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Gilmerton Village (The Fringes of Edinburgh)

Chapter on Gilmerton, from "The Fringes of Edinburgh", written over fifty years ago by John Geddie

Gilmerton village, which, in sight of The Drum, sits on the brow of another hill astride the highway, is divided in allegiance between Drum and Gilmerton. In its vicinity are some of the oldest coal and lime workings in the district. But its fame throughout the Lothians has been chiefly on account of its ancient community of carters, whose roughness of speech and behaviour, and notably during the annual Saturnalia of the 'Carters' Play,' was proverbial. Manners and morals have, it may be hoped, vastly improved at Gilmerton and in the neighbouring city since the writer of the 'Old Statistical Account' of the parish offered, in excuse, that 'Edinburgh throws out some of the refuse of its population upon us,' and since his successor, nearly forty years later, after explaining that the haulage in the mines was now done by asses, not by women, remarked that 'the morals of the population in general were not so unexeptionable as could be wished,' and added, 'no wonder, when they live in the neighbourhood of such a city as Edinburgh.'

The modern village possesses and makes use of a fair share of the amenities of civilisation; and has the privilege of looking back into its darker past in its once celebrated 'Cove', a series of underground chambers hewn out of the solid sandstone rock - the enlargement, it has been suggested, of a prehistoric 'yird-house' - by the five years of hard labour, completed in 1724, of a Gilmerton blacksmith, of whom the poet Penicuik wrote:

My hands hewed out this rock into a cell,
Wherin from din of life I safely dwell.

What seems incredible at the present day, this Cimmerian cell is said to have been in use as smith and dwelling-house so late as 1755, the year when the carver of our local 'Weyland's Hole' died.

Gilmerton's other antiquity is also of a kind to breed melancholy. The Bairds of New Byth, North Berwick, purchased the estate from the Crichtons in 1667; but the mansionhouse, which has been allowed to fall into loathly decay and ruin, is of considerably later date. Nothing can take away from old Gilmerton House its commanding situation. The glory of its 'peculiarly pleasant' Long Walk - a double avenue of limes - has not entirely departed; the archway and terrace, built to 'improve the view,' are still to be seen in the gardens; also the clump of yews, somewhat scrubby from bad usage, set thickly around that somewhat unusual appurtenance of Scottish mansions of the time, and outside bath-house. Otherwise Gilmerton House, roofless and nettle-overgrown, has become an 'abomination of desolation.'

More about Gilmerton Village from 'Villages of Edinburgh'