4 Fettes Row

4 Fettes Row—built in 1821 as a family house of five floors, with thirteen rooms, “commanding a fine view of the Ochils, Fife &c”. From 1944, it was gradually transformed into flats—three reached by a common stair and one in the basement.

Former residents include:

1957—Norman Graham, teacher of English in Trinity Academy and one of the first people to move into the building after its conversion into flats was complete. No young teacher could have afforded to live in a Fettes Row townhouse that had been left in its original form.

Norman—“a kind, generous, inspirational man”, known around school as Big Ben, on account of his height—ran the film study group for older pupils during the 1960s, showing films from before the children were born: “Great Expectations” with John Mills, Buster Keaton’s “The General” and so on. Sometimes the projector broke, but nobody seemed to mind.

1941—Dr Winifred Rushforth, who ran the Davidson Clinic in the building (but did not live there). The clinic, which operated on Jungian lines, was dedicated to helping, through psychotherapy, “difficult and unhappy children and adults suffering from anxiety”.

For 13 years, the building was visited by “despondent people, such as the worker sacked from employment and those who wake up tired and miserable in the morning”—the type of people who “infect others with their gloom”.

In 1957, the clinic moved to a Victorian villa on Dalkeith Road—now the Salisbury Arms bar and restaurant—where it continued to treat sufferers until the NHS took over its services in the 1960s.

1927—George Herbert Love, a 38-year-old bank clerk, who, at 2 o’clock one October morning—infected with gloom, no doubt—cut open his throat with a knife and bled to death. His widow, Isabella, thanked all their friends for the many flowers they sent over the subsequent days.

1870—Jane Ann Walker, a 37-year-old woman who was living in 4 Fettes Row after her husband, William, a steel manufacturer, threw her out of their grand house in Murrayfield when he discovered that she had been having an affair.

The house she had been banished from was “Carlton Lodge”, set back from Corstorphine Road, a villa with coach house, stable and lodge, five bedrooms, servants quarters and a good garden, with conservatory and vinery. (Like 4 Fettes Row, it has since been divided into flats.)

They had no children, which was perhaps a disappointment, and William travelled for business a lot of the time, leaving Jane with nothing terribly much to do apart from visiting families in similar houses with extensive grounds nearby.

As far as William knew.

In February 1870, William discovered a note that Jane had written to The Scotsman but not yet posted. It contained a couple of lines that she apparently wanted placed in the General Notices column—a portion of the paper’s front page that people often used to send clandestine messages to each other under assumed names.

The message to be printed—evidently a reply to an earlier message, and of an unmistakably romantic nature—was signed “Fairy” and was addressed not to William but to a “DP”.

Quite distressed, William went to The Scotsman’s office to search its back issues. He discovered several advertisements placed by Fairy, with responses from DP, all “couched in amorous terms”—it transpired that “DP” stood for “Dearest Petal” or, sometimes, “Dear Pet”.

Fairy would write, for example, “Morn, Noon and Night, ever thinking of thee. Wretched when separated. Fairy dearly loves to caress her D.P.”

And DP would reply with something like, “How miserable I feel. Not even one of your dear sunny looks have I had. My own.—D.P.”

The month before, Jane had taken to bed with some malady that caused fainting and William had considered sending her for hydropathic treatment, but she had recovered before that became necessary. The sequence and timing of the illness was reflected in Fairy’s messages:

“Been in bed since last we met. Hope D.P. to feel strong soon. So don’t fret, darling. Write. Sent away for health without my darling would be death.”

Which was followed by: “Progressing slowly. Had fainting fits, but now much better. Dearest D.P., let me see your dear face passing.” Then: “Dearest Petal—Fairy continues improving. God ever bless thee for thy love. Has good news to impart.”

The Scotsman offices kept the original hand-written notes, which William asked to see. They were in Jane’s handwriting.

So, if Fairy was his wife, who was DP? An advert that had been placed by Fairy in the Christmas day edition of the paper talked of “fresh lustre” being added to DP’s name, which suggested that his name was already lustrous.

An eminent man, then—presumably handsome, and in their extended social circle. There was only one candidate: James Grant, a celebrated novelist whom he and Jane had met at two social occasions towards the end of the previous year.

James Grant, 47 years old, was the author of dozens of novels, mostly military romances—“clean, stirring records of adventure” full of “the glitter of war, the heroism and perils of the battlefield, the stir and tumult of it all … with, preferably, a Highland regiment at the forefront.”

By the time Grant met Jane, he was publishing as many as three novels a year and lived in a fine house in Danube Street with his wife and two young sons.

William asked The Scotsman office to show him the manuscript of an advertisement placed by DP, and he compared it to a sample of Grant’s handwriting (obtained by having a friend write a sort of fan letter to the author, essentially).

There was a match.

In order to get conclusive proof of the affair, William indulged in some ill-advised and ultimately pointless investigative subterfuge involving writing fake letters from Grant to Jane and sending Jane to stay in a hotel in Perth.

Eventually, however, his lawyer—who was with Jane in the Perth hotel—simply confronted her with a sheaf of intercepted correspondence, reading out incriminating passages, such as these, from Grant:

“I saw you while I was at Professor Simpson’s house. I was sitting at the dining room window with my heart in my mouth, but you did not see poor me.”

And: “I saw you in your carriage one day looking like Red Riding Hood. Another day I passed the carriage a score of times within an hour and a half, and it was tantalising not to be able to see you.”

And this, from Jane: “Come to me, I sigh for you as an exile sighs for his native suns. Come to me that I may feel your soft caresses, and listen to the murmur of your sweet voice.”

She confessed.

The lawyer later said, “She told us how dearly he loved her, and said her husband was to blame for it, for if he had shown her any kindness in the past two years, she would not have done it. She also said she loved Mr Grant to distraction, and things of that sort.”

Later that night, regretting her candour, Jane crept into the lawyer’s bedroom while he slept and stole the letters from his coat pocket. She burned them, and the next morning denied that he had ever shown them to her.

When they returned do Edinburgh, Jane found that she was barred from her house, which is why she was living in 4 Fettes Row when William took her to court to get a divorce.

Witnesses to the affair were quickly found and were seemingly only too keen to tell all. The first witnesses, friends of the couple, testified to Jane’s conversational obsession with Grant:

“Mrs Walker would often introduce Grant’s name as that of a novelist of great eminence—the only historical novel writer we have had since Sir Walter Scott—and say that he was very engaging in conversation,” and “The name of ‘my dear Jamie’ was never out of her mouth.”

Hugh Fraser, Jane’s young cousin who had visited from Aberdeen, said that he noticed that she “carefully read the love advertisements in The Scotsman, and often read the good bits aloud.” He also noticed that she behaved oddly on a trip to the theatre: “She kissed her hands, and made other signs, and when I asked what person she was making signals to, she bade me look at a woman, who I have since learned was Mrs Grant. Mr Grant was sitting beside his wife. She told me the woman was jealous of her.”

Other witnesses gave evidence of a more damning nature.

Alexander Cruickshank, the superintendent of St Cuthbert’s burying ground, said that he had seen Jane and Grant in the grounds several times in October and November 1869. “They generally came once a week, chiefly on Wednesdays, I think.

“I watched them from the windows of the church. They went to the most secluded part of the ground—at Colonel Hamilton’s tomb, where they could not be seen from any part of the grounds except by people standing beside them.

(Colonel George Hamilton’s tomb—he was buried the year before Jane and Grant’s visits.)

“They stood by the gate of the tomb, or sat on a low parapet wall, and embraced, kissed and fondled one another. I have seen the man lifting the woman’s veil and kissing her more than once. They generally parted at the west end of the walk and they always had a parting kiss.

“I remember that on one occasion after parting that he seemed to have forgot to say something, and he called her back. He embraced her again, and lifted her veil and kissed her. She put her arms around his neck.

“They generally remained there about three quarters of an hour. Then they left the grounds by different routes. When they separated, the man went out by the gate leading to the Grassmarket, and the woman by the gate leading to the Lothian Road.”

Cruickshank also “spoke to an act of familiarity which he saw the lady do to her partner.” Out of deference to their readers’ sensibilities, the newspapers left the details vague, but the judge later described it as “an act of gross familiarity and indecency.” We will never know.

John Thomson, a gardener, saw them on a winter’s night loitering at the gate of Carlton Lodge. He told the court, “Says I tae myself, I’ll watch what they twa are aboot, na. I went roond by a market garden and spaled up an apple tree to see them. The man placed his hands on Mrs Walker’s shoulders, and they kissed ane anither. Then the man walked east in the direction of Edinburgh and Mrs Walker opened the little door and went in and put it quite cannily to, so that I could not hear it shut.”

Henry Henderson, a cab driver, said he picked up Jane and Grant outside the Theatre Royal one autumn night in 1869. Near Roseburn, his attention was attracted by a noise from inside the cab. Looking in, he witnessed “an act of carnal connection” and saw Jane’s “naked thighs”.

John Law, a gentleman, was riding on horseback in Ravelston Dykes one evening when, looking into a corner of a field by the high wall bounding Lover’s Loan, he saw Jane and Grant lying together under the trees, with Jane’s underwear plainly visible. He said, “They immediately endeavoured to cover their faces and Mr Grant tried to hide the fact that his buttons were all undone.”

(The walls are gone, but trees still stand in what was the corner of the field, now Succoth Park.)

The servants, naturally, had been fully aware of what had been going on.

Helen Blair, a maid, said, “I frequently noticed Mr Grant passing and repassing the house in the course of the autumn, looking up at the window. His conduct was remarked on by me and my fellow servants. We thought there was something between him and Mrs Walker.”

She continued, “When she was confined to bed, she used to rise at a certain hour and look out at the window; and she would cry a good deal after Mr Grant passed. She would sit at the drawing-room in cold weather. Once I saw her hoist her scarlet shawl at the window, which I took to be a signal.”

Also: “She often went out at night, saying she was going to see neighbours. When Mr Walker was in Glasgow, she remained out till very late, and frequently did not return until after we were in bed. We were struck by the extraordinarily muddy state of her boots and clothes.”

Also: “Mrs Walker wore a locket round her neck during the day and had it below her pillow at night. It was always concealed by her dress when Mr Walker was at home. I and the other servants were very anxious to get a look at it, but never could open it.”

Jane’s only defence was to deny the worst of the allegation and say that her correspondence and contact with Grant “arose from a congenial predilection by her and Grant for romance and sentiment,” which the judge found inadmissible.

He said, “I do not very well understand what the suggestion means, and I cannot conceive what romance or sentiment could have been in the matter, unless the gratification of sensual pleasure is to be so characterised.” So saying, he granted William the divorce.

Jane immediately retaliated by launching a counter-action divorcing William—also on the grounds of adultery; his, this time, not hers. The original divorce process was paused until her case was heard. She would have her revenge.

She brought to court acquaintances of William’s—Robert Robson, a tailor; Francis Ogilvie, a wool manufacturer; David Deans, an engineer—who testified to visiting “houses of bad fame” with him in Aberdeen.

All told similar stories, along the lines of this one, by Robson: “I went to a house in Red Lion Court with Walker about the new year of 1859. Three girls were there. There was a good deal of joking and kissing of the girls by Walker, and he left the room with one of the girls.”

Sensationally, there were also witnesses of a different class—“a very disreputable class it may be, viz: a brothel-keeper and some of the unfortunate females who were inmates of these houses during the time the defender was in the practice of frequenting them.”

There was a Mrs Walker (no relation), who ran a “gay house” in Flour Mill Lane. She told how she engaged a room for William with a girl who went by the name of “Edinburgh Aggie”, and that William had left in the morning without paying.

A woman called Mary McPhail said, “I slept with him several times. I first saw him in 1862”—(when she was fifteen)—”and had a child in 1863.” No one knew the father of the child was, but three months after it was born, William gave Mary 5 shillings.

Jane Mackay said, “About nine years ago, I lived in a gay house in Ship Row. I ken Mr Walker by his flat feet and black een. He called himself ‘Charlie Walker’ when he slept with me, and he gave me half a sovereign, with which I bought boots.”

It was an embarrassing and humiliating torture for William, just as the previous court proceedings had been for Jane.

The judge dealt with the two cases together, finding both guilty of adultery and ruling that William was to be divorced from Jane, and Jane was to be divorced from William, with William to pay the costs of both actions.

Jane left 4 Fettes Row that year, and was never reunited with James Grant, who had distanced himself from her and the whole mess by going on a long trip to Europe as soon as he heard about the divorce proceedings.

He suffered little damage to his reputation—articles published on the centenary of his birth make no mention of the affair—and continued to publish books at his usual rate for the next decade. Eventually, his work fell out of fashion, with the result that, when he died at the age of 65, he was more or less penniless.

His most enduring work—the only one that is read these days—is the non-fiction “Old and New Edinburgh”, one of the most interesting histories of the city that has ever been published.

Only one of his books, published six years after the court case, might be thought to even slightly reflect his affair with Jane Walker, but it is simply another one of his military adventure stories, and the influence—if there is any—goes only as far as the title.

1856—John Clapperton, manager of a wholesale drapers on the High Street, selling “COAT STUFFS of every description; TROUSERINGS in Endless Variety; VESTINGS—a Beautiful Assortment; WINTER COATINGS; PARISIAN WITNEYS; FUR BEAVERS; LADIES CLOAKINGS, &c.”

John’s younger sister, Jane, lived the normal life of an unmarried daughter of a wealthy mercantile family until her fifties, when she began publishing radical works of philosophy advocating communal living, gender equality, women’s suffrage, birth control and sexual freedom. The Westminster Review said, “In the author, we recognise an advanced thinker of a rare and high order.”

She advocated social revolution—not through violence, to which she was utterly opposed, but through the alteration of domestic life in such a way that new families would develop, whose children would grow into “a new type of humanity”, which would rise above class and race distinctions and create a socialist utopia “that has never exercised violence or imbrued its hands in blood.”

Jane died in 1914, aged 82, two months after learning of the industrial-scale slaughter of young men on the Western Front.

1835—Lachlan Mackintosh, a lawyer who practised in the supreme courts. On 21 October 1835, his five-year-old daughter, Isabella, died. Ten weeks later, his two-year-old daughter, Janet, died. Three days later, his four-year-old daughter, Mary, died. All in the house.

The most likely cause was typhus or cholera, of which there had been three outbreaks that year. A popular remedy was concentrated essence of Jamaica ginger, which was utterly useless.

On 23 January—not a fortnight after the deaths of Janet and Mary—his wife, Isabella, gave birth to another daughter. Life goes on.

The family moved out of the house shortly thereafter. After a solid but unremarkable career in the courts, Lachlan died at the age of 69, in 1864.

The street conceals one last forgotten bit of Edinburgh’s history.

When the Old Tolbooth prison that dominated the High Street by St Giles Cathedral for almost five hundred years was demolished in 1817, its stones were transported to what was then the northern edge of the New Town and used to construct the drains and sewers of Fettes Row.

So, beneath the street’s paving, carrying away the effluent of adulterous wives, suicidal husbands and difficult and unhappy children for the past two hundred years, lie the remains of that once feared and despised place of torture and execution, the original heart of Midlothian.


  1. ‘Old and New Edinburgh’ sounds like a great read. Of course it wouldn’t be as juicy as your postings. 😉
    Always a treat to read your work, Diarmid. Thank you.


  2. Absolutely riveting history! Thank you for your in-depth research and excellent storytelling. It’s inspirational, seriously.


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