Lady Stair’s House lies in the Lawnmarket area of Edinburgh’s Old Town and is just off the Royal Mile near to the entrance to Gladstone’s Land. This area is immensely popular with tourists visiting the Scottish capital and Lady Stair’s House is one of the reasons for this.
One of the most picturesque pieces of architecture in Edinburgh, this amazing stone building has a wonderful fairytale look to it that makes it a must-see sight for anyone who loves historical stone buildings that have a wealth of history. The house is a must-see just to look at the stonework itself.
Sir William Gray
Lady Stair’s House’s history stretches back to 1622 when it was built by the eminent city merchant Sir William Gray of Pittendrum. He employed the finest Edinburgh stonemasons to build the house and these craftsmen certainly didn’t let him down.
As was the fashion of the day, the house is tucked away down one of Edinburgh’s many narrow passageways which were the preferred residential locations for the more wealthy, away from the noisy hustle and bustle of the main streets. The once rich and powerful Sir William Gray of Pittendrum however found that his fortunes changed during the Civil War.
Thanks to his connection to Royalists, he found himself imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle and during this time his daughter died of the plague. Sadly, Sir William died in 1648.
Sir William’s wife, Lady Gray continued to live in the house for many years and the close that leads to the house was eventually renamed to reflect this and became known as Lady Gray’s Close. This name remained until 1719 when the Dowager Countess of Stair bought the building and thus the house and close were renamed.
Calls for Demolition
Over time, the condition of Lady Stair’s House became worse and worse and by the 1890s there were calls for its demolition. Thankfully however it was bought by a direct descendant of Sir William Gray of Pittendrum called Lord Rosebery.
Architect George Shaw Aitken
He brought in the renowned Scottish architect George Shaw Aitken to oversee a renovation of the building. One of the founders of the Edinburgh Architectural Association, he made a lot of changes and alterations to the house, demolishing sections and creating the standalone house that stands there today.
It was also George Shaw Aitken who was responsible for the addition of the building’s now famous turret which gives the building its tell tale fairytale look. However, there were lots of original features that were retained and today you can still see the carved stone lintel that sites above the main entrance and has the initials of Sir William Gray and his wife Gedia Smith carved into it.
Lady Stair’s House is home to Edinburgh’s world famous Writers Museum and displays the work of eminent Scottish writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott. However, the building is worth a visit in its own right not only for its fantastic fairytale looks but to also see the quality stonework that has stood for over 400 years, testament to the fine Scottish masons that worked on the building originally.