The Mylne family of Dundee deserves some recognition with regards to the History of Freemasonry, this family provided successive, Master Masons to the Crown of Scotland. The Mylne family also figure large throughout the History of Dundee from the 16th to the 18th centuries.
Local Dundee brethren will be aware of the present Crop research institution at 'Mylnefield', just outside Invergowrie (now called the James Hutton Institute). This place took its name from the family of Mylne (variously described in the Dundee Archive records as Miln, Myln, Milne, even Mill). The Milne family occupied a good position in Dundee and the neighbourhood, being, merchants, masons, and of course burgesses of the town, they possessed property in the burgh, also the lands of Gotterstone and Milton of Graigie, they also owned the stone Quarry at Kingoodie on the banks of the Tay, outside Invergowrie.
The early burgh accounts mention a Robert Milne who in 1522 was charged for disturbing a 'Wapinshaw' (when men had to assemble with their weapons for inspection), at that time he is recorded as being Town Treasurer (during various years from 1521 to 1530), listed as Dean of Guild for 1535, he was then appointed provost from 1544-48. These were also the years of great upheavals in Scottish History the period of the Reformation when Dundee was a hotbed of Presbyterianism, later referred to as the 'Second Geneva'. We also find that Robert Mylne was involved with the great preacher George Wishart (mentor to John Knox), Mylne was involved when George Wishart visited the town in 1544, during a devastating plague that had ravished the town, Wishart is said to have ascended a parapet on the town wall and preached to the plague victims outside and citizens inside, "denouncing the errors of the papacy".
At his instigation, Robert Mill (Mylne), one of the magistrates of the town, one day at the close of his sermon, gave the preacher a charge, in the name of the Queen-Regent, to leave the town, and trouble the people no more with his preaching. He was being hotly pursued by Cardinal Beaton and the then Regent of Scotland The Earl of Arran, Wishart however had many friends in Dundee and it was probably due to their help that he escaped their clutches, however Wishart came to terrible end, in 1546, on the orders of Cardinal Beaton he was seized by the Earl of Bothwell and handed over for execution by burning at Beaton's Castle of St Andrews.
Robert Mylne died somewhere between 1549 and 1552, he could have been the grandfather of John Milne who was the builder of the first Perth Bridge.
The Kingoodie Quarry is on the north shore of the Tay, just outside Invergowrie, it had been in use for many centuries and was purchased by Robert Mylne in 1537. From the records we also learn that in 1539 Robert Myln was providing stone from the quarry at Kingoodie for the building of the royal palace at Stirling Castle, 'the building materials for the use of the King's workmen were largely furnished by Robert Mylne, Burgess and Provost of Dundee', mention in the records of wood shipped from Norway, also Robert providing 'Oak Joists and oak timber', and GOOD STONE FROM KINGUDY, stone costing 18s 6d was used for the 'stone pavement' at Stirling Castle. This stone was also used for Falkland Palace. In 1537 mention is made of Kingudy stone being transported by ship to 'Lindores Haven' (at Newburgh) for transport to Falkland
Records show that in earlier years stone, from the Quarry (before Mylne bought it) also went for the building of the Steeple and Parish Church of Dundee and for Castle Huntly outside Longforgan. During the 17th Century the stone from the quarry was also used for the tower of the tollbooth at Aberdeen, the many sundials that the Mylnes built across Scotland during 1600 to 1640 came from Kingoodie, including the one at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The stone from the quarry was of a bluish colour, very hard and durable, scarcely affected by the weather, able to take a fine polish but very hard and difficult to chisel. The Quarry was discontinued in the 19th Century, it is now filled with water and is a wildlife sanctuary.
Another event which was affecting Scotland and in particular the Dundee area was a period called the Rough Wooing, (1543-1550) and attempt by Henry VIII of England to marry his young son Edward to the infant Mary Queen of Scots. This 'wooing' was continued even after Henry's death in 1547. The Duke of Somerset, protector of England led a large army and fleet up to Scotland. On the 10th September 1547 Somerset defeated the Scots Army at the fateful Battle of Pinkie. The English also sent a fleet into the River Tay, Broughty Castle was captured and from this base and their nearby fort of Balgillo, the English along with their German and even Spanish mercenaries subjected Dundee to frequent occupations, bombardments by their ships and raids into the town, burning buildings and killing citizens. For a period Dundee was abandoned by its citizens as war raged around it. Broughty Castle was recaptured in 1550, and along with Dundee was occupied by French Forces of the Queen Regent, Mary of Guise for about 5 years.
The Dundee in which the Mylnes lived and worked, was an important, busy and populous town. In the context of Scotland, Dundee was second only in size and importance to Edinburgh and had a busy harbour and port. Dundee had a Mason Lodge, first mentioned in 1536 as ‘Our Lady Luge of Dundee’. This is one of the earliest Masonic records still existing in the Dundee Archives - a contract between the Town of Dundee and George Boiss, mason, to work of the Kirk of Dundee, this document mentions "the standards of old use and customs of our Lady Lodge of Dundee as performed in times past." This is the first mention in Scotland of a Lodge being named after a Saint - St Mary. The document is an excellent source of information regarding the working conditions of masons and their apprentices in the early 16th Century.
Along with the great church of St Mary and the largest parish church steeple in the whole of Scotland, Dundee also had many religious stone built buildings, the monasteries of the Black Friars, Grey Friars and Red Friars, a Franciscan convent, and stone buildings for the local lairds, merchants and shipmasters, plenty of work for masons. Mention is made in Maxwell's pre-reformation History of Dundee, for 1560, of the Mason Lodge 'That there were no houses along the north-side of Our Lady Gait in front of the churches, except at its west end where stood the ‘MASON LODGE’ – this narrow street once extended from the south end of Lindsay Street to the High street, all now long gone.
Reference is made in 1581 to ‘Ye Mason Ludge’, a building situated on the South side of the kirkyard. Reference is made to ground rents that were raised by the Burgh Treasurer, and “the Council appointed the haill feu-mails and annual rents in the kirkyard to appertene to the kirkwark, and ordained the kirkmaster to collect them and insert them in his rental, quhairwith he shall be chargit in his compts.” The rental roll from 1581 show the Mason Lodge paid an annual feu of sixteen shillings Scots.
The period of the Reformation may have caused the renaming of the Lodge from its pre-Reformation Catholic name of ‘Our Lady’ to simply that of the Mason Lodge of Dundee, or just the Lodge of Dundee.
There is, in the Dundee Archives an old charter of 1592, given by King James VI and gives permission to the Masons, Wrights and Slaters of Dundee to elect a deacon to preside over them.
Witness Ye that We have given and granted, and by these Our Letters have given and granted liberty, freedom and full power to all masons, wrights, [dykers?] slaters, and other craftsmen that work by square rule, line or compass under the art of geometry, who are dwelling and resident within the Burgh of Dundee;
To elect and choose yearly at Michaelmas [29th September], their own Deacon of Craft, and to hold their courts and assemblies by themselves, for good order in anything concerning their craft, similarly and as freely in all respects and conditions as any other craft exerts within our Burgh of Edinburgh.
Given under Our Privy Seal at Holyroodhouse, 6 March 1591/2 (before 1600 the Scottish New Year started on Lady Day/Annunciation on 25 March. Although the document is dated 1591 it would be 1592 by present reckoning], in the twenty-fifth year of Our Reign.
The Lodge of Dundee is mentioned in the 1628 charter or letter to Sir William Sinclair with Robert Strachone along with Andrew West and David Quhyite (Whyte) - maisters in Dundee.
Also John Mylne (the younger) is mentioned as the main petitioner for another Royal charter for the masons in Dundee (Convention of Royal Burghs, 10th July 1629)
he John Mylne, mason, mentioned as the builder of 1617 bridge at Perth was born in Dundee (year unknown) became a Dundee burgess in about 1582, as to his relationship to Robert Mylne the Dundee Provost is not really clear, he may have been a grandson or nephew, but he appears in the 1580's, mentioned as being involved with the Dundee Harbour works and stone pier in 1580, also for the design and carving of the existing Market Cross in Dundee first erected in 1582, and which is now in front of the city churches.
In 1587 he is mentioned as being contracted along with George Thomson to Build Lord Bannatyne's house at Newtyle, of which some parts still exist. In 1584 mention is made of 'John Myllne, King's Master Measson for the building of Drum House, at Gilmerton, later replaced by a William Adam mansion in 1726-34.
The Burgh Accounts of Dundee mention that he held a plot of land in the Wellgate of Dundee in 1584. The Dundee Treasurer's accounts mention some works of John Mylne, from 1602 to 1603, work on the turnpike stair and lintel in the Dundee Tollbooth for which he was paid £9 Scots, also work on the school and Master's chambers £23, also interesting from these accounts is a disbursement of 2 shillings and 8 pence for the 'vricht and the measons drink....'.
By 1599 he was now also engaged at Perth for the building of a stone bridge of eleven arches across the River Tay. John Mylne's name disappears from the Dundee records from about 1604. This John Mylne died early in 1621 and is buried in the Greyfriars Churchyard in Perth. His bridge was destroyed later that same year.
John Mylne, son to the John who built the first Perth Bridge continues in the family line as a mason. In 1616 he was engaged by King James VI (1st of England) for a statue in Edinburgh, he does not seem to like life in Edinburgh and returns to Dundee where he is engaged in other works around the town. In 1623, the town of Aberdeen engage John Milne, Mason in Dundee, in part payment for ashlar stone, worked to design and to be delivered from 'Kingoodie Quarry' for the Steeple of the 'Tollbooth at Aberdeen'. In 1630 he was involved in additions to Drummond castle, then in 1633 he is assisted by his two sons, John and Alexander to work the sundial at Holyrood Palace and was paid £408 15s 6d Scots. In 1631 he is appointed principle Master Mason in Scotland for Charles I, but resigns in 1636 in favour of his son John (junior). He still continues as Master of the Lodge of Scone and Perth
During 1643-44 he was working on the Steeple of the Town Hall in Dundee "the Council having looked to their defences, concludit that the turne-pyk upon the steeple be presently repaired – and that with stone-work; and for that effect they gave commission to the Bailies and the treasurer to agree with John Mylne, master-mason; and instructed them to report next Council day.”
In 1644 the Council was busy fortifying the town and the defensive walls. Among other edicts it declared “that William Long, cordiner, his house, shall be taken down and the stanes applied to the building of the dyke, and he to have one hundred pounds therefor; but it was found necessary to have a practical man in charge, and the Council desired John Mylne, master mason – who had been erecting the turnpike on the steeple – to remain in town to attend the common works, and promised to acknowledge him for his pains.” Under his direction an alteration was designed in the character of the defences, and it was resolved not only “that the work already founded to be perfected,” but also “that the fortifications shall be prosecute to the westward be casting ane ditch close amongst the dykes lying to the south of the town’s lead, and of casting the ditch that the bounds be divided according to the number of the inhabitants of the four quarters” – so that the work of the digging it should come equally upon all. “and power was given to John Mylne to oversee the same, and to tak order with the clouse, and he to have, during his attendance at the town’s works, eight merks weekly.”
The line of this ditch would be where South Ward Road is now, and where the towns lade still runs. The clouse, or sluice, which commanded the supply of water, was at the dam westward in the valley where Brown Street crosses.
The plan which John Mylne was carrying out did not, however, meet with general approval, and “ane petition was presented be several inhabitants concerning the ditches, quhairof the tenor follows: -
“To your worships humblie means and shaws we for ourselves, and in name and on behalf of many other weill affected neighbours within the burgh – That quhair we are informed your worships, upon information of some Men of knowledge and judgement, did resolve that the ditch be casten alongs the lead running in the northward of Argylesgait, yet we, for Ourselves and in name foresaid, being most confident that your Worship’s resolution was grounded upon” there being a “want of faill and other materials to answer the fortifications already founded, out of our zeal to the public service, and particular affection to the burgh, hes resolved upon our moyen and expenses to cast the ditch according to the line and draught done be Henry Young, engineer, quhich, we conceive, will be the most behoveful to the town, and speedily effectuat. Quhairfor we entreat that our good intentions may be taken in good pairt, and our resolutions countenanced and have your worships’ concurrence, and that present course may be taken with all heritors who shall be interest.
For putting the old tower in order. The bailies declared that having upliftit from the brewers of ale within the burgh two hundred dollars, they had resolved to employ the same upon two rounds to be built upon the steeple, and had for that effect agreeit with John Mylne to give him eight hundred merks for the same, for the quhilk he was to furnish all necessaries, scaffolding, and all except iron work; and for the ground and the sole of these rounds, the said John would refer himself to the Council’s discretion. And John compeired, and acknowledged the haill particulars, and acted himself for the performance of the same at the fardest before the second day of Februar, 1645.
The work on the town's defences was not completed before the attack on the town by James Graham, Marquis of Montrose in April of 1645 who took possession of the Church and market place and set fire to the town in several places.
John Mylne is again involved with the defences of the town in 1650, once again the town council is worried about the defences against invasion, this is the period of the English Civil War and because Scotland had now backed the new king Charles II, Cromwell had headed an army into Scotland pursuing the new King. The Town of Dundee requested John Mylne to survey certain houses outside in the Wellgate, Cowgate and outside the Seagate ports, for demolishing to improve the defences and to estimate how much they are worth. Cromwell defeated the Scots army at Dunbar in September 1650, took Edinburgh at the end of the year, and then his army under the command of General Monck took Stirling in August 1651 and Dundee on the 1st September 1651. Dundee was the last great walled town in Scotland to fall to the Parliamentary troops.
This John Mylne died in 1658. His other son, Alexander, became a sculptor, but died in 1644 aged 30, He, Alexander was admitted to the Edinburgh Lodge in 1635, became burgess in 1643, but died suddenly of the plague and is buried at the North Wall of the North Transept of the ruined Abbey of Holyrood.
Although the creative branch of the Mylne Family, the Masters to the Crown and the future architects, had now moved out of Dundee, to Edinburgh and beyond, the family still had a presence in the town, in February 1663, John Mylne (III) visited Dundee and along with other important local lairds stood godfather to his nephew, another John, son of Alexander Mylne, minister in Dundee (John III's cousin), also in 1670 John Mylne (III) entered an agreement with George, Earl of Panmure to build his great house of Panmure, to the south of Monikie, however he did not finish the building as he died in December 1667. The great house of Panmure was demolished by explosives in 1955.
The estate of Mylnfield was held by the Thomas Mylne until 1830's, the first mansion house was burned down in the 'meal riots' in 1772. The estate and third mansion house, along with its resident ghost finally passed out of the Mylne family in late 19th century. The estate became the crop research establishment in about 1953.
In most Masons memories the name of William Shaw stands out as the most famous 'Master of Works to the Crown' however the Mylne family, were over many generations Master Masons to the Crown of Scotland and from the 16th to the 19th centuries made a big mark on the architecture of Scotland.
The Master Masons to the Crown of Scotland and their works - R.S. Mylne
Maxwell's History of Dundee prior to the Reformation
Burgess Records of Dundee - Friends of Dundee City Archives
The History of Dundee 1774.
Innes Duffus, Archivist to the Nine Trades of Dundee
©Research by Iain D. McIntosh, 2014
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