Woodburn House, Canaan Lane

Woodburn House is a grand house in douce Morningside, in Edinburgh. Long ago it was a spectacular family home. After providing varied healthcare-related functions, including as a residence, it is now an office. It is one of Edinburgh’s many buildings listed and protected due to its architectural merit and interesting history. Surprisingly little information is readily available, however, and I’m collating what I have found in my relatively informal searching, and am happy to update. So feel free to comment if you know more, and I’ll add the details. I meant to post this about a year ago, but thought I’d do more work on it. Despite COVID, I didn’t.

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The plasterer’s flat

When we moved into a traditional tenement flat in Morningside (Edinburgh) in the mid 1990s, we felt very lucky. It was just what we wanted: spacious, in a great area of town (quiet, leafy, central and with varied local facilities). As a bonus it had relatively dramatic period features that gave our home extra character. Especially the ceilings.

But after nearly quarter of a century, the time came to move on. To flit. So, to partner a blog which sings the praises of one whole street of Morningside tenements, now here’s a specific eulogy to the history of our flat. Our much loved flat: the home our children grew up in. But we are not the focus… this is part of a “house history” of the place itself (Flat 1, 9 Woodburn Terrace), and of course it was a home for other people too. Here I’ll attempt to tell the story of the person who was responsible for creating its unusual charm, 140 years ago, its first owner, David Wight (~1838-1910), a plasterer who may or may not have been the intended first resident.

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A Morningside tenement

Many people with even quite recent Scottish roots are unfamiliar with the variety of Victorian tenements in Scotland. And in family history research people read and see photos and reports that equate all tenements with slums. Old maps can show street after street of densely packed housing, clustered around heavy industry in the inner city. This high density housing for working people, like the people who lived there and their way of life, were not cared for or valued by wider society, so they went into decline and were, in large areas, swept away.

Glasgow slum replacement, as unsympathetic as it gets. Gorbals photo by Oscar Marzaroli – see https://www.gcu.ac.uk/foundation/themarzarolicollection/

In our post-industrial age, and once refurbished, most of the so-called surviving “slums” have become desirable properties. Modernised, they can command a premium price over most 20th C. flats in the same area, if they survived in a sympathetic context. “Bought by a wide range of social types, [they] are favoured for their large rooms, high ceilings and original period features”, says Wikipedia. Spot on. But also, the largest or fanciest tended not to become dilapidated or be demolished in the first place.

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