Elizabeth Gaskell (and the Screws)

Saughton Winter Gardens, rose garden.
Saughton Winter Gardens, rose garden.

The name “Saughton” is associated in many Edinburgh people’s minds with a prison. Seeing as the local winter gardens (pictured) are getting a revamp/refurb, you’d think this might be a good chance to commemorate the area’s connection with a famous English writer. I put out this idea in the consultation, but seemingly the council has little interest in doing so. (I’m always suspicious about a lot of these so called consultations, and suspect that they mainly serve to reinforce what was intended beforehand by the supposed consultants.)

Elizabeth Gaskell, née Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson (1810-1865), was a popular English novelist in the 19th century and is still read today. She’s best known for works such as Mary Barton ((1848) which I own as an audiobook!) and North and South (1854). The Reader’s Encyclopedia (1965) by Benét says:

“She is known for her depictions of English country life and for her pioneering studies of conflict between capital and labor in Victorian industrialism… friend of many literary figures in England, including Charlotte Brontë… and George Eliot whose work she influenced.”

Thus her social conscience puts her in the same bracket as Dickens, i.e. someone who fought to improve the disgusting conditions that the poor had to put up with at the time.

So what are Gaskell’s connections to Saughton?
Elizabeth_Gaskell
• Her father, William Stevenson farmed at Saughton Mains (mains being the Scots for a home farm). He too was a writer, and edited the Scots Magazine for a while.
• Her middle name, “Cleghorn”, probably relates to someone of that name in the area.
• Street names in the area such as Stevenson Road. (I am yet to verify the connection, but it’s likely.)
By the time Elizabeth was born, the family was living in England, but these are still three quite interesting links. Saughton also turns up in the work of Irvine Welsh. I shall post more on these subjects on due course.

So, like I say, it’s about time that Saughton was remembered for a bit more than “porridge”.

Place name stuff
• Saughton – The “saugh” bit rhymes with “loch”, and is Broad Scots for a willow tree (seileach in Gaelic).

• Balgreen – Nothing to do with “ball green”, although that’s probably appropriate with the playing fields being there now. It’s actually a Gaelic name, meaning sunny (Baile na Grèine) or gravelly farm (Baile Griain). The element Bal- (baile) can be found down the road in Balerno, and turns up as Bally- in Ireland, and Balla- in the Isle of Man. The exact same name crops up near Ecclesmachan and Murieston in West Lothian.

• Stenhouse – The last bit “house” doesn’t appear to refer to a “house” at all. Older records call the place “Stanhope Mills”. Stanhope was the surname of the folk who held land there in the 16th and 17th centuries.

All three names are possibly connected to water – saughs (willows) like growing by water, gravel turns up near rivers, and “mills” speaks for itself.

Picture Credits

Rose gardens, Saughton Park Edinburgh (Jim Barton) / CC BY-SA 2.0

The picture of Elizabeth Gaskell originates on the German version of Wikipedia, and is public domain. The portrait was painted by George Richmond in 1851.

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