The Georgian House – Charlotte Square – Edinburgh
Little did I realise that my last adventure for a while would be Edinburgh in the February half term. Having been a regular visit to the city since my early 20’s, I hadn’t been since William was born in 2014. But once I stepped off the train at Waverley Station it was like I had never been away. This is one of my favourite cities to visit and you can go for a long weekend, or a whole week and never be bored. There are so many places to write about but this blog is about the wonderful Georgian House, run by the National Trust for Scotland in New Town.
The Georgian House is a little historic haven in the middle of New Town. If you want to escape the noise and people of Princes Street or even The Royal Mile and disappear into another world, then a morning or afternoon spent here is well worth it. You can easily see the house in a couple of hours or less if you need to do a whistle stop tour. Only a 5 minute walk from Princes Street it is easy to find and situated in Charlotte Square.
I love Georgian architecture – and when I win the lottery a Georgian house will be the first thing I buy. I love the voluminous entrance halls, the grand stairs, the high ceilings and spacious rooms. There is something satisfying in the well ordered nature of the houses, their facades and the layout inside. The square was designed by the illustrious Scottish architect, Robert Adam, and was one of the last projects he worked on before he died. Adams design was for a palatial frontage, whereby the individual houses are masked and instead you feel like you are standing outside one grand palace.
The Georgian House offers a glimpse into the lives of a family living in late 18th century Edinburgh.
We went first thing on a Sunday morning after a sumptuous breakfast at the wonderful The Refinery. The Georgian House opens at 11am in the winter months and from 10am in the summer months, so plenty of time to get breakfast first. (See website for full opening hours) Apart from the beauty of the architecture, one of the things that really struck me about this house, is the friendliness of everyone there and their complete passion and enthusiasm for the home and its history. You don’t get this everywhere. But in every room we went into, the volunteers were more than happy to share their knowledge, passion, their stories and engage both adults and children alike so everyone went away knowing more than they did when they walked through the grand entrance way.
The house was constructed for the first owners who were John Lamont and his wife Helen. He bought No.7 Charlotte Square in 1796 for £1,800 which is around £1.6 million in todays money. The Lamonts lived in Princes Street whilst the house was being completed and the couple had five children. John Lamont came from a landed family, yet his inherited debts and lived a very extravagant lifestyle including extended stays in London where he was involved with politics. This was a period when those with money wanted to show it off and often overspent in order to do this. It was a period of showing ones status, of grand parties and entertainments, of keeping up appearances The Lamont family had to sell estates in Scotland to fund their lifestyle and this was not uncommon.
The house is situated over 4 floors which includes the basement and there are activities for the children to do, both as they wander around the house but also in the upstairs room. William very much enjoyed having to find the rats in each room, taking photos for his scrapbook. We started on the top floor and watched the informative video first which told of the Lamont family. We then went into the activity room which was great for William, who is 6 years old. There is plenty of Georgian dress up, colouring sheets, childrens toys through the ages and how to write with a quill as well as plenty of information on the family and the home for the adults while the children are busy.
On the first floor, there is an elegant Drawing Room. In Georgian homes this room was the grandest and usually situated across the front width of the house, with tall, elegant windows to let in as much light as possible. This would have been the social centre of the house, used for formal entertaining. It would be where everyone gathered before moving downstairs to the dining room. The ladies would have also returned here after dinner, leaving the men to smoke in the dining room. As I stood looking out of the window over the square, you can help but imagine the clatter of horses hooves over the cobbles, and the sound of music behind you as ladies chat and couples dance.
At the rear of the property is The Parlour which would have been used for more informal meetings and socials. The family would have used this room to relax – to do sewing, read the newspapers and keep up with the events of the Napoleonic Wars. Friends would have been served afternoon tea here and views from the window would have been over the private gardens at the back of the house (Sadly no longer there) and towards the mountains and hills of Fife.
On the ground floor you find a fine dining room and a bedroom. The table is set out for dinner and there’s a real feeling of grandeur in this room. It feels quite dark and opposing, but one can imagine the tables adorned with candles, the roaring fire crackling and candles lighting the sumptuous feast. There is also a fantastic early example of a food warmer by the fireplace and see if you can find the silver cheese toastie maker!
You might think a bedroom on the ground floor is rather odd, but it was customary to show off your bedroom to visitors, particularly if you had a good one. I can’t imagine wanting to show anyone my mess of a bedroom these days! But it was never just for sleeping and would have been used to entertain visitors as well as for pursuing hobbies. But in later periods this would have probably also become another drawing room.
In the basement there is a wonderful example of a Georgian kitchen with a hearth, pump, one of the first so called ‘BBQ’s’ and a pastry oven. The basement would have been the hub of the servants world. These days it is calm, peaceful and beautifully laid out. But in a busy Georgian home where there might have been between 5-7 servants running the house, this kitchen would have been endlessly busy, smoke filled, noisy with wafts of food smells floating about throughout the day.
The servants would have worked long hours, with some working up to 112 hours a week! They would have got up before the family and gone to bed after them. Most of the servants would have lived in the basement rooms, although in later years some might have lived in the attic rooms as well. This would have been their world and it would have been a constant hive of activity down here and the servant army kept the house well run for the family.
There is a well stocked Pantry which houses the water pump. When the house was first built the owners would have had the option of what they wanted to include in their kitchen. A pastry oven would have been the height of fashion and enabled the lady of the house to really show off at dinner parties. It is clear that no expense was spared by the Lamont family in ensuring their new house in Charlotte Square, established their status in Georgian Society within the new town in Edinburgh.
In the basement you can also see the wine cellar, the safe room, a servants bedroom, the outside access to the cold store or ice store and another room, which is currently used as the gift shop but would have been part of the kitchen network in the Georgian era.
We spent about 2.5 hours here and that was a good amount of time to learn about the house, allow William time to do the activities and a really good time to look at the paintings and the furniture as well as chat to the informative guides.
I’d really recommend this wonderful house in the heart of the New Town as a must see on your visit to Edinburgh!
Need to know information before your visit
National Trust members get free entry
Entry fees for non members are (As at April 1st 2020)
One Adult Family £12.50
Opening times: Currently closed due to COVID-19 – see website for up to date opening hours
If you want to have a look at the website before your visit:
What can I do afterwards?
There is plenty to go and do after your visit nearby:
Walk in the Princes Street Gardens
Visit The National Gallery of Scotland
Visit Gladstones Land – another National Trust for Scotland property
Wander around New Town and marvel at the beautiful architecture
Sample one of the delightful cafes and restaurants around George Street and the little roads off of it. There is no cafe at The Georgian House, but there are so many within a few minutes walk you will be spoiled for choice!