Historic tenements returned to former glory
Major conservation work in the Canongate, Old Town, part of the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh UNESCO World Heritage Site, was carried out on three key historic tenements between 2015 and 2020.
Work was funded through the Conservation Funding Programme, which is supported by Historic Environment Scotland. Edinburgh World Heritage also provided expertise, advice and support to residents and shop owners throughout the project.
The conservation work
In 2015, conservation work was completed on 183-187 Canongate, a 300-year-old tenement, also known as ‘Bible Land’ after the carved stone cartouche on its frontage. In 2019, the striking red lime harling and limewash which identifies 189 and 191 Canongate, was reinstated as part of its conservation.
In 2020, the restoration and conservation of 195-197 Canongate, a five-storeyed, six-bayed block, was carried out by David Willis at CLWG Architects, and retained the traditional features of the tenement. These include repairs to the rubble and dressed stonework, timber-framed multi-paned sash and case windows and the carved panel in one of the central bays between the first and second floors which displays the emblem of the cordiners (shoemakers).
Additional work included repairing chimney heads and gables, overhauling roofs, gutters and flashings, repairing the south external masonry wall, removing loose paint and re-painting the north elevation, and repairing rainwater goods.
The history of the tenements
195-197 Canongate is also known as cordiner’s land. The cordiners were tanners, curriers (people who prepared leather for sale) and shoemakers who derived their title from the French “Courdouanier” meaning “of Cordova”, the source of the finest leather at the time. In 1825, they rebuilt the front half of the tenement and it became their meeting-place. The cordiners would also have sold their goods in the premises on the ground floor of the tenements, known as ‘luckenbooths,’ a purpose these tenements retain to this day. Throughout this period, the Canongate was its own royal burgh, established by King David I in 1128, and independent of Edinburgh until the two were united in 1865.
In the mid-20th century, these three tenement buildings were part of the substantial restoration of the historic Canongate Tolbooth area spearheaded by city architect Robert Hurd. His proposals respected the scale and nature of existing buildings and retained much of the original fabric of the buildings.
Today, these tenements represent nearly 1000 years of Scotland’s history.