One of the oldest buildings on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, which tells the stories of its residents over more than 500 years, is reopening following a £1.5 million restoration.
The National Trust for Scotland’s (NTS) Gladstone’s Land closed in February 2020 and was due to open its doors again last August, but that was delayed due to the pandemic.
The six-storey tenement was saved from demolition by the trust in 1934 after the apartments were condemned as unfit for human habitation.
Over the last 40 years the focus of the exhibits was mainly on the life and times of merchant Thomas Gladstone, who bought the building in the early 17th century, extended it and commissioned its Renaissance-style painted ceilings.
But following years of research led by NTS visitor services managers Dr Kate Stephenson and Anna Brereton, the lives of other residents of the property over the centuries are also being told, with three floors of rooms laid out to reflect how they would have lived and worked.
Stuart Maxwell, NTS general manager for Edinburgh and east, said: “We’re really pleased to reveal what’s been going on behind the hoardings and give people the chance to reconnect with this incredibly special place.
“Work really started many, many years ago when the team came up with the idea of shifting the focus away from the prosperous merchant who owned the property to the people who actually lived and did business there, and who may resonate more so with people today.
“By poring over documents such as wills, ships’ logs, trade accounts and newspapers, we’ve been able to put together an incredibly detailed portrait of the individuals who inhabited the property over the last 500 years.
“And we’re then presenting it in a way that is quite new for the trust. Visitors are allowed to touch almost everything in the property and there are surprises at every turn for the curious. As well as the sense of touch, the immersive experience will involve sight, smell and taste too.
“There’s something there for everyone, from the specialised historian to the first-time museum goer.”
A whole new floor of Gladstone’s Land is opening for the first time, presenting an early 20th-century boarding house inspired by Mary Wilson.
In 1911, the widow placed a newspaper advertisement offering a room in her apartment as suitable lodgings for “two or three respectable men”.
In another room, researchers have drawn on details in the will of wealthy 17th-century merchant John Riddoch to recreate his stockroom with items such as ginger, sugar, pepper and cinnamon, while another space shows a draper’s shop based on the surviving accounts of a late 18th-century business trading in silks, laces and printed cottons.
A new coffee shop and ice cream parlour have also been created at street level, with flavours including elderflower and lemon curd – inspired by records related to the first sales of ice cream in Edinburgh in the 1900s.
Records show there was a property on the site as early as 1501.
Gladstone and his wife Bessie Cunningham bought the building in 1617 to generate rental income.