Even during contemporary times, but most certainly when viewed from an historical perspective, the city of Edinburgh has a fascinating dichotomous nature about it. On one side, is the medieval and ‘messy’ Old Town. On the other side is the symmetrical and ‘pristine’ New Town. This week, we visit a house that was built during the first phase of the development of the New Town. Join us as we pay a visit to house No. 7 at Charlotte Square- the Georgian House.
By the late 1700s, the living conditions in Edinburgh (in what is now referred to as the ‘Old Town’) had become intolerable. Therefore, the New Town was created when Edinburgh’s wealthy elite decide that they wanted to move out of the infamously filthy and over-crowded city centre.
In 1791, the Edinburgh Town Council commissioned the celebrated Scottish architect, Robert Adam, to design Charlotte Square which was the “climax of the first section of the New Town”. Adam was famous for many works including his designs of Culzean Castle, Mellerstain House, and Newliston House.
Situated within Charlotte Square, the Georgian House (house No. 7), run by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) is the perfect example of how well-off individuals of the time lived in the newly built part of the city. Please note that the photos of the house are from two different visits- one from a few months ago when they were preparing for a wedding, and the other from a more recent visit at the end of August.
Before we tour the main part of the house, I want to highlight a special exhibition that is currently at the Georgian House, ‘Music and Migration in Georgian Edinburgh: The Story of Felix Yaniewicz’, that is showing until 22 October. Access is included in the entrance fee for the House, and we highly recommend that you visit while the exhibition is still on display.
A contemporary of Mozart (whom he met in Vienna along with Haydn), Yaniewicz was a famous Polish-Lithuanian violin virtuoso that moved to Edinburgh in 1815. He co-founded the first Edinburgh Festival, and lived here until his death in 1848.
There have been different owners of house No. 7 over the centuries. However, the house has now been restored to represent how it may have looked during the Georgian period (hence the name) when the first owners, the Lamont family (1796-1817) and their successor, Catherine Farquharson (1817-1845) lived in the home.
Throughout the house you find lovely details that reveal some fascinating aspects of how people lived in Charlotte Square during the Georgian time period. Entering the dining room, just imagine the shimmering candlelight as it reflected off of the numerous silver surfaces across the table and throughout the room.
There was no dedicated bathroom at this time, therefore, there was a portable water closet situated between the dining room and bedchamber. The toilet would have a hand-filled water tank in the back. The brass handle would flush the water from the tank and the contents from the bowl/pan would empty into a copper basin below. A housemaid would empty the toilet which was collected (along with the rest of the household’s waste) by “scavengers employed by the Town Council”. Needless to say, this was a much preferable situation than what residents experienced in the Old Town where the waste was often thrown into the streets.
According to the NTS, the bedchamber would not have been used for just sleeping. Mrs. Lamont would have also used it as a sitting room to receive female visitors as well as a place to undertake her hobbies.
One of the more interesting pieces in the room is the mahogany-cased travelling dispensary. “Most wealthy households would own a medicine chest, to which the lady of the house kept the keys”. The chest contained a variety of ‘medicines’ including laudanum as a painkiller, chloroform for a cough, castor oil and Epsom salts as laxatives, and clove essence for toothaches.
The Parlour was where guests were shown when coming for afternoon tea or an informal gathering. However, the family would have also used this room to relax and spend time together.
The grandest room in the Georgian House is the drawing room, and it would have been used for formal evening entertaining. For the Lamont family, this room was meant to display their wealth.
As the contents of this room were quite precious, the wooden blinds would have been drawn during the day, and dust covers would have been placed on the furniture (you can see an example on the chair pictured below).
There is normally a square piano artefact on display in this room (pictured in the group photos above), but, for our most recent visit, there was a special square piano on display as part of the Yaniewicz exhibition I mentioned at the beginning of the article.
Of course, the Lamonts needed a number of servants to help them run the house, and their domain was below stairs in the basement. Often, the servants would live in the Old Town and come to work at houses in the New Town. The NTS points out that they worked very long hours- “often as many as 112 hours a week for a maid- and were at the beck and call of the family. They could be summoned via the bed pulls in every room, to attend to fires, fetch hot water for tea and for washing, and a host of other tasks” (if you are interested in further discussions of the life experienced by those in Edinburgh- especially in the Old Town- please check out our articles on The People’s Story Museum and The Real Mary King’s Close). The kitchen was the “hub of the basement: hot, smoky, and a constant hive of activity”.
The butler’s room while modest compared to the upstairs rooms, was quite nice and shows his place in the hierarchy of the servants- he was in charge. It is believed that what now serves as the gift shop would have once been the servants hall.
I hope you have enjoyed our brief visit to the Georgian period and Edinburgh’s New Town. If you are in town by the 22nd of October, we highly recommend that you visit the Georgian House so that you can also see the Felix Yaniewicz exhibition. Please note that the House closes for the season starting the 31st of October and will open in March 2023. You can find more information on how to plan your visit on the NTS website.
Until next time- Explore & Discover!