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Riddles Court

Overview

An architectural gem with a distinguished history, playing host to a royal banquet in 1598 and becoming the residence of David Hume in 1751.

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An architectural gem

Listen as Andrew Wright heritage consultant guides you through the hidden treasures of Riddles Court:


Enter under an archway and you will discover the architectural gem that is Riddles Court. Riddles Court has a distinguished history, playing host to a royal banquet in 1598 and becoming the residence of David Hume in 1751.

Image courtesy of SBHT

Timeline

  • 1590 Bailie John McMorran petitions the council to demolish a ruined building on the site and build a new mansion for himself.
  • 1598 Riddles Court hosts a royal banquet
  • 1726 George Riddell a wealthy tradesman of the town reconstructs the parts of the building facing the Lawnmarket, and the property becomes known as Riddells Court.
  • 1751 The famous philosopher David Hume moves into an apartment in Riddles Court, he tells a friend he is now head of a household with, “…two inferior members – a maid and a cat.”
  • 1887 Patrick Geddes holds the first university summer school and the building becomes a student residence.
  • 1892 the architects S.Henbest Capper and George Shaw Aitken reconstructed Riddles Court for Patrick Geddes as a University Hall.
  • 2016 Riddles Court undergoes extensive conservation and refurbishment by the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust with support from Edinburgh World Heritage.

Features

  • In the 1890s buildings either side of the passageway were demolished to form a courtyard. A new staircase had to be put on the outside of the building to allow access between the first and second floors.
  • ‘Vivendo Discimus’: This Latin inscription above the archway means ‘By Living We Learn’, and dates to 1889 when Patrick Geddes, started the first Edinburgh University summer schools.
  • When Riddles Court was being restored in the 1960s a set of painted landscape panels dating to the early 18th century was discovered. They were painted by James Norie a Scottish landscape painter. Today you can see the painted panels in the Museum of Scotland.
  • A painted ceiling in the ‘Beam Room’ dates from the late 16th century and depicts crowns, dragons, grotesque faces and thistles.

In 1598 Riddles Court was used to host a royal banquet. The Duke of Holstein, brother-in-law to King James VI, was on an official visit and the city council wanted to host a banquet in his honour. As Edinburgh did not a have a grand town hall it was usual for the city officials to take turns in hosting important events in their own houses.

The City Treasurers Accounts give us an idea of the preparations:

  • Item payet to James Martein for foullis wylde and tame, £212 18s 8d
  • Item to James Heryot for V gallonis and ane quart of clairet wyn, £21
  • Item four trumpeteouris for their servive at the banquet, £13 6s 8d
  • Item payet for carrying the kingis and queenis Matjies veschellis and other furnitour to the banquet and hame again, 33s 4d

Restoration

In 1892 the architects S.Henbest Capper and George Shaw Aitken reconstructed Riddles Court for Patrick Geddes as a University Hall. Part of the building facing the Lawnmarket was demolished, leaving the octagonal stair tower isolated. The red sandstone archway was also created at this time.

In 1947 Riddles Court was taken into the care of the City of Edinburgh Council, and in 1964 it was opened as adult education rooms.