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Issue 69 - Edinburgh's Tranquil Retreat - Lauriston Castle

Scotland Magazine Issue 69
June 2013

 

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Edinburgh's Tranquil Retreat - Lauriston Castle

Charles Douglas visits this important yet serene site

Situated on the north west side of Scotland's capital are the characterful turrets of Lauriston Castle.
Overlooking the Firth of Forth and Cramond Island, the early importance of this tranquil, strategic site in Scotland's defences is almost forgotten.

A castle stood here in medieval times, but was largely destroyed during the first Earl of Hertford's “Rough Wooing” of 1544. This was a ruthless attempt to bully the Scottish nobility into signing a treaty to marry off the two year old Mary Queen of Scots to the seven year old Prince Edward of England. When the Scots remained ambivalent to the plan, Henry VIII's brother-in-law and military commander, later created Duke of Somerset, invaded and ravaged all in his path.

Those were dangerous, terrible times for the south of Scotland when the flames engulfing Edinburgh and the Abbey of Holyrood continued for three days.

Virtually everything that can be seen at Lauriston Castle today therefore dates from 50 years after that devastating period in Scottish history. In 1590, Sir Archibald Napier, seventh laird of Merchiston and father of John Napier, best known for devising logarithms, re-built the remains of the original fortress into a tower house for his younger son, also Archibald. What he created initially was a four-storey, stone L-Plan tower house, with a circular stair tower, with two storey angle turrets complete with gun loops.

Thereafter, the fortunes of the Napiers, like all great Scottish families, rose and fell, and the property changed hands regularly over the following centuries, being early on occupied by the father of the extraordinary John Law (1671-1729), a gambler who established the Banque Générale in France, issued the first bank notes in Europe, and precipitated France's economic collapse.

In the 19th century, Thomas Allen, a mineralogist who became a banker, commissioned the distinguished Scottish architect William Burn to add on a Jacobean extension. Allen died in Northumberland, but by then the Lauriston estate had been passed on to Lord Rutherford of Crosshill(1791–1852), an advocate who became Member of Parliament for Leith Burghs, which lay almost on his doorstep.

Thomas Crawford, eighth Baron Cartsburn acquired the property in 1871 and made several improvements, but in 1902 it was bought by William Reid, proprietor of Morison & Co, a flourishing Edinburgh-based cabinet manufacturer who installed plumbing and electricity and filled the interiors with art and fine furniture. In 1905 a stone carving of an astrological horoscope, was discovered and placed on an outer wall on the south west corner. Taking the building back to its origins, it is said to have been drawn by John Napier as a gift for his brother Archibald.

On the death of John Reid's wife Margaret in 1926, the castle was bequeathed to the people of Scotland on the understanding that its contents remain intact, and since then it has been lovingly administered as a museum and wedding venue by the City of Edinburgh Council.

The Reid's were avid collectors of all kinds of decorative treasures and among the items on display, amid sumptuous surroundings judged to be typical of an Edwardian manor house, are fine pieces of Italian furniture, Sheffield Plate, Crossley Wool mosaics and Blue John from Derbyshire. A tour of the castle in the 21st century takes visitors through the principal rooms: John Reid’s practically designed Study and through to the elegant Drawing Room, Dining Room, Library, and Kitchen, the latter providing an interesting contrast between life ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’.

On the outskirts of the city, Lauriston Castle is set within an elegant garden laid out by William Henry Playfair during the 1840s.

In 2002, a Japanese garden was introduced, designed by Takashi Sawano, a Japanese landscape architect who has been living and designing Japanese gardens in the West for many years. Conceived as a “Friendship Garden” it was gifted by the people of Kyoto, the former Imperial Capital of Japan.

To the rear, are three croquet lawns laid out between 1950 and 1955, and much enjoyed by members of the Edinburgh Croquet Club. On the eastern side are woodland walks amid mature examples of monkey puzzle trees.

In the summer, the grounds are ablaze with the colours of the adjacent bluebell wood.

Away from the traffic noise and bustle of Edinburgh's city centre, Lauriston provides an idyllic retreat for those visitors who venture here on a summer afternoon.

Info
Lauriston Castle 2a Cramond Road South, Davidson's Mains, Edinburgh EH4 5QD.

Tel: +44 (0) 131 336 2060.

Open: April through October: 1400 every day except Friday; November through March: 1400 Saturday and Sunday only.

Guided tours for parties of 10 plus can be booked outwith these times by telephoning or by emailing Email: lauristoncastle@edinburgh.gov.uk Adult: £5 (1400 tour); £8 (out of hours); Child (under 16): £3 (2pm tour); £5 (out of hours); Concessions: £3 (1400 tour); £5 (out of hours); Family (up to two adults and three children under 16): £12.50 (1400 tour); Group (10+): £3 (1400 tour); out of hours group visits are £8 adult and £5 concession.