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Edinburgh World Heritage/Traditional Building Festival

Traditional Building Festival

Traditional Building Festival

A series of demonstrations that took place in the courtyard of Acheson House, including stonemasonry, limework, ironmongery and lead roofing.


Traditional Building Festival

A nation of stone

As part of the main Fringe Festival programme, Edinburgh World Heritage has played host to the Traditional Building Festival in the courtyard of Acheson House.

We passionately believe in the importance of preserving and nurturing these crucial building skills. Without them we will not be able to maintain or enhance Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site. The use of these traditional skills and methods also extends beyond the designated site, contributing to the unique character and appeal of our Scottish built environment.

Scotland is a nation of stone. It gives our cities their character and builds a unique sense of place. The stonemasons art therefore remains at the core of a traditional building industry. Hutton Stone from Swinton in the Borders demonstrated of sandstone being dressed in the traditional way – with mallet and chisel. The Scottish Lime Centre Trust then showed quicklime being ‘slaked’ in a process that produces lime plaster with its putty-like consistency. This produces considerable heat which made it popular work for builders during the winter months when building sites were often closed. Lime is a crucial ingredient in many traditional construction materials, for example when mixed with sand and water to form a flexible and breathable mortar. Lime mortar is essential to use in the repair and repointing of traditional stone buildings whereas cement-based mortar is inappropriate and should not be used.

The foundry was once the engine of the Scottish economy, accounting for more employment and revenue than any other industry. At one point at the end of the 19th century, Edinburgh alone boasted more than 30 foundries in and around the city. The cast iron produced was used extensively in the building industry for railings, fireplaces, boot scrapers, as well as street lights and letter boxes, and these skills are still needed.

Other demonstrations included Andrew Laing of the Charles Laing Foundry’s casting processes, and specifically the complex and skilful process of making a mould, Compass Roofing replacing a slate if the courses have been attached correctly, as well as Scotch Slate’s lead roofing skills.

Edinburgh World Heritage is funded partly by Historic Environment Scotland, as well as a number of other public bodies, and a wide range of individual and corporate supporters.

“What we’re trying to do is get away from the focus on Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood House Palace and places like that. If the building you live in is pre-1919 it’s a traditional building, it requires traditional building skills and material and that’s critically important.”

John McKinney

Head of the Edinburgh Traditional Building Forum

Old traditions

New skills

The Traditional Building Festival returns to Bakehouse Close in 2018. Click on 'News' in the menu above to visit our blog section and find out more.


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