DAWDLING AROUND DEAN VILLAGE

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DEAN VILLAGE mews near Dean Village

Edinburgh is an unusual city because it does not have a waterway running through its heart. Until the 19th century, a body of water known as ‘Nor Loch’ separated the elevated Old Town from the lower 18th century New Town. Originally a swamp, it was filled with water in the 15th century to defend the Castle above it. This disappeared when it was drained and filled-in in the 1820s to create Princes Street Gardens, and then in the 1840s when the railways and Waverly Station were built on its site.

A river called Water of Leith, which rises in the Pentland Hills, now threads its way through the modern city, draining into the Firth of Forth at Leith. As late as the 1850s, this waterway ran through open country between Edinburgh and the then separate locality, the port of Leith.

DEAN VILLAGE
Dean Village is located close to the western end of New Town in a gorge through with the river flows. At first sight, the village’s appearance reminded me of parts of the city of Luxembourg.

Dean Village, which has also been called ‘Water of Leith Village’, takes its name from the word ‘dene’, meaning ‘deep valley’. As early as the 12thcentury, its mills have been recorded in documents. With its fast-flowing river, it is an ideal place for powering mill-wheels. At one time, there were eleven working grain mills in the locality. Where there is grain, there can also be alcohol. The, now demolished, large Sunbury Distillery used to stand close to the Village on the right bank of the Water of Leith. Founded by James Haig (1755 -1833) of the famous Haig family of distillers, it operated between 1813 and 1856.

DEAN VILLAGE Well Court
Today, roads, such as Sunbury Mews and Sunbury Place, recall its existence.

I began my walk around Dean Village at Belford Road, which is carried across the Water of Leith (‘Water’) on a bridge, whose lampposts are covered with stickers from the nearby Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. The bridge affords a fine view of a wooded valley lined on one side by modern apartment buildings.

Passing the picturesque Sunbury Mews, I entered the steeply sloping Hawthornbank Road, which passes beneath an arch. At the bottom of this lane, I caught my first glimpse of the Village, its cast-iron footbridge, and the western flank of the massive red-brick Well Court, which resembles a renaissance castle.

From the footbridge, which stands where once there was a ford, there is a view of the Water flowing downstream.

DEAN VILLAGE
Its steep right bank is lined with buildings, both old and new, but harmoniously matched.

Walking along the right bank along Hawthornbank Lane, one soon sees the stone bridge carrying Dean Path across the Water, and beyond it, in the distance, the spire of the Victorian gothic Rhema Christian Church Centre. The latter is housed in what was formerly the ‘Trinity Episcopal Chapel’, which was built in the early 19thcentury.

Crossing the bridge, we reach the impressive Well Court, which was built in 1886 for the newspaper owner and philanthropist John Ritchie Finlay (1824-1898). Designed by Arthur George Sydney Mitchell (1856-1930), it was constructed to provide good quality housing for the local people. Consisting of flats of different sizes and a communal hall, and a riverside garden it was made to encourage social interaction amongst its tenants.

DEAN VILLAGE Dean Path bridge
When I visited it, there was washing hanging on the lines stretched across the large courtyard. Its inhabitants must be used to large numbers of inquisitive visitors entering this charming ensemble of buildings to enjoy its fascinating architecture.

Near this block is the former Village School, which was built in 1875, and is now used as a block of flats.

Returning across the bridge, I spotted an old doorway above which the almost illegible words “GOD BLESS THE BAXTERS OF EDINBURGH UHO BUILT THIS HOUSE 1675”. A ‘baxter’ is a baker. The baxters’ sign is a pair of crossed baker’s paddles, which are used to insert and remove loaves from the oven. You can often see these being used in pizzerias which use wood-fired furnaces.

DEAN VILLAGE
The symbol, combined with a pair of weighing scales can be seen above the inscription on what was once the ‘Baxters’ Tollbooth’, a former granary.

I followed the riverside path by walking downstream along Miller Row. Soon, I reached a clearing which contains a fading notice describing the former industrial activities in Dean Village. Nearby, there is a monument consisting of three stone mill-wheels.

The riverside path continues beneath the tall arches of the Dean Bridge. This viaduct, which was completed in 1831, was the last major work of Scottish engineer Thomas Telford (1757-1834).

After passing beneath the bridge, the path, which winds along beneath trees, is bounded by the stream on one side, and the steep slopes of the right bank of the Water on the other.

DEAN VILLAGE Well Court
A small stone building dated 1810 houses St Georges Well.

Further downstream, we reach a small circular neo-classical pavilion with a conical roof in which there stands a statue of a woman, the Greek goddess of health Hygeia. She holds a cup in her right hand and steadies a flask with her left. The flask rests on a pillar around which a serpent is picturesquely wound. The serpent is sipping something from the mouth of the flask. This pavilion marks St Bernard’s Well, which is supposed by some to have been discovered in the 12thcentury by St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), founder of the Cistercian Order. I am not sure whether the saint ever visited this locality. This structure was built in about 1789. It was designed by Alexander Nasmyth (1758-1840).

Steps lead down from the path to the river bank.

DEAN VILLAGE Well Court
A decorative stone notice on the side of the staircase commemorates William Nelson (1816-1887), a partner in an Edinburgh publishing firm, bought and restored the well in 1884 before presenting it to the City of Edinburgh.

Looking downstream from the well, you get a good view of the nearby St Bernard’s Bridge, which was built in the 1820s.

I retraced my steps back to the Belford Road Bridge, and entered the grounds of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (‘SNGMA’) number Two, which is housed in a neo-classical building that was once the ‘Orphan Hospital’.

A small gateway east of the gallery leads into Dean Cemetery. This stands on the site of the grounds of the former Dean House (now demolished), and was opened in the 1840s.

DEAN VILLAGE former school
Immediately on entering, you see a remarkable pyramidical tomb made of a pink stone. This contains the remains of Andrew Rutherfurd (1791-1852) and his wife Francesca. Lack of time meant that I could not explore in detail the wide variety of funerary architecture that is contained in this well-maintained grave-yard.

Emerging from the cemetery at Ravelston Terrace, you are confronted by what, at first glance, might be mistaken for the domes of a Russian monastery. These are part of the rooftop of Stewart’s Melville College, which is housed in a 19thcentury building (built 1855) that was originally the ‘Daniel Stewart’s Hospital’. Its architect was David Rhind (1808-1883).

Nearby, there is a wood-clad church, St Andrews Catholic Church, which resembles an alpine cabin or chalet.

DEAN VILLAGE Baxters tollhouse
Built in 1902 as a temporary church, it is still in use today.

At the corner of Quennsferry Road and Dean Path, there stands an L-shaped church with Dutch-style gables, the Bristo Baptist Church, which was opened in 1935. The Bristo Baptist Church, which was established by the 18thcentury, has used many buildings in Edinburgh in the past, but now uses this 1930’s building. We were given a friendly welcome there by its cleric and his assistant, who provided us with tea and coffee while we looked around.

One arm of the L is occupied by halls of various sizes used for educational and community purposes. The other arm of the L contains an enormous church, plainly decorated. At the altar, there is a large marble bath with steps leading into it. This is used for baptisms.

DEAN VILLAGE AND AROUND Dean Bridge
We were told that people can only be baptised when they are old enough to choose to do so.

After leaving the Bristo, we stared down Learmonth Avenue, and saw in the distance the magnificent building resembling a French chateau, which houses the prestigious Fettes College (established 1870), which was founded using money bequeathed (to be used for education) by the merchant and former Lord Provost of Edinburgh Sir William Fettes (1750-1836).  The building’s architect was David Bryce (1803-1876).

After viewing this, we returned to the centre of the city.

vicIII says:
Adam, you have excellent stories and amazing photographs... Good for you!:)
Posted on: Sep 29, 2017
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DEAN VILLAGE mews near Dean Village
DEAN VILLAGE mews near Dean Village
DEAN VILLAGE
DEAN VILLAGE
DEAN VILLAGE Well Court
DEAN VILLAGE Well Court
DEAN VILLAGE
DEAN VILLAGE
DEAN VILLAGE  Dean Path bridge
DEAN VILLAGE Dean Path bridge
DEAN VILLAGE
DEAN VILLAGE
DEAN VILLAGE Well Court
DEAN VILLAGE Well Court
DEAN VILLAGE Well Court
DEAN VILLAGE Well Court
DEAN VILLAGE former school
DEAN VILLAGE former school
DEAN VILLAGE Baxters tollhouse
DEAN VILLAGE Baxters tollhouse
DEAN VILLAGE AND AROUND Dean Bridge
DEAN VILLAGE AND AROUND Dean Bridge
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DEAN VILLAGE AND AROUND St Andrews
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photo by: vances