Homes of Sir Walter Scott in Edinburgh

Click on photos to enlarge

Notes in italics from Pevsner Architectural Guides, Edinburgh by John Gifford, Colin McWilliam and David Walker (1991), Yale University Press. The quotations are extracts only, appropriate to the images.

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) is famous for his historical novels and poetry. He was also a practising lawyer. He had homes in Edinburgh and the Borders, living in town when the Courts were in session.

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He was born in 1771 in a third-floor flat in College Wynd in the Old Town. It was pulled down, with others, to make room for the northern front of the new university building by Robert Adam (seen in right hand of first picture).

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In about 1774 the family moved to 25 George Square, above, and that was Scott's Edinburgh home until he married in 1797.
The whole of the N and S sides and half the E side are now filled by C20 University buildings and the old George Watson's Ladies College ... paying no attention to each other or to the Georgian survivors. Laid out in 1766 by James Brown, the square was the most ambitious scheme of unified architectural character yet attempted in Edinburgh. Not that ambition went very far. Terraced houses on all four sides ... Nos. 23-27 (1770-5) continue the cherrycock pointing and Craigmillar stone, but with Roman Doric and Ionic columned doorpieces and rusticated quoins. ... 

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Walter Scott attended the Royal High School in Infirmary Street (now part of the university). Old High School, High School Yards. By Alexander Laing, 1777, a long two-storey piend-roofed (i.e. hip-roofed) block of droved ashlar. Pedimented Roman Doric portico in the centre. Advanced ends. At the back, the off-centre tower was heightened and given an ogee lead roof ... in 1906-7. 

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In 1797 the newly-weds rented a house at 50 George Street (not shown), and then from 1798 to 1801 lived in 10 South Castle Street (the house with the To Let sign). From there they moved to 39 North Castle Street below. 

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In 39 North Castle Street, 1802-1826. The right-hand house in the block of three. Scott moved here with his young family and within a short while his literary fame started with his "Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border".
He left after his financial crash in 1826 and writes in his journal: March 15. - This morning I leave No. 39 Castle Street for the last time. "The cabin was convenient", and habit had made it agreeable to me. I never reckoned upon a change in this particular so long as I held an office in the Court of Session. In all my former changes of residence it was from good to better; this is retrograding. I leave this house for sale, and I cease to be an Edinburgh citizen, in the sense of being a proprietor, which my father and I have been for sixty years at least. So farewell, poor 39, and may you never harbour worse people than those who now leave you. ... " 

Castle Street is in two sections, North and South, bisected by George Street. The feuing of sites began in 1792, and in the next couple of years the whole street was built up with high-class main door tenements and a few houses. In the S section later shops have done much damage (see above) ... The N section is a beautiful late-C18 ensemble, virtually unaltered except for the redevelopment at the SE ... which spoiled the complete set of gabled corner blocks. The six double-bow fronts ... are interesting both for their differences in design and for their slight variations in siting ... The most famous is that at Nos. 39-43, built in 1793 by Robert Wright and James McKain, with a pedimented Corinthian centrepiece, slightly old-fashioned in detail, between the bows; Sir Walter Scott lived at No. 39 from 1802 to 1826  ...  

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After moving out of 39 North Castle Street in 1826, Scott lived in 6 North St David Street, May-July 1826 (building replaced). Then in 3 Walker Street (above), Nov 1826-July 1827,  and finally in 6 Shandwick Place,  Nov 1827-July 1830 (building replaced).
Thereafter he retired to Abbotsford where he died in 1832.

See also
Homes of Sir Walter Scott
The Walter Scott Digital Archive

an outstanding, comprehensive resource

Sir Walter Scott at Wikipedia

Map (searchable)

More of Edinburgh at Astoft

Home Architecture Index Email:  Maps Link  (U.K.)

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