The Earl of Moray’s Estate of Drumsheugh, comprising a mansion house, policies and parks, was bounded by what are now Randolph Cliff, the north side of Randolph Place, Randolph Lane, Glenfinlas Street, Saint Colme Street, the west side of Gloucester Lane, Doune Terrace, and by a mill lade along the south side of the Water of Leith. Drumsheugh House itself was on the south east side of what is now Randolph Crescent.
By 1822 the estate was surrounded on three sides by new buildings, and Lord Moray had decided to knock down the mansion house and to develop the whole area for housing. That summer he advertised a layout plan, produced by his architect James Gillespie (from 1825 known as James Gillespie Graham). This plan shows the proposed houses, their private gardens, the communal gardens and the streets, almost exactly as now built. The street names all have connections with the Moray family.
There were to be 152 stances for houses, plus stables. The stances were sold for an annual feuduty, calculated per footage of frontage. Generally, there was a fixed rate for each street, ranging from about 16/- to 21/- a foot (and 5/- a foot for stables). The average annual feuduty payable to Lord Moray was therefore about £30; and the price charged by a builder for a house was in the range of £2000 to £3000.
The sales campaign started with an auction (“roup”) on 7 August 1822. The same Conditions of Sale relating to stances bought at the auction were also applied to all subsequent sales; and they were repeated, so far as relevant, in the Title Deeds, so as to be permanently binding. The main purpose was to ensure that all the houses conformed to James Gillespie Graham’s drawings and specifications (for which each Feuar had to pay five guineas). There was also usually provision for a payment of £100 to Lord Moray if the house was not completed quickly – within two and a half years of when the development started, and after that within about eighteen months. Most of the Conditions are reproduced in Prof. Youngson’s book.
A dozen stances were bought at the auction, and by 1827 over half had been sold. However, after that sales slowed and there were gap sites until about 1858. The normal procedure was that James Gillespie Graham signed a missive of sale to a builder, who would re-sell the stance, or the house he was constructing on it, although sometimes the builder remained as a landlord. Incidentally, until the Dean Bridge was completed in 1832, the stone had to be carted over the Water of Leith at the Dean Village, and then up Bell’s Brae.
The Feuars were taken bound to enclose Moray and Ainslie Place gardens “and to lay them down in shrubbery and walks, as shown by the plan”. At first, the only tree was a single existing willow, and the new planting was solely of shrubs.
James Gillespie Graham’s layout plan for Moray Place Garden (3.48 acres) was not universally popular. In 1832 a number of Feuars, including W H Playfair, published “Suggestions” for its improvement. These Feuars “regretted that more attention had not been bestowed in laying out the pleasure ground; but it is conceived that it may be very considerably improved, not only in appearance, but also in utility”. The gist of their scheme was to plant trees “here and there”, and to level the whole garden “the advantages of which will doubtless be supported by all the younger inhabitants, and by such of the elder as have not forgot the pleasures of level play-ground”. In those days, the gardens were much more fully used than now. Unfortunately, the scheme was not implemented.
The layout plan for Ainslie Place garden shows a circular path in the centre and an oblong path near the outside, but not the existing connecting paths.
Randolph Crescent garden was retained by Lord Moray. The 1822 plan shows a large building in the centre, up against the Queensferry Road. This may originally have been intended as a house for Lord Moray, although by the time of the auction he had earmarked No. 28 Moray Place for himself. In 1865 he sold the garden to the adjoining proprietors for £2000. It was a condition that it be used only as ornamental pleasure ground, and be properly maintained. At a General Meeting of the Feuars in 1867 it was agreed that the maintenance of Randolph Crescent garden should be placed under the charge of the same Committee of Management as the other gardens. In return, the Randolph Crescent proprietors were to pay an additional assessment towards the cost of maintenance of their garden. The contract could be ended on six months notice. That still remains the position.
The Bank garden (4.1 acres) got off to a bad start, and was closed for much of its first fifteen years. In June 1825 there had been a landslip behind Ainslie Place, and, to stabilise the ground, a row of 27 arches, with the walkway above, was built. There was a further landslip in 1837, resulting in the shorter section of arches to the east; the plans for these, by James Jardine, are in existence, and show that the arches extend back some 35 feet under the gardens. Repairs to the walkways etc were carried out in 1991.
Although all four gardens are managed by the one Committee, and looked after by the same gardeners, separate accounts are kept for the Bank Garden and it has a different lock.
Lord Moray retained the strip opposite Doune Terrace. In the 1822 Conditions of Sale he had reserved the right to build there, but the purchasers, mainly the building firm of John Sheenan and John Walker, negotiated that he should give up this right. He also intended that there should be a row of stables, and a mews lane, stretching westward for about fifty yards from the present site of the gardeners’ hut in the Bank garden, but these were never built.
A change to the gardens arose in 1942 when the railings were removed by the Ministry of Supply for the war effort. A large air raid shelter was built in Randolph Crescent garden. To keep intruders out of Moray Place garden, the present holly hedge was planted round the perimeter. After the war, new railings were designed and erected; until they were completed, wardens were employed to patrol the gardens.
A further change to Randolph Crescent garden nearly arose as a result of a proposal by Edinburgh Corporation in 1957 to convert the garden to a roundabout, to remove part of Ainslie Place garden and to fill in basements at the junction of Ainslie Place and Saint Colme Street. The Committee, with the unanimous support of the Feuars, were leading Objectors at a Public Enquiry in 1958. Following the Reporter’s advice, the scheme was dropped. The cost to the Feuars was the equivalent of two and a half years’ assessments
An interesting, although inconclusive, matter of dispute at the Enquiry was whether Randolph Crescent garden was designed and built as a mound; or whether the mound was fortuitous, possibly as a result of dumping soil when the foundations of the houses were dug out.
After the Enquiry, the Committee established an Amenity Fund, with voluntary contributions, so that there is cash available to support appropriate causes which are not directly related to the gardens.