The History of Leith

July 17, 2012

Craigantinnie and the Craigantinnie Marbles

Craigantinnie was acquired by purchase by
William Miller, a wealthy seedsman, whose house
and garden, at the foot of the south back of the
Canongate, were removed only in 1859, when the
site was added to the Royal Park. When Prince
Charles’s army came to Edinburgh in 1745, he
obtained 500 shovels from William Miller for
– trenching purposes. His father, also William Miller,
who died in 1757, in his eightieth year, had previously
acquired a considerable portion of what is
now called the Craigantinnie estate, or the lands
of Philliside, and others near the sea. He left
,£20,000 in cash, by which Craigantinnie proper
was acquired by his son William. He was well
known as a citizen of Edinburgh by the name of
” the auld Quaker,” as he belonged to the Society
of Friends, and was ever foremost in all works of
charity and benevolence.
About 1780, when in his ninetieth year, he
married an Englishwoman who was then in her
fiftieth year, with whom he went to London and
Paris, where she was delivered of a child, the late
William Miller, M.P. for Newcastle-under-Lyne;
and thereby hangs a story, which made some stir
at the time of his death, as he was currently averred
to be a changeling—even to be a woman, a suggestion
which his thin figure, weak voice, absence of
all beard, and some peculiarity of habit, seemed to
corroborate. Be that as it may, none were permitted—
save those interested in him—to touch his
body, which, by his will, lies now buried in a
grave, dug to the great depth of forty feet, on the
north side of the Portobello Road, and on the
lands of Craigantinnie, with a classic tomb of considerable
height and beauty erected over it.
At his death, without heirs, the estate passed into
the hands of strangers.
His gigantic tomb, however, with its beautiful
sculptures, forms one of the most remarkable
features in this locality. Regarding it, a writer in
Temple Bar for 1881, says :—” Not one traveller
in a thousand has ever seen certain sculptures
known as the ‘ Craigantinnie Marbles.’ They are
out of town, on the road to Portobello, beyond the
Piershill cavalry barracks, and decorate a mausoleum
which is to be found by turning off the high
road, and so past a cottage into a field, green and
moist with its tall neglected grass. There is something
piquant in coming upon Art among humble
natural things in the country or a thinly peopled
suburb.” After referring to Giotto’s work outside
Padua, he continues : ” It is obvious there is no
comparison intended between that early work of
Italy, so rich in sincere thought and beautiful expression,
and the agreeable, gracious and even
manly labour, of the artist who wrought for modern
Scotland, the ‘Song of Miriam’ in this Craigantinnie
field. Still there is a certain freshness of pleasure
in the situation of the work, nor does examination
of the art displayed lead to prompt disappointment.”

source-Old and New Edinburgh

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