Old Holyrood brewing site poised for new lease of life

IT IS the last evidence of the once-powerful beer-making heritage of Edinburgh's Old Town.

A handful of derelict buildings tucked off the Canongate are all that remains of a tradition that dated back to the 12th century, when monks started to brew at Holyrood Abbey.

Now the last remnants in the area of the famous Scottish Brewers dynasty – including a malt barn, kilns and a brewhouse – are set for a new lease of life.

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Plans unveiled yesterday for a one-acre site, stretching from just off the Royal Mile to Holyrood Road, would see a host of old brewery buildings transformed into apartments, student flats, shops and possibly an apart-hotel.

Developers are consulting council officials and heritage groups about the most appropriate use for what was most recently used for "experimental brewing".

Welsh developer Watkin Jones snapped up the site from Edinburgh-based firm Caledonian Heritable and hopes to submit a detailed vision to the council within the next few months.

Spokesman Jim Gray said: "We're looking at having a mix of uses on the site and we're still discussing various options with the council, but there is likely to be some form of student accommodation, residential apartments, and possibly some kind of apart-hotel."

The development would see the creation of new through-routes into a site which was once home to an 18th century sugar refinery.

Its initial use, from 1752 to 1824, is reflected in the name of Sugarhouse Close, which leads to the brewery buildings, abandoned by Scottish and Newcastle three years ago.

Brewing on the development site is thought to date back to 1828, when it opened as the Commercial Brewery, later Morison's and Thomson's Brewery, and was once one of 14 breweries operating in the Canongate area.

It was taken over in the 1950s by Scottish Brewers, the company formed out of the 1931 merger of Edinburgh brewing giants William Young and Co, and McEwans, and was latterly home to a laboratory for the company's experimental brewing.

It is now one of the few surviving brewery sites anywhere in the city, which once boasted no fewer than 30 breweries.

The industry's foundations were famously laid by the monks of Holyrood Abbey who grew barley on the side of Arthur's Seat and dug the first wells to tap into Edinburgh's water supply.

Historic Scotland's listing of the site states: "Situated in what was once the heartland of the brewing industry in the city, the brewery is an important reminder of the area's industrial past.

"The essential components of a brewery have been retained and form a distinctive feature in the streetscape of the area."

Andrew Wilmot, a partner at project architects Oberlanders, said: "The idea is to retain as many of the old brewery buildings as possible, particularly those that are listed.

"We are looking at ways to open up the site and create routes through to the other closes in the area which link with Holyrood Road.

"The site has a lot of history but has been largely hidden away down Sugarhouse Close and one of the ideas is to open up views of Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags through the site from the Royal Mile."

Marion Williams, director of the Cockburn Association, the leading heritage watchdog, said: "A lot of people will walk past this site every day without realising the history behind it.

"If you look into Sugarhouse Close from the Royal Mile all you can see are a few empty buildings.

"It would be great to bring as many of these old buildings as possible back into and really open up this site to the public for the first time."