On the edge of Edinburgh stands a wonderful stone tower. A first glimpse of its crenellated parapet over the roof of a vast industrial shed was followed by a few wrong turns, but eventually The Folly Flâneuse found herself in a field with a herd of cows and a very fine folly.
The Dryden estate, not far from the famed Roslin Castle and Chapel, was for generations the seat of the Lockhart family. In July 1822 the Lockhart family were given authority, by Act of Parliament, to sell the entailed estate, but the tower is not mentioned in the newspaper advertisement of the sale. The purchaser was probably George Mercer (1772-1853) and he lived at Dryden until the mid 1840s. The estate was then bought by Archibald Trotter (1789-1868), recently retired from a career with the East India Company. In 1845 he is listed as a member of the Highland & Agricultural Society for Scotland, and in the following year his gardener won first prize for his lettuces at the Roslin Horticultural Society Show. The Folly Flâneuse tells you this simply so she can say that Archibald Trotter, who sounds like a Beatrix Potter character, had a gardener called Mr McGregor.
So under whose ownership was the tower built? The available cartographical evidence is ambiguous: an 1828 map shows Dryden House and an ‘obelisk’. At that period the term obelisk could be used to refer to any tall, slender object – so a tower could have been in existence. Alternatively, the ‘obelisk’ may have been a now-lost monument to the Battle of Roslin of 1303, when the Scottish army defeated the English. The first firm mention is in May 1852, when the surveyors working on the Ordnance Survey mapping project admired the views from the top of Mr Trotter’s tower, and ‘Dryden Tower’ duly appeared on the map published in 1854.
The tower is 3 storeys high and stairs lead up to a parapet, from which there are extensive views. It would also have functioned as an eye-catcher, a prominent object in the view from the mansion. The ground floor is an unusual demi-lune in shape, and contains rooms that were probably initially used for picnics or shelter when riding around the estate. By 1892 its origins had already been forgotten, and a rambler making enquiries amongst the locals concluded ‘why so called or what meant for could not be learned’. The Folly Flâneuse has reached a similar conclusion.
The Dryden estate had been mined on a small-scale for centuries, but in the 1930s the mansion was demolished, and its landscape largely obliterated by the extensive coal mining of the Bilston Glen Colliery. In 1947 the University of Edinburgh purchased the land to create a rural campus, and the Dryden Tower was included in the sale. It was offered the protection of a Category B listing in 1971, but continued to fall into disrepair and was a sad sight surrounded by “Keep Out’ notices.
As the images here show, there is a happy ending. In 2014-15 a major restoration was carried out under the supervision of Architect and Stone Consultant Bob Heath, a long-time collaborator with the university. Amongst countless historic buildings his impressive c.v. includes working on the pagoda at Culzean Castle, and on not one but two Wallace Monuments (Dryburgh and Stirling). The mason was Donald McIntyre, of McIntyre Masonry, who with his apprentice, Bob, replaced all of the pointing and 10 tons of decayed stone. It was Donald’s idea to add to the building’s history by installing a new stone gargoyle – and it was his skilled carving that created it. Architect and mason agreed that it was a dream project to work on – completed on time and on budget – and everyone got along, even after Donald admitted that the gargoyle was modelled on Bob the architect, particularly ‘his big mouth’.
Thanks to McIntrye Masonry for permission to use their bright images, as The Folly Flâneuse was not lucky with the weather in July 2020…
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