Gladstone's Land is a 17th-century Edinburgh tenement house, which has been faithfully renovated and furnished by the National Trust for Scotland. It occupies an enviable location close to Edinburgh Castle at the top of the Royal Mile.
The building was built in 1550 but substantially redeveloped in 1617 by Thomas Gledstanes. Gledstanes was a wealthy merchant who also held the political office of burgess in the city of Edinburgh. He also supplemented his income by leasing out the upper floors of his property to a variety of tenants from different social classes.
As space was at a premium in the Old Town and there was a tendency to build tall, thin buildings, Gladstone's Land is an impressive six stories high; it would have been a very desirable address in Gledstanes' day.
Gladstone's Land — Photo courtesy of National Trust for Scotland
However, by the 18th century, the Old Town had developed a rather unsavory reputation, and overcrowding had led to Edinburgh's nickname: "Auld Reekie." In the 1760s, construction began on a virgin site at the outskirts of the city, and Edinburgh citizens of means moved to the rather more genteel and refined New Town.
Many of the overcrowded tenements were demolished, and others fell into slum conditions. Gladstone's Land survived for two centuries, until finally, it was scheduled to be demolished in 1934. But the National Trust for Scotland saved the grounds from the wrecking ball and transformed it into a popular tourist attraction.
The ground floor features a French-style arcade frontage, behind which lies the reception room for the property and a reconstructed 17th-century cloth merchants shop. Between the two arches of the arcade hangs a replica sign dated 1617 and topped by a replica gilt-copper hawk, a reference to the origin of the merchant's name from the Scots' gled, or "hawk."
The first floor comprises a beautifully restored bedroom, hall, living rooms and kitchen. All are furnished with period pieces, and the bedroom features stunning original painted ceilings. There's also a stair leading down to the Bar Parlor (at one time leased by the neighboring “Robbie Burns Bar” and a second-hand bookshop.
The second floor (accessed by an internal stair) houses the Gladstone Gallery, which is rented out to a series of artists throughout the year and refashioned as a venue during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Visitors only have access to a few rooms in the property, but the guides are very knowledgable and happy to share amusing and poignant tales of the lives of the residents of the tenement.
Those with an interest in social history may like to follow a visit to Gladstone's Land with a trip to the National Trust property in Charlotte Square to compare life in the Old Town in the 17th century with the luxury and comparative grandeur of the New Town in the 18th century.