Bonnyrigg & Lasswade: The Origins of the Street Names


This is a transcript of a paper given to members of the Bonnyrigg & Lasswade Local History Society, on Wednesday 15 October 1997 by Neil K Stewart.

© Neil K Stewart 1997.

All rights reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any part or form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author.

“I moved from Edinburgh to live here in Bonnyrigg, in 1982 and ever since then the history of the area has fascinated me.

Tonight, I will try to give you some thoughts as to the origins of the street names that our predecessors have left for us from the last century and beyond.

Of course, research into a topic like this, will inevitably draw you towards common names and also names where it is fairly obvious where the origins exist and therefore I have tried to avoid these types of names and tried also to concentrate on interesting and perhaps obscure names.

Almost every town has a High Street and both Bonnyrigg and Lasswade are no exceptions. The High Street was in days gone by and strangely enough even today, the focus of most of what goes on in the town. So no prizes for that one!

Many of you will already know that the villages of Bonnyrigg, Red Row, Polton Street, Broomieknowe and Hillhead, were united on 7 August 1865, to form the Police Burgh of Bonnyrigg.

It was sixteen years later that the village of Lasswade and part of Broomieknowe became a Police Burgh, on 13 June 1881. A Local Government Act of 1929 united the two Police Burghs to form Bonnyrigg & Lasswade.

Bonnyrigg in the early years, and indeed today has four main streets, but apart from the High Street, and Polton Street, I believe that Lothian Street and Dundas Street may have originally been known by other names, I will explain more on this later.

Lasswade has always had the longer history dating back over one thousand years when it’s first church was consecrated in 850 AD. In addition to the High Street, it’s main streets are Elm Row, West Mill Road and Polton Road.

I have been very fortunate to have been able to draw upon several sources of information to try gain a picture of the two towns and the surrounding area. I must mention here some recollections of Bonnyrigg in the 1860’s, written I believe in the 1920’s, but as far as I am aware unpublished by Provost George Brown JP. This gives a valuable snapshot of our town at that time. Also I consulted the property valuation rolls of 1874-75 and the census documents of 1871 & 1881. Early maps available to me, date from 1852-53.

The New Statistical Accounts of the Parishes of Cockpen and Lasswade written in 1839 and 1843 respectively and also the “Parish of Cockpen” written in 1881 by Peter Mitchell, the schoolmaster of Cockpen School, have all given me an insight into the life of the area over these early years.

So let me start with the name “Polton”.

It has been used as far as we know over many years as a “road”, a “street” and at one time a “lane” in both Bonnyrigg and Lasswade. It is also the name of a village to the south of Lasswade on the river North Esk.

But where did the name come from?

Polton as a name, I believe has its root in the Old Scots language and I have found a reference of it being spelt as “Powtoun” in 1500 and later in 1527 “Poltoun” and finally in 1773 as the now familiar “Polton”.

It is suggested that it comes from two words Poll and Toun. Poll meaning a pool and Toun meaning a farm or arable land. So it may quite simply have been a farm by a pool.

Red Row or Red Raw seems to have come from the description a series of red roof tiled cottages next to Burnhead House at the end of Polton Street going south. The feus for these cottages were owned by Mrs Dundas Durham of Polton.

Lothian Street or perhaps Lothian Place, as the reference to the property valuation rolls of 1874-75 suggests, was owned by the Marquis of Lothian. His family were large landowners in the area and his family seat was Newbattle Abbey. We know that as time went on, that he had considerable interests in the emerging coal mining industry in the county.

Dundas Street was named after the Dundas family who again owned sizeable amounts of land in the area. It is very interesting because most of you have always known it as Dundas Street, but I believe that it may have had another name before that, because it does not appear in the valuation records and as we know there have always been several properties existing there. I think that Dundas Street or perhaps part of Lothian Street may have been called “South Street”. It appears in the census record of 1871 when there were some thirty-six houses and also in the valuation rolls of 1874-75.

If anyone can tell me anything about South Street, I would be very pleased.

Polton Road, Bonnyrigg, no longer exists, but having studied some maps, I feel sure that it is Campview Road, which was also known as Polton Place, (this of course, was before the current Polton Place which is near to Peden’s Garage, Polton Street) and also referred to as Coal Road, probably because of its proximity to the Polton Colliery.

Union Park (off Polton Street) appears to have been part of a small holding called Longmuir. It is located on the opposite side of the street from Burnhead House and is mentioned in the 1874-75 valuation roll. Once again the feus for the ground were payable to Mrs Dundas Durham of Polton.

Provost Brown tells us that Union Park was opened up for housing by a group of weavers and other trades people, who combined to form their own building society and so erected some cottages.

Many of the feuars had the unfortunate experience of being defrauded by their own treasurer and in consequence had to lodge their title deeds with the Commercial Bank in Dalkeith. Union Park was one of the first new streets to be built in Bonnyrigg in the early 1860’s. It had thirty-one houses according to the 1871 Census.

But where did the “Union” come from?

Perhaps it was the “union” of all the people who invested and built their houses on the land. There is certainly a guild insignia in the stonework on the building at No 21 Union Park.

Arniston Place (off Polton Street, but no longer in existence) was probably near to what is now Dickson Grove. In 1871 there were twenty-five houses, but these were most likely very small dwellings.

I understand that before the houses were built, part of the land was the original football park in the town.

The name “Arniston” comes from Arniston Estate near to Gorebridge, one of the properties belonging to the Dundas family. In 1874-75 Robert Dundas of Arniston, the owner of the Arniston Colliery (later the Arniston Coal Company), had considerable land owning rights in the area, mostly because of his coal mining interests. I am not certain whether the Dundas family owned Arniston Place, but there were certainly coal mining families living in these houses in later years.

Provost Brown tells us that a pretty countryside extended from Arniston Place down towards Cockpen. He also refers to the burn or stream at Cockpen as the “Mitchell Burn”, named locally after the Cockpen schoolmaster, Peter Mitchell, mentioned earlier. When the Polton Colliery opened a few years later, it pumped a lot of dirty water into the burn causing pollution and killing the stocks of trout which were once plentiful.

If you had been walking around the streets of Bonnyrigg in the 1880’s, you would certainly have seen several houses which had their own identity, although they were still part of a main street.

Examples of these are “Garnet Bank”, “Forest Place” and “Lamb’s Court”, all of which were located in Dundas Street. All of these buildings are mentioned in the 1881 Census.

Stanley Place (off the High Street) was one such building, dating from around 1880 and which disappeared when the site was redeveloped first in 1909, when a school was built and later around 1916, when Mr T W Readshaw leased the school buildings for the “Bonnyrigg Picture House Company”.

The 1881 Census shows that just four households had lived there.

It seems however that a row of two storey buildings was erected at a later date, in front of the old school, but whether they retained the name Stanley Place is not known.

Stanley Place may have been named after a person or indeed a locality. It may be pure coincidence that the buildings were erected at a time when the explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley was making the headlines for finding Dr David Livingstone in Africa in 1881. Who can say?

Molehall appears on the 1852-53 map and was land to the north end of Lothian Street. On the Valuation Roll for 1874-75, it comprised two houses, one of which had a stable and a garden area. The proprietor was Mr Andrew Rae, a market gardener, once again Mrs Dundas Durham of Polton owned the feu. The origin of the name Molehall is at present, uncertain, but the proprietor Mr Rae is the clue to other property which can be found in Lothian Street, namely “Gordonbank”. I believe that by 1881 Mr Rae owned a series of five adjoining properties in Lothian Street. My late father-in-law, Thomas Green, who lived in part of Gordonbank, told me that the Rae family came from the Borders and that they named the property after their former home town. The 1881 Census confirmed this, Mr Rae was born in Gordon, Berwickshire, in the 1840’s.

Rutherford Place (off Lothian Street) takes its name from Mr Thomas Rutherford and comprises two double storey blocks of houses.

Maryfield or Maryfield Place, (off Lothian Street), consisted of fifteen properties including a shop and also a field. In 1874-75 the greater part of this area was owned by Thomas Steven, a builder, although once again some of the feus were owned by the Marquis of Lothian. The name Maryfield perhaps originates from the wife of one of the property owners. There certainly is a “Mary” in the name of Mrs Mary Kay who owned Maryfield Cottage in 1874. She was the wife of Mr Charles Kay, a commercial traveller. It would appear than even in these days, it was prudent for a husband to put a property in the name of his wife, for security.

Douglas Crescent, (off Lothian Street), I believe is named after Mr John Douglas, who owned a property on the opposite corner of the street from the Old Public Library.

In Bonnyrigg High Street, we find Burn Place which is the building on the corner of Park Road, currently occupied by Knowles (Painters) and McBean (Newsagent). It took its name from the Dobbie Road burn, which ran in the 1870’s, open, through the Burgh until it reached the High Street and was carried in a tunnel at the site of this building. It also ran towards Leyden Place, (more on this in a moment) and eventually to market gardens behind it.

Burn Place was built on the site of three single storey cottages which were owned by the mother of a Mr David Shepherd, a local sanitary inspector.

Leyden Place was built on a large piece of park land belonging to Mr Peter Leyden. The park had been used originally for grazing, however when the 2nd Midlothian & Peeblesshire Rifle Volunteers came into being, they used it as a drill ground. As time passed the land was broken up into feus and the Co-operative Society eventually developed part of the site. In the early 1920’s, Leyden Place was described by Provost Brown as a “very desirable place of residence”.

Milestone Place, (on the High Street adjacent to the current Medical Centre), took its name from an old milestone at the site, “Six Miles to Edinburgh”. There was previously a row of red roof tiled houses on this site.

Whitson Place, (on the High Street where Cameron’s Chemist Shop is located), is another example of a two storey named property, unfortunately the origin of it’s name is unknown at present.

I mentioned the Dobbie Road burn, which at one time ran through the centre of the Burgh.

Let us now consider this burn and indeed its name.

Is it the Dobbie Road burn, as many of our older members know it, or is it Dobbies Road as the current street sign suggests?

All the old maps trace the water as coming from Dobie’s Knowe, (where there was a well), in the King George’s Field or King George V Park.

More modern maps show us that Dobbies Road extended slowly, as houses were built west from Polton Street, Bonnyrigg, past Dobie’s Knowe to eventually join Polton Road, Lasswade, at St. Leonard’s Episcopal Church.

The Bonnyrigg Water Company, drew water originally from the well at Dobie’s Knowe, but it was a very limited supply and as the Burgh grew in size, soon became an inadequate supply. Katie’s Well above Rosewell, was also used, but it too proved to be inadequate. Eventually a more reliable water source was found near Rosslynlee.

Before leaving Bonnyrigg to consider Lasswade, let me mention another two names.

Whinnyrow has disappeared from modern maps, but on the 1852-53 map, was located where Lothian Street and Eskbank Road join near Eldindean Road. In the 1874-75 valuation roll it is referred to as park land and the proprietor is Mr John Lamb, a smith from Rosewell. The occupier was Mr James Forsyth, a flesher, however the annual feu of £5.00 was payable to a Mr Thomas Archibald.

There were a further five plots of land adjoining Whinnyrow, mostly with houses and gardens.

Mr William Hopper, a papermaker from Newbattle Mill, Dalkeith and the executors of the late Janet Thomson are mentioned as proprietors and Mr Andrew Rae, the market gardener, mentioned earlier occupied one of the plots.

In 1874-75 Mr George Campbell & Mr. William Somerville had a house and glue works at Whinnyrow, where the John Dennis builder’s yard is currently located.

I believe that the name Whinnyrow may have come from the whin or gorse bushes which are often found on park land in the area.

Parsonspool was the street name which got me started in my studies of local history. It was where I had my first house in Bonnyrigg near to the old Cockpen School.

There is a house and land at Parsonspool which was owned by Cecilia Wilkinson, probably from about 1790 and certainly in 1855 when her name appears on the valuation roll. The feu for the land belonged to the Earl of Dalhousie. In 1874-75 the property was owned by Hezekiah John Merricks, the owner of the Roslin Gunpowder Mills. However, he was not the occupier, this was Mr James Brodie.

Between the years 1878 and 1881 the property was owned by Mr Henry Birrell and occupied by a tenant Mr James Hunter. I have heard locally that the name of the property is derived from an unfortunate incident where a parson is said to have drowned in a large pool near the site, but whether this is true, is uncertain.

In 1886 the property comes under the ownership of Mr John Dennis, a builder from Newcastle, who extensively changes the appearance of the building and re-names it “Brixwold”. The name must have had some significance to the Dennis family, perhaps from their North of England roots or it may even have been a trademark used in the family building business.

In more recent times the property was owned by the Martin family, whose business was Martin’s of George Street, Edinburgh and now Martin & Frost. Lately, the house has been used for Jacobean style banquets and is now a restaurant and function venue.

Lasswade, the village which became a Burgh in 1881, had a large number of houses located off its main streets of Elm Row, West Mill Road, High Street and Polton Road. In addition to these main street names, here is a small selection of other names used in the village:- Hillside, Springbank, Fountainbank, Eldin Place, Oakmount, Bridgend and St. Ann’s. There are many others too numerous to mention, they may be the subject of a future talk.

Perhaps the focus of attention in the centre of Lasswade was St. Leonard’s Paper Mill owned by the Tod family. The mill was located in West Mill Road, but the Tod’s also owned property in Elm Row.

The large houses in Lasswade included St. Leonard’s (Tod’s the mill owners) and this building latterly became the Jenny Lasswade Hotel. It has recently been demolished.

Eldin House, was owned in 1874-75 by Mr Henry Moffat, but is better known as the former home of the Clerk family. It is now Nazareth House, an old peoples’ home, owned by the Roman Catholic Church.

Pittendreich or Pendreich House, was the home of the Hon.Lord Deas in 1874-75. His name was given to the steep hill or brae from Lasswade to Eskbank via Melville Dykes.

It is interesting to note that the feus for both Eldin House an Pittendreich House were actually owned by the Marquis of Lothian. It comes as no surprise however to learn that the feu for St. Leonard’s was owned by a certain Mrs Dundas Durham of Polton.

The 1861 Census of Lasswade shows that there were twenty-nine shops on the main streets of the village and no fewer than twenty-seven different businesses in operation.

In conclusion, I hope that you have found this talk interesting and whilst it was strongly biased towards Bonnyrigg, I may expand it in the future to include more about Lasswade, or perhaps develop a separate talk on Lasswade.

Thank you for your attention”.