EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
I've written before about the numerous castles which can be found in and around Edinburgh - the one which gets all the visitors is the best-known and most recognisable, but several of the others deserve a little more attention and focus too.
One which is especially worth visiting is Lauriston Castle, on the northern edge of the city, near to the suburb of Cramond. This sixteenth century building has been adapted and expanded over the centuries, and now offers a pleasant escape from the city to explore its gardens with views across the Firth of Forth. Through the year the house itself serves as a venue for a variety of events and activities, although the castle is currently closed for general visitors.
The existing structure dates from just before 1600, built for Sir Archibald Napier - father of John Napier, the mathematician, who was born in another of Edinburgh's castles which survives in Bruntsfield.
This original building would have been L-shaped, as was typical of many grand houses of the time. The wing which created the current T-shape of the house was added in the 19th century by William Burn.
Previous owners and occupants of building have left their marks on thje property in some surprising ways.
John Napier - he of the logarithms and mathematical genius - was also a fan of astrology, and apparently had the horoscope of his brother Archibald (born 18 October 1572) carved on a stone panel and installed above the door of the family home at Lauriston. The carving is a little worn and difficult to make out, but can still be seen on the front of the building today.
However, the building later passed into the hands of Robert Dalglish - a lawyer to King Charles I in the 1640s - and his wife Jean Douglass. And they, it seems, set little store by astrological nonsense! They had the horoscope stone removed, and installed instead a panel of their own, reading (in Latin) 'I do not acknowledge the stars as either the rulers of life or the causes of my good fortune. The things which I possess I ascribe to the goodness of God'...
No stronger rejection of faux-scientific superstition could a person ask for! And as a further bit of linguistic interest, they also had the phrase GOD'S GREAT AND HE IS ALL OUR BLIS [sic] inscribed - which is (almost) an anagram of their names written above it!
In 1683 Lauriston Castle was bought by William Law, a banker and a goldsmith. His son, John Law, became a notable figure in the field of economics, establishing the world's first bank to issue paper money - banknotes - as an alternative to metal coinage. Law had already had a dramatic life, having escaped execution for murder in his 20s for killing another man in a duel for the hand of a woman, before escaping prison to start a new life in Amsterdam....!
Intriguingly the emblem over the entrance today features a mermaid combing her hair while looking into a mirror, and the motto PER MARE PER TERRAS - this is the motto of the MacDonald family and means 'By sea and by land', but is also the emblem of the Rutherfurds who owned Lauriston Castle in the middle of the 19th century.
The Right Hon. Andrew Rutherfurd, Lord Rutherfurd, was Lord Advocate for Scotland and served on the privy council advising Queen Victoria, and he owned (and lived at) Lauriston Castle between the 1790s and the 1850s.
The porches at the front and side of the building are believed to have been built by William Henry Playfair, who may also have laid out the gardens in the 1840s.
The gardens have been significantly altered over the years, but the recent addition of a Japanese garden evokes some of the sense of style and grandeur that these formal gardens would originally have had.
Lauriston Castle passed into the ownership of Edinburgh Council in the 1920s, and it has been maintained for the public since then. In the 1950s the lawns to the rear of the property were laid out with croquet lawns, and it's still possible to watch Edinburgh Croquet Club playing games on the flat greens during the summer months.
Otherwise a casual visitor is rewarded with some fine views across the Firth of Forth, and an interesting selection of architectural features on the building itself.
Here the old and original style of stone-built architecture is complemented by the later additions which sought to reinvent some of those features in a style that became known as Scots Baronial.
Look for the zig-zag rooflines and pediments known as 'crowsteps' which took a structural feature of medieval-era buildings and made them into a decorative style. And check out the circular towers - the decorative turrets which don't reach as far as the ground - called bartisans. Lauriston Castle offers a fine opportunity to see both original and the Victorian era reinvention of some of these architectural features, giving a rare chance to contrast the 17th- and 19th-century 'mock gothic' versions side by side!
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