12 legendary Scots who shaped London in ways you never knew

Scottish people – we salute you!

The Scottish population of London falls into two camps.

There are those who are proud of their Scottish heritage but have embraced London and would happily put down roots here, if they haven’t already.

And there are those who never stop being spiritually Scottish, fuelled by whisky and Irn Bru, always yearning for the motherland, and who, if you cut them open, would have the Saltire running through them like a stick of rock.

No matter which group they find themselves in, the millions of Scots who live and have lived in London over the centuries have helped create the city we know and love.

Below you’ll find 12 Scots - some well-known, some not so - who changed our city for the better. Thanks pals!

1.       Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Arthur Conan Doyle

The writer, who created Sherlock Holmes, filled his novels with fluid descriptions of London’s streets and landmarks, which have become a huge draw for many tourists visiting the city.

However, not many people know he was also a great advocate of justice, personally investigating closed cases. It was partly due to a miscarriage of justice which Doyle investigated that the Court of Criminal Appeal was started. The modern-day court is at the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand.

2.       Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown smooth

The controversial PM is among eight Prime Ministers who either represented a Scottish constituency or were Scottish by birth.

While some people blame Brown for the most recent recession, many of his policies during his stint as the longest-serving Chancellor are credited for economically boosting London. These include making the Bank of England independent, changing the inflation measure from the Retail Prices Index to the Consumer Prices Index, reducing corporation tax and keeping the UK out of the Euro.

All these contributed to London’s strong growth during the noughties, and, many argue, its resilience when the recession came.

3.       John Rennie the Elder

Unless you’re an engineer or architect you may not have heard of John Rennie the Elder, and indeed, not much of his work remains in modern London. However, born in the 1700s, he designed many of the city’s bridges, including Waterloo Bridge, Southwark Bridge and London Bridge, and many docks, such as London Docks, East and West India Docks and Blackwall Docks. These all went on to be rebuilt or built over but they laid the foundations for the London we recognise today.

You can still see his work at Ruislip Lido in Hillingdon.

4.       Adam Smith

Adam Smith

The £20 features the profile of Adam Smith

Moral philosopher and economist Adam Smith was one of the key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment – a period which provided many of the UK’s greatest philosophical and economical thinkers. Smith became a symbol of free market economics and was the inspiration for London’s Adam Smith Institute, which was the driving force behind many of the Thatcher government’s privatisation. Some of the think tank’s policies were also used by successive Major and Blair governments. Smith is also the first Scot to appear on an English banknote – you’ll find him on the back of the £20 note.

5.       Elsie Inglis

Doctor and suffragette Elsie Inglis was one of the pioneers of specialist medical care for women.

She worked at the New Hospital for Women and, as a philanthropist, she often waived patient fees owed to her. Winston Churchill said Inglis, who eventually moved back to Scotland, and her nurses “will shine in history”.

6.       John McAdam

In the 18th century, engineer and road builder McAdam invented a new process, “macadamisation”, for building roads with a hard surface and camber – not too dissimilar from the roads we currently use. Although he lived in Hertfordshire, he revolutionised London’s roads and was reputedly offered a knighthood, which he declined.

7.       Kirkpatrick Macmillan

You might not recognise the name but blacksmith Macmillan is widely credited with being the inventor of the modern pedal-driven bicycle.

Macmillan allegedly made one out of wood in 1839, and was reported to have knocked a pedestrian down on it in 1842. It’s said his design was copied by others and distributed, which is why many people don’t know who the true inventor was.

Whether he was the original inventor of the bicycle is disputed but it’s likely that without him, we wouldn’t see Boris Bikes racing around London.

8.       JM Barrie

Peter Pan statue Kensington Park

The Peter Pan statue in Kensington Park

Barrie is best known as the creator of Peter Pan, of which there is a statue in Kensington Gardens. He wrote a string of successful plays which were performed in London, and even told stories to the young Queen and her sister Margaret. However, his lasting legacy was that he gave the copyright of the Peter Pan books to Great Ormond Street Hospital, which still benefits from them.

9.       Mary Queen of Scots

The famous Scottish Queen, who was the inspiration behind the name of the Bloody Mary cocktail, has long fascinated Brits and tourists alike. The Tudor period of history is one of our most popular periods of history, with people flocking to see places from this captivating time.

Just like other well-known Tudors such as Henry VIII, she made her mark on London, including the ornate Mary Queen of Scots House on Fleet Street, built in 1905, and she’s buried in Westminster Abbey.

10.   William Paterson

A Scot devised the Bank of England. Ah bet ye didnae know that, did ye?

Trader and banker Paterson founded the Bank of England in 1694 and later became instrumental bringing together England and Scotland in 1707. So now all you former “Yes” campaigners know who to blame.

11.   John McAslan

King's Cross station

McAslan is a modern-day architect who has designed or developed a large number of London’s buildings, including the Roundhouse, the Royal Academy of Music and, most notably, King’s Cross station.

12.   JK Rowling


Harry Potter fan

A Harry Potter fan in central London

The author best known, of course, for the Harry Potter series, is only a quarter Scottish but has spent a large portion of her life in Edinburgh where she wrote her world-renowned novels and still lives.

However, her books and the subsequent films have inspired a younger generation of tourists to come to London and see parts of the capital they’ve read about. In fact, the city is home to countless Harry Potter-themed walking tours, bus tours, shops, film locations, the studio tour and of course the infamous Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross station.

Is there a Scot you think should be on the list? Tell us in the comments below or on Twitter or Facebook.


10 best places to celebrate Burns Night in London on Saturday

Social Bookmarks