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Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
James Gillespie, Esq., of Spylaw, and his Brother John Gillespie


As the founder of "Gillespie's Hospital," the youngest of the two brothers, James, the figure to the left, is well known; yet it is rather surprising that no record of their history has been preserved. They were born at Edinburgh ; but with respect to their family connections, no accurate information can be obtained. "When the first edition of this work appeared, their relatives were under the impression that the youngest was the eldest, and that they were born at Koslin or its neighbourhood. Their parents' names being known, a search was lately made there, but in vain. The following extracts, however, from the Session-Clerk's books of this city, set conjecture at rest:— "Edinburgh, 18th January, 1724.—James Gillespie, indweller, and Elizabeth M'baith, his spouse, A . S : N (a son), John W. (witness) John Lindsay, taylor, and George Gillespie, indweller in Broughtoun,born 12th inst."------------" Edinburgh, May 1, 172G.—Jarnes Gilespie, Tndweller, and Elizabeth M'beath, his spous, A . S : N (a son), James, W. (witness) Tho. Whytland, saidler, and George Gilespie, Tennent in Broughtoun, born 28th April last." They had a sister, mother of the late Mr. Richard Dick, tobacconist, who succeeded his uncle in the shop; but whether they had any other near relatives is uncertain. If they had, no communication was maintained with them.

The early years of the Messrs. Gillespie are understood to have been the reverse of affluent; their steady and industrious conduct, however, overcame all difficulties, and by a fortunate speculation, during the American war—when the price of tobacco experienced an unexampled rise—their good fortune was effectually augmented. The retail shop, a short way east of the Cross, on the north side of the High Street, No. 231, is at present occupied by James Cotton, tobacconist. Their first shop, on the same site, was taken down and rebuilt, and was attended by John, the elder brother, while James, or as he was styled, "The Laird," constantly resided at Spylaw, a property which he purchased at Colintou, and where he erected a mill for grinding snuff. This pleasant residence is distant about four miles west of Edinburgh. It is situated on the banks of a small rivulet, at the head of the hollow or strath occupied by the village of Colinton. The house is of a somewhat antiquated form, but in excellent repair; and the courtyard and walks around are tastefully kept in order. The snuff-mill, immediately in the rear of the house, still continues busily employed, and has, ever since Mr. Gillespie's death, been in the possession of Messrs. Richardson, tobacconists, 105 West Bow.

Neither of the brothers were ever married. Although frugal and industrious, they were by no means miserly. On the contrary, James, in particular, is described as one of the best and kindest of men ; living amongst his domestics in the most homely and patriarchal manner. Many of the last century characters of Edinburgh were supplied with snuff gratis by the Messrs. Gillespie. Among others, Laird Robertson and Jean Cameron had their "mulls" regularly filled. He invariably sat at the same table with his servants, indulging in familiar conversation, and entering with much spirit into their amusements. Newspapers were not so widely circulated at that period as they are now; and on the return of any of his domestics from the city, which one or other of them daily visited, he listened with great attention to "the news," and enjoyed with much zest the narration of any jocular incident that had occurred.

Of the younger portion of his dependants he took a fatherly charge, instilling into their minds the most wholesome advice, and to all recommending habits of sobriety and industry. "Waste not, want not," was a favourite maxim in his household economy; yet the utmost abundance of every necessary, of the best quality, and at the command of all the inmates, was unscrupulously provided. Neither was his generosity confined to objects of his own species. It extended alike to every living creature about his establishment. From his horses to his poultry, all experienced the bounty of his hand; and wherever he went, in the fields, or about his own doors, he had difficulty iu escaping from their affectionate gambols and joyous clamour. The almost companionable fondness, reciprocal betwixt the laird and his riding-horse, was altogether amusing. Well fed, and in excellent spirit and condition, it frequently indulged in a little restive curveting with its master, especially when the latter was about to get into the saddle. "Come, come," he would say on such occasions, addressing the animal in his usual quiet way, "hae dune noo, for ye'll no like if I come across your lugs (ears) wi' the stick." This "terror to evil doers " he sometimes brandished, but was never known to " come across the lugs " of any one.

As a landlord Mr. Gillespie was peculiarly indulgent. On his property were numerous occupiers of small cottages and portions of ground. From these he collected his rents just as they found it convenient to pay, and he scrupled not to accept the most trifling instalment. Andrew, his apprentice in the mill, was frequently dispatched in the capacity of collector of arrears. On his return, the old man would inquire — "Weel, laddie, hae ye gotten onythiug?" Andrew's reply frequently intimated the amazing receipt of one shilling! "Weel, weel, it's aye better than naething; but it's weel seen they're the lairds and no me." To legal measures he never resorted.

Even when well advanced in years, Mr. Gillespie continued to maintain the industrious habits he had pursued through life. With an old blanket around him, and a night-cap on, covered over with snuff, he attended regularly in the mill, superintending the operations of his man, Andrew. He kept a carriage, for which the Hon. Henry Erskine facetiously suggested as a motto—

"Wha wad hae thocht it,
That noses had bocht it."

The carriage, however, the plainest imaginable, contained no other inscription than his arms and the initials "J. G." Until within a year or two of his death, when no longer able to walk any distance, he almost never made use of it—not even on Sabbath, for the church of Colinton is not above five or ten minutes' walk from Spylaw. He, notwithstanding, held Cameronian principles, and regularly attended the annual tent-meetings of that body at Rullion Green.

Mr. James Gillespie survived his brother John about two years, and carried on the business till his death, which occurred at Spylaw on the 8th of April, 1797, in the seventy-first year of his age. His remains were interred in the churchyard of Colinton, in the same vault with those of his brother John.

By his will, executed in 179G, Mr. Gillespie bequeathed his estate, together with 12,000 sterling (exclusive of .2700, for the purpose of building and endowing a School), "for the special intent and purpose of founding and endowing an Hospital, or charitable institution, within the city of Edinburgh, or suburbs, for the aliment and maintenance of old men and women." In 1801, the Governors, on application to his Majesty, obtained a charter, erecting them into a body politic and corporate, by the name and style of "The Governors of James Gillespie's Hospital and Free School."

The persons entitled to be admitted into, and maintained in the Hospital, are—"1st, Mr. Gillespie's old servants, of whatever rank they may be. 2d. Persons of the name of Gillespie, fifty-five years of age and upwards, whatever part of Scotland they may come from. 3d, Persons belonging to Edinburgh, and its suburbs, aged fifty-five years and upwards. 4th, Failing applications from persons belonging to Edinburgh, and its suburbs, persons belonging to Leith, Newhaven, and other parts of the county of Mid-Lothian. 5th, Failing applications from all these places, persons fifty-five years of age, coming from all parts of Scotland." It is further provided, "That none shall be admitted who are pensioners, or have an allowance from any other charity. And seeing the intention of Mr. Gillespie, in founding the Hospital, was to relieve the poor, none are to be admitted until they shall produce satisfactory evidence to the Governors of their indigent circumstances ; and the Governors are required to admit none but such as are truly objects of this charity; and it is hereby ordained and appointed, that none but decent, godly, and well-behaved men and women (whatever in other respects may be their claims) shall be admitted into the Hospital; and the number of persons to be constantly entertained, shall be so many as the revenue of the Hospital can conveniently maintain, after deducting the charge of management, and of maintaining the fabric, and keeping up the clothing and furniture of the house."

The Board of Management consists of the Master, Treasurer, and twelve assistants of the Merchant Company; five members of the Town-council, who are elected by that body; and the ministers of the Tolbooth and St. Stephen's Churches.

The Hospital, a commodious and not inelegant structure, is built on the site of a property called Wrytes House, an ancient castellated mansion, the demolition of which, by the Trustees of the Institution, occasioned much regret among the lovers of antiquity. From the Edinburgh Magazine for 1800, we quote the following remarks by a correspondent:—

"How grateful must it have been to the inhabitants of Edinburgh to be able to point the attention of a prejudiced stranger to the towering and venerable fabric of Wrytes House, one existing memorial, among many others of the ancient power and greatness of Scotland, and of her early proficiency in the architecture and sculpture formerly in repute. Will persons of taste in this country believe it?—will liberal and lettered Englishmen believe it?—this beautiful castle, in the environs of the capital, and the ornament of Burntsfield Links, a public resort, is at this moment resounding the blows of the hammers and axes of final demolition!

"The manager of the late Mr. Gillespie's mortification having by reason, it is said, of the voracity of some greedy proprietor, been disappointed in their original intentions,

'They spied this goodly castle,
Which choosing for their Hospital,
They thither marched.'

And who could have doubted that it might easily have been transformed into a most capacious and elegant hospital—a truly splendid abode for decayed Gillespies!

"But down it must come, if it should be for the sake only of the timber, the slates, and the stones. Its fate is now irretrievable. A few weeks will leave scarcely a trace to tell where once it stood. Ten thousand pounds would not rear such another castle; and, if it did, still it would be modern.

"Wrytes House was of considerable antiquity. Above one window was the inscription—'Sicut Oliva fr act if era, 1376;' and above another, ' I)i Domino confido, HOO.' There are several later dates, marking the periods—probably of additions, embellishments, or repairs—or the succession of different proprietors. The arms over tlie principal door were those of Britain after the union of the crowns. On triangular stones, above the windows, were five emblematical representations—

'And in those five, such things their form express'd,
As we can touch, taste, feel, or hear, or see.'

A variety of the virtues also were strewed upon different parts of the building. In one place was a rude representation of our first parents, and underneath the well-known old proverbial distich—

'When Adam delv'd and Eve span,
Quhair war a' the gentles than.'

To another place was the head of Julius Cassar, and elsewhere a head of Octavius Secundus, both in good preservation. Most of these curious pieces of sculpture have been defaced, or broken, no measure having been taken to preserve them from the effects of their fall. This is much to be regretted, as there can be little doubt that some good gentleman, who would not only have given the contractor an advanced price, but would have so disposed of these relics as to ensure their future existence and preservation. Had the late Mr. Walter Ross been alive, they would not have been allowed to dash against the ground and shiver into fragments! "What, suppose the Managers themselves were yet to erect a little gothic-looking mansion, in some convenient corner, constructed entirely of the sculptured and ornamented stones of the castle. Thus, so far from misapphyiug their funds, they might at once produce a beautiful summer-house, or termination of a vista, and discharge an imperious debt they owe to their countrymen and to posterity—the preservation and transmission of those specimens of Scottish workmanship of remote ages. Such a building, composed chiefly of antique carved stones, may be seen near St. Bernard's Well, in the policy, or pleasure-grounds of the gentleman last-mentioned; and Portobello Tower, built by Mr. Cunningham, consists principally of the sculptured and ornamented stones found in the houses which were pulled down to make way for the South Bridge."

The suggestions of the antiquary were not attended to by the Managers. The Hospital, which was opened in 1S02, is capable of containing sixty-six pensioners, but the Governors have never been able to make provision for more than forty-two persons. The internal management is committed to the charge of a House-Governor, or Chaplain, and a Governess, who act under the immediate direction of the Treasurer—the whole being under the control of the Board of General Governors.

In the Council-Room of the Hospital is a capital painting of the founder, by Sir James Foulis, of "Woodhall, Bart., in which the venerable proprietor of Spylaw is represented as seated on a rudely formed chair, or summer-seat, in the garden, with his hands resting on his staff. There is also hung in the same apartment a very neat miniature-painting of him by Kay, done in 1797, in both of which his countenance has all the mildness of expression observable in the Etching.

The School endowed by Mr. Gillespie stands entirely detached from the Hospital. The number of children taught average 150. The teacher, Mr. John Robertson, has held the situation since the opening of the school in 1803, and is aided by an assistant.


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