Charlotte Square – Its Early Occupants – Sir John Sinclair, Bart. – Lamond of that Ilk – Sir William Fettes – Lord Chief Commissioner Adam – Alexander Dirom – St George’s Church – The Rev. Andrew Thomson – Prince Consort’s Memorial – The Parallelogram of the first New Town.
CHARLOTTE SQUARE, which corresponds with that of St. Andrew, and closes the west end of George Street, as the latter closes the east, measures about 180 yards each way, and was constructed in 1800, after designs by Robert Adam of Manburgh, the eminent architect; it is edificed in a peculiarly elegant and symmetrical manner, all the facades corresponding with each other. In 1874 it was beautified by ornamental alterations and improvements, and by an enclosure of its garden area, at a cost of about £3,000. Its history is less varied than that of St. Andrew Square.
During the Peninsular war No. 2 was occupied by Colonel Alexander Baillie, and therein was the Scottish Barrack office. One of the earliest occupants of No. 6 was Sir James Sinclair of Ulbster, who, after his marriage with Diana, daughter of Lord Macdonald, continued to reside for a time in the Canongate, after which he removed to Charlotte Square, and finally to that house in George Street in which he died. He was resident in Charlotte Square before 1802, as was also the Earl of Minto. John Lamond of Lamond and that ilk, in Argyleshire, whose son John commanded the second battalion of the Gordon Highlanders from 1809 to 1814, was the first occupant of No. 7, which latterly was the residence of Lord Neaves, who was called to the bar in 1822 and raised to the bench in May, 1854. Mrs. Oliphant of Rossie had No. 10, and No. 13 was at the same time (about 1810) the residence of Sir William Fettes, Bart, of Comely Bank, the founder of the magnificent college which bears his name. He was born at Edinburgh on the 25th of June, 1750, and nine years afterwards attended the High School class taught by Mr. John Gilchrist. At the early age of eighteen he began business as a tea and wine merchant in Smith’s Land, High Street, an occupation which he combined for twenty years with that of an underwriter, besides being connected with establishments at Leeds, Durham, and Newcastle. His name appears in Williamson’s Directory for 1788-90 as “William Fettes, grocer, head of Bailie Fyfe’s Close; house 57, Princes Street.”
He was for many years a contractor for military stores, and in 1800 was chosen a Director of the British Linen Company, in which he ultimately held stock – the result of his own perseverance and honest industry – to a large amount. He had in the meantime entered the Town Council, in which he filled in 1785 the office of fourth bailie, and in 1799 that of senior bailie. In 1800 he was unanimously elected lord provost of the city, which office he held for the then usual period of two years, and for a second time in 1805 and 1806. In 1804, between the two occasions, on the 12th May he was created a baronet. In 1787 he married Maria, daughter of Dr. John Malcolm of Ayr. The only child of this marriage was a son, William, born in 1787. He became a member of the Faculty of Advocates in 1810, and gave early promise of future eminence, but died at Berlin on the 13th of June, 1815.
Retiring from business in 1800, Sir William took up his abode in Charlotte Square, and devoted himself to the management of several estates which he purchased at different times, in various parts of Scotland. The principal of these were Comely Bank, near Edinburgh; Arnsheen, in Ayrshire; Redcastle, Inverness-shire; Denbrae, Fifeshire; and Gogar Bank in Midlothian. He died on the 27th of May, 1836, Lady Fettes having pre-deceased him on the 7th of the same month.
By his trust disposition and settlement, dated 5th July 1830, and several codicils thereto, the last being dated the 9th of March, 1836, he disponed his whole estates to and in favour of Lady Fettes, his sister Mrs. Bruce, Mr. Corrie, Manager of the British Linen Company, A. Wood, Esq. (afterwards Lord Wood), and A. Rutherford, Esq. (afterwards Lord Rutherford), as trustees; the purposes of the trust, which made ample provision for Lady Fettes in case of her survival, being:- (1) The payment of legacies to various poor relations; (2) Bequests to charitable institutions; and (3) The application of the residue to “form an endowment for the maintenance, education, and outfit of young people whose parents have either died without leaving sufficient funds for that purpose, or who from innocent misfortune during their own lives are unable to give suitable education to their children.”
The trust funds, which at the time of the amiable Sir William’s death amounted to about £166,000, were accumulated for a number of years, and reached such an amount as enabled the trustees to carry out his benevolent intentions in a becoming manner; and, accordingly, in 1864 contracts were entered into for the erection of the superb college which now very properly bears his name.
Lord Cockburn, that type of the true old Scottish gentleman, “whose dignified yet homely manner and solemn beauty gave his aspect a peculiar grace,” and who is so well known for his pleasant and gossiping volume of “Memorials,” and for the deep interest he took in all pertaining to Edinburgh, occupied No. 14; and the next house was the residence of Lord Pitmilly. James Wolfe Murray, afterwards Lord Cringletie, held No. 17 in 1811; and the Right Hon. David Boyle, Lord Justice Clerk, and afterwards Lord Justice General, occupied the same house in 1830.
Lieutenant-General Alexander Dirom, of Mount Annan, and formerly of the 44th regiment, when Quartermaster-General in Scotland, rented No. 18 in 1811. He was an officer of great experience, and had seen much service in the old wars of India, and, when major, published an interesting narrative of the campaign against Tippoo Sultan. Latterly his house was occupied by the late James Crawfurd, Lord Ardmillan, who was called to the bar in 1829, and was raised to the bench in January, 1855.
At the same time No. 31 was the abode of the Right Hon. William Adam, Lord Chief Commissioner of the Jury Court, the kinsman of the architect of the Square, and a man of great eminence in his time. He was the son of Adam Blair of Blair Adam, and was born in July, 1751. Educated at Edinburgh, he became a member of the bar, but did not practise then; and in 1774 and 1794 he sat for several places in Parliament. In the latter year he began to devote himself to his profession, and in 1802 was appointed Counsel for the East India Company, and four years afterwards Chancellor for the Duchy of Cornwall. After being M.P. for Kinross, in 1811 he resumed his professional duties, and was deemed so sound a lawyer that he was frequently consulted by the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York.
In the course of a parliamentary dispute with Mr. Fox, about the first American war, they fought a duel, which happily ended without bloodshed, after which the latter remarked jocularly that had his antagonist not loaded his pistols with Government powder he would have been shot. In 1814 he submitted to Government a plan for trying civil causes by jury in Scotland, and in the following year was made a Privy Councillor and Baron of the Scottish Exchequer. In 1816 an Act of Parliament was obtained instituting a separate Jury Court in Scotland, and he was appointed Lord Chief Commissioner, with two of the judges as colleagues, and to this court he applied all his energies, overcoming by his patience, zeal, and urbanity, the many obstacles opposed to the success of such an institution. In 1830, when sufficiently organised, the Jury Court was, by another Act, transferred to the Court of Session, and when taking his seat on the bench of the latter for the first time, complimentary addresses were presented to him from the Faculty of Advocates, the Society of Writers to the Signet, and that of the solicitors before the Supreme Courts, thanking him for the important benefits which the introduction of trial by jury in civil cases had conferred on Scotland. In 1833 he retired from the bench, and died at his house in Charlotte Square, on the 17th February, 1839, in his 87th year.
In 1777 he had married Eleanora, daughter of Charles tenth Lord Elphinstone. She died in 1808, but had a family of several sons – viz., John, long at the head of the Council in India, who died some years before his father; Admiral Sir Charles, M.P., one of the Lords of the Admiralty; William George, an eminent King’s Counsel, afterwards Accountant-General in the Court of Chancery; and Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick, who held a command at the battle of Waterloo, and was afterwards successively Lord High Commissioner to the Ionian Isles and Governor of Madras.
His neighbour and brother senator Lord Dundrennan occupied No. 35; and in 1811 William Robertson, Lord Robertson, a senator of 1805, occupied No. 42. He was the eldest son of Dr. Robertson the historian, and in 1779 was chosen Procurator of the Church of Scotland, after a close contest, in which he was opposed by the Hon. Henry Erskine. His personal appearance is described in “Peter’s Letters to his Kinsfolk.” He retired from the bench in 1826, in consequence of deafness, and died in November, 1835.
On the western side of the Square, and terminating with fine effect the long vista of George Street from the east, is St. George’s Church, the foundation of which was laid on the 14th of May, 1811. It was built from a design furnished by Robert Reid, king’s architect. The celebrated Adam likewise furnished a plan for this church, which was relinquished in consequence of the expense it would have involved. The whole building, with the exception of the dome, which is a noble one, and seen to advantage from any point, is heavy in appearance, meagre in detail, and hideous in conception, and its ultimate expense greatly exceeded the estimates and the sum for which the more elegant design of Adam could have been carried out. It cost £33,000, is calculated to accommodate only 1,600 persons, and was opened for public worship in 1814. It was intended in its upper part to be a large miniature or reduced copy of St. Paul’s in London, and is in a kind of Græco-Italian style, with a lofty but meagre Ionic portico and surmounting an Attic Corinthian colonnade; it rests on a square ground plan measuring 112 feet each way, and culminates in the dome, surmounted by a lantern, cupola, and cross, the last at the height of 160 feet from the ground. The original design included two minarets, which have not as yet been added.
It is chiefly celebrated as the scene of the ministrations of Andrew Thomson, D.D., an eminent divine who was fixed upon as its pastor in 1814. He died suddenly on the 9th of February, 1831, greatly beloved and lamented by the citizens in general and his congregation in particular, and now he lies in a piece of ground connected with the churchyard of St. Cuthbert.
In Charlotte Place, behind the church, are the atelier of Sir John Steel the eminent sculptor, and a music-room called St. Cecilia’s Hall, with an orchestra space for 250 performers and seats for 500 hearers.
In the centre of the Square is the memorial to the Prince Consort, which was inaugurated with much state by the Queen in person, attended by the magistrates and archer guard, &c, in August, 1876. It cost £16,500, and is mainly from the studio of Steel. It is a quasi-pyramidal structure, about thirty-two feet high, with a colossal equestrian statue of the Prince as its central and upper figure; it is erected on an oblong Peterhead granite pedestal, fully seventeen feet high, and exhibiting emblematic bas-reliefs in the panels, with four groups of statues on square blocks, projecting from the corners of the basement; the prince is shown in the uniform of a field marshal. Of all the many statues that have been erected to his memory, this in Charlotte Square is perhaps one of the best and most pleasing.
With this chapter we close the history of what maybe regarded as the first New Town, which was designed in 1767, laid out, as we have seen, in a parallelogram the sides of which measure 3,900 feet by 1,090.
The year 1755 was the period when Edinburgh seemed really to wake from the sleep and torpor that followed the Union, and a few improvements began in the Old Town. After that period, says Kincaid, writing in 1794, “it is moderate to say that not less than £3,000,000 sterling has been expended in building and public improvements.”
“Thirty-five years ago,” says the Edinburgh Advertiser for 1823, “there were scarcely a dozen shops in the New Town; now, in Princes Street, with the exception of hotels and the Albyn Club Room, they reach to Hanover Street.”
In the present day the whole area we have described is mainly occupied by shops, with the exception of Charlotte Square and a small portion of Queen Street.