A Well Kent Face.
As we venture out over the summer months, a trip to Prince Street may result in a visit to see the beautiful floral clock in the gardens. Appearing annually, taking 5 weeks to create and using up to 40,000 plants, you could say the clock is the most well-known face in town. It’s a recognisable attraction known the world over, but you may rightly ask, what has that got to do with Saughton Park?
The answer to that is a gentleman named John Wilson McHattie.
As Superintendent of Edinburgh Parks and Gardens from 1901 – 1923. Mr McHattie, along with James Ritchie, created the first clock planted in Princes Street gardens in 1903.
It was also while in this role that Mr McHattie was responsible for transforming the grounds surrounding Saughtonhall mansion house into a public park and recreation facility. This was no mean feat as the grounds had been recently occupied by the many exhibits and buildings in situ for the Scottish National Exhibition of 1908.
It would be reasonable to say that Mr McHattie is perhaps a lesser known, but no less noteworthy face than that of the floral clock!
Saughton Park Opens
The contribution of Mr McHattie was recognised at the Saughton Park opening ceremony in June 1910. An account of the event from The Gardeners’ Chronicle dated the 18th of that month gives us an insight into the ceremony, which was reported to have taken place in front of many thousands of people.
The extract describes the grounds as presenting a fine sight on the opening day with the bright beds of flowers combining with the foliage of the shrubs and trees. The horticultural aspects of the mansion house had been retained, but several new additions had been made such as the Rock garden and American garden, while it was noted the Rose Garden would add immensely to the enjoyment of the public.
‘The horticultural features are excellent, and others which are planned will make this one of the most attractive public parks in Edinburgh.’
The Gardeners' Chronicle, June 1910.
Bailie Inches, the convener of the Parks Committee paid a ‘well merited tribute to the work of Mr M'Hattie’. The Lord Provost conveyed his appreciation of the work of the Parks Department, and he noted that ‘…even more parks and green spaces would be needed in the future.’
A Fitting Tribute.
In 1923 Mr McHattie passed away while still in post after 22 years as the city’s well-liked head gardener. Not only had Mr McHattie been a keen horticulturalist, winning several prizes through the years, he was also renowned for his scientific knowledge of gardening and the part he played in providing facilities for outdoor recreation in Edinburgh. The park we know and love today owes much to his talent and foresight.
For this reason, the largest room in the former stable block of Saughtonhall mansion house will be dedicated to Mr McHattie and named the McHattie Room.
The stable block is currently undergoing renovation as part of the wider restoration project, but when complete the McHattie Room will be used as a community space for events, seminars, talks, classes and our very own Friends of Saughton Park meetings.
It’s a fitting tribute to a man who was played such an important part in the origins of Saughton Park and in promoting the benefits of recreation and green space in Edinburgh as a whole.
Stories from the park’s long history just like this one are being brought to life through the work of the Friends 'Stones and Stories' History group and as we see here, its wonderful past has been one of the guiding forces of the current restoration project.
This ensures past and the present are woven together to make for a very exciting future for the community and its park!
Thanks to the following for the information in this post: