Inscription for the Grave of George Paterson, who Hewed out the Subterranean Caves at Gilmerton (1750), and Inscription on the Cave at Gilmerton (1756)

View of seated Chamber, Gilmerton Cave.

View of seated Chamber, Gilmerton Cave.

By J. E. Simpkins, 1911. From Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Vol. 45, 269.

Courtesy of

Ground-plan of Cave at Gilmerton

Ground-plan of Cave at Gilmerton.

From same as above, 267.

Courtesy of

   These two poems are included chiefly for their commentary on an Edinburgh curiosity that remains something of a mystery. Both of these poems were printed in six collections of Pennecuik's poetry (Digital Miscellanies Index, n.d.). This would not be the only example of Pennecuik writing twice upon the same subject, although the second poem here is not found in the remaining volumes of the Compleat Collection of 1750, and may be by an unidentified "other."

   The village of Gilmerton, now a suburb of Edinburgh, is home to the curious site of Gilmerton cave, or cove, which has been a tourist attraction from at least the early nineteenth century. A local blacksmith named George Paterson (died c. 1735) is said to have claimed in 1724 that he "dug out" the cave over a period of five years. The cave was found to contain "several apartments, several beds, a spacious table," and even Paterson's workshop (Forsyth 1805, 290). According to Black's Picturesque Tourist of Scotland, the cave may have inspired the "subterranean forge" featured in Sir Walter Scott's Kenilworth (1879, 91).

   While the cave may have been modified and used by Paterson, the belief that he alone was responsible for it can no longer be sustained. The cave is now a site of much local speculation that connects it to various points in Scottish history: the Covenanters, the Knights Templar, druids, and so on (McGuire, 2017). In 2017, a team of scientists from Edinburgh University and the University of St. Andrews began an investigation to answer the question of the cave's origins. Results have not yet been published, but it was discovered that the cave is more extensive than was previously known (Stalker 2017). "Inscription on the Cave at Gilmerton," with attribution to Pennecuik, almost always accompanies descriptions of the cave in nineteenth-century sources. "Inscription for the Grave of George Paterson" is the only known contemporary source to name Paterson in connection with the cave - the next to do so was the Reverend Thomas White of Liberton in 1782 (Coles 1911, 265). 


Inscription for the Grave of George Paterson, who Hewed out the Subterranean Caves at Gilmerton, opus quinque an[n]orum[1]


He did not live upon the Earth
  Yet was no Antipode,[2]
An Army could not lift his Bed,
  Tho' only three Foot broad.[3]


He liv'd, as now he lies, below,                                                                                5
But curst or blest we do not know.
  To put upon his Record.
His Labours, being rocky Stone,
Won't follow him now when he's gone,
  Like those die in the Lord.                                                                                    10


Th'Estate he left consists in Land,
  On which the Sun ne'er shone,
No Bird or Beast did ever stand,
  Or Grass did grow thereon.


His Heritage is situate so,                                                                                      15
  'Twill last without all Doubt,
For all the Wind that e'er did blow
  Could never find it out.


It fears no Fire, it feels no Plow,
Was never wet with morning Dew,                                                                          20
  Pays neither Cess[4] nor Tiend.[5]
Sure, Passenger, when this you read,
You'll think his Heirs have scarcely Bread,
  Admire how they're maintain'd.


1 A labour of five years.
2 A person on the other side of the earth.
3 Because it was made of stone.
4 Local tax.
5 Scots: tithe.


Inscription on the Cave at Gilmerton.

Upon the earth thrives villainy and woe,
But happiness and I do dwell below;
My hands hewed out this rock into a cell,
Wherein from din of life I safely dwell:
On Jacob's pillow[1] nightly lies my head;                                                                    5
My house when living and my grave when dead:
Inscribe upon it when I'm dead and gone,
I liv'd and dy'd within my mother's[2] womb.


1 In Genesis 28, Jacob sleeps on a stone for a pillow. 
2 The earth.



Black's Picturesque Tourist of Scotland. 1879. Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black.

Coles, F. R. 1911. "Notices of Rock-Hewn Caves in the Valley of the Esk and Other Parts of Scotland." Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1910-1911 45: 265-301.

Dictionary of the Scottish Language. Accessed April 14, 2018.

Digital Miscellanies Index. 2016. "Gilmerton." Leverhulme Trust and Bodleian Library's Centre for the Book. Accessed April 14, 2018.

Forsyth, Robert. 1805. The Beauties of Scotland: Containing a Clear and Full Account of the Agriculture, Commerce, Mines, and Manufactures; of the Population, Cities, Towns, Villages, etc. of Each County. Vol. 1. Edinburgh: Thomson Bonar and John Brown.

McGuire, Tony. 2017. "The Unsolved Mystery of Gilmerton Cove." The Scotsman. January 10.

Pennecuik, Alexander. 1750. "Inscription for the Grave of George Paterson, who Hewed out the Subterranean Caves at Gilmerton."  A Compleat Collection Of All The Poems Wrote by That Famous and Learned Poet Alexander Pennecuik. To Which is Annexed Some Curious Poems by Other Worthy Hands. 27-28. Edinburgh: R. Drummond. English Poetry, Second Edition.

---. 1756. "Inscription on the Cave at Gilmerton." In A Collection of Scots Poems on Several Occasions, by the Late Alexander Penencuik, Gent. and Others. 32. Edinburgh: James Reid.

Stalker, Fiona. 2017. "Scientists Explore Edinburgh's Mystery Cave Network." BBC News. February 17.

George Paterson and the Cave at Gilmerton