Friday, 6 April 2012

"Bonnie Prince Charlie Slept Here"

Prince Charles Edward Stuart
by John Pettie, 1898
[Source : Wikipedia]

While researching family genealogy I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Bonnie Prince Charlie himself had spent a night under the roof of what later became my family ancestral home at Gray's Mill Farmhouse in Slateford just out of Edinburgh. And therein lies an interesting tale of negotiation, perceived deception and stealth!

Prince Charles Edward Stuart had sought to overthrow the ruling Protestant Hanoverian King George II and install his Father as the rightful Catholic Stuart Sovereign, with himself as “Prince Regent”. Although the cause rallied great support, the English forces finally routed the Stuart supporters at Culloden, leaving this colourful but bloody chapter of Scotland’s history to become steeped in romance and folklore.

An 1893 Ordnance Survey Map of Slateford showing the location
of  Gray's Mill Farmhouse.

Sadly, Gray's Mill Farmhouse where the Prince rested his Royal head before his successful entry into Edinburgh was swept away about 1960. But this was still at a time when historical connections and heritage came second to "urban renewal". Nestled between old industrial buildings, and with the sale and subdivision of remaining farmland for new housing, the old redundant farmhouse, outbuildings and mill house had no doubt became rather inconveniently situated. Additionally, Inglis Green Road which passed Gray's Mill was widened at this time. This would have necessitated the compulsory purchase of part of the stone walled garden which fronted the road, thus ruining the general 'demesne'. Without doubt the farmhouse had been of early construction, the earliest reference I can find is 1680.

Gray's Mill Farmhouse, as viewed from about the site of the Lodge
which is now situated at 26 Inglis Green Road, taken circa 1900
[From my own collection]

But it was 266 years ago on the afternoon of the 16th of Sept 1745 that Prince Charles Edward Stuart arrived at Slateford just outside Edinburgh, together with his Highland army. While his troops bivouacked in an adjoining field the Prince fixed his headquarters in the Gray's Mill farmhouse then occupied by David Wright who held the tack (lease) for the Lands of Cauldhame, also known as Gray's Mill.

Gray's Mill farmhouse. The access road at right runs onto Inglis Green Road.
[Source : University of St Andrew's]

The weary and exhausted Government Dragoons, who were also badly in need of supplies, had hurriedly departed Edinburgh for a safer position once they heard that the Highland Army were as close as Corstorphine. They were also expectant of relief troops and supplies under Sir John Cope arriving by sea up the Firth of Forth. The citizens of Edinburgh, witnessing their 'flight' determined in consternation that "the troops upon whom the safety of the City mainly depended were no longer to be relied upon". The citizens of Edinburgh were now of the opinion that it would be madness to offer any resistance to the Prince, a fact they impressed upon the Lord Provost, "lest they should all be murdered". Meanwhile, those volunteers who carried arms surrendered them at the Castle lest they be caught bearing arms in the face of perceived defeat. 

Gray's Mill farmhouse
[Source : University of St Andrew's]

From Gray's Mill the Prince issued a second demand to the Lord Provost, Magistrates and Town Council of Edinburgh requesting the right to peaceably enter the City. A guarantee was given that subject to no armed resistance being offered, the rights, liberties and all private property of the City would be preserved.

"From our Camp, 16th September 1745.

Being now in a condition to make our way into the capital of His Majesty's ancient kingdom of Scotland, he hereby summon you to receive us, as you are in duty bound to do; and in order to it, we hereby require you, on receipt of this, to summon the Town-council, and to take proper measures for securing the peace of the city, which we are desirous to protect. But if you suffer any of the usurper's troops to enter the town, or any of the cannon, arms, or ammunition now in it (whether belonging to the public or to private persons) to be carried off, we shall take it as a breach of your duty, and a heinous offence against the king and us, and shall resent it accordingly. We promise to preserve all the rights and liberties of the city, and the particular property of everyone of His Majesty's subjects. But if any opposition be made to us, we cannot answer for the consequences, being firmly resolved, at anyrate, to enter the city; and in that case, if any of the inhabitants are found in arms against us, they must not expect to be treated as prisoners of war. 

CHARLES, P.R. [Prince Regent]"

Gray's Mill Farmhouse now whitewashed, taken from Inglis Green Road.
Taken circa 1954. Note the Octagonal Byre, also of early construction.
[Source RCAHMS]

A rather disorderly meeting in the New Church of citizens with the Lord Provost and his Council read the letter, deciding almost unanimously "that as any opposition to the Prince's demands would in all probability occasion the destruction of the town, they would offer none." But to gain a little more time they decided to send four deputies to the Prince asking him to delay matters while they discussed more fully the terms of their surrender. Thus four of the City Bailies were sent by carriage to Gray’s Mill at 8pm that evening and waited on the Prince, leaving at 10pm with a letter requesting that the original terms of the surrender be adhered to by 2am the following morning.

Meanwhile news arrived that General Cope's transports were now in the Firth of Forth. But as the Council had already agreed to capitulate the Lord Provost replied that the news had come too late to be of use. While the Lord Provost allowed a man to try and catch up with the City Bailies, he held Jacobite sympathies and made no great effort, thus returning without having overtaken them.

"Lady Mansfield" standing outside the Gray's Mill Octagonal Byre,
Taken circa late 1870's
[From my own collection]

Debate in the Council raged on into the night until the hour of two in the morning was heard striking from the town clocks. In order that the Magistrates might consult the citizens, most of whom had now taken to their beds, Deputies were again hastily sent back to Gray's Mill, asking that any action be delayed by seven hours. So, at just after 2am the Deputies returned once again to Gray's Mill.

An aerial view of Slateford, 1930. Gray's Mill appears to right of centre near
bottom. The octagonal byre can also be seen beside the farm steadings.
The large industrial buildings include a dye works and laundry. The only
points of reference now are the Lodge building to right of centre bottom,
the Railway Viaduct and the Union Canal Aqueduct under which Inglis
Green Road passes. [Source : Stenlake Publishing]

Charles naturally concluded that the sole object of the Magistrates was to gain time in which to further plan and advance their means of defence. Naturally annoyed at being trifled with he ordered the Deputies away at 3am. In the face of such prevarication and obstinacy the Highlanders therefore proposed to take possession of the City by stealth before dawn.

When the carriage conveying the Deputies returned from Slateford it was to go to the Cannongate. The Netherbow Port gate was opened contrary to orders and the Jacobites, who had trailed the coach, managed to take the gate. They were therefore able to enter what then appeared to be an unguarded and slumbering City.

A Sketch of Charles Edward Stuart and his Highlanders
entering Edinburgh, by Thomas Duncan, circa 1838
[Source : Artfund]

Anxious about the result, Charles had slept only two hours, and that without taking off his clothes. At an early hour he received the intelligence of the capture of the City. He immediately prepared to leave Gray’s Mill to make his triumphant entry into the City of Edinburgh. As news of his imminent arrival spread a large crowd of citizens gathered along the Royal Mile to witness his procession to the Palace of Holyrood.

"Jacobites, of which there many in the crowd, elated at the presence of their hero under such propitious circumstances, threw their fears in the winds, and openly acknowledged Charles with loud huzzas and shouts of welcome, some more enthusiastic than the rest, kneeling on the ground and kissing with fervour the hand he graciously extended."  

The welcome to the rightful heir to the Scottish throne was only marred by some cannonballs fired from the Castle and aimed at Jacobite positions. Despite a blockade, the Jacobites never managed to capture the Castle thus Charles set up his Court in Holyrood Palace.

Also on this day, the 17th September 1745, Prince Charles Edward Stuart declared his father, James Francis Edward Stuart, to be the rightful King of Scotland.

Prince Charles Edward Stuart remained in Edinburgh until the end of October before moving south to begin his ill-fated invasion of England.

Prince Charles Edward Stuart being feted in Edinburgh,
a painting by William Brassey Hole.
[Source : Internet]

An interesting anecdote survives from this visit. The Prince’s band of Highland followers “....with their bagpipes and plaids, rusty rapiers, matchlocks and firelocks.....” had camped on a nearby field of nearly ripe pease (peas). The tenant farmer, David Wright, called at Grays Mill and demanded compensation for his ruined crop. The Prince offered a promissory note in the name of the ‘Prince Regent’ (which would have been his Royal title when the Stuart’s regained the throne), but this was not acceptable to the farmer as it relied upon the Stuart's regaining the throne. The name of the ‘Duke of Perth’ was then offered by an amused Prince as being a more credit worthy guarantor, which was accepted.

Gray's Mill Farmhouse, as viewed from The Water of Leith, circa 1900
[From my own collection]

It was not until 1824 that my Great Great Grandfather Matthew Cochrane took over the lease of Grays Mill with his son in law William Henderson becoming Mill Master at the adjoining grain mill. It was on this farm that my Grandfather learnt his farming skills under his own Grandfather, the above Matthew Cochrane, then upon the latter's death in 1870 took over the lease himself at age 19 before emigrating to New Zealand in 1879. I have visited Graysmill three times but sadly all that is evident are industrial buildings, warehouses and car parks. The only points of reference now are the Water of Leith Lodge no 1267 at 26 Inglis Green Road, the railway viaduct, and the aqueduct carrying the Union Canal, all visible in the 1933 aerial photo shown above. Gray's Mill Farmhouse will be one historic building that will unfortunately not carry the roundel

"Prince Charles Edward Stuart Slept Here, 16-17th September 1745"

Bibliography :

- "The Colinton Story" by Lynne Gladstone-Millar
- "Edinburgh – An Historical Study" by the Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert Maxwell. 
- "History of the Rebellion of 1745" by Robert Chambers.
- "The Life & Adventures of Charles Edward Stuart" by W. Drummond Norie, 1903.
- Longstone Community Council
- Unless otherwise stated all images are from my own collection and may not be used for any commercial purpose without my express permission. Such images may however be freely copied for non-commercial use provided a link is given back to this page.


  1. You say that Gray's Mill Farmhouse was swept away about 1960, but I wonder if the destruction had anything to do with the Prince resting his Royal head there, before his successful entry into Edinburgh. 200 years would be a long time to wait for revenge.

    What actually surprises me (still) was that Jacobites in the crowd were elated at the presence of their hero, threw their fears in the winds, and openly acknowledged Charles with loud enthusiasm. At least half of Scotland were fanatical Protestants and would have been horrified at the other half of Scotland welcoming back a Catholic, French loving Stuart.

    1. Half of the old Slateford village was demolished at around the same time. This was at a time when City planners actively supported the demolition of many old historic precincts, including supporting a 'renewal' of Princes Street in the New Town of Edinburgh.
      Prince Charles did in fact (as part of his pre 'invasion' manifesto) guarantee there would be religious freedom but as we know with King Charles II, once in a position of power promises were not always kept! As two of my forbears were Covenanters (and one died for his Protestant beliefs) my family would not have been welcoming the Prince!

  2. I believe the Village Inn in Longstone is the only remaining building of Gray's Mill Farm (or Mill). Great photo's btw!

    1. Thank you for your comment. I've visited three times now but the old hall is the only immediate point of reference to where the house stood nearby. I did walk up to Longstone but don't recall the Inn.


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