Last updated

The Pilrig area from the Calton Hill The Pilrig area from the Calton Hill, Edinburgh.jpg
The Pilrig area from the Calton Hill
Pilrig House Pilrig House, Edinburgh.jpg
Pilrig House
Pilrig Church Pilrig St. Paul's Church - geograph.org.uk - 1213834.jpg
Pilrig Church
Georgian houses on Pilrig Street Georgian houses on Pilrig Street.jpg
Georgian houses on Pilrig Street
Cambridge Avenue, Edinburgh Cambridge Avenue, Edinburgh.jpg
Cambridge Avenue, Edinburgh
Pilrig manse, Edinburgh Pilrig manse, Edinburgh.jpg
Pilrig manse, Edinburgh

Pilrig is an area of Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. The name probably derives from the long field (rig) on which a peel tower (pil/peel) stood. [1] [2] There is evidence of a peel tower situated on an area of higher ground above the Water of Leith.


Pilrig lies midway between Leith and Edinburgh, west of Leith Walk.

It is split by Pilrig Street, which marks the division between the EH6 and EH7 postcode districts (also the old division between Edinburgh and Leith hence the name of the bar opposite being originally the Boundary Bar, then City Limits and now known simply as "the Boundary").

Along the north-east side of Pilrig Street lies Pilrig Park, within which is Pilrig House, the heart of the former estate of the Balfour family.

The 19th-century Rosebank Cemetery is located at the west end of Pilrig Street, at the junction of Broughton Road.


Archaeological excavations in 2006 revealed evidence of an ancient fort thought to be Somerset's Battery which is indicated at this location in the Petworth Map, the contemporary map of the area at the time of the Siege of Leith in 1560 and on which the name Pelrygge appears immediately east of the fort. The archaeological finds are said to be a unique example of 16th century artillery siege works in the UK. [3]

Pilrig House, built in 1638 for Gilbert Kirkwood [4] appears to have been built at the fort's SW corner. Stonework in the basement walls suggest that the remains of a peel tower, from which the name Pilrig may derive, are incorporated in the house. The Balfour family were involved financially in the failed Darién expedition to colonise Panama in the late 17th century. As part of the Treaty of Union, landed investors were reimbursed in full in 1707. The Balfour family profited from this and became local entrepreneurs, running, amongst other things, a local stagecoach service. Robert Balfour bought Pilrig House in 1709 with the proceeds, and remodelled the house at that time. The house and estate remained in their possession until the 20th century, their name being recalled by Balfour Street, which links the park to Leith Walk.

One inhabitant of the house was Margaret Balfour, mother of Robert Louis Stevenson (fully, Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson, with Lewis later changed to Louis). Stevenson would undoubtedly be very familiar with this house. The house is directly referred to in Stevenson's "Catriona" ( a plaque on the building refers to this) and may also be the inspiration for the "House of Shaws" in "Kidnapped", an association it shares with Cammo House and Cramond House.

Peripheral estate land was gradually feued to buyers. In 1920, when Edinburgh absorbed the formerly independent Leith, the remaining ground was part of the agreed "settlement" to be given to Leith as a public park. However, this did not fully materialise until the death of the remaining spinster sisters who lived in the house. It was eventually taken over by the local authority just before World War II, after which the house served variously as a fireman's hostel and hostel for homeless women until it became disused in 1970. Following two devastating fires it was virtually razed to the ground, but, with the help of grant aid, was meticulously rebuilt in 1984. Various 19th-century additions were removed to return its exterior to its original form of 1710. At this stage (no original interior remaining) it was divided into 6 flats, and new houses were built between it and Bonnington Road. At roughly the same time a huge railway embankment, which used to enclose the park on its west and north sides, was flattened.

Pilrig Gibbet

A gibbet existed in the locality for many centuries. It was sited somewhere between the current junction of Pilrig Street and Leith Walk and Shrubhill House to the south. Infamous victims included Major Weir in 1670, Robert Garnock in 1680, and Philip Stanfield in 1688 for the murder of his uncle Sir James Stanfield at Newmills House near North Berwick. Philip had been hung at the Mercat Cross on the Royal Mile, but his body was then placed in the gibbet cage at Pilrig, while his head was placed on a pike at the entrance to Haddington. [5]


Although there are no defined boundaries, the area is generally accepted to include Pilrig Street, Pilrig Park, Balfour Street, Springfield, Dryden Street and Stead's Place. The Pilrig Conservation Area, created in 2013 by the City of Edinburgh Council roughly uses this classification. [6]

The area is bordered by Bonnington to the west, Hopetoun and Shrubhill to the south, Leith Walk to the East and other areas of Leith to the North.

The houses in the area are widely varied, with terraced cottages and larger villas alongside tenements, variously from the Georgian and Victorian periods, and a substantial number of 20th century flats and industrial-unit conversions. Inchkeith Court is a tower block situated alongside Spey Terrace. Shaw's Lane contains Edinburgh's first colony houses.

The area features a variety of tree species thanks to the number of private gardens and public green spaces.

The Pilrig Park Primary School caters for children with Additional Support Needs.

The area is wholly encapsulated within the Leith Walk council ward, the Edinburgh Northern and Leith Scottish Parliament constituency and the Edinburgh North and Leith UK Parliament constituency.


Historically, Pilrig was the point where passengers were forced to disembark to change from Leith's electrified tram system to Edinburgh's cable tram system. This inconvenience was known as the "Pilrig Muddle" and existed until the late 1920s when Edinburgh electrified their system. The tram was replaced by buses in 1956. [7]

Pilrig is still well served by buses on Leith Walk plus the service 11 on Pilrig Street. The area was to be served at its eastern edge by a new tram stop (Balfour Street tram stop), on the Edinburgh Trams line. However this stop is due to open in 2023.

The course of the railway line, which closed in the Beeching cuts in 1955, is still discernable around the edge of Pilrig Park (formerly running behind Pilrig House) in the form of a strip of "no-mans-land" but the large embankment was largely flattened in the early 1980s. At the same time the railway bridges, carrying the railway a storey above road level, were removed at the Bonnington Road/ Newhaven Road junction and Jane Street/Leith Walk junction. The embankment still survives on the north edge of the industrial estate next to Steads Place.

Pilrig Church

Pilrig Church was one of the largest and most impressive churches built for the Free Church after the Disruption of 1843. It was originally housed in a temporary building south of its current site. The current church was designed by Peddie & Kinnear and completed in 1863. An earlier church existed on the opposite side of the street designed by architect David Cousin who was a member in the congregation. The land was gifted (and much of the cost paid) by the Balfours of Pilrig House. [8] The 46m spire is a major city landmark.

Notable ministers are:

Notable residents

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Leith</span> Port district of Edinburgh, Scotland

Leith is a port area in the north of the city of Edinburgh, Scotland, founded at the mouth of the Water of Leith. In 2021, it was ranked by Time Out as one of the top five neighbourhoods to live in the world.

Sighthill is a suburb in the west of Edinburgh, Scotland. The area is bordered by Broomhouse and Parkhead to the east, South Gyle to the north, the industrial suburb of Bankhead and the Calders neighbourhood to the west, and Wester Hailes to the south. It is sometimes included in the Wester Hailes area, while the Calders, Bankhead and Parkhead are sometimes considered parts of Sighthill. Administratively it has formed a core part of the City of Edinburgh Council's Sighthill/Gorgie ward since 2007.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Powderhall</span>

Powderhall is an area lying between Broughton Road and Warriston Road in the north of Edinburgh, the Scottish capital. Until recently it was best known for Powderhall Stadium, a greyhound racing track, which has now closed. The stadium also played host to motorcycle speedway racing from 1977 to 1995, as home to the Edinburgh Monarchs, who have since relocated to Armadale. The Powderhall Sprint, first held in 1870, was a professional footrace with handicapping of the runners. It continues, since 1999, as the New Year Sprint and is now held at Musselburgh Racecourse.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Broughton, Edinburgh</span> Human settlement in Scotland

Broughton is an ancient feudal barony, today within the City of Edinburgh, Scotland.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bonnington, Edinburgh</span>

Bonnington is a district of Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. The area centres upon an original village which grew up around a ford on the Water of Leith on the old boundary between Edinburgh and the port of Leith. Before the creation of Leith Walk the road via the villages of Broughton and Bonnington, or Wester Road as it appears on some old maps, was one of two roads formerly connecting Edinburgh to Leith; the other being Easter Road. The district lies between the districts of Pilrig and Newhaven.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Colony houses</span>

The colony houses of Edinburgh were built between 1850 and 1910 as homes for artisans and skilled working-class families by philanthropic model dwellings companies. The first development was the Pilrig Model Buildings, near Leith Walk. Later developments across the city were built by the Edinburgh Cooperative Building Company Limited, founded in 1861. The founders of this company were influenced by the Reverend Dr. James Begg and the Reverend Dr. Thomas Chalmers, ministers of the Free Church of Scotland, who campaigned to improve the housing conditions of the poor.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Great Junction Street</span>

Great Junction Street is a street in Leith, on the northern outskirts of Edinburgh, Scotland. It runs southeast to northwest following approximately the southwestmost line of the old town walls around Leith.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Leith Walk</span> Street in Edinburgh, Scotland

Leith Walk is one of the longest streets in Edinburgh, Scotland, and is the main road connecting the centre of the city to Leith. Forming most of the A900 road, it slopes downwards from Picardy Place at the south-western end of the street to the 'Foot of the Walk' at the north-eastern end, where Great Junction Street, Duke Street, Constitution Street and the Kirkgate meet.

Edinburgh Corporation Tramways formerly served the City of Edinburgh, Scotland. The city used four-wheeled double-decked trams painted dark red (madder) and white – a livery still used by Lothian Buses and the post-2014 Edinburgh Trams.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edinburgh, Leith and Newhaven Railway</span> Former railway line in Scotland

The Edinburgh, Leith and Newhaven Railway was a railway company formed in 1836 to connect the city of Edinburgh with the harbours on the Firth of Forth. When the line connected to Granton, the company name was changed to the Edinburgh, Leith and Granton Railway. It opened part of its route in 1846, but reaching the centre of Edinburgh involved the difficult construction of a long tunnel; this was opened in 1847. It was on a steep incline and was worked by rope haulage.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">South Leith Parish Church</span> Church in Edinburghs harbour district, Scotland

South Leith Parish Church, originally the Kirk of Our Lady, St Mary, is a congregation of the Church of Scotland. It is the principal church and congregation in Leith, in Edinburgh. Its kirkyard is the burial place for John Home and John Pew, the man from whom the author Robert Louis Stevenson reputedly derived the character of Blind Pew in the novel Treasure Island. The church has been repaired, used as an ammunition store and reconstructed but still retains the basic layout of the nave of the old church.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Constitution Street</span> Thoroughfare in Leith, Edinburgh

Constitution Street is a thoroughfare in Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland. It runs north from the junction of Leith Walk, Great Junction Street and Duke Street to the Albert Dock in Leith Docks.

Trams operated in Edinburgh from 1871 to 1956, and resumed in 2014. The first systems were horse-drawn, while cable-haulage appeared in the city in 1888. Electric trams first ran on systems in neighbouring Musselburgh (1904) and Leith (1905), meeting the Edinburgh cable-trams at Joppa and Pilrig respectively. Electrification meant cable trams last ran in 1923, with through running now possible to Leith and as far east as Port Seton. The various systems were operated by different private and municipal entities over the years; the Edinburgh and Leith systems had been merged under Edinburgh Corporation by 1920, but it wasn't until 1928, after the partial closure of Musselburgh line, that all trams operating in Edinburgh were in the sole control of the corporation. The last electric trams ran in 1956, but electric trams returned in 2014 with the opening of Edinburgh Trams. Many of the trams from the horse/cable/first electric era were built in Shrubhill Works. Two trams have been preserved, a horse tram and an electric tram, built by Shrubhill in 1885 and 1948 respectively. A 1903 Dick Kerr cable-tram has also been purchased for preservation. Remnants of the cable-tram system can be seen in Waterloo Place and Henderson Row, and of the Musselburgh line at Morrison's Haven.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">North Leith Parish Church</span>

North Leith Parish Church is a congregation of the Church of Scotland, within the Presbytery of Edinburgh. It is serves part of Leith, formerly an independent burgh and since 1920 a part of the city of Edinburgh, Scotland.

James Balfour of Pilrig JP was a Scottish advocate and philosopher.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rosebank Cemetery</span> Cemetery in Edinburgh, Scotland

Rosebank Cemetery is a 19th-century cemetery in Edinburgh. It is located at the junction of Pilrig Street and Broughton Road in the Pilrig area, close to the historical boundary of Leith. The cemetery is protected as a category C listed building.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">James Macphail</span>

James Calder Macphail was a Scottish Free Church minister and Gaelic tutor. He is best remembered as a pioneer photographer and one of the first to photograph the Holy Land.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Victoria Park, Edinburgh</span>

Victoria Park is a district in north Edinburgh south of Newhaven and lying between Trinity and Leith. The area was given Conservation Area status in March 1998.

Lewis Balfour (1777–1860) was a Scottish minister of the Church of Scotland. He was a pivotal figure in the family life of Robert Louis Stevenson.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Paul (minister)</span>

John Paul DD (1795–1873) was a minister of the Church of Scotland who served as Moderator of the General Assembly in 1847. A major figure in Edinburgh society, he was linked to both the Balfours of Leith and the Stevenson family of engineers.


  1. "The Derivation of Edinburgh's Street Names". Archived from the original on 8 August 2012. Retrieved 3 September 2012.
  2. Dixon, Norman. "The Placenames of Midlothian" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 August 2011. Retrieved 3 September 2012.
  3. "Significant Clue to Leith's History Found in Pilrig Park" . Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  4. Buildings of Scotland: Edinburgh, by Colin McWilliam
  5. Grant's Old and New Edinburgh vol.2 p.281
  6. "The Pilrig Conservation Area Appraisal". The City of Edinburgh Council. The City of Edinburgh Council. 8 August 2013. Retrieved 17 December 2020.
  7. "The Pilrig Muddle that caused chaos for an entire generation of commuters". Edinburgh Evening News. Edinburgh Evening News. 31 October 2020. Retrieved 17 December 2020.
  8. Buildings of Scotland: Edinburgh by Gifford, McWilliam and Walker

Coordinates: 55°57′53.14″N3°10′45.91″W / 55.9647611°N 3.1794194°W / 55.9647611; -3.1794194