Pyramids of Midlothian and West Lothian

As you will have read in the first of David Winpenny’s articles, there are seven pyramids in the Lothians – all with fascinating stories behind them. We continue this month with the pyramids to be found in Midlothian and West Lothian.

On one of the roundabouts in Livingston is a dykestone and copper pyramid designed by artist David Wilson.  It is called Chrysalis, and it is designed to reflect the town’s transformation from a simple agricultural backwater to a modern, vibrant settlement.  It is one of a series of roundabout sculptures on the town’s roads, intended to make navigation easier by providing landmarks.  The commission, in 1995, was one of the last acts carried out by Livingston Development Corporation, then at the end of its 30-year existence.

Bilston Glen copyAt Bilston Glen a modern pyramid office block was put up in 2002 for Hills Electrical and Mechanical Engineering plc as their new regional centre for the Edinburgh area.  Boss David Hill said at the time, ‘There are three of our competitors on the same industrial estate.  They’re bigger than us, with larger office blocks.   We didn’t need as much office space, but we did want something that was both cost-effective and impressive.’

Costing £500,000, the grey-clad, three-storey Euclidean solid with a quarter segment removed to allow the light to flood into the interior, is impressive, if slightly incongruous beside the fairly nondescript Dryden Road.  The interior, apart from a few interestingly-sloping walls, is standard offices.  In 2008 Hills failed as a company, and the pyramid was sold to a rival firm for £1.

Penicuik has two pyramids.
Penicuick - Mausoleum One – the second-oldest pyramid in Scotland (the oldest is in Greenock) is a pyramid-topped structure that is a monument built by Sir John Clerk, the first Baronet, in memory of his first wife, Elizabeth Henderson, who died in 1683.  The structure consists of a tall and massively-built stone base surmounted by a striking pyramid.  Inside there is a finely-built chamber with a stone barrel vault.  Where the pyramid joins the base there is a beard of bushes and young trees.  On the top there was once an urn inscribed with Elizabeth’s initials, EH.

Elizabeth Henderson was by all accounts a talented woman, with a particular gift for music, who passed her artistic genes to her son, Sir John, the second Baronet.  He studied violin and composition with the composer Corelli; some of Clerk’s works survive, including one, a cantata called  Leo Scotiae Irritatus that is full of Masonic symbolism: 33 bars representing the degrees of The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, for example, and a movement of 27 bars – three times three times three – that represents the perfect cube of the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Solomon.  It is likely that Sir John’s father was also a Freemason, which would account for the pyramid form of the mausoleum.

Penicuick - Ramsay MonumentSir John’s son, Sir James Clerk, built the other, extraordinary pyramid at Penicuik.  It is in memory of his friend, the poet Allan Ramsay.   When Ramsay died at the beginning of 1757 Sir James erected a tall, thin pyramid on a square base with an arch running through it.  The pyramid, built of honey-coloured stone, is beautifully set in farmland in Cauldshoulders Park above the wooded valley of the River Esk, on the opposite bank from Penicuik House, and is also pierced by three oval holes of diminishing size.  It is a weird and disturbing monument to an elegant poet.

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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