Heriot Row drew its name from a self-made Edinburgh business tycoon of the late 16th and early 17th century. George Heriot (1563-1624) was a goldsmith and jeweller who started his selling career in a luckenbooth in Edinburgh's Royal Mile, near St Giles Cathedral. He became a burgess of Edinburgh in 1588. His jewellery caught the eye of James VI's Queen Anne, who had extravagant tastes. He became her official goldsmith in 1597. James too wore elaborate jewellery, and in 1601 made Heriot his official goldsmith in Scotland. Two years later when James became King of England as well as Scotland Heriot was granted the same position there. He not only supplied jewellery but lent the King and Queen money on which they paid him interest. Thanks to their patronage over many years he became a wealthy man.

Heriot married twice but had no surviving children. After his death in London - he was buried in St Martin's in the Fields - his money endowed an orphans' hospital which is now Heriot's School and one of Edinburgh's finest buildings.

His money passed to the Heriot Trust, which lasted in its original form until 1885. The Trust's composition was a clever balance of the provost, baillies and councillors of Edinburgh with the city's religious ministers, to make sure the money was well used. It was meant to be invested in land as near as possible to the then city. It was said in the first part of the 17th century that '... scarcely an acre in the neighbourhood came into the market which they did not instantly acquire for the benefit in perpetuity of Heriot's Hospital'.

Much of the land Heriot Row was to be built on was acquired in this way, and the trustees later played an important part in the selling and development of the site. Under Scotland's land tenure system the Trust remained feudal superiors. This meant that every owner had to pay them an annual feu duty and that they retained and could enforce building and use conditions. This proved an important safeguard. By the time feu duty and conditions were abolished in the 1970s and 1980s other safeguards under planning and listed building legislation were in place.

Heriot's name is attached to two other Edinburgh streets and Edinburgh's Heriot Watt University.

Heriot Row drew its name from a self-made Edinburgh business tycoon of the late 16th and early 17th century