Marjory Gilzean of Elgin Cathedral

Historic Environment Scotland’s Interpretation Assistant, Sally Gall, tells us the 18th century tale of Marjory Gilzean, who lived with her son among the ruins of Elgin Cathedral.

Submitted by on 10-05-2016 17:18:10

An unusual home

In the heart of Elgin, next to the cathedral’s chapter house, there is a very small room.

Equipped with a fire and a basin, it was probably used as a vestry by the cathedral’s medieval clergy. Here they would prepare their vestments and vessels for services.

In the late 1700s, however, it was put to a far more unusual use, when it became home to a young woman named Marjory Gilzean and her baby boy. At that time, this was one of the only roofed spaces remaining in the cathedral, and here Marjory stayed when she had nowhere else to go.

Originally from Drainie, to the north of Elgin, during the rising of 1745-6 Marjory fell in love with Andrew Anderson – a soldier stationed in Elgin. They married and she left to travel with his regiment.

Andrew may have been killed, for in 1748 Marjory returned to Elgin on foot carrying her son.

With no family to help her, she moved into the room by the chapter house, and is said to have laid her baby in its basin. She made a living spinning wool, and the townspeople provided her with food and work. Tales tell that when asked whether living among the graves made her afraid, she answered ‘I’m no feared of the dead – they are very quiet neighbours; it’s the livin’, if they would but let me be.’

She was eventually taken in by friends in Kinnedar, and died there in 1790.

A photograph of a ruined building beside a river.Elgin Cathedral, by the River Lossie. Image copyright Historic Environment Scotland.
A photograph of a very small room with stone walls and a tiny, high window and what appears to be a seat or shelf on the wall.The small chamber where Marjory and her son found shelter in the 1700s. Image copyright Historic Environment Scotland.
A photograph of a gravestone with the date 1851 carved into the top.Marjory Gilzean's gravestone, erected by her son in Kinnedar. Image copyright Historic Environment Scotland.

Leaving a legacy

Marjory’s son Andrew gained a place at the town’s grammar school as ‘pauper loon’ – a position in which he worked in exchange for his education.

He went on to join the East India Company, and became wealthy.

Years later he returned to Elgin, and founded an institute to provide care and education for poor children and the elderly. It is still known as Anderson’s Institution today, and can be seen from the cathedral ruins where he was raised.

A photograph of a grand building with blue but cloudy skies behind.Anderson's Care Home in Elgin. Image copyright Historic Environment Scotland.

 


 

Guest blogger Sally Gall works for Historic Environment Scotland as an Interpretation Assistant, investigating and sharing the stories of historic properties all over Scotland.

Historic Environment Scotland’s Interpretation Team have recently launched an exhibition of Elgin’s stonework and released a new guidebook to the cathedral.

 

Visit the site to explore these remarkable buildings, and uncover the stories they hold.

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