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Comiston Farmhouse... Renewed Threat

APPEAL LODGED (after Planning Permission was Refused)

History / timeline

Timeline of information about the house. [Newspaper items seen via National Library of Scotland's "licensed content" databases.]

400-200 million years ago: Erosion from the majestic (Himalaya-sized) Caledonian mountains (where the highlands are now) deposited the sand that became the stone from which the farmhouse is built (likely Upper Old Red Sandstone).

Roman times: The Romans built a road from York to Carriden that apparently passed through Comiston Farm, and they had an encampment on the land. [Visit this 1654 map at the NLS and magnify to see encampment east of "Cohintoun". See this eBook on Google "Statistical Account of Edinburghshire", p119, for mention of the Roman road. Also the Archeology Data Service has two articles from the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Vol.50 1915 (PDF) & Vol.1 1792 (PDF). (For just the map image for the 1792 reference, click here.)]

4 March 1809: The architect who was to design Comiston Farmhouse (William Notman) was born, in Kirkurd, Peeblesshire. His father is given as John Notman [www.ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk - GROS data 764/00 0020 0229], and his mother as Margaret Kemp.

Sep 1810: James Forrest (future Lord Provost, and owner of "Comiston") marries Charlotte Horsburgh [City of Edinburgh Archives ACC322].

1825: Sheep-Stealing!: James Forgie (alias Fargie, Foigie) found guilty of sheep-stealing at Comiston Farm. Though recommended for "leniency", his sentence was "transportation for life". [National Records of Scotland JC26/1825/278.]

1832-38: Gray's Annual Directory John Curror [future tenant of Comiston farm] was farming at West Pilton, Cramond.

1838-39 & 39-40: Post Office Annual Directory & Calendar Archibald Dumbreck listed as farmer at Comiston.

1841: Archibald Dumbrick/Dumbreck (aged 21) is resident at Colinton/Hailes (Census, GROS 677/00002/00003).

2 May 1841 (Sunday): Bell's Life & Sporting Chronicle under the heading "Pedestrianism": Running and Leaping.-- A correspondent states that on Thursday last a match came off at Comiston, about three miles from Edinburgh, when a young farmer, Mr Archibald Dumbrick, performed the task of leaping 25 hurdles four feet high 20 yards apart, in the short time of three minutes and ten seconds, and immediately afterwards running a mile in four minutes and forty seconds. Mr Dumbrick performed the two events with comparative ease, taking all his leaps beautifully, and could have accomplished the running of the mile in some seconds shorter than he had been disposed, but as the time allowed was six minutes hurrying himself was unnecessary. The betting was 2-to-1 against his performing the feat within the specified time, which a few of the knowing ones took, and a considerable sum changed hands in consequence. There was a large concourse of spectators, it being fast day in Edinburgh, and a few of Mr Dumbrick's friends afterwards dined together, and the evening was spent with the greatest of hilarity.

1838: Sir James Forrest of Comiston is conferred a Baronetcy by Queen Victoria on her coronation.

2 Mar 1842The Scotsman  p1 Classified Ad
FARM NEAR EDINBURGH. To be let for 19 years, from next Martinmas [11 Nov.] 1842. The Farm of Comiston... 155 Scotch acres. Apply to Weir & Gardiner WS, 31 Albany Street.

11 Sep 1842: The Age (London) p.2 Issue 37 "Her Majesty's Visit to Scotland" [Victoria]... The foundation stone of Victoria Hall, for the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, was laid. Deposited in the cavity of the stone, enclosed in a glass jar, an Edinburgh almanac, the newspapers of the day, a plan of the city, and a beautiful engraving of the building, with coins of the present reign. [As Lord Provost at the time, Sir James Forrest accompanied the Queen.]

29 Oct 1842: The Scotsman p1 Classified Ad
Sale by auction of household furniture, Drosky [a kind of horse-drawn carriage], etc. at Comiston. George Wilson, Auctioneer, 26 October 1842.

22 July 1843: John Bull (London) p.450 Issue 1180 Under "Scotch Sequestration"... A.W. Dumbreck, Comiston, farmer. (He was the farmer prior to John Curror... had he gone bust?)

18 Oct 1843The Scotsman Article
John Curror contributed 5 shillings subscription towards the Fever Hospital.

30 May 1850: The TImes p.4 Issue 20502 Sir James Forrest was chairing the 11th AGM of the Life Association of Scotland [a life insurance company?]. Business was good.

1851: John Curror is resident at Colinton/Hailes (Census, GROS 677/00002/00015).

1852 November 5: William Notman (architect of farmhouse) marries Barbara Graham at Davidson's Mains in Cramond Parish. They would have four children: John, Susan, William & James.

1855: John Curror is “tenant occupier” at Comiston (Valuation Rolls VR108/1/32).

30 Jan 1858: John Bull & Britannia (London) p.80 Issue 1938 DEATH: Jan 21 at Clifton Bristol, Elizabeth Charlotte, youngest daughter of Sir James Forrest, Bart. of Comiston, North Britain. [Yes, this is a direct quote... it actually says "North Britain"!]

4 Sep 1858: The Scotsman p4
John Curror was a poultry judge at an Aberdeen show... he was also on the Highland & Agricultural Society committee (for "General Shows").

26 April 1859: The architectural design drawings for the current form of Comiston Farmhouse are signed by Hamilton Kinnear WS [Forrest's solicitors] and farmer John Curror. The presumed architect is WIlliam Notman, ex-assistant to William Henry Playfair [Notman Collection, in archives of RCAHMS now HES, 16 Bernard Terrace.]

5 April 1860: Death aged 80 of Sir James Forrest of Comiston, Baronet, Lord Provost of Edinburgh 1837-43, in Plymouth (what was he doing down there?!). His Will states that he owned:

"All and whole the lands and mains of Comiston with the Mansion House or Manor place thereof houses biggings yards orchards lofts crofts outsets insets parts pendicles ... and whole pertinents thereof comprehending these forty acres of arable land ... and land commonly called the Oxgangs and Baads ... and the Short Boig ...  "

...and property in Fife and Edinburgh. He bequeaths his estate to his children (John, William, Violet & Catherine [another daughter, Elizabeth, pre-deceased him). [Forrest Baronets on Wikipedia. Will (SC70/4/71) and Inventory  (SC70/1/105) purchased from ScotlandsPeople.]

14 April 1860The Examiner (London) Issue 2724. Obituary of Sir James Forrest states that he qualified as an advocate in 1803; politically he was a Whig; became Lord Provost in 1837; raised to Baronet in 1838 by Queen Victoria.

1884&6: W. Forrest [Sir James's 2nd son] agrees to reduce the rent on Comiston and Oxgangs farms because the farms are not making a profit. ("Mr Inch" is mentioned as farmer... has John Curror been promoted to some higher roll by this time?) [Hamilton Kinnear & Beatson, Solicitor's document, in City of Edinburgh Archives ACC322 box 1 of 3.]

1865: John Curror [tenant farmer] acted as a "gentleman of skill" [expert witness] in support of an Oldhamstocks farmer who'd been denied his last crop before the lease expired on his farm (there had to be a re-trial, and the case lasted years; the document is a long one!).

1865 John Curror is “tenant occupier” at Comiston (Valuation Rolls VR108/11/29 & 34).

30 Mar 1866 Caledonian Mercury 
John Curror mentioned in an article about Cattle Plague, which was prevalent at the time.

26 Jan 1867: Sporting Gazette Ltd p.67 Issue 222 John Curror listed as a member of the National Coursing Club for Dirleton & N. Berwick, living at Comiston.

8 Feb 1869 The Scotsman  p2
Fire destroyed 7 wheat stacks in a field at Comiston farm (though it was apparently insured).

5 Jul 1869 The Scotsman p4 Classified Ad
Colinton mains to be let. Contact Mr Curror, Comiston, Lothian Burn.

1871 John Curror searched for in censuses and apparently NOT resident at Comiston or Colinton according to censuses (farmhouse being re-built?).

26 Sept 1872: The Scotsman.  Mr Curror requested compensation from Edinburgh & District Water Works for submerging of a field of potatoes by the bursting of the pipes at the junction of the Swanston and Comiston pipes;  accepted £8.

1875 John Curror is “tenant occupier” at Comiston (Valuation Rolls VR108/17/453).

Feb 1880: Scotsman classifieds: advert for rent of the farm includes ‘as presently occupied by Mr John Curror’.

1881 John Curror is resident at Colinton (Census, GROS 677/00001/00011).

11 June 1883: The Times p.1 30843 DEATHS: On the 5th inst., at 35 manor Place, Edinburgh, Sir John Forrest of Comiston, Bt. Friends will please accept this intimation. [...and on page 12] He was 66. Born 1817. Eldest son of James Forrest, mother Charlotte (nee Horsburgh, of Horsburgh, Peeblesshire). Sir John died unmarried therefore the title passes to his only surviving brother William (former officer in the 79th Foot) born 1823, married 1852 to Margaret Anne Dalziel.

1885 John Curror is “tenant occupier” at Comiston (Valuation Rolls VR108/21/284 & 285).

8 July 1885: John Curror dies at Inchdrewer House, Colinton (Edinburgh Sheriff Court Will [SC70/4/215] and Inventory [SC70/1/245]).

15 June 1893: William Notman, architect, dies. Death certificate says "William Notman, architect, married to Barbara Graham. 1893 June Fifteenth 00:30am Northfield Cottage, Newhaven Road, Leith. Male, 85 years. Father John Notman, joiner and builder, (deceased), Mother Margaret Notman Maiden Surname Kemp (deceased). Apoplexy [we call it Stroke] 2 days, as certified by William Elder MB. John Notman, son, present." [www.ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk Statutory Deaths 1893, 692/010209.]

1897: Murder! Edward Tervit Thomson of Comiston Farm was murdered by Jane Thomson at Braid Burn, Greenbank. Jane was tried at the High Court in Edinburgh, found guilty, and sentenced to 3 years penal servitude (remitted less than a year later). [National Registers of Scotland JC26/1897/32.] Searching ScotlandsPeople's indexes yields one male named Edward Tervit Thomson born in 1895... if this is he, he was only 2 years old, and one might conclude that Jane was his mother, though the papers of the case are probably available.

Late 1800s: Old photo of John Waldie, Dairyman, with his horse and cart (and dog) standing outside the NW corner of Comiston Farm's garden wall (on Peter Stubbs website www.edinphoto.org.uk, the subject being the grandfather of William Paterson).

25 may 1921: At Comiston House (the Forrest's house, not the farm), Samuel Gilmour, joiner, quotes for dry rot repairs to Miss Elphinston's bedroom and dressing room [City of Edinburgh Archives ACC322].

17 Nov 1930 The Scotsman 
Article about Edinburgh Gliding Club's first outing on the fields of Comiston Farm.

1953: The circumstances in which CEC acquired Comiston Farmhouse.
F.o.I Question: “The circumstances in which the Council (or relevant body) acquired [CFH].
CEC ANSWER: The acquisition was approved by the Council following Housing Committee on 13 October 1953 (Item 18). Please see attached a PDF extract from the Housing Committee minutes. [All F.o.I. questions and answers are HERE.]

1955: CEC acquired Comiston Farmhouse (and all of the Forrest family's land).
F.o.I Question: “The date on which City of Edinburgh Council (or any predecessor body) acquired [CFH].
CEC ANSWER: Acquisition registered in General Register of Sasine: 21 February 1955. The Property was acquired as part of a larger land acquisition (94.693 acres), for the sum of £8,700, and forms part and portion of ALL and WHOLE the subjects described in and disponed by Dame Eadith Florence Jarvis or Forrest of Comiston, with consent in favour of the Lord Provost, Magistrates and Council of the City of Edinburgh dated 17 and 21 both dates January and recorded in the Division of the General Register of Sasines for the County of Midlothian on 21 February 1955 (the “1955 Disposition”). The City of Edinburgh Council registered a Notice of Title in respect of the land referred to in the said Disposition by Dame Eadith Florence Jarvis. The Notice of Title was recorded in the Division of the General Register of Sasines for the County of Midlothian on 8 May 1996. [All F.o.I. questions and answers are HERE.]

1970s: Personal Communication: Farmhouse was boarded up, and children would push past the planks boarding up the windows and play inside.

2000s

When?: Empty car rolls backwards down Pentland View and damages r.h. gate pier and wall (subsequently repaired).

When?: Farmhouse used as a care home.

Latest use (from when? to 2015): Farmhouse used as a "Close Support Unit" by City of Edinburgh Council.

5 April 2016: Bidder's architect's presentation at Fairmilehead Community Council meeting.

Thursday 26 May 2016Historic Environment Scotland publish their decision NOT to grant Comiston Farmhouse "Listed" status [Link to documentation about the decision]. However, most generously, they state that "Although the building does not meet the criteria for listing we consider that it would be appropriate at this time to make a photographic record of the building for our public archive. We have therefore asked our Survey and Recording colleagues to undertake a photographic survey of the building in order to record it in its current form." Isn't the part that says "in its current form" just delightful? Do they suppose its "future form" will be worth photographing as well? Why don't they just say "before 150 years of history and a beautiful functional well-maintained historic piece of architecture is obliterated in pursuit of money by City of Edinburgh Council" and have done with it?

DEATH SENTENCE Friday 27 May 2016: Planning Application published on City of Edinburgh Council's Planning Portal [Link], "Demolition of existing building, erection of 37 Flats, formation of new site entrance and parking area, landscaping works and all other associated works."

Monday 11 July 2016: Period for public comments on the planning application ended. Total public comments: 236 (of which 234 are objections).

14 January 2017: At the request of the developer, Chamberlain Bell, the Council's Housing Revenue Account (HRA) dept starts a process to sell a triangle of land between Farmhouse wall and Pentland View. This is so that the developer gets the chance to buy it and alter its plans for the dangerous access road by punching a wide hole through the ancient wall (the wall is much older than the current house).

9 February 2017: Developer's revised plans published on CEC Planning Portal. "Material change" means a new round of public comments... but only 2 weeks given this time by the Council! Disgraceful, as half-term break means parents many are away on holiday. Suspicious timing, eh? [Later, we discover that 2 different letters had two different deadlines... anyway, it's now 3 weeks (deadline is 3 March)].

3 March 2017: Period for public to comment on revised plans ended. Count of comments on 10 March 2017:
318 "Objecting" (234 from first round, 81 more for revised plans),
3 "Supporting" (2 from first round, 1 more for revised plans),
1 "Neutral",
Total = 322.

24 March 2017: Planned site visit to Comiston Farmhouse by members of the Council's Development Management Sub-Committee.

19 April 2017: Planning permission was refused at a Hearing at a meeting of the  Development Management Sub-Committee.  The developer has 3 months in which to appeal.

July 2017: Developer lodges appeal against refusal of planning permission.

Wildlife

Mammals: Foxes (and their cubs) play in the garden. Grey squirrels live there.

Birds:

Siskins at Comiston Farm House Siskins (pair of), probably interested in the cedar trees (to be felled!). Chiff-chaffs return mid-April, the willow warblers by late April. Bullfinches (attracted by buds on cherry trees). Blackcap warblers back by early May. Mistle thrush sings in the limes, alongside goldfinches. Greater-spotted woodpeckers search dead branches for food. Crows nest in the cedar. Treecreepers spiralling up trees searching crevices for morsels.