Corstorphine as ancient religious centre

Does Corstorphine have a hidden past as an ancient religious centre?A collegiate church, two holy wells, the Knights Templar and a name that seems to be of religious origin… There seems to be a case for stating that Corstorphine had some significance as a spiritual centre in the distant past.

The early history of Corstorphine is extremely murky, and little research has been done into it. Historians have been more interested in what happened a hundred years ago than a thousand. Personally I find some the older history more interesting. It is unfortunately a bit speculative, so I hope readers will forgive me, but as always I aim to try to create new lines of enquiry.

Of Cors

First off, the name Corstorphine. The etymology is uncertain but several of the suggestions point back to a religious origin. “Cors” may well be related to a large standing cross that once stood here – these used to be far more common – or it may be alternatively a crossing of the marsh, or the marsh itself.

Wells

Secondly, the wells namely the Physic Well and the Ladywell. It is unusual for two holy wells to be in such proximity and they are within a quarter mile of the old church.  The”phine” aspect of the name is also intriguing. In my book, I suggest it is related to the holy wells in the area. The Welsh for a well. Holywell in north east Wales is Treffynon. It is notable that William Dunbar in his Lament for the Makaris rhymes “Corstorphine” with “Aberdeen”. This may suggest a different pronunciation in past centuries, or merely an attempt to link two poets called Roull.

The etymology of Ladywell is again controversial. First sight suggests a pre-Reformation dedication to the Virgin Mary like Motherwell; however there is also Ladiebridge (Ladiebrig?) down the way, and some suggest this is related to “lade” which is a slow running stream. These holy wells were invariably pre-Christian in origin. People would have come to them for healing and as a minor pilgrimage.

How old is Corstorphine Kirk?

How old is Corstorphine Parish Church? Well, we can ascertain the site is a former island surrounded by marshes and lochs. This tells us nothing definite in itself, but such locations were often holy sites for the Celtic church, which had a penchant for islands, hillocks etc, which were often pagan sites beforehand. The church may have served visitors to the two holy wells or been an additional site in its own right. This is indeed speculation, but it would put the church’s foundation back into the first millennium, possibly during the period Iona was sending missionaries to the Northumbrian ruled Lothians.

Then we have the Torfinn question. There is no record of such a person being linked with Corstorphine, but “Torfinn’s cross” is a tempting derivation too. (Note the Celtic word order though). Did a Torfinn set up a religious site here? It is not an uncommon Norse name. The usual speculation is that it belongs to an Earl of Orkney, Thorfinn the Mighty who lived 1009?–c. 1065, put the name back around a thousand years. The Lothians were taken by Scotland around 1018, and Thorfinn was related by marriage to the Scottish royal family. He appears to have been very religious, going on pilgrimage to Rome and Christianising the Northern Isles.

Knights Templar, Knights Hospitaller

Another clue may be found in the dedication of the church to St John, which is where we get the name “St John’s Road” from. St John was the patron saint of the Knights Hospitaller (KHs). The Hospitallers took over much of the land that the Knights Templar (KTs) had controlled, before they fell out of favour with authority. The church in Torphichen in West Lothian is an example of a nearby church which was transferred from the KTs to the KHs. Sure enough, in the Corstorphine area, we find Templeland Road, which is named for the KTs.

The KHs were notable for providing hospitality (note the etymology of that word) and also providing medical care (which may tie in with the Holy Wells). St John’s Ambulance was famously set up by them.

Collegiate Church

Corstorphine Parish Church is also an example of a collegiate church. A collegiate church is not exactly a cathedral, but it is a few levels up from an ordinary parish church – and would have been served by a series of canons. It is clear a lot of money was spent on the project. This was probably a prestige project for the Forrester Family who had nearby castle, but also possibly symbolic of the area’s Pre-Reformation religious importance. After the Reformation, it would have become the ordinary but unusual looking church we see today.

The Stank – or how to spot a lost stream

Back in the 1990s, Lothian & Borders Constabulary were talking about moving their HQ from Fettes to South Gyle. They didn’t have a name for this new site, or so the story goes, and so one of the workers suggested that they name the new office after the burn next door. This sounded like a great idea. Until someone pointed out it was called the Stank!

Historia Lothiana on the Stank

Historia Lothiana recently posted this video (6 mins) about the Stank, a lost burn which connected South Gyle and Corstorphine.

I’ll put a few comments after the link, so that people can watch it first.

Comments

First off, I’m always delighted to see anything on local history in these parts, since there is so little out there to begin with. HL has made a good effort here in trying to find the course of this lost burn, and I much appreciate it, so any remarks and disagreements here are meant to be in good faith and not to pull it down! Thank you HL for making this video.

These points are in no particular order:

  • The name “Stank” has nothing to do with the smell of the burn. Stank was a common name for drainage ditches and pools in Broad Scots. The word appears in Gaelic as “staing”. It’s more remotely related to the words “stagnant” and “stagnate”  in English. So the impression is of sluggish, slow moving watercourse. See definition in link provided below.
  • I can well believe that the Stank was largely or totally artificial, as she says. That’s highly likely. The Gogarloch/Gyle Park area was one big swamp in ancient times, with not much gradient to carry the water away. The ditch was probably improved to help drain the loch and create some farmland. There was probably a stream leading into the old Gogarloch and/or connecting it to Corstorphine Loch.
  • I generally agree with her about the course of the Stank. She sites the start somewhere near the Gyle Centre. However, she doesn’t mention the burn which runs through Edinburgh Park and feeds into Loch Ross, the pond there. I presume these two are connected. Maybe not. People might want to comment on that. (Loch Ross is worth visiting for the sculptures of writers around about it.)
  • “Ladiebridge” (in Broomhall) is an interesting name. There is some room for confusion here, since there is the Lady Well near by, and there is also the term “lade” (as in mill lade) which refers to a watercourse. Presumably this was known “Ladiebrig” back when the area spoke more Scots. The Stank would have run by the Physic Well. As I have suggested elsewhere, it is possible that the origin of the name Corstorphine may be to with its two wells.
  • There appears to have been a moat at the former Corstorphine Castle. Presumably this was fed by what became the Stank or its predecessor.
  • Presumably the Stank would have entered the bed of Corstorphine Loch at some point which would be under the golf course and the Paddockholm etc. I suppose it was used to drain that loch too.

Other lost waterways

There are a few other culverted waterways in the area. There are at least two which flow in and around Cammo, presumably from the tiny Bughtlin Burn after it flows under the road (and I’m not sure it’s large enough to be called a burn).

There are two burns which go under the bypass from Edinburgh Park. It is not entirely clear whether they are one and the same.

There are a number of hidden waterways in and around the airport, many of them severely infested with Giant Hogweed (the worst patch is near Gogar Kirk which has produced millions of seeds this year). These mostly drain into the River Almond. Some of these are drainage ditches related to construction and maybe dating back to when the airport was an RAF station. The Gogarburn is the most notable one, but that too is culverted for a portion of its length.

Recently I pointed out on Twitter that the name Gogar may contain an ancient suffix for rivers, and the area and Gogarloch may take its name from the burn, rather than vice versa. It would share this with the Stinchar in the south west – no prizes for a Stank pun there – as well as the likes of Whiteadd-er, Ay-r, Cald-er, Leuch-ar, Lugar, Farrar, Wooler, Quair, Keilor Burn, River Gaur, Water of Tanar, Bruar etc. And further away, the Tamar which forms the border of Cornwall.

Corstorphine Station

HL has also made a video on Corstorphine Station (click here), which is also worth watching. She has some personal connections with the old station.

I wrote about the area in and around the Station in Hidden History: Station Road & the east of Corstorphine

Literary Corstorphine

Literary Corstorphine is a unique & ideal gift for anyone with links to this area. I include a lot in the book that doesn’t appear on this blog at all, such as maps and even more detailed discussion of some of the subject matter. It’s also much better written than the tongue in cheek stuff I post on here. Many people have told me that they were amazed about the content, and that they were completely unaware of it beforehand.

You can buy Literary Corstorphine for £9.99 from Gee’s/Corstorphine Post Office, which is on the corner of Station Road and St John’s Road. If you can’t see it on display, please ask to see a copy.

If you live nearer Leith than Corstorphine, it is also available in the Scottish Design Exchange shop, which is on the first floor of Ocean Terminal. Directions and details can be found by clicking this blue link.

You can also buy it online at Lulu.com (click on this blue link).

I know a lot of people expect content for free, but remember content creators can’t all live for free!

And to all of those who have bought copies, thank you! I have sold a number of copies already, but I do appreciate all sales.

External Links

*Definition of “Stank” at Scottish National Dictionary

Corstorphine = Leith mk II?

thumbnailNow we are in the golden grip of Autumn, I’m back to posting a bit more.

So today’s question – is Corstorphine turning into another Leith? No, no, I hear you say! It has never been a port – a few boats on Corstorphine Loch notwithstanding. But there are a few features they have in common – both of them were swallowed up by Edinburgh, both of them lost their railway stations (see here) and both had Irish enclaves in the nineteenth century (although Corstorphine’s was smaller). Corstorphine even features in the novel of Trainspotting.

There are a few signs that Corrie is getting more Leith-y. You could trace it back to the druidic-looking sycamore leaves which started appearing all over local railings. Or to the signs welcoming visitors to the area, although unlike Leith, they make no claims to be twinned with anywhere as exotic as Rio de Janeiro.

How about some of the other developments? On St John’s Road, one of the chemists is veering into Californian territory, with adverts for Viagra and cannabidiol oils in the window… along with shopping bags with “I’m dead posh, I’m fae Corstorphine” written on them. Alison ?, has also produced some postcards of some of our local buildings (see note below). Then of course, there are the hipster books on local literary connections, but enough said about them.

So are we going to see a local version of Billy Gould’s magazine, The Leither? Well, we have Let’s Talk about Corstorphine, which in my view varies a lot, and whose main sin is in publishing politicians’ puff pieces. It does have some good historical pieces occasionally, in its defence. What about T-shirts with “I ♡ Corrie”? Better still “I ♡ Corstorphine”, to avoid being confused with a popular soap opera. Are they enough? Do we need a whole wheen of Corstorphine themed gear to compete with Leith?

How about a few celebrity endorsements for local sports clubs? Will the likes of Iggy Pop turn up at Union Park to see the Cougars play? I doubt it, although the trendification of Leith’s Hibees continues unabated.

Picture Credits and notes
I have photographed the postcard – see picture – but this is not intended to be an infringement of copyright, but to promote it. I have also tried to make it low res. If you are the copyright holder, I will remove this on request.

I myself have bought several of these, and am even sending one all the way to Tahiti, where a friend is working. One of the buildings on the postcards is Corstorphine Hill Tower, which is, of course, a monument to Walter Scott.

These postcards are available in several local outlets including the newly opened cafe on Station Road, and Corstorphine Chiropractic next to the Drumbrae Scotmid).

Corstorphine Trust also does its own notelets and cards (click on link to be taken to their shop).

Hidden History: Station Road & the east of Corstorphine

In this piece, I write about the eastern part of Corstorphine – Olympic athletes, artists, some lost local buildings and the Oscar-winning actress Rachel Weisz.

Colin Jarvie (1962-2012)

Colin Jarvie was an acclaimed photographer, who grew up on Traquair Park West, and later went to Craigmount High School. I only got to meet Colin a couple of times, though I knew his parents a bit. Colin was extremely disillusioned, and had just returned to Edinburgh from London, so I think it is fair enough to say that I didn’t catch him at a good time.

Colin was mixed race and adopted by a white couple. He talked about his experience of interracial adoption on the radio and elsewhere. While at university, someone once referred to Colin as a “black bastard”. He replied, “You’re right, I am black and I am a bastard.”

Some of his earliest work was photographing some of the bands on the Fast Product label. These would have included some of the bands that he was at school with at Craigmount (and I discuss some of them in my review of the Big Gold Dream documentary: he was also a near contemporary of the novelist Louise Welsh)

He moved to London in 1982, where he became involved with the London College of Printing. He later taught at the LCP. In 1986, he “discovered” a very young Rachel Weisz and photographed her for Rimmel. Weisz has always acknowledged his role in launching her career, and would attend his funeral in 2012.*

Grant Jarvie (1955-)

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Just a couple of Grant Jarvie’s books

Professor Grant Jarvie is Colin’s older brother. He is notable for books on sport.

It is interesting to note that two of Grant Jarvie’s early books were about the role of race in sport. They were written in the apartheid era, but one wonders whether Colin’s own experiences of racism were any influence in this matter.

On a more personal note, Prof. Jarvie has written about the sporting careers of his parents David and Margaret, who were both top level swimmers at the Olympic level; David later became a member of the GB Olympic water polo team.

The Paddockholm

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Chris Hoy

The Paddockholm is the actual site of the old Corstorphine Station, which Station Road takes its name from. The station was built in 1902, nationalised in the 1940s, and shut in 1968. The Paddockholm estate itself was built in 1983 by MacTaggart & Mickel who seem to have built half this area. (South Gyle Mains, some of East Craigs, Broomhall & Wester Broom in a very differ.)

There is very little now to suggest that the Paddockholm was once a station. At the far end, there is a footpath leading down the old line, through the former Pinkhill Station* and down to Balgreen. Otherwise, the Paddockholm’s railway past is best reflected in the big wall along its north side, and its narrow shape. There are plenty of bossy signs in the Paddockholm – mainly about how evil cold callers are. And cold they may be, since the Paddockholm rarely ever seems to be gritted or cleared of snow during the depths of winter…

“Paddockholm” as a field name long predates the railway, and originally refers to the frogs or “puddocks” that used to live there. “Holm” merely referred to a piece of dry land in the marsh surrounding Corstorphine and its loch.

In his autobiography, Chris Hoy speaks about how he used to used to play on this abandoned line as a boy. Hoy grew up on the boundary between Corstorphine and Murrayfield – I gather his relatives used to run one of the local garages.

Traquair Park

This street is where the aforementioned Jarvies lived. It has some terraced housing at its west end, but mostly consists of bungalows. I have it on good authority that the terrace is built on a bitumen mat to protect its foundations from damp. It seems you can take the loch out of Corstorphine, but you can’t take Corstorphine out of the loch.

Traquair Park was built around 1890, and was originally a cul-de-sac. It takes its name from Maud Traquair, who was the mother of John & W. Traquair Dickson who were proprieters of Corstorphine House at the time. In 1925, the street was divided up into east and west sections.

We won’t keep the Red Flag flying here!

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The Auld Kirk seen through Corstorphine House Avenue

Station Road was built around the turn of the twentieth century. Like Castle Avenue, it takes its name from a long demolished feature, in this case Corstorphine Railway Station. But there are several others:

  • The former Chinese Consulate was near the corner of Station Road with Traquair Park West (number 43 I believe). When the People’s Republic of China decided to move their consulate out of Corstorphine, you might have thought that they would choose somewhere more proletarian instead… but far from it! The red flag now flies over Corstorphine Road in Murrayfield, next to the local tennis club. Arguably this reflects the somewhat confused politico-economic identity of the latter-day PRC. After the Chinese moved out of the consulate on Station Road, it was demolished, and a new block of flats built. Whether this was an economic decision, or something more cloak and dagger, I’ve no idea. The PRC has demolished vast swathes of historic buildings in the name of progress, particularly in cities such as Beijing, so this action is consistent with their more general policies.
  • Corstorphine House. This lends its name to several streets in the area including Corstorphine House Avenue and Corstorphine House Terrace.
  • The old archives, which were beside the Paddockholm. Truth be told, these were ugly warehouses, and won’t be missed by me. These have been replaced by flats in the last couple of years.

Notes

  • It is worth mentioning that Rachel Weisz’s sister Minnie is also a professional photographer. I couldn’t go to Colin’s funeral, because ironically I was at someone else’s.
  • Pinkhill Station still retains its old platforms and the former ticket office can be seen on the bridge above – this used to serve the zoo.

Picture Credits

From Wikimedia Commons CC by SA:

  • Rachel Weisz – Credit: Neil Grabowsky/Montclair Film.
  • Chris Hoy – Credit: Mark Harkin

The pictures of the Auld Kirk and Grant Jarvie’s book covers were taken by me.

External links

For a Multilingual Edinburgh

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A “shelfie” of part of my library including Gaelic novels, alongside Mencius, Cervantes, Goethe, Patrick Süskind (the painting is Das Parfum), Turgenev etc in the original languages… an interest in Gaelic does not somehow block other languages…

I have tried hard to steer clear of party politics on this blog, but it greatly saddens me to see our MSP Alex Cole Hamilton try and use Scottish Gaelic as a soft target for campaigning. He seems to think if you are interested in Gaelic, you can’t be interested in other languages, despite all the research saying otherwise. Children in Gaelic Medium Education consistently outperform the other schools when it comes to learning French, German, Spanish etc. Frankly, ACH’s tweet reeks of  the “many of my best friends are […], but” mentality.

I am glad to say this attitude has not been shared by all of his party. Christine Jardine MP has said that she is supportive of Gaelic, and both Donald Gorrie and Margaret Smith have been positive about it too. The late Iain Farquhar Munro (Iain Fearchar Rothach) was a native speaker and a champion of Gaelic in the Lib Dems, and will probably be turning in his grave at these comments.

Well, I happen to be one of Alex Cole Hamilton’s constituents. I vote in pretty much every election. I think I have only missed one in twenty plus years. I have my own views, but I am not currently a member of any political party. I have voted for several different parties in the past, and yes, one of them happened to be the Lib Dems. Comments like this don’t endear me to them.

Literary Corstorphine will always back the Gaelic language. Many languages can be seen and heard in this constituency of course, and it is wrong to pitch them against each other, to say Polish is better than Cantonese or Urdu is superior to Broad Scots. Yet that is precisely what has happened here, and it seems to be becoming more and more common in British politics.

Our local Gaelic heritage

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Lennie and Cammo on the western edge of the city. Both of these names derive from Gaelic – Lèanaidh means a meadow or land in a river bend, while Camach refers to the meanders themselves.

Does Corstorphine have a Gaelic heritage? Yes, more than you might think. Names like Drumbrae (Druim Bràighe), Cammo (Camach), Lennie (Lèanaidh), Carrick Knowe (Carraig) and Balgreen (Baile Grèine) all originate from it. Go up to Edinburgh Park and you can find busts of poets such as Iain Crichton Smith and Sorley MacLean, while more recently Gaelic writers such as William Neill and Màrtainn Mac an t-Saoir have lived locally.

I write about Corstorphine’s Gaelic links in my book.

Another link to Elizabeth Gaskell

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Gaskell in 1860

In a previous article I discussed the local links of Elizabeth Gaskell, née Stevenson (1810-1865). Gaskell is best known as the author of such works as North and South, and Mary Barton.

Since I wrote the article, it has struck me how few people are aware of her link to Saughton & Corstorphine, or indeed Edinburgh in general.

Tyler’s Acre

The origins of place names have always fascinated me, and I have discussed quite a few on this blog already.

One that I haven’t looked at before is “Tyler’s Acre”. It gives its name to several streets between old Corstorphine and Carrick Knowe. It is to be found between Saughton Road North and Lampacre Road, and lies to the north of Union Park.

It turns out that the “tyler” (tailor) in question was a member of the Stevenson family, who farmed at Saughton Mains. He was a close relative of William Stevenson, Elizabeth Gaskell’s father.

 

External Links