Pyramids of East Lothian and Edinburgh

How many of the pyramids of Lothian can you name?  None?  Then you may be surprised to know that, according to the first and only book about the pyramids of Britain and Ireland, there are actually seven of them – all with fascinating stories behind them.

‘Up to a Point – In search of pyramids in Britain and Ireland’ is the result of six years’ work by author David Winpenny.  Inspired by a small pyramid to an eccentric astronomer near his home in North Yorkshire, David has travelled from northern Scotland to the Isles of Scilly, and from Norfolk to County Mayo in search of pyramids of all sizes and ages.

‘I’ve known the Yorkshire pyramid since I was at school,’ says David, ‘and I knew that there were other pyramids in Britain.  I thought they’d make an interesting small book.  But more than 200 turned up, so now it runs to 400 pages!  And the Lothian pyramids are some of the most interesting.’ This first article looks at the pyramids of East Lothian and Edinburgh.

GosfordThe mausoleum at Gosford House in Aberlady is one of the best pyramids in Britain.  It is a piece of perfect geometry – a tall, square base topped with a totally-plain and massively-impressive pyramid –  elemental and almost brutal.  The inside has an octagonal vault, tapering into the point of the pyramid, and the walls are lined with 64 niches for coffins, so that it resembles a giant’s wine cellar.

Despite all this grandeur, only one of the niches is occupied.  It holds the remains of the 7th Earl of Wemyss, Francis Charteris.  It was Francis who bought the Gosford estate ‘to be nearer the golf’.  But it was not golf that inspired the building of the mausoleum, but Freemasonry.  The Earl, like many of his line, was Grand Master Mason of Scotland, and the measurements of the mausoleum are full of significant Masonic numbers – 12 niches in the main rows, and four rows of 13 in the subsidiary rows – making the 64 – 4x4x4.  And the pyramidal form of the structure itself links the mausoleum with Freemasonry’s supposed Egyptian origins.

The mausoleum’s date is uncertain, but it was certainly here by 1796, when James Ramsay was landscaping the park around it.  It is possible that he designed the building, too, though the traditional attribution is to Robert Adam, who was working on the house in the 1790s.

Edinburgh DuddingstonIn the kirkyard at Duddingston, on the edge of Holyrood Park, below Arthur’s Seat, is a pyramid connected with a story of elopement and shipwreck.  Although the inscription says it is a memorial to ‘Patrick Haldane Esq. of Gleneagles’ erected at the expense of his grandson Captain John Haldane, it is really a memorial to the Captain himself.

John Haldane was a Captain in the East India Company.  He was dogged by misfortune.  He spent much time in India, taking to drink and at one point being ’cast away when mate of an Indiaman, losing everything he possessed.’  He later took command of the East India Company’s ship Fairford; it caught fire in Bombay on its maiden voyage, in June 1783.  He took command of another ship, the Nancy, and set sail for England.  On board was an actress and opera singer, Mrs Ann Cargill.  Born Ann Brown, she had made her Covent Garden debut in 1771, aged 11.  In her somewhat scandalous career she made a great impression as Miranda in The Tempest and appeared regularly as Polly Peachum in The Beggar’s Opera.

Ann eloped twice before she was 21 and then, in 1763, she became besotted with John Haldane.  She sailed with him on the Fairford to India, where she was a great success on the stage – her benefit performance in Calcutta raised an astonishing 12,000 rupees.  On their return to England on the Nancy the ship was caught in a storm off the Isles of Scilly and struck rocks.  Most of the crew and passengers were lost at sea, but the corpses of two men, and of Mrs Cargill, ‘floating in her shift, and her infant in her arms’ were recovered.  It seems likely that the child was John Haldane’s.  The wreck was located in 2008, but the rupees are still missing.

The wreck of the Nancy is depicted on the pyramid at Duddingston, in a marble bas relief sculpted by William Gowan of Edinburgh.  Huge waves overwhelm the ship, while a small boat battles bravely alongside it.   Appropriately, perhaps, the motto in the Haldane family coat of arms is ‘Suffer’.

Edinburgh - Dean CemeteryIn Dean Cemetery, at the heart of Edinburgh’s Dean Village is a pink Peterhead granite pyramid that is a memorial to Sophia Rutherfurd.  Designed by the architect William Playfair, it was put up by Sophia’s husband  Andrew Rutherfurd, Lord Advocate of Scotland and Rector of Glasgow University.  The Rutherfurds – Andrew was created Lord Rutherfurd in 1851 – were very prominent in Edinburgh society.  Sophia was a noted hostess, both at the couple’s Edinburgh home at 9 St Colme Street and later at Lauriston Castle.  They counted much of the aristocracy and intelligentsia among their friends.  But there was a darker secret behind the façade – they were not really Rutherfurds at all.

Andrew’s father was the Reverend William Greenfield.  He was a minister at Edinburgh’s High Kirk and an acquaintance of Robert Burns.  He became Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1796.  In the same year the University of Edinburgh made him an honorary Doctor of Divinity.   Two years later he was in disgrace – brought down by ‘indulging in unnatural lusts’ with some of the young university students who lodged at his manse.

There was no public scandal; the matter was hushed up, to preserve the good name of the Church and because the young men involved were from respectable families.  Greenfield had his degrees rescinded and was sent into ‘exile’ in the north of England, where he changed his name to that of his wife – Rutherfurd.

Next month we’ll take a look at the pyramids of Midlothian and West Lothian. The full stories of all the Lothian pyramids, as well as of all the other British and Irish pyramids – with a  cast of feuding families, monarchs and engineers, gardeners and ghosts, poets and scientists, as well as horses, hens and pigs – are found in ‘Up to a Point’.  There are brick, cast iron and Formica pyramids, as well as the more-traditional stone ones.

David Winpenny, who has written guidebooks and books of walks and lectures on subjects including architecture, follies and landscape gardening, was a BBC Mastermind finalist in 1999.  He says, ‘It’s been fascinating to do the research and the journeys – and I hope that everyone who reads the book will be as fascinated by the stories of the pyramids and their creators as I have been.’

'Up to a Point' Cover‘Up to a Point’, which includes photographs of all the pyramids, is published by Sessions of York at £24.95, and is available, postage and packing free, from the website –

Up to a Point: In Search of Pyramids in Britain and Ireland is available here from Amazon

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