Gladstone's Land, Royal Mile, Edinburgh
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: The early 17th century Painted Chamber
A relic of Edinburgh's past, Gladstone's Land is a six-storey tenement house on Lawnmarket, part of the Royal Mile, a short stroll from Edinburgh Castle to the east and St Giles Cathedral to the west. The earliest record of a building on what is now Gladstone's Land comes from 1501. It was one of numerous 'lands'; narrow strips of ground extending 100 metres back from the street. A house was built around 1550 and contained a shop and merchant's dwelling on the bottom two floors, with the top 4 floors rented out in what was in essence a 16th century high-rise catering to a variety of social classes.
Due to overcrowding in Edinburgh's Old Town the building had a very narrow frontage, so it could only be extended upwards and to the rear.
The mid-16th century house takes its name from Thomas Gledstanes, a wealthy merchant and burgess of Edinburgh, who bought the property in 1617. Gledstanes redeveloped the building to create a comfortable residence for himself and his family above and behind his shop premises fronting onto Lawnmarket. The Gledstanes may have initially lived in the third floor apartment, where the figure of a hawk, or 'gled' appears on the painted ceiling on top of a stone, or 'stane'; a visual pun on the family name of Gledstanes.
Thomas Gledstane may have overextended his finances in rebuilding the tenement, so he was forced to let the top apartments to other residents as diverse as a minister, a knight, another merchant, and a guild officer. Gledstane's rebuilding almost doubled the usable space of the 'foreland', or front building, by extending 7 metres forward into Lawnmarket. The extension used large stone arcades on the ground floor to support large chambers on the upper floors and enclose a pair of shops. At the base of the crow-stepped gables are the initials TG and BC for Thomas Gledstanes and his wife, Bessie Cunningham.
By the late 18th century the wealthy merchants of Old Town left in favour of the elegant Georgian squares of New Town, and like many of its neighbours Gladstone's Land was neglected and fell into disrepair. The once-prosperous Lawnmarket became run-down. In 1895 the 'backland' running away from Lawnmarket was torn down.
By 1934 Gladstone's Land was falling to pieces. The building was scheduled for demolition, when the National Trust for Scotland stepped in. The Trust purchased the property and set about restoring the lower two floors. It was during this process that the exquisitely detailed painted ceilings were uncovered. The Trust tried to replicate 17th century life, with open fires and period furnishings. The Trust later converted the second floor apartments to create Gladstone's Gallery, which serves as a venue during the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival and is let to artists during the year.
The ground floor has an arcade to offer protection for customers accessing the shop. To the left of the arcaded shop is a curving stair with iron railings, leading to a turnpike stair that gives access to the upper floors. Under the 'fore stair' was a livestock pen, usually used for keeping pigs, which was allowed to forage for food along the street.
The most distinctive feature of Gladstone's Land is a gilt-copper hawk suspended over the entrance. The gilded hawk is not original, but refers to the old Scots term 'gled', for a hawk.
If you study the front of the building you will notice that only the top half of the windows are glazed, while the bottom is covered with wood panels. This is an original feature, for Gledstanes considered glass too expensive to use in the entire window, so he only ordered enough panes to fit in the upper half of each window opening.
Your visit begins in the Cloth Booth on the ground floor. This is Edinburgh's only surviving example of a 17th century 'luckenbooth', or lockable shop. John Riddoch, who rented the third floor accommodation from Thomas Gledstanes, operated a cloth shop here, and also ran a tavern in the cellar below. Upstairs is the Little Chamber, created in the late 16th century and rented by Gledstanes to Sir James Crichton of Frendraught, who used it as a study. Look for the Darien Company Press, used for safekeeping the records of the Darien Company, whose premises were in the neighbouring property of Mylnes Court.
The most interesting room is The Painted Chamber, built by Gledstanes as part of his extension to the property in 1620. The curved ceiling is magnificently painted with colourful scenes depicting animals, flowers, and fruit. The walls are painted with friezes showing vases of flowers under rounded arches. The effect is simply stunning, and really brings to life the world of a prosperous 17th century merchant. The centrepiece of this room is a 17th century four-poster bed decorated with intricate marquetry designs. The bed hangings are modern reproductions of 17th century embroidery designs.
The doorway is made with curved timbers that may have come from a ship, and you can see oyster shells embedded in the building mortar.
By contrast with the Painted Chamber the Green Room is decorated in the mid-Georgian style, with wooden panelling and sash windows. On the walls are portraits by famed Scottish artists Allan Ramsay, William Mossman, and Sir Godfrey Kneller. Over the fireplace is a painted panel by James Norie, an Edinburgh artist and close associate of architect William Adam.
One final room is The Shop, used as a back room for the working-man's pub next door. The room was used by the Robbie Burns Bar darts team, who must have had some bad habits, for a worn sign on the wall pleads with patrons not to steal bar glasses.
Our family were fortunate enough to stay for a long weekend in the National Trust for Scotland apartment on the top floor. The apartment offers modern conveniences but you can still see exposed stonework and timber-framing.
About Gladstone's Land
Address: 477b Lawnmarket, Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Lothian, Scotland, EH1 2NT
Attraction Type: Historic Building
Location: On the Royal Mile, easily reached on foot from Edinburgh Castle and St Giles Cathedral. No parking nearby.
Website: Gladstone's Land
National Trust for Scotland
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
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