in marked contrast with the marvellous business the Society now does. 

   On the failure of the Western Bank, the handsome and spacious premises in the Florentine style, of that institution in No. 9, on the west side of the square, were taken at a price greatly below the original cost, for the Widows’ Fund, where we find it now, and Nos. 4 and 5 became broken up into various chambers and establishments. 

   No. 4 remained until 1879 the premises of Messrs. W. and A. K. Johnston, the well-known geographical engravers, who have acquired an artistic skill not yet surpassed. A. Keith Johnston, F.R.S., issued his great National Atlas in folio in 1843, which procured his appointment as Geographer to the Queen for Scotland; but he is best known for having made on a large scale the application of physical science to geography. Founding his researches on the writings of Humboldt and Ritter, and aided by the counsel of the former, he produced “The Physical Atlas of Natural Phenomena,” and many other scientific and geographical works that have won the firm more than European reputation, including the “Royal Atlas of General Geography,” dedicated to her Majesty, the only atlas for which a prize medal was awarded at the International Exhibition of London, 1862. Alexander Keith Johnston, LL.D., F.R.S., died on the 9th of July, 1877; but the firm still exists, though removed to more extensive premises elsewhere. 

   No less than twenty-three Societies and Associations of various kinds have chambers in No. 5, including the Obstetrical, Botanical, Arboricultural, and Geological Societies, together with the Scottish branch of the Army Scripture Readers and Soldiers’ Friend Society, the mere description of which would require a volume to themselves. 

   In the entire square there are above twenty insurance societies or their branches, and several banks, and now it is one of the greatest business centres in the city. 

   No. 6 was till 1879 the Scottish Provident Institution, established in 1838, and incorporated ten years subsequently. It is a mutual assurance society, in which consequently the whole profits belong to the assured, the policy-holders at the same time, by the terms of the policies and by the deed of constitution, being specially exempt from personal liability. 

   No. 9 was in 1784 the house of Sir Michael Bruce, Bart., of Stenhouse, in Stirlingshire. He married a daughter of General Sir Andrew Agnew of Lochnaw, heritable sheriff of Galloway, and died in 1795. The whole site is now covered by the Scottish Widows’ Fund office. 

   No 12, once the residence of Campbell of Shawfield, is now the office of the London Accident Company; and No. 14, which no longer exists, was in 1810 the office of the Adjutant-General for Scotland. 

   In No. 19 (now offices) according to one authority, in No. 21 (now also offices) according to Daniel Wilson, was born on the 19th of September, 1779, Henry, Lord Brougham and Vaux, the future Lord Chancellor of Great Britain, son of Henry Brougham of Scalis Hall, Cumberland, and Brougham Hall, Westmoreland, by Eleanor, daughter of the Rev. James Syme, and maternal niece of Robertson the Scottish historian. 

   A. and C. Black’s “Guide” assigns the third floor of No. 21 as the place where Brougham was born. The birth and existence of this illustrious statesman depended upon a mere chance circumstance, which has in it much that is remarkable. His father was about to be married to a young lady resident near his family seat, to whom he was passionately attached, and every preparation had been made for their nuptials, when the lady died. To beguile his sorrow young Brougham came to Edinburgh, where, when idling on the Castle Hill, he chanced to inquire of a person where he could find a suitable lodging. By this person he was not directed to any fashionable hotel, for at that time scarcely such a thing was known in Edinburgh, but to Mrs. Syme, sister of Principal Robertson, widow of the Rev. Mr. Syme, whilom minister of Alloa, who then kept one of the largest boarding-houses in the city, in the second flat of MacLellan’s Land, at the Cowgate Head, the windows of which looked up Candlemaker Row. 

   There he found quarters, and though it does not appear that he intended to reside permanently in Edinburgh, he soon found occasion to change that resolution by falling in love with Miss Syme, and forgetting his recent sorrow. He married her, and after living for a little space with Mrs. Syme, removed to St. Andrew Square.1 

   The future Lord Brougham received the first seeds of his education at the High School, under Mr. Luke Fraser, and afterwards under Dr. Adam, author of the “Roman Antiquities;” and from there he passed to the University, to become the pupil of Dugald Stewart, Black, Robertson, and other well-known professors, prior to his admission to the Scottish bar in 1800. 

   No. 22, now the office of the Scottish National Fire and Life Assurance Company, was for years the residence of Dr. James Hamilton, who died in 1835, and whose figure was long remarkable in the streets from his adherence to the three-cornered hat, the collarless coat, ruffles, and knee-breeches, of a past age, with hair queued and powdered; for years too he was in every way one of the ornaments of the metropolis. 

   His grandfather, the Rev. William Hamilton (a branch of the house of Preston) was Principal of the University in 1730, and his father, Dr. Robert Hamilton, was a distinguished Professor of theology in 1754. At an early age the Doctor was appointed one of the physicians to the infirmary, to Heriot’s, the Merchant-maiden and Trades-maiden Hospitals, and he was author of one or two of the most elegant professional works that have been issued by the press. The extreme kindliness of his disposition won him the love of all, particularly of the poor. With the costume he retained much of the gentle courtesy and manly hardihood of the old Scottish school. His habits were active, and he was fond of all invigorating sports. He was skilled as an archer, golfer, skater, bowler, and curler, and to several kindred associations of those sports he and old Dr. Duncan acted as secretaries for nearly half a century. For years old Eben Wilson, the bell-ringer of the Tron Church, had the reversion of his left-off cocked hats, which he wore, together with enormous shoe-buckles, till his death in 1823. For years he and the Doctor had been the only men who wore the old dress, which the latter retained till he too died, twelve years after. 

   No. 24 was the house of the famous millionaire, Gilbert Innes of Stowe. 

   The Scottish Equitable Assurance Society occupies No. 26. It was established in 1831, and was incorporated by royal charter in 1838 and 1846. It is conducted on the principle of mutual assurance, ranks as a first-class office, and has accumulated funds amounting to upwards of £2,250,000, with branch offices in London, Dublin, Glasgow, and elsewhere. 

   No. 29 was in 1802 the house of Sir Patrick Murray, Bart., of Ochtertyre, Baron of the Exchequer Court, who died in 1837. It is now the offices of the North British Investment Company. 

   No. 33, now a shop, was in 1784 the house of the Hon. Francis Charteris of Amisfield, afterwards fifth Earl of Wemyss. He was well known during his residence in Edinburgh as the particular patron of “Old Geordie Syme,” the famous town-piper of Dalkeith, and a retainer of the house of Buccleuch, whose skill on the pipe caused him to be much noticed by the great folk of his time. Of Geordie, in his long yellow coat lined with red, red plush breeches, white stockings, buckled shoes and blue bonnet, there is an excellent portrait in Kay. The earl died in 1808, and was succeeded by his grandson, who also inherited the earldom of March. 

   Nos. 34 and 35 were long occupied as Douglas’s hotel, one of the most fashionable in the city, and one which has been largely patronised by the royal families of many countries, including the Empress Eugenie when she came to Edinburgh, to avail herself, we believe, of the professional skill of Sir James Simpson. On that occasion Colonel Ewart marched the 78th Regiment or Ross-shire Buffs, recently returned from the wars of India, before the hotel windows, with the band playing Partant pour la Syrie, on which the Empress came to the balcony and repeatedly bowed and waved her handkerchief to the Highlanders. 

   In this hotel Sir Walter Scott resided for a few days after his return from Italy, and just before his death at Abbotsford, in September, 1832. 

   No. 35 is now the new head office of the Scottish Provident Institution, removed hither from No. 6. It was originally the residence of Mr. Andrew Crosbie, the advocate, a well-known character in his time, who built it. He was the original of Counsellor Pleydell in the novel of “Guy Mannering.” 

   In 1784 Sir Philip Ainslie was the occupant of No. 38. Born in 1728, he was the son of George Ainslie, a Scottish merchant of Bordeaux, who, having made a fortune, returned home in 1727, and purchased the estate of Pilton, near Edinburgh. Sir Philip’s youngest daughter, Louisa, became the wife of John Allan of Errol House, who resided in No. 8. Sir Philip’s mother was a daughter of William Morton of Gray. 

   His house is now, with No. 39, a portion of the office of the British Linen Company’s Bank, the origin and progress of which we have noticed in our description of the Old Town. It stands immediately south of the recess in front of the Royal Bank, and was mainly built in 1851-2, after designs by David Bryce, R.S.A., at a cost of about £30,000. It has a three-storeyed front, above sixty feet in height, with an entablature set back to the wall, and surmounted above the six-fluted and projecting Corinthian columns by six statues, each eight feet in height, representing Navigation, Commerce, Manufacture, Art, Science, and Agriculture; and it has a splendid cruciform telling-room, seventy-four feet by sixty-nine, lighted by a most ornate cupola of stained glass, thirty feet in diameter and fifty high. With its magnificent columns of Peterhead granite, its busts of celebrated Scotsmen, and its Roman tile pavement, it is all in perfect keeping with the grandeur of the external facade. This bank has about 1,080 partners. 

   Immediately adjoining, on the south, is the National Bank of Scotland, presenting a flank to West Register Street. It was enlarged backward in 1868, but is a plain almost unsightly building amid its present surroundings. It is a bank of comparatively modern origin, having been established on the 21st March, 1825. In terms of a contract of co-partnership between and among the partners, the capital and stock of the company were fixed at £5,000,000, the paid-up portion of which is £1,000,000. In the royal charter granted to the National Bank on the 5th August, 1831, a specific declaration is made, that “nothing in these presents” shall be construed to limit the responsibility and liability of the individual partners of the bank. The other existing banks have all been constituted by contracts of co-partnery since the year 1825, and, with the exception of the Caledonian Banking Company, are all carrying on business under the Companies Act of 1862. With this office is incorporated No. 41, which, in 1830, was the shop of Messrs. Robert Cadell and Co., the eminent booksellers and publishers. 

   The Royal Bank of Scotland occupies a prominent position on the west side of the square, in a deep recess between the British Linen Company and the Scottish Provident Institution. 

   It was originally the town house of Sir Lawrence Dundas, Bart., and was one of the first houses built in the square, on what we believe was intended as the place for St. Andrew’s church. The house was designed by Sir William Chambers, on the model of a much-admired villa near Rome, and executed by William Jamieson, mason. Though of an ancient family, Sir Lawrence was the architect of his own fortune, and amassed wealth as a commissary-general with the army in Flanders, 1748 to 1759. He was the second son of Thomas Dundas, a bailie of Edinburgh, whose difficulties brought him to bankruptcy, and for a time Sir Lawrence served behind a counter. He was created a baronet in 1762, with remainder, in default of male issue, to his elder brother, Thomas Dundas, who had succeeded to the estate of Fingask. His son Thomas was raised to the peerage of Great Britain as Baron Dundas of Aske, in Yorkshire, in August, 1794, and became ancestor of the Earls of Zetland. 

   About 1820 the Royal Bank, which had so long conducted its business in the Old Bank Close in the High Street, removed to the house of Sir Lawrence Dundas. 

   We have thus shown that St. Andrew Square is now as great a mart for business as it was once a fashionable quarter, and some idea may be had of the magnitude of the interests here at stake when it is stated that the liabilities – that is, the total sums insured – of the six leading insurance houses alone exceed £45,000,000, and that their annual income is upwards of £1,800,000 – a revenue greater than that of several States! 

   Melville’s monument, in the centre of the square, was erected in 1821, in memory of Henry Dundas, first Viscount Melville, who was Lord Advocate in 1775, and filled some high official situations in the Government of Britain during the administration of William Pitt. He was raised to the peerage in 1802, and underwent much persecution in 1805 for alleged malversation in his office as treasurer to the navy; but after a trial by his peers was triumphantly judged not guilty. 

   Designed by William Burn, this monument consists of pedestal, pillar, and statue, rising to the height of 150 feet, modelled after the Trajan column at Rome, but fluted and not ornamented with sculpture; the statue is 14 feet in height. The cost was £8,000, defrayed – as the inverse side of the plate in the foundation stone states – “by the voluntary contributions of the officers, petty-officers, seamen, and marines of these united kingdoms.” It was laid by Admirals Sir David Milne and Otway, naval commander-in-chief in Scotland, after prayer by Principal Baird, on the anniversary of Lord Melville’s birthday. In the stone was deposited a great plate of pure gold, bearing the inscription. A plate of silver bearing the names of the committee was laid in the stone at the same time. 

   The Hopetoun monument, within the recess in front of the Royal Bank, is in memory of Sir John Hope, fourth Earl of Hopetoun, G.C.H., Colonel of the 92nd Gordon Highlanders, who died in 1823, a distinguished Peninsular officer, who assumed the command of the army at Corunna, on the fall of his countryman Sir John Moore. It was erected in 1835, and comprises a bronze statue, in Roman costume, leaning on a pawing charger. 

   West Register Street, which immediately adjoins St. Andrew Square, is a compound of several short thoroughfares, and contains the site of “Ambrose’s Tavern,” the scene of Professor Wilson’s famous “Noctes Ambrosianæ,” with a remnant of the once narrow old country pathway known as Gabriel’s Road. “Ambrose’s Tavern,” a tall, three-storeyed edifice, like a country farmhouse, enjoyed much repute independent of the “Noctes,” and was removed in 1864. Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, who was fond of all athletic sports and manly exercises, was long made to figure conspicuously in these “Noctes” in Blackwood’s Magazine, which gave his name a celebrity beyond that acquired by his own writings. 

   At one of the corners of West Register Street is the great palatial paper warehouse of the Messrs. Cowan, one of the most elaborately ornate business establishments in the city, which was erected in 1865, by the Messrs. Beattie, at a cost of about £7,000, and has two ornamental fronts with chaste and elegant details in the florid Italian style. 

1  In one of his earlier publications, Robert Chambers states that Brougham was born at No. 8 Cowgate, and that his father afterwards moved to No. 7 George Street. 

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