The History of Leith

June 30, 2012

Pilrig House

On the north side of the Bonnington Road, and
not far from Bonnington House, stands that of
Pilrig, an old rough-cast and gable-ended mansion
among aged trees, that no doubt occupies the site
of a much older edifice, probably a fortalice.
In 1584 Henry Nisbett, burgess of Edinburgh,
became caution before the Lords of the Privy
Council, for Patrick Monypenny of Pilrig, John
Kincaid of Warriston, Clement Kincaid of the
Coates, Stephen Kincaid, John Matheson, and
James Crawford, feuars of a part of the Barony
of Broughton, that they shall pay to Adam Bishop
of Orkney, commendator of Holyrood House,
what they owe him for his relief of the last
taxation of £20,000, over and above the sum of
£15, already consigned in the hands of the collector
of the said collection.”
In 1601 we find the same Laird of Pilrig en- o
gaged in a brawl, ” forming a specimen of the
second class of outrages.” He (Patrick Monypenny)
stated to the Lords of Council that he had
a wish to let a part of his lands of Pilrig, called the
Round Haugh, to Harry Robertson and Andrew
Alis, for his own utility and profit. But on a certain
day, not satisfied, David Duff, a doughty indweller in
Leith, came to these persons, and uttering ferocious
menaces against them in the event of their occupying
these lands, effectually prevented them from
doing so.
Duff next, accompanied by two men named
Matheson, on the 2nd of March, 1601, attacked
the servants of the Laird of Pilrig, as they were
at labour on the lands in question, with similar
speeches, threatening them with death if they persisted
in working there; and in the night they,
or other persons instigated by them, had come
and broken their plough, and cast it into the
Water of Leith. “John Matheson,” continues the
indictment, ” after breaking the complenar’s plew,
came to John Porteous’s house, and bade him gang
now betwix the plew stilts and see how she wald go
till the morning,” adding that he would have his
head broken if he ever divulged who had broken
the plough.
The furious Duff, not content with all this, trampled
and destroyed the tilled land. In this case the
accused were dismissed from the bar, but only, it
would appear, through hard swearing in their own
There died at Pilrig, according to the Scots
Magazine for 1767, Margaret, daughter of the late
Sir Johnstone Elphinstone of Logie, in the month of
January; and in the subsequent June, Lady Elphinstone,
his widow. The Elphinstones of Logie were
baronets of 1701.
These ladies were probably visitors, as the then
proprietor and occupant of the mansion was James
Balfour of Pilrig, who was born in 1703, and became
a member of the Faculty of Advocates on
the 14th of November, 1730. Three years later
on the death of Mr. Bayne, Professor of Scottish
Law in the University of Edinburgh, he and Mr.
John Erskine of Carnock, were presented by the
Faculty to the patrons of the vacant chair, who
elected the latter, and he was afterwards well known
as the author of the ” Institutes of the Law of Scotland.”
John Balfour was subsequently appointed
sheriff-substitute of the county of Edinburgh, and
having a turn for philosophy, he became early
adverse to the speculative reasoning of David
Hume, and openly opposed them in two treatises ;
one was entitled “A Delineation of the Nature
and Obligation of Morality,” with Reflections on
Mr. Hume’s Inquiry concerning the Principles of
Morals.” A second edition of this appeared in
176j? The other, “Philosophical Dissertations,”
appeared also at Edinburgh in 1782.
Hume was much pleased with these treatises,
though opposed to his own theories, and on the
appearance of the first, wrote the author a letter,
requesting his friendship, as he was obliged by his
In August, 1754, Balfour was appointed to the
chair of Moral Philosophy in the University of
Edinburgh, and ten years afterwards was transferred
to the chair of Public Law. He published his
” Philosophical Essays ” a short time after.
In the spring of 1779 he resigned his professorship,
and lived a retired life at Pilrig, where he
died on the 6th of March, 1795, in his ninety second
year, and was succeeded by his son, John
Balfour of Pilrig.

source-Old and New Edinburgh

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