We are enthusiastic supporters of Museums and Galleries Edinburgh as we have written about many of their locations. Therefore, we are thrilled to take you on this week’s adventure as we head to another one of their venues which also happens to be one of our favourite places in Edinburgh- Lauriston Castle! As it is currently the middle of winter for us, we thought that a virtual escape to their lush, landscaped grounds (our pictures are from a summer visit) would bring some much-needed brightness to all. Therefore, let us get right to our latest ‘explore and discover’ mission.
Situated in the north-western outskirts of Edinburgh, Lauriston Castle and grounds are the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. In fact, as you explore the grounds, it is hard to imagine you are next to a busy urban centre as it provides a delightful countryside retreat.
While there has been activity recorded on the site since the late 1200s, Lauriston Castle is now known as an exquisite example of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. Before we get to that, let’s cover a brief timeline and history of the estate.
Lauriston Castle- Then and Now
According to the staff at Lauriston Castle, the estate is first mentioned in the historical records in 1290 as belonging to the Crown. They know that a tower house existed on the estate by 1544. Unfortunately, this was the time of the ‘Rough Wooing’ (which we discuss a bit more in our Linlithgow Palace article), and that tower house was completely razed.
The Lauriston Castle we see today is a result of builds done by the varying owners over the centuries. If you look at the picture below, this section was the new tower house that was built in 1590.
Not much changed after that until the early 19th century. At that point, the estate was owned by Thomas Allan. Allan wanted the house renovated in the style of a countryside French chateau. His architect added the section of the building to the right of the 1590 tower house (except for the extended porch entryway).
The next owner, Lord Rutherfurd, commissioned the famous architect, William Playfair, and added some wonderful additions to Lauriston Castle in the early to mid-1800s. Playfair’s biggest contribution was to landscape the grounds which included planting about 400 trees. Another lovely Playfair addition was the main entryway porch extension. The Rutherford crest was added to it which features a mermaid with a mirror in her hand and the family motto, ‘By sea and land’.
Thomas Macknight Crawfurd took over ownership from 1871-1902. He commissioned my favourite part of the house- the library (we will return to this in just a bit). Crawfurd sold the house to its last residents- the Reid family. As we have said many times before, it is the people who make a place and, in the case of Lauriston Castle, it is the Reids who have left their indelible mark.
Edwardian Elegance Inside Lauriston Castle
William Reid owned the successful cabinet maker business- Morison and Co. He worked on historical buildings as well as interior fittings for luxurious railway carriages. His wife, Margaret, was well-educated and proficient in several languages, but especially Italian. In fact, she became a member of the Scoto-Italian Society. In 1922, she was elected as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in Scotland. Clearly, she was a fascinating lady.
The Reids travelled extensively throughout Europe including France and Italy. As a result of these travels, they collected furniture and, to my utter delight, a treasure trove of objets d’art that can be found throughout the interior of Lauriston Castle.
William and Margaret Reid bought Lauriston Castle in 1902 and moved in during the summer of 1903. Mrs Reid’s bachelor brother, William Barton, also moved in with them. Mr Barton owned the successful ‘sanitary engineering’ (plumbing) firm, William Barton and Sons. Both the Reids and Mr Barton sold their business interests when they moved to Lauriston to retire. However, we are fortunate that they brought their talented skill sets with them as they were to change Lauriston in magnificent ways. Let’s head inside Lauriston Castle to learn more about the Reids and their special contributions.
Unlike so many grand homes we have visited, I am quite pleased to let you know that you can take pictures inside Lauriston Castle. Which is quite a relief as the inside is an incredible ‘time capsule’ of middle-class Edwardian life in Edinburgh. As we begin our tour, it is important to clarify that Lauriston isn’t really a ‘castle’, but rather a large mansion. Nevertheless, that is just semantics, because- trust me- you are going to love this place!
As you enter through the ‘Playfair porch’ and stand at the foot of the grand staircase, you are immediately given a wee hint of the splendour yet to come.
Sure enough, as we climb the steps and proceed into the Reception Hall, standing pride of place at the centre of the room is an exquisite Italian marble table top that dates to 1590. And that isn’t the only stunning piece as the room is filled with a variety of beautiful objects.
Next to the Reception Hall, we head into the Study which is in the 1590 Tower House section I discussed earlier. Here, we can see portraits (l-r) of Mr Barton, Mrs Reid, and Mr Reid.
We then make our way into the Reid’s bedroom which illustrates more of their tasteful Edwardian decorations.
I would like to draw particular attention to the bathroom just off the main bedroom. Lauriston’s bathroom highlights the fact that it was outfitted with all the ‘modern’ conveniences for its day. This was due to Mr Barton who drew upon his professional skills, and had the plumbing, sanitation, electrification, and central heating installed. Below are pictures of the bathroom including the bathtub (with its lid open and shut) as well as the connecting toilet room.
We’ll now visit some of the more formal rooms at Lauriston starting with the Sitting Room. There is a great deal to observe in this space, but the few pieces that I would like to highlight are the purple hued vases and bowl in the room. You can see an example on the table at the front of the sitting room and more over by the window. These are Derbyshire Blue John. Creating pieces out of Blue John mineral involves a rather labour intensive process including months to prepare the mineral before it can be made into the final products we see at Lauriston. They have about 80 pieces in total throughout the house making it the largest collection in Scotland.
Across from the Sitting Room is the Drawing Room. The beautifully carved plaster work on the ceiling was one of the highlights for me. I can practically hear the music from Mrs Reid’s gorgeous piano filling the room.
I believe I’ve just heard the dinner gong sound. After dressing in our finest, we walk down the hallway and enter the Dining Room. There is a lovely warmth to this room and some unique pieces including the light fixture above the dining room table. Dinner was lovely, but we should head into my favourite part of the entire house- the library.
As I mentioned earlier, this part of the house was commisioned by Mr Crawfurd in 1871. The library is a second storey addition located above the kitchen and servants’ quarters. The room wraps around and was quite tricky to photograph. Hopefully, our photos do it some justice because it was an incredible room. Just look at that wooden ceiling!
It isn’t hard to imagine myself sitting among the rich décor, getting lost in a good book. Perhaps I could try my hand at sitting in this fascinating ‘backwards’ chair?
My favourite part of the room is the hidden doorway built into the bookcase. The imagination certainly runs wild when looking at such a fun feature. While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our time exploring the interior of Lauriston Castle, there is much more to do outside.
Castle Grounds and Gardens
The grounds at Lauriston Castle truly are a gift for all who visit. Entry is free and they are open daily. The grounds include a pond (with a statue of the goddess Diana), various walking trails, and, of course, beautiful gardens. Don't forget to explore the Victorian Gardens to the back of the house.
They also have some of our favourite trees- monkey puzzle. Monkey puzzle trees are native to central and southern Chile and western Argentina. However, they became quite popular during the Victorian and Edwardian era which explains why they were planted at Lauriston.
One delightful surprise on the Castle grounds is the ‘Edinburgh-Kyoto Friendship Garden’. According to Lauriston Castle, the garden was ‘created to celebrate the growing friendship between the City of Edinburgh and Kyoto Prefecture, which was formalised with the signing of a Friendship Agreement in 1994’. The Friendship Garden was opened on the 9th of August 2002.
As you step through the Japanese-style gate, there is a lovely blend of Japanese horticultural features alongside the native landscape. In fact, they describe it as a ‘synthesis of east and west old and new…evolved to sit harmoniously within the old villa garden of Lauriston’. Its surroundings create a peaceful sanctuary where you can pause and reflect on the picturesque landscape and further views over the Firth of Forth. Click on the black arrow below to scroll through the photos and enjoy a virtual walk through the Japanese Garden.
While you are wandering the grounds at Lauriston Castle, be sure to stop at Mimi’s Bakehouse. You can never go wrong with a cup of coffee and dessert from Mimi’s! We strongly encourage visitors to support local businesses and Mimi’s is a family-run business with sites across the city.
Visiting Lauriston Castle
As you plan your future trip to Edinburgh, we highly recommend that you include Lauriston Castle on your trip itinerary. Please note that the interior is only available via guided tour. Make sure to visit their website for the most up-to-date information. Additionally, Lauriston Castle is only one of many venues that Museums and Galleries Edinburgh oversees. Therefore, to further help you plan your Edinburgh visit, we’ve written about many of their sites including- The Museum of Edinburgh, The Writers’ Museum, The People’s Story Museum, City Art Centre, Museum of Childhood, and the Scott Monument.
Finally, while you are planning your exciting Edinburgh visit, we hope that you will join us in the city centre on one of our award-winning walking tours. Sami (our human tour guide) and Sawyer (our Golden Retriever tour guide) would love to show you around. We offer regularly scheduled and private walking tours to best fit your needs. Until you can visit in-person, be sure to follow our adventures around Edinburgh and Scotland on our various social media channels- Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.
Until next time- Explore & Discover!