Dean Village

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The Dean Village
Well Court, Edinburgh
Dean Village rooftops
The Dean Orhanage, now the Dean Gallery
The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, built as John Watson's Institution in the Dean
Daniel Stewart's School
The Dean Cemetery

Dean Village (from dene, meaning 'deep valley') is a former village immediately northwest of the city centre of Edinburgh, Scotland. It was also sometimes known as the "Water of Leith Village" and was a successful grain milling hamlet for more than 800 years. At one time there were no fewer than eleven working mills there, driven by the strong currents of the Water of Leith.


The mylnes of Dene were first listed in charters during the reign of King David I in the 13th century.

The area remained a separate village until the 19th century. In 1825 the then Lord Provost of Edinburgh, John Learmonth, purchased the Dean Estate from the Nisbets of Dean. He also hoped to buy land to the north for housing development, but this was purchased by the Heriot Trust.

A bridge was needed to access from one side of the high valley to the other (the low lying village was more or less an irrelevance). The Cramond Road Trustees discarded plans by other engineers and insisted upon the use of Thomas Telford. They also insisted that the bridge be toll-free. This was built 1831-2 and opened in 1833.

The four-arched Dean Bridge, spanned a width of over 400 feet and was 106 feet above the water level. It carried the Queensferry Road over the Dean Gorge, and was built at the joint expense of Mr John Learmonth Lord Provost of Edinburgh and the Cramond Road Trustees. The contractors were John Gibb & Son, from Aberdeen. The bridge eased access westwards from the city and opened up the potential to develop the Dean estate[1] The side parapet of the bridge was raised in height in 1912 as a deterrent to suicides, which were very common here in the 19th century, being more or less guaranteed success. The change in stonework is still visible.

Immediately following the completion of the bridge major development began to happen on the upper north side of the river. This centred upon what has been described as "pauper palaces":[2] The Dean Orphanage, Daniel Stewart's College and John Watson's School (the latter two both aimed at poor local boys).

In 1847 the Dean Cemetery was created, standing on the site of Dean House. This mansion house was the centre of the Dean Estate which had been bought by Sir William Nisbet in 1609. It was demolished in 1845 to create the cemetery but some carved stones are retained in the southern retaining wall (visible only from lower level). The cemetery which is one of the few in Scotland run as a non-profit making charity trust (to avoid being asset-stripped), is the resting place of many well-known people, including the railway engineer Sir Thomas Bouch and David Octavius Hill. Sculptured stones from the house are incorporated into the terrace wall on the edge of the cemetery. A painted ceiling from Dean House is now in the National Museum of Scotland.

The area to the south-west is generally termed Belford, being the site of a ford across the river near Bell's Mills. The area was further opened up to the city in 1887 following the completion of Belford Bridge and it is now hard to envisage how the area operated without this bridge.

Due to the development of much larger and more modern flour mills at Leith, Dean Village's trade diminished. For many years, the village became associated with decay and poverty, and it reached a low-point by around 1960.

From the mid-1970s onwards it became recognised as a tranquil oasis, very close to the city centre, and redevelopment and restoration began, converting workers' cottages, warehouses and mill buildings. This included a very substantial redevelopment on the south side of the river, which was required to add a now very useful pedestrian footbridge just upstream of well Court.

The area has now become a desirable residential area.

The Water of Leith Walkway running from Balerno to Leith was created through the area in 1983.

Dean Bridge was featured in Ian Rankin's fictional book Strip Jack, in which a woman is found dead in the river underneath the bridge. It also features as a location in the second book of the Peter May Lewis trilogy, The Lewis Man, in which a 1950s schoolboy dare results in a fatality.


  1. ^ Buildings of Scotland:Edinburgh by Gifford William and Walker
  2. ^ The Buildings of Scotland: Edinburgh (Dean) by Gifford Walker and McWilliam

Coordinates: 55°57′7.22″N 3°13′2.27″W / 55.9520056°N 3.2172972°W / 55.9520056; -3.2172972

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