Merchiston Road

“An Edinburgh Connection”


Archibald Corbett’s chief agent during construction of St Germans Estate was a Scot named Robert Pettigrew (all Corbett’s senior employees were Scottish, much to the English workers’ chagrin). Pettigrew came from Edinburgh, and was quite close to Corbett, so that is probably why a road was named for the Edinburgh area as well as all the places Corbett himself knew in western Scotland.

Merchiston is a residential area in the south west of Edinburgh. The first known reference to Merchiston is found in the 1266. At this point Merchiston consisted of one of a number of independently owned estates to the southwest of Burg Muir. Alexander Napier 1st, a wealthy Edinburgh merchant and provost of the city, acquired the estate from King James 1st  in 1436. Alexander Napier 2nd built the Merchiston Castle in 1454. It now stands at the centre of Edinburgh Napier University’s Merchiston campus.

Merchiston Tower in 1829, and today as part of the University

Merchiston Road – though pronounced with a Scottish accent “MERKISTON” – lies in the south west of the Corbett Estate and is one of the shortest roads, having just 36 houses. It was one of the last roads to be built, in 1908. The houses were built with three bedrooms, though now there are a number of loft conversions. The houses are of two different styles: 17 have angled front bays with the iconic heads or fruit mouldings over the front doors (situated at the Muirkirk Road end); and 19 have square brick bays with a balcony attached to the small window over the front door. These are of a more modern Edwardian style and situated at the Abbotshall Road end. Both styles have a small front garden – some have off street parking now – and larger back gardens. Some have steps up to the front door. There are six lime trees dotted along the front gardens, remnants of the early days when pretty much every house on the Estate had them. One side of the road backs onto Abbotshall Healthy Lifestyle Centre playing fields.

The two different styles of houses in Merchiston Rd. The top house shows the square brick bay with a balcony over the front door. The bottom house shows the angled bay with the iconic mouldings of heads or fruit and vegetables above the door.

The Early Residents: details from the 1911 Census

The 1911 Census shows there were 65 women, 67 men and 50 children living in Merchiston Rd. The number of children per household ranged from 1 to 5. Two of the houses were divided into two flats each with their own front door. The most popular male names were Henry, William and John; whilst the most popular female name was Ada.

The most common jobs were clerks (10), GPO (2) and servant (5). The census shows that 2 servants worked away from home and 2 worked at home. The oldest resident was Mary Ann Brasher, age 77. Mary lived at No. 1 and her profession was recorded as a servant but she was also the mother-in-law of the head of the house, William Smith (aged 51, a Letter Sorter) who was a widower. There were three children under 21 so possibly she helped about the home, or maybe, despite her advanced years, she went to work in other people’s houses to earn a living.

No. 11 had a lodger.Henry Rooney McDonald 40yrs, he was a ‘1st Class Writer’ but not knowing what was meant by this term it is impossible to say exactly what his profession was. If you describe something or someone as first-class, you mean that they are extremely good and of the highest quality.

Wilfred Goodwin lived at No. 26. He was a Sergeant Major in the Royal Engineers. His 14 year-old daughter Hilda was born in 1897 in Rangoon, Burma.

 The 120 Squadron Royal Engineers in 1911. The census does not tell us which squadron Wilfred was in.

Rose Madeline Cook, age 18 yrs, lived at No. 2. Rose was a court dressmaker. Dressmaking was seen as honest, respectable employment and appealed to many. There were numerous different types of dressmaker, working in a variety of establishments. The work was hard though, and the hours long.

Some interesting surnames

Richard Lattimer lived at No.7. Lattimer was the name of a person who worked as an interpreter. Lattimer is derived from the old French word Latinier meaning a speaker of Latin.

No. 2 is split into 2 flats with Rosina Cook 48 yrs as head of the house with two working and two school age children. Reginald Burges Hobday lived at No. 2a. The meaning of Hobday is ‘Servant of Hobb’. It was first found in Kent in 1469, with William Hobday.

George Albert Joiner lived at No. 8. A distinguished surname first brought to England in the Norman Conquest of 1066. Comes from the old French ‘ engigneor or enginior’ meaning engineer, maker of military machines. During the 12th century the meaning changed to include master-masons and architects. Today the term is used for carpentry as well.

Charles Henry Salter lived at No.23. The Salter name was coined by the Anglo-Saxon tribes of Britain. Salter was originally a name given to someone who worked as a person who played the psaltery, which was a stringed instrument.