Holyrood is an area of Edinburgh which tends to get overlooked by visitors, who might venture as far as the Palace of Holyroodhouse but who may not spend much time otherwise exploring this end of the Royal Mile.
The area of Holyrood originally lay way outside of Edinburgh's city walls, and was land that had been settled with an abbey in the early twelfth century - the ruins of the Holyrood Abbey, established by Kind David I of Scotland, are adjacent to the later (sixteenth century) royal palace which grew up alongside it.
With restrictions on industries within Edinburgh - the risk of fire was too great when most of its buildings were still timber structures - Holyrood developed as an industrial space, with occupations like glass blowers and iron foundries. The main industry of the city, however, became brewing - by the 1530s Edinburgh had almost one brewer for every 40 occupants!
After the major breweries eventually left Holyrood in the 1980s, plans were made to redevelop the site. Major buildings like the modern Scottish Parliament and Dynamic Earth were the first occupants of this newly invigorated area, and today it's difficult to imagine just how busy and industrial Holyrood would once have been.
So although the Palace of Holyroodhouse is the main reason visitors might find themselves in this part of Edinburgh, here's my brief introduction to some other features of Holyrood that you might discover.
QUEEN MARY'S BATHHOUSE
A popular story linked to this small stone structure on the edge of the palace grounds is that it once served as Mary, Queen of Scots' bathhouse, where she would come for a bath twice a year (whether she needed it or not).
As appealing as that notion is, there's no archaeological evidence the building ever operated as a bathhouse - although it does date to the time Mary was in Edinburgh.
Historians think the building may instead have been a pavilion for tennis courts which they believe once occupied the ground in front of it. Mary was known to have been a keen tennis player, so it's entirely possible she took refreshments at this small building in the sixteenth century...
A PHYSIC GARDEN
Just behind the buildings on Abbey Strand is a newly created garden space to represent the botanic garden which once occupied this site.
Today the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a short distance away in the New Town, but the original garden had been established in the palace grounds in 1670. It later moved to the space where Waverley Station is today, and then to ground on Leith Walk in the 1760s, before it ended up in its present location in the 1820s.
The modern recreation of the garden suggests the kind of plants and flowers that might have been cultivated at Holyrood.
SCOTTISH POETRY LIBRARY
Tucked off the Royal Mile on one of the old lanes which previously housed a brewery, the Scottish Poetry Library building was built in 1999 to house the organisation which had been established in 1984.
Whilst most libraries showcase fiction and non-fiction, the Scottish Poetry Library was created to provide access specifically to poetry, and in particular the broad variety of poets who aren't iconic or mainstream figures.
From a collection of 300 books originally, by the time it moved into its new building that number had grown to over 30,000. The organisation continues to work with schools to foster poetry and literacy in young writers, and offers free access to its collection for UK residents.
A 1960s housing block - created by Modernist architect Basil Spence - with a pub and shops at street level disguises the historic nature of the land on which it is built, which still bears the name Golfers Land. It's a reference to a historic game of golf played between English and Scottish nobles, and as such is sometimes considered the world's first international golf competition...
In 1681 two English lords staying at Holyrood Palace made the argument that golf was an English game, and that they could beat any Scots who wanted to play a round with them. The Duke of Albany agreed to the wager, and enlisted as his teammate a cobbler and amateur golder named John Paterson.
The game was played at Leith Links, the golf course which was also the home of the Royal and Ancient Company of Golfers, who today are found in St Andrews.
Albany and Paterson were successful at beating the two English lords, and Albany gave Paterson the cash winnings from the bet, which allowed him to build a grand mansion on a piece of land along the Royal Mile, which became known as Golfers Land. The building today still displays the coat of arms that Albany gave to Paterson, along with its motto - I HATE NO PERSON - not quite an anagram of John Paterson's name (even allowing for the substitution of I for J...).
THE HOME OF ECONOMICS
A few lanes further west of Golfers Land is Panmure Close, the site of Panmure House which, in the eighteenth century, was the home of Adam Smith.
It was in this building the Smith corrected proofs of four editions of his Wealth of Nations, the book which established some of the principles of modern economics, and it was in this building that Smith died in 1790.
Smith is buried in the nearby Canongate Kirkyard, but his former home is today an economics forum space, where figures from all around the world gather to discuss issues of economics, in the home of the man who laid out some of the founding principles.
On Holyrood Road itself are the offices of Rockstar North, a computer games company who produce titles such as the Grand Theft Auto series, and Red Dead Redemption.
People are often surprised that such definitively 'American' products are produced here in Scotland, but I use Rockstar as an example of how Scotland is not just a nation of whisky and tartan and bagpipes and Jacobites, but also of green and renewable energies, computer gaming, computer technologies - it's a twenty-first century country as much as a historic one!
Rockstar North began as DMA Design Limited, set up in Dundee - the DMA standing for 'Doesn't Mean Anything'...! Grand Theft Auto was published in 1997, and after the third instalment of the iconic game series was released in 2001 the company was brought under the Rockstar Games parent company and renamed Rockstar North.
A housing estate with the name Dumbiedykes occupies land to the south of Holyrood Road, and its name is a reflection of a groundbreaking school which sat on this site in the eighteenth century.
Braidwood's Academy for the Deaf and Dumb was established in 1760 by Thomas Braidwood. It was the first school dedicated to teaching deaf children in the whole of the UK, and Braidwood himself was an early innovator and developer of what became sign language.
The area became pejoratively known as 'Dumbiedykes' after the children who came here to be educated - and although the school has long since gone, the unfortunate name has stuck...
A SITE OF UNION
Tucked away at the back of Moray House, one of the campus buildings of the University of Edinburgh, is an unremarkable looking building which was once a summerhouse in these grand gardens.
It is alleged that the Act of Union which brought Scotland and England together under one government was signed, in part, in this building. Because the act was such a contentious document, and because the lords and landowners who added their signatures to it didn't always want to risk being seen to do so in public, it was signed in a number of private locations where discretion could be guaranteed. The pavilion at Moray House was one such location.
The summerhouse structure has been moved from its original location and today stands at the side of the car park to the rear of campus, but its remarkable place in the history of the UK is worth recording.
Speaking of the union... One of the figures who helped create the union with England was the second Marquis of Queensberry, who at that time lived in Queensberry House, today part of the Scottish parliament building.
Queensberry had been effectively employed by Queen Anne to bribe Scottish landowners and lords to agree to the union with England in exchange for gifts of cash and land in England.
On the day in 1707 when the union was finally agreed, Queensberry was out celebrating with the rest of his household, leaving his son locked in his bedroom at Queensberry House. When they returned from the celebrations they discovered Queensberry's son in the kitchen of the building, roasting a piece of meat over the large kitchen fire. And on closer inspection, it was discovered this meat was the kitchen boy, who had been killed and mounted on a spit...
QUEEN VICTORIA'S FOLLY
The final detail of the Holyrood area that I sometimes point out for visitors is the section of wall which runs along the eastern side of Dynamic Earth, a geological exhibition built in honour of James Hutton.
Because the site here was a brewery, when Queen Victoria came to stay at the nearby palace she didn't like having her curtains opened for her every morning just so she could look out onto an industrial site. So she gave money from the royal household budget to the Scottish and Newcastle brewery so that they could construct an artificial wall around their factory - studded with towers and castellated turrets, it created the illusion that the site was something more interesting, like a Highland palace...
When the industrial site here was cleared in the 1990s, part of that perimeter wall was preserved and incorporated into the modern building of Dynamic Earth. So it's a useful illustration of how in Edinburgh just because something looks old doesn't mean it necessarily is! This feature is a Victorian-era folly.
So Holyrood is proof that it's always worth looking a little closer at Edinburgh's buildings - there's more history here than is sometimes apparent from a first glance!
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