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Edinburgh's Elegant Georgian House


When the wealthy and noble abandoned Edinburgh's crowded and smelly Old Town in the late 1700s, they were headed for the newly-designed and newly-built elegance of the New Town, separated from the old by a large park and a huge class gap.


The elegant new homes of the New Town were designed by leading architects such as Robert Adam, purchased by landowners and wealthy merchants, and filled with the finest furniture, fittings and possessions—regardless of whether they could really afford them.


These days, one of those houses, at 7 Charlotte Square, serves as a sort of museum of those times, of the lifestyle of the rich and admired (or at least, self-admired). Since 1973, it's been open to the public under the National Trust for Scotland, which chose to restore it as a 'show house' as it was, rather than a true museum.


henry-raeburn-portrait-of-john-lamont----BW0IXThe basement, ground floor and the first and second floors are open to the public, with the second floor serving as an area for exhibits. When it first opened as The Georgian House, the second floor was still occupied by the head of the Church of Scotland.

John Lamont, Chief of Clan Lamont and an aspiring politician, was the first owner, and the furniture and goods in the house are based on his family's time there. The portrait of him is by Henry Raeburn, the leading Scottish portraitist of the time, and known for earning high fees.


And that's part of the story of the New Town and the Georgian House and its times. Men like Lamont, big in their rural and Highland small ponds, flocked to the political and social capital of Edinburgh, hoping to be big frogs there, too. But unlike later merchants and manufacturers, their wealth was in land and rents from tenant farmers, which often fell short of the cost of an Edinburgh lifestyle.

20230627_14252120230627_142639Renovation and maintenance are constantly ongoing tasks

Despite warnings by his bankers that he needed to economize, Lamont refused to lose face and continued borrowing and selling. By the time of his death in 1815, Lamont had sold off or mortgaged his lands, sold 7 Charlotte Square, and died deeply in debt. Over the next century, the house passed through the hands of wealthy heiresses, judges and clergymen, and finally the Marquess of Bute, who also owned the two houses next door, one of which is the official residence of Scotland's First Minister.


Aside from the formal and less-formal family spaces, the bedrooms are luxurious, and come with such normally out-of-sight additions such as a closet commode and a well-equipped medicine chest.


In 1956, the Bute family gave the three houses to the National Trust for Scotland in lieu of death duties; when the lease of Number 7 to an art dealer expired in 1966, work began to prepare for opening The Georgian House.


A household that size also involved a significant corps of servants, often ten or more in Lamont's time, including a butler, cooks and maids who could be called by bells to whatever room they were needed. The staff dining space is considerably less fancy than 'Upstairs,' but substantial—and the butler's bedroom/office was larger than many city apartments of the time.


The Georgian House's kitchen is equipped with what was, in its day, the most up-to-date stoves and ovens, as well as a large supply of cooking and serving ware. Even the pump for water was relatively new: In the Old Town, servants still filled buckets from public well-heads.


Two other basement spaces were more secure, with only the butler holding the keys: the wine cellar, and the room set aside for storage of the family's finest china, silver and gold ware.


In all, The Georgian House shows us a slice of life to which few of us could have actually aspired, and that some of those who achieved could not afford. Worth a visit to see how the other 'half' lived! It's open from March through December each year. Admission is charged.


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