Edinburgh World Heritage - News Article


Archive Anecdotes

Snippets from the city's archives

Apr 18, 2016

500 years ago, on 18 April 1516, Edinburgh Council discussed issues regarding the ‘Biggit land on the Borrow Mure’.

According to Grant’s Old And New Edinburgh (1883 edition): ‘the tract of the Burghmuir’ which extended from ‘the water of the South loch on the north , to the foot of the Braid Hills on the South;  from Dalry on the west, to St Leonard’s Craigs on the east,’ originally formed ‘ no inconsiderable portion of the great forest of Drumsheugh wherein the white bull, the elk and the red deer roamed, and where broken and lawless men had their haunt’.

In 1508 King James IV sought to bring the rule of law to this tract by using a Royal Charter to feu ‘the Burghmuir to the council and community empowering them to farm and clear it of wood’. A Council act of 1510 obliged those granted leases to clear and farm these lands to 'build thereon dwelling houses, malt barns, and cow bills . . . and failing to do so, to pay £40 to the common works of the town’. These were described as ‘biggit’ lands which in Scots means occupied, cultivated lands, furnished with buildings. Many of Edinburgh’s leading citizens took up leases.

By 1516, there were complaints that some lease holders, while enjoying the fruits of the land, were not investing in the required building work. Council records of 18 April 1516 note that ‘ the provest, bailies and counsale diligentlie consoderit the supplication and complaint made by the communitie’. They called a special meeting of selected councillors the following week ‘within the Tolbuith till consider the said matter, and quhat (what) sall be done to thame that has nocht completit the effect of the said first act’

The strength of feeling can be discerned by the protests of two councillors not appointed to this committee. They  ‘protestit that quatsumevir personis hes taken akeris on the Borrow mure and that hes nocht fulfillet according to the first act’, should have their land ‘ inbrocht to the common workis of the Toun’.

Two weeks earlier, on 3 April,the Lord Provost David Melville had led by example, and avoided possible embarrassment, by voluntarily giving up the ‘bigging he's made upoun the Borrow mure and siclyke of his arable acris and ordains the stuf of the biggit land to be applied to the common walling of the toun' (revenue from his relinquished 'bigging' to be used to help build the Flodden Wall).

Illustration: Bruntsfield section of the Burgh Muir, 300 years on. (courtesy of Capital Collections)

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