Sarah Halford

Architecture and Ceramics

law of the land

If you are a student in Edinburgh chances are you’ll live in a tenement. The word ‘tenement’ refers to the land law of Scotland – which has its own, very different law system to England and Wales – and is a hangover from the feudal system of land ownership. In Scotland the word ‘tenement’ has come to mean a building with a shared stair and separate flats on each level. It’s a very traditional way of building in Scotland, and comes with a particular set of rules and etiquette, such as the regular cleaning of the stair. Where I grew up in York flats are not a traditional building form at all, so much so that when my Granny visited my first student flat she couldn’t believe that it wasn’t a converted house. She had to be shown the original bell pulls to be convinced.

In my opinion it’s a great housing type, mixing all sorts of people together. The benefits include cheap[ish] city centre living, fantastic original features in most tenements – cornicing, fireplaces, servants niches – ENORMOUS rooms with high ceilings, a shared rear garden. A lot of tenements have shops on the ground floor, and apart from making it quite difficult for some people to get a mortgage it means you can live right on the high street, so there’s a good level of natural surveillance.Rows of tenements with their various roof styles characterise the Old Town and Abbeyhill areas of Edinburgh.

One tenement always makes my heart leap with joy when I pass on the bus. Wolesley Terrace is just beautiful; I haven’t got to the library this week to look up the architect, but there is a plaque showing the date. It was built in two parts, in 1885 and 1886.

It’s quite an unusual Baronial style for the area, with fantastically detailed stonework over the whole of the facade, which wraps around the corner. It seems like it may have even been a show piece for the craftsmen.

The more you look, the more fabulous craftsmanship there is. This is the bottom of the turret corner, above the corner shop. The rope carving alone is just gorgeous; what a way to finish off a baronial turret.

This is where I start to get REALLY excited. Here we have a traditional residential building, not a civic building, or somewhere processional, and LOOK at the stonework. It’s pretty exceptional; the broken string courses – usually emphasising the horizontal – run around the windows, and embrace the downpipes. There are GARGOYLES next to the dormer windows!

The design of the roof is another thing of beauty. It’s obvious that designing this building was an absolute joy, and the exuberance and confidence shines through. Ok, just two more photos of this [I took so many, the closer you get the more exciting it is!]

WHAT is going on with that roof? It’s a crowstep that stops and finishes with a sort of mansard idea? And that eyebrow string course over the double window, it could be functioning as a drip against Scotland’s driving rain, but many of the other windows are without such defence, I think it’s just decorative. OK, one more and I’ll stop

More of the crazy string course. I think the influence from the Wallace Monument is pretty evident in the stonework, as there was a resurgence in interest to find a ‘Scottish Style’ [well, that was never really resolved and is still ongoing] which lurched between fiddly carvings of thistles, and a ‘truth’ in design espoused by Greek Thompson. I’m pretty keen to find out who EC (or CE?) is.

More on traditional Scottish forms of housing to come!


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This entry was posted on October 9, 2010 by in architecture.
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