If you live in Edinburgh you may well be aware of Gladstone’s Land, a 16th/17th century townhouse in the Lawnmarket.
What you may not be aware of is that, after the summer, access to this historic building may be severely restricted. If the changes planned by the National Trust for Scotland come to fruition, the first floor rooms, which have until now been open to the public on a daily basis for much of the year, will become self-catering apartments.
As an NTS volunteer at Gladstone’s Land I was initially angered and horrified by this decision, but those feelings have now been replaced by an abiding sense of sadness.
People from all over the world come to see the house and they are almost invariably fascinated by the experience. Visitors also include native Scots, eager for additional historical input, and also quite a few who live in the Capital.
As is often the way, if you live in a city you sometimes take its treasures for granted and I have frequently encountered Edinburgh worthies visiting Gladstone’s Land for the first time and marvelling at this gem of a house.
A number of Edinburgh schools have used the building for educational purposes, with their children delighting in being able to dress up in 17th century costumes. As a building, Gladstone’s Land is almost unique and, with the assistance of some very knowledgeable guides, visitors over the years have been given a vivid insight into life in 17th century Edinburgh.
Is that experience now in danger of being lost? The reasons for the proposed changes are largely financial and I appreciate that no organisation can continue to make year-on-year losses. I am not sufficiently well informed to comment on the finances of the National Trust for Scotland nor do I wish to be unduly critical of that organisation.
As I understand it, NTS is not giving up ownership of the property and that is good. It will mean that the building, including the magnificent painted ceilings, will continue to be preserved for posterity. But it saddens me that what is being preserved may soon not be quite as readily accessible.
A meeting with volunteers took place earlier in the year to update them on the position, but I am unaware of any further developments. I believe that plans may be afoot to develop the ground floor into a café which will include a historical interpretation of the building. This is positive and encouraging, but will it be a meaningful substitute for what has gone before? I don’t know. Only time will tell.
In the meantime, people can still visit Gladstone’s Land, but not on the ‘drop-in’ basis which has been the case up until now. Pre-booked tours are still being conducted throughout the week by experienced guides, so if you’ve never visited the house, get booking now. It may be your last chance.
David Hamill is a retired history teacher and NTS volunteer. He lives in East Linton, East Lothian.