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Corstorphine retains a busy main street with many independent small shops, although a number have closed in recent years since the opening of several retail parks to the west of Edinburgh, especially the Gyle Centre. Traffic on the main street, St John's Road, is often heavy, as it forms part of the A8 main road between Edinburgh and Glasgow. The actual "High Street" itself is no longer the main street, an idiosyncrasy shared with central Edinburgh.
Famous residents include Helen Cruickshank, an author. Corstorphine is also mentioned in the novels of Robert Louis Stevenson, and is the birthplace of Alexander Thomson, a writer and publisher on Bible translation.
The area was once served by Corstorphine railway station which provided direct trains to Edinburgh Waverley. It closed on Saturday 30 December 1967. A cycle track runs along the route of the former railway line.
Edinburgh Zoo is situated to the east of Corstorphine, and is the area's largest and most popular tourist attraction.
There are a number of local shops mostly located on St. Johns Road and also two convenience supermarket stores of Sainsbury's and Scotmid, located at the bottom of Corstorphine hill (Clermiston Road)
Corstorphine has one of Scotland's best-preserved late medieval parish churches, the Collegiate Church of St. John the Baptist, with a short tower and spire and several well-preserved stone effigies of the local noble family, the Forresters of Corstorphine.
In the area is Corstorphine Primary School, a state school catering for children between typically 5 and 12 years of age. There are also two other state primary schools on the edge of Corstorphine next to Corstorphine hill, Fox Covert Primary School and Fox Covert Roman Catholic Primary School. The state secondary school that serves the area is Craigmount High School which is situated between Corstorphine and East Craigs and the nearest Roman Catholic secondary school is St Augustine's High School.
Several suggestions have been made for the origin of the name. The earliest known version of the name is Crostorfin, which dates from around 1128. One widely accepted derivation is 'Cross of Torphin', from Scottish Gaelic crois (cross) and Torfin, grandson of Malcolm II, or Torphin, an archdeacon of Lothian, said to have built a cross at this spot. A different interpretation of the same elements gives 'Torphin's crossing'. An alternative derivation is 'cross of the fair hill' from Scottish Gaelic crois, torr (hill), fionn (fair). Folk etymology derived the name from the French croix d'or fin, and tradition had it that a 'cross of fine gold' was presented to the church by a Norman baron.
Old Corstorphine stood on a piece of dry land, between two lochs – the Gogar Loch and Corstorphine Loch (both now drained).
The first noticed proprietors of Corstorphine were David le Mareschall, in the reign of Alexander II, and Thomas le Mareschall and William de la Roche, whose names occur in Ragman Rolls of 1296. That estate stayed in the possession of the families of Thomas le Mareschall and William de la Roche until the reign of David II, when it was forfeited by David le Mareschall, and given by the King to Malcolm Ramsay. It was next held by William More of Abercorne, who left it to his brother, Gilchrist More, by whom it was sold to Adam Forester.
A principal family in the area were the Lords Forresters, whose name has been given to several streets, and whose large house can still be seen on Corstorphine High Street. Their main home, Corstorphine Castle, a 14th-century stronghold, was in ruins by the end of the 18th century and does not exist today. The only remnant of the castle is the 16th century doocot ( ) which stands alongside Dovecot Road, and a commemoration in a street name, Castle Avenue.
The lands and Barony of Corstorphine have long been associated with the Forrester family. The first firm link with Corstorphine comes with Adam Forrester a wealthy burgess of Edinburgh in the 1360s when he begins to acquire land in the vicinity.
Between 1374 and 1377 King Robert II confirmed Adam Forester, a burgess of Edinburgh, in the lands of the Lordship of Corstorphine, which had previously been owned by William More of Abercorn. Forrester founded a chapel dedicated to St. John the Baptist, connected to the parish church of Corstorphine.
Sir John Forrester of Corstorphine, who succeeded his father upon his death, was granted various lands, mostly in West Lothian, in 1426 which were united into the barony of Liberton. In Perth on 4 February 1431 James I confirmed him in the house and lands of Corstorphine which would be thereafter known as the Barony of Corstorphine. He likely founded the collegiate kirk of Corstorphine in 1429, which forms part of today's parish kirk. Sir John is thought to have died in 1448 and was buried in Corstorphine Kirk where recumbent effigies of him and one of his wives survive. He had four children: John, Henry, Elizabeth, and Janet.
William Dunbar mentions a poet Roull of Corstorphin in his Lament for the Makaris c.1505. Little else is known of this poet, though one poem by him may be extant. Stewart Conn, Edinburgh's first appointed Makar, has celebrated Roull's memory in his volume Ghosts at Cockcrow.
The title then fell to his eldest son John, who is believed to have been more of a soldier than a civil servant. In 1443 he was with the Earl of Douglas when he destroyed Barnton castle, a stronghold of the Crichtons. As a direct consequence Forrester's house at Corstorphine was razed. He died in 1454 and was buried in Corstorphine Kirk where his tomb can still be seen.
James Forrester of Corstorphine (son of the previously mentioned James Forrester), husband of Janet Lauder, was confirmed by Mary, Queen of Scots, on 5 February 1556 in the Barony of Corstorphine. In 1577 Sir James presented the parish kirk with a bell for its steeple. This bell still survives, although it was renewed in 1728.
On 22 October 1599 Henry Forrester of Corstorphine sold various lands within the parishes of Corstorphine and St Cuthbert's. Henry died sometime around 1615 and his eldest son George became laird. James VI had already confirmed George Forrester, son and heir apparent of Henry Forrester of Corstorphine and his wife Christine Livingstone in various properties in the barony of Corstorphine, on 15 November 1607.
At Holyrood House on 30 July 1618 James VI & I confirmed Sir George Forrester of Corstorphine in the lands and barony of Corstorphine. On 22 July 1633 he was created Lord Forrester of Corstorphine by Charles I. Lord Forrester had no sons, so resigned most of his properties, including Corstorphine, in favour of James Baillie.
During the mid-seventeenth century the family seems to have experienced some financial problems which resulted in lands being temporarily out of their control. On 3 August 1663 the lands and Barony of Corstorphine, except for the castle of Corstorphine and the town of Corstorphine, was granted to Sir John Gilmour. Oliver Cromwell had granted Laurence Scott of Bavelaw and his wife Katherine Binning, the lands, Lordship and Barony of Corstorphine, tower, manor-place, mills, mill-lands, parsonage etc., in lieu of the money due by James, Lord Forrester, to Beatrix Ramsay in Corstorphine who had assigned the debt to the said Laurence Scott, 1654. On the 5 August 1664 the lands, Lordship and Barony of Corstorphine formerly belonging to James, Lord Forrester, and his brother German William Baillie which had been taken in lieu of debt, were granted to Florentius Gardner, baillie of Grangepans.
On 10 May 1666, land was similarly granted to John Boyd, merchant burgess of Edinburgh. The Forresters reacquired a lot of their lands around Corstorphine within a short period.
James Baillie's first wife Johanna died early. He then married Janet Ruthven, daughter of the Earl of Forth. This latest Lord Forrester was a man of dubious morals and seduced his niece, the wife of an Edinburgh burgess James Nimmo. She, however, later quarrelled with Forrester and stabbed him to death in his garden at Corstorphine on 26 August 1679. Mrs. Nimmo was later executed at the Cross of Edinburgh for the murder. The titles then fell to William, the son of his brother William Baillie and his wife Lillias, daughter of the first Lord Forrester.
In 1698, the estate of Corstorphine was sold to Hugh Wallace of Ingliston, a Writer to the Signet. He later, in 1713, sold it to Sir James Dick of Prestonfield, in whose family it remained until 1869. (The Dicks were a prominent family of lawyers and merchants in Edinburgh. Sir James Dick (1643–1728) was a merchant and baillie of Edinburgh and also served as Dean of Guild and later Lord Provost.)
The Register of the Great Seal records the transfer of the lands and Barony of Corstorphine to Sir James Dick on 2 June 1713.
Unlike some other areas of Edinburgh, Corstorphine escaped widespread industrialisation in the 19th Century. It only really started to become absorbed into the Edinburgh urban area within the mid twentieth. But even before then there was a changeover into a middle class dormitory area for Edinburgh workers. By the late twentieth century, Corstorphine had an aging demographic. In 1961, Queen Margaret College (now QMU) obtained land up on the edge of Corstorphine next to Clermiston, and set up a campus there. This was closed in 2007, when they moved all their facilities out to Musselburgh.
Before Edinburgh's roads were improved, Corstorphine was a major route from central Edinburgh over to Glasgow (hence the name "Glasgow Road" in the west of Corstorphine). However, Corstorphine has failed to integrate its retail sector, and by building a large retail park, many of its small businesses have fallen by the wayside, and been mostly replaced by charity shops.
The local football club is Beechwood FC who play at Gyle Park pitches and at Tall Oaks. These are two of a number of football grounds in the area and there is also a tennis centre at St.Margaret's Park.
RH Corstorphine Cricket Club play home games at the Royal High School in Davidson's Mains.
There are also two golf clubs based at Carrick Knowe nearby, and also another over on the other side of Corstorphine Hill. Corstorphine Golf Club (now defunct) was founded in 1902. The club and course disappeared in the late 1920s. The area once occupied by the course now forms part of Edinburgh Zoo.