Thirty two

The ‘palace frontage’ of the western section of Heriot Row with three ‘pavilions’ - one at each end and one in the middle - was designed by Robert Reid. No. 32 is the western part of the centre pavilion. The land was sold off in ‘stances’, each corresponding to a house. The purchaser of a stance was free to choose the design of the interior of the house but the exterior had to conform to the design of the frontage. 

At a public roup (auction) in 1805 a builder, William Wallace, purchased 100 feet of frontage (probably the ground for the whole of the centre pavilion) at a price of 8 shillings per foot (=£40). No. 32 was completed in 1810, when the first Feu Charter was granted to the new proprietor by George Heriot’s Hospital Trust. The price, including the cost of construction, was £3,350. 

Little crocodile heads on the pillars in the hall suggest that the internal decoration of the house was inspired by the craze for ‘Egyptian’ features, and this was confirmed when layers of paper in the hall were stripped off, showing that it had originally been painted in ‘Egyptian’ colours. 

Apart from a short period from 1920 to 1936, the house has belonged to only five families.  

The first proprietor, who bought it from the builder and presumably specified the internal design, was Robert Dundas, a member of the powerful Dundas family of lawyers. He succeeded to the estate of Beechwood (now Murrayfield Hospital) on the death of his uncle in 1820 and was created a Baronet in 1821. His wife’s brother was Lord Cockburn. Sir Robert Dundas of Beechwood Bart. was one of the Principal Clerks of the Court of Session. Another of the Clerks was Sir Walter Scott and they were close friends. In Scott’s Journal for 21st November 1825, he records: “Dined with Sir Robert Dundas where we met Lord and Lady Melville. My little nieces (ex officio) gave us some pretty musick.” 

Less than one month later, Scott’s publisher became bankrupt and Scott was ruined. For the remaining seven years of his life, he wrote unceasingly to repay his creditors. The evening in 32 Heriot Row must have been one of the last he could enjoy in complete happiness and peace of mind, but he records several other dinners with Sir Robert Dundas, at one of which “We drank some ‘victorious Burgundy’ contrary to all prescription” (14th December 1826). 

In 1835, the house passed from Sir Robert to his son, Sir David Dundas, an advocate who has left no trace in legal annals. His family seems to have been curiously unlucky. The baronetcy passed in succession to three of his sons, two of whom died without issue. Two sons of the survivor (the 5th Baronet) were killed in the First World War, and their surviving brother (the 6th Baronet) died without issue in 1981, 21 days short of his 100th birthday. 

In 1844 the house was sold for £2,500 to the Marriage Trustees of Henry Johnston and his wife, Elizabeth Campbell. Henry Johnston was a surgeon in the service of the East India Company and later “in the King’s Army, in the East Indies only”.

In 1863 the house was sold for £4,600 to Sir George Deas (Lord Deas), one of the judges of the Court of Session. Born in Falkland, he is said to have been the last judge on the bench to speak in a broad Scots accent. He had little schooling and was apprenticed to writers (solicitors) in Cupar and Edinburgh. In order to qualify for the Bar he gained admission to classes at Edinburgh University by sheer persistence. His work as a student was said to have been “the perfection of clear, vulgar common sense” which was also his style as an advocate and judge. He had a reputation as a hanging judge but he also developed the doctrine of diminished responsibility as a basis for avoiding the automatic death sentence for murder. “He was seldom deterred from making a caustic remark by the fear of giving pain”, though he could be kindly and helpful to young advocates. There is a splendid description of him in the Glasgow Herald for 8 February 1887, the day after his death. 

Having bought the house, Deas employed the architect David Bryce, who had built him a house at Pittendreich (Lasswade), to make a plan to raise the façade in order to create two more spacious bedrooms at the front on the top floor. This required permission from the Heriot Trust as feudal superiors, and this seems to have been the first occasion when the design of a frontage in the New Town would be broken. The Trustees asked Deas to encourage his neighbours in Nos. 30 and 31 to join the scheme to maintain the symmetry of the central pavilion, but they refused and he was allowed to proceed on his own.4 (The façade of No. 31 was raised later, but No 30 was not and shows the original design.) As Deas’ wife did not allow him to smoke in the house, he built a penthouse on the roof, which can be seen from Jamaica Street. 

Deas’ brother Sir David Deas, a surgeon in the Royal Navy, had a very distinguished career and was present at the siege of Sebastopol. Lord Deas’ elder son Francis (also an advocate) had died in 1874, and when his brother died in 1876 leaving a young son also named Francis, he assumed responsibility for his education. Francis became an architect associated with Robert Rowand Anderson and Robert Lorimer and left his collection of Chinese pottery to the National Museum. 

It is not clear what happened to the house after Lord Deas died in 1887. His widow (daughter of another distinguished naval surgeon, Sir Benjamin Outram) and their only daughter, Elizabeth Anne, probably lived there until the widow died in 1899. (The younger son, Sylvester, was a Writer to the Signet, and seems to have lived at Pittendreich.) After the widow’s death, Elizabeth Anne went to live in Germany “for reasons of health” and was at one time living in Planegg/Krailling near Munich. 

In 1920, the Trustees of Lord Deas sold the house for £4,000 to Mrs Sue Campbell Stuart, who resold it in 1927 for £4,000 to John Francis Menzies, grandson of the founder of John Menzies and Sons, the booksellers. It was probably he who constructed a squash court in the coach-house, and installed the bookcases in the dining room and a central heating system with pipes of dimensions worthy of the Queen Mary. (The main plumbing seems to have been installed about the turn of the century.) 

In 1936, the house was sold for £3,750 to C.J.D. Shaw, advocate, later QC and Dean of the Faculty of Advocates. He became a judge of the Court of Session and later of the House of Lords with the title of Lord Kilbrandon. He chaired a Committee to consider the treatment of juvenile offenders, which recommended the unique Scottish system of Children’s Panels. “The Kilbrandon Report (1964) was, and still remains, one of the most influential policy documents on how a society should deal with ‘children in trouble’”. Lord Kilbrandon also chaired the Royal Commission on the Constitution which recommended the ill-starred arrangement for Scottish and Welsh Assemblies which collapsed in 1979. 7 In 1984 he chaired an independent Commission set up by the British Irish Association to propose a way forward for Northern Ireland. 

During the War, when Mr Shaw was away on military service, the house was occupied by Polish soldiers who shoveled the spent coke from the central heating boiler into a wine cellar. The roof showed signs of scorching so it’s lucky the house didn’t go up in flames. During or after the War, the ground floor and part of the first floor was let to the English Speaking Union. Mr Shaw retained the drawing room as his study and consulting room and the family lived on the floors above. 

On 17 July 1947, a Reel Party was held in the drawing room attended by Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret (see “A Royal Party” in the section “Stories”). An invitation card was recently found behind a mantelpiece in Great King Street (see next page). 

We purchased the house from Lord Kilbrandon and one garage in the mews building for £7,750 in 1961. The price must now seem astonishingly low, but the period of rampant inflation was yet to come and the street was not at all as attractive as it now is. 

Before the introduction of Smoke Control, the buildings of the New Town were blackened with soot and the Queen Street Gardens were dark and uninteresting. (Dutch elm disease has at least had the effect of thinning out the trees and letting light in.) Most of the windows and doors were painted dark green or black. Windows painted white and a variety of door colours came in gradually during the 60’s and 70’s. 

Behind the western section of Heriot Row stood Jamaica Street – two blocks of tenements four storeys high, which had become a deplorable slum with a population of about 1,500 people, besides the rats and mice. Almost every room was in separate occupation and the toilets were on the stairs, one between two floors. The height and closeness of the tenements blocked out light from the back gardens and lower storeys of Heriot Row, and the Forth could be seen only from the top storeys. 

Although advocates were expected to have ‘chambers’ in the New Town, many had moved out to the suburbs and rented chambers in the New Town (e.g. 25 Heriot Row, 9 India Street and 12 Moray Place) where they could hold consultations and have papers delivered. So many of the houses in Heriot Row had already become offices. 

By the time the remaining part of the mews building came on the market in 1975, it cost us £11,500 to buy it, almost exactly 150% of the cost of the whole house and a garage in 1961. 

Maintaining a Grade 1 listed building creates its own problems. We were advised by our architects that it would not be safe to have another reel party in the drawing room as the floor might give way: it hasn’t – so far! Major repairs have been necessary, including stripping the roofs of the house and the mews and covering them in lead. We stopped using the central heating system long ago as it was a very effective way of burning pound notes. We’re used to living without it: it’s just a matter of putting on more layers!

There is a well-attested ghost in the larger front bedroom on the second floor.

Notes by Elisabeth and David Edward, 1 August 2015