The Craigentinny Marbles, A Unique Edinburgh Mausoleum

Craigentinny Bowling Club green is dominated by one of the hidden gems of Edinburgh and from the top deck of the no.12 bus which climbs the avenue it can appear both gaunt and majestic between the rooftops.

A costly sepulchral monument in Edinburgh, if not Scotland. So grand and commanding is this edifice, that the Bowling Club incorporated it into the design of its blazer and lapel badges and on its headed stationary.

The_Craigentinny_MarblesThe tall and imposing monument readily greets the eye as one looks across the bowling green, yet it is hardly ever noticed by the passer-by in the adjoining Portobello Road, largely hidden as it is by the relatively modern  bungalows which sprung up in the fields of the Craigentinny estate in the 1930`s about 70 years after the “Marbles” were erected.

The person whose memory this stately monument perpetuates was, by his own desire, buried not in any ordinary cemetery or burial ground, but in the midst of a a field which he had purchased. Such is the final resting place of William Henry Miller of Craigentinny.

What manner of man was William Henry Miller who was responsible for the rearing of so elegant a mausoleum? The only child of William Miller of Craigentiny, he was born in Paris 1789 and passed away on October 1848. Although a large portion of his active life was spent in England, in his later years he resided much on his beloved estate Craigentinny. A man of considerable wealth, a former member of Parliament, a bachelor, he at one time lived the life of a recluse and, without doubt, there was a strain of eccentricity in his nature,. Indeed at the time of his death in 1848 a curious story was apparently circulated to the effect that he was a changeling – even to being a woman, a suggestion which his thin figure, weak voice, absence of beard seemed to corroborate. Miller both said and did peculiar things and his request to be buried in a grave forty feet deep and that such a magnificent monument should mark the spot, was quite in keeping with the nature of the man. In addition body snatchers, and grave robbers, Were particularly active in Edinburgh during that era and Miller was presumably leaving nothing to chance.

Miller set aside out of his immense wealth, a sum of £20,000 (a huge amount in those times) with which to erect the classic mausoleum. with instructions that the monument should be a thing of artistic beauty. The finely wrought and much admired bas-reliefs which adorn the sides, were the work of sculptor Alfred Gatley, who in his day was known as the “Landseer of Sculpture” and who had been entrusted with the work by Millers relative, Samuel Christie-Miler (presumably the person after whom adjoining street Christiemiller Avenue was named). Gatley was an enthusiast for Greek art and in  1852 he set to work. He first of all produced Maribelle bas-rielfs depicting “The Overthrow of Pharoah in the Red Sea” and later produced the companion having for its subject “The songs of Moses and Miriam”. These two outstanding works of art, which were added to the original monument in 1866, are in strong contrast to each other – the idea of rejoicing being as effectively depicted in the one decoration, as is that of tragic foreboding in the other.

Gatley could never have foreseen that the future times his ancient masterpieces would be so appreciated by the many passers- by and the visitors to the modern settings of Craigentinny Crescent or that the themes contained therein would be so appropriate to the results achieved by and sporting experiences of the ordinary club bowlers!  William Henry Miller to would be well satisfied with the way his beloved Craigentiny estate has been developed to provide such a pleasant residential area, with our Bowling Club contributing much to relaxation and enjoyment of many of those fortunate to live in the shadow of the “Craigentinny Marbels”.

Image By BlackpuddinonnabikeOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0,