UK Genealogy Archives logo
DISCLOSURE: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning when you click the links and make a purchase, we may receive a commission.

Edinburghshire, Scotland

Historical Description

EDINBURGHSHIRE, or Mid Lothian, the metropolitan county of the kingdom of Scotland, bounded on the north by the Firth of Forth, along the shore of which it extends for about twelve miles; on the east, by Haddingtonshire and small portions of the counties of Berwick and Roxburgh; on the south, by the counties of Lanark, Peebles, and Selkirk; and on the west, by Linlithgowshire. It lies between 55° 39' and 55° 59' (N. Lat.) and 2° 36' and 3° 33' (W. Long.), and is about thirty-six miles in length from east to west, and eighteen miles in extreme breadth, comprising an area of 360 square miles, or 230,400 acres; 41,779 houses, of which 38,927 are inhabited; and containing a population of 225,454, of whom 102,666 are males and 122,788 females. The county originally occupied the central portion of the ancient and extensive province of Lothian, or Loudon, and from this circumstance it obtained the appellation of Mid Lothian, by which it is still often designated. It appears to have been inhabited at a very early period by the Ottadini and Gadeni, two of the British tribes descended from the Celts, who first made themselves masters of this part of Britain, and who maintained their independence till the time of the Roman invasion, when, to secure his conquests, Agricola constructed a chain of forts extending from the Forth to the Clyde. Though frequently assailed by incursions of the Caledonians and Britons, the Romans, notwithstanding occasional reverses, retained possession of the territories they had acquired, which under their sway formed part of the province of Valentia. After their departure from Britain, this district very soon fell into the power of the Saxons, who established themselves under their chieftain Ida in the surrounding countries, which they continued to govern with absolute authority. In the reign of Malcolm II., Uchtred, Earl of Northumberland, against whom that monarch marched an army for the recovery of his rightful dominions, after a long contested battle on the banks of the Tweed, gained the victory; but, Uchtred being soon afterwards assassinated, Malcolm, in prosecution of his claims, renewed the war against the earl's successor, Eadulph, whom he compelled to cede the disputed territory for ever; and since that period it has continued to form part of the kingdom of Scotland. Subsequently to this date, the history of the county is so perfectly identified with the history of the capital, and that of Scotland at large, that any fuller detail in this place would be superfluous.

The introduction of Christianity appears to have been, in some small degree, accomplished during the time of the Romans; but, the Saxons being strangers to that faith, it made but little progress till, by the persevering efforts of the pious Baldred and St. Cuthbert, it was more generally diffused. Prior to the cession of Lothian in the reign of Malcolm II., this district was comprised in the ancient diocese of Lindisfarn; it was subsequently included in that of St. Andrew's, and continued to be part thereof until the erection of the diocese of Edinburgh, in which it remained till the Revolution. Since that period the county has formed a portion of the synod of Lothian and Tweeddale, and it now comprises the presbytery of Edinburgh, and thirty parishes, besides those in the city of Edinburgh. For civil purposes, it was first erected into a sheriffdom in the reign of David I., and is under the jurisdiction of a sheriff, by whom two sheriffs-substitute are appointed; the sessions and other courts are held at Edinburgh, the county town, and courts for the recovery of small debts at Edinburgh and Dalkeith. Edinburgh is the only royal burgh; Musselburgh and Canongate are burghs of regality, and the county also contains Dalkeith and Portsburgh, burghs of barony, the town and port of Leith, and the flourishing villages of Inveresk, Joppa, Portobello, Newhaven, Corstorphine, Currie, Mid Calder, West Calder, Gilmerton, Loanhead, Roslin, Penicuick, Lasswade, Ratho, Bonnyrig, Cramond, and Pathhead, with numerous pleasant hamlets. By the act of the 2nd of William IV., the county returns one member to the imperial parliament.

Of the lands, about 100,000 acres are arable, 80,000 meadow and pasture, and the remainder moorland and waste. The surface is diversified with hills, of which the two principal ranges are the Pentland and the Moorfoot. The Pentland range, a continuation from the county of Peebles on the south-west, extends to within six miles of the sea and four miles of the city, occupying a district of about forty square miles, and varying considerably in elevation. Rising from a more level tract of country, these hills appear loftier than the Moorfoot, and they have generally a more bleak and barren aspect; the highest hills in the range within the county are, the Caerketton, which has an elevation of 1,555 feet, and the Spittal, of 1360. The Moorfoot hills, in the south-eastern part of the county, occupy an area of nearly fifty square miles, and range from 1400 to 18,570 feet in height. They are interspersed with fertile dales and tracts of arable land, and a large part of their acclivities is under cultivation, producing excellent crops. This district is watered by the Heriot and the Gala. Between the Pentland range and the Firth of Forth are the Braid and Blackford hills, Craig-Lockhart, Craigmillar, Arthur's Seat, Salisbury Crags, the ridge on which the castle and the Old Town of Edinburgh are built, the Calton hill, and Corstorphine hill.

Even the principal streams, not being of sufficient importance to obtain the appellation of rivers, are generally designated Waters, with the exception of the Esk. This river originates in the confluence of the North and South Esk, of which the former rises in the Pentland, and the latter in the Moorfoot hills, and both, after a separate course of twelve or fifteen miles, unite in the pleasure-grounds of Dalkeith, and thence, flowing for about five miles as the Esk, fall into the Forth at the bay of Musselburgh. In its way to Dalkeith the North Esk runs in a rocky channel, through a beautifully romantic tract of country comprising Roslin, Hawthornden, Lasswade, and Melville. The Almond Water, forming for a considerable distance the western boundary of the county, rises in the high grounds in Lanarkshire, and taking a north-eastern course, passes through a level district, frequently overflowing its banks, and joins the Firth of Forth at Cramond. In its progress along the picturesque valley to which it gives name, it is crossed by many bridges, by an aqueduct of the Union canal, and a viaduct of the Glasgow railway. The Leith Water has its source in some springs in the parish of Currie, and after a course of fourteen miles, in which it turns more than 100 mills, and flows under viaducts of the Glasgow and Granton railways, and an aqueduct of the Union canal, falls into the Firth at the harbour of Leith. The Gala has its source at the base of the Moorfoot hills, and after a southern course for about ten miles through the vale of Gala, enters the county of Selkirk, and ultimately falls into the Tweed near Galashiels. There are no lakes of any importance.

The SOIL is greatly varied: the most prevalent kind is clayey loam, alternated with sand and gravel; and not unfrequently all the different varieties are found on one farm. In this county the lands are generally fertile, but the richest are in the lower part of the county, towards the Forth, where there are not less than 70,000 acres of arable ground, producing the most luxuriant crops. The farms are of moderate extent, few less than 100, and few more than 300 acres; the system of agriculture is in the highest state of improvement. The chief crops are wheat, barley, oats, beans, peas, potatoes, and turnips; vegetables and fruits of all kinds are raised in abundance for the supply of the city, and the amount paid for strawberries alone is calculated at £6000 per annum. The farm-buildings are substantial and well-arranged, generally of stone; the dwelling-houses roofed with slate, and the offices with tiles: the lands are drained and inclosed. From the abundance of manure collected in the city, little of any other kind is employed in its vicinity; but in the uplands, and on the distant farms, lime is applied as a stimulant to the soil. The cattle are chiefly of the Highland breed, and the horses for husbandry mostly of the Lanarkshire, with a few of the Clydesdale breed; the milch-cows are usually of the Ayrshire and Teviotdale breeds. Considerable attention is paid to the management of the dairy-farms, of which the main produce is milk and butter for the supply of the city and other towns. The sheep, large numbers of which are pastured on the moorlands, are mostly of the Cheviot breed. Swine are also reared in considerable numbers, and large quantities of poultry and geese. There are still some remains of the ancient Caledonian forest which formerly spread over the greater portion of the county, though, about the commencement of the sixteenth century, the Borough Muir and other lands being leased by grant of James V. to the corporation of Edinburgh, such quantities of timber were felled, that, in order to procure purchasers, the magistrates bestowed on every citizen who bought sufficient to new-front his house, the privilege of extending it seven feet further into the street. Numerous oaks of stately growth still adorn the lands around the chief mansions; and extensive plantations have been formed in various parts, and on all the principal hills, many of which are richly wooded to their summit.

The substrata comprise limestone, freestone, and whinstone, all of which are quarried. Coal is very abundant throughout the greater portion of the county; and towards Dalkeith, in the eastern district, is a very extensive coalfield, reaching from the coast of Musselburgh, for nearly fifteen miles, to the confines of Tweeddale. The Dalkeith basin contains as much coal as the fields of Stirling, Clackmannan, or Glasgow, and is remarkable for a comparatively small development of hydrogen, an advantage counter-balanced, however, by a great quantity of carbonic acid. Mr. Bald has calculated that this field alone would supply the consumption of Edinburgh for 500 years, at the rate of 350,000 tons per annum; but he includes in this estimate the deeper coal, of which none has been yet wrought. Coal appears to have been first raised here for fuel by the monks of Newbattle Abbey, in the latter part of the twelfth century. Many of the seams are of very fine quality, and there are at present about twenty mines in constant operation: the progress of mining, however, is much impeded by the quantity of water accumulating in the pits, which can be drawn off only by engines of extraordinary power. Lead was formerly wrought on the south side of the Pentland hills, and was found to contain a considerable proportion of silver. Copper-ore, also, was discovered on the confines of Peeblesshire, but not in sufficient quantity to remunerate the working of it.

The principal manufacture is that of linen, for which there are several extensive bleaching and print fields in the neighbourhood of the city, and on the banks of the Esk. A considerable business is also carried on in the manufacture of gunpowder, glass, soap, salt, candles, bricks, tiles, and pottery of various kinds, and paper; and the manufacture of silk has been introduced, for which some mills have been erected on the banks of the Union canal. There are large iron-works at Cramond, works for chemical preparations, tanneries, distilleries, breweries, and numerous other manufacturing establishments, in all of which, though the county is not distinguished for the extent of its produce in this respect, the greatest improvement has been made in the quality of the articles. Every facility of intercourse with the neighbouring districts is afforded by roads kept in excellent repair, by the Union canal, the Firth of Forth, and the Edinburgh and Glasgow, the North-British, the Caledonian, and the Edinburgh, Perth, and Dundee railways. The maritime commerce of the county is very important, and, together with that of Peeblesshire and Selkirkshire, and much of that of the East and West Lothians, is concentrated at the port of Leith. The shores of the Firth are low and sandy, and for a considerable breadth covered at high water; the Firth abounds with herrings and other fish, and the beach with shell-fish of every kind: there are some valuable beds of oysters. The annual value of real property in the county, some years ago, was £l,0-4,992, of which £239,189 were for lands, £781,236 for houses, £15,511 for mines, £3747 for quarries, £8923 for canal navigation, £5607 for railways, and the rest for other kinds of real property. The principal remains of antiquity are of Roman origin, and chiefly in the vicinity of the capital: numerous camps are found in various places, one of which, near Crichton Castle, is in a very perfect state. Circular camps, supposed to be of Danish formation, are also numerous, some consisting of three, and others of more, concentric intrenchments of earth and stones. In the parish of Heriot are the remains of a Druidical circle; and in Kirkliston are two upright stones, commemorating a victory obtained by Kenneth, commander of the forces under Malcolm II., over the usurper Constantine. The county contains many cairns, barrows, and tumuli, near which stone coffins have been found; the remains of ancient castles, some of which were hunting-seats of the kings; the ruins of various religious houses; and other relics of antiquity, all of which, with the gentlemen's seats, are described in the articles on their several localities.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis

Chapman code

The Chapman code for Edinburghshire is MLN.
Chapman codes are used in genealogy as a short data code for administrative areas, such as county and country names.

Civil Registration

For general information about Civil Registration (births, marriages and deaths) see the Civil Registration page.

Parishes & places

Craighall and New Craighall
Cranston or Cranstoun
Davidson's Mains
Fala and Soutra
Glencross or Glencorse
Mid Calder
West Calder


Ancestry UK