Napier of Wrychtishousis

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The Wrychtishousis (Wrightshouses) estate, in Edinburgh, lay to the west of the Biggar Road just to the south of Tollcross at the beginning of the district now known as Bruntsfield. The name is recorded in a charter dated 1382. The estate was acquired by a William Napier sometime between 1390 and 1406. The origin of the name is not certain, it could be "houses of wrights or carpenters" but considering its rural location in the 14th century, nearly two miles outside the city walls, it seems unlikely. It is more likely to have been named after an owner called Wright. It is almost certain that the Wrychtishousis Napier family was descended from the Napiers of Kilmahew because its coat of arms is almost exactly the same as those of Kilmahew. (Napier coats of arms will be discussed on a separate page at a future date).

It is known that the John Napier of Kilmahew (FL 1333) had two sons, William and Duncan, and that William had a son (and heir) called Dugald. It looks as if William was the elder because he was granted the "half lands of Kilmahew" in 1357. Dugald was then granted the "half lands of Kilmahew" in 1368. Duncan was still alive in 1368 but William was dead by that time. In documents stored in the English archives, there are records of the garrison of Edinburgh Castle during the time of King Edward III (of England). They show that during 1335-36 "Duncanus Naper and Johanes Naper" were "Scots at Arms" in the garrison, and between 1336-37 and again between 1339-40 Duncan Naper, John Naper and Richard Naper were "Men at Arms" in the garrison. It is not possible to say if this Duncan was the same Duncan who was the son of the first John of Kilmahew. The dates certainly fit, but there is no definite proof. What the relationships between Duncan, John, and Richard were is also impossible to say.

Mark Napier, in his book The History of the Partition of the Lennox, discusses the Napiers of Wrichtishousis, their ancestors and descendant, in some detail. I have tried to briefly summarise his discussions here.

On 4 February 1376-7, A William Naper was granted the lands of Easter-Garmylton (Haddington) resigned by "William Naper, son of John Naper of Garmylton". Was the first William the same person as the second? The wording of the charter suggests not. On 16 February 1390-1, a William Naper was granted lands in "Kings Crawmund" (probably present-day Cramond , the north-west suburb of Edinburgh). What we can be sure of is that none of these Williams can be the William, son of the first John of Kilmahew, because he was dead by 1368.

Sometime between 1390 and 1406, King Robert III granted to "William Naper, of the lands of Wrightshouses one part thereof by resignation of Ade Forrester for ane penny". Again we cannot be sure of the relationship between this William and the previous Williams. However, It can be fairly sure that this William of Wrightshouses is the same William who is recorded in the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland as being a collector of custom duties for Edinburgh with one "Ade (Adam) Forster (Forrester?)" between the years 1382 and 1404, and was also Constable of Edinburgh Castle in the years 1390, 1391, 1392, and 1402. Mention of Napiers of Wrychtishousis is made in the records of St Giles' Church and the "West Kirk" (St Cuthbert's Church) during the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries.

The male branches of the Napiers of Wrychtishousis appears to have died out by 1680. There is a report by Lord Stair of a case which states: "February 6, 1680, - Napier of Wrightshouses having died without issue, two women of his name, of a far relation, gave in supplication etc........" claiming to be served heir. One of the ladies and representatives of the other were served heirs-portioners. Ownership of Wrychtishousis Mansion passed through the hands of several proprietors until it was sold to the Gillespie trust in the late 18th century who demolished the house in 1800 in order to build Gillespie's Hospital (in 19th century Gillespie Crescent), which was itself knocked down in 1976 to be replaced by sheltered housing. The original mansion was decorated with many carved stones showing heraldic arms, many of which were rescued and built into the walls of Gillespie's Hospital and surrounding park, and also into an artificial ruin built in the grounds of Woodhouselee, a mansion on the southern outskirts of Edinburgh. When Gillespie's Hospital was demolished in 1976, the stones from Wrychtishousis were rescued and are now in the Huntly House Museum in the Royal Mile, Edinburgh.


© Charlie Napier,
Morningside, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Last modified:
31 October 2015

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