Advocates Close

Last updated

The entrance to Advocates Close Advocates Close in Edinburgh.jpg
The entrance to Advocates Close

Advocates Close is a narrow and steep alley in Edinburgh of medieval origin, redeveloped in the early 21st century. With a multiplicity of steps it is not accessible to disabled persons.


The close leads from Market Street at the foot of Cockburn Street to the Royal Mile, exiting opposite St Giles Cathedral close to the Supreme Court of Scotland.

Viewing from the Royal Mile down the close it frames a view of the Scott Monument.


16th century doorway, Advocates Close 16th century doorway, Advocates Close.jpg
16th century doorway, Advocates Close
1870 drawing of the Lord Advocates house at the foot of Advocates Close The Lord Advocates house at the foot of Advocates Close.png
1870 drawing of the Lord Advocates house at the foot of Advocates Close

The street dates from at least the 15th century, and elements survive from at least the mid-16th century. At this time the street was a fashionable address, where the Scottish gentry and professionals would live with their family and servants. The name derives from the house of Sir James Stewart who was Lord Advocate of Scotland.

Adam Bothwell's house stands on the west side of the close and was originally accessed from Byers Close.

By the 19th century the Edinburgh gentry had abandoned the Old Town and moved to the New Town or suburbs. Streets such as Advocates Close passed to the lower classes and were split into tenements. In this form, given the huge density and dark, narrow streets, the area quickly became a slum. A major part of this stemmed from the lack of sewerage, with waste being thrown out of the window to run down the steep slope.

Sections of the area west of the close (up to and including Warriston Close) were rebuilt as printworks and offices for W & R Chambers, employing 200 persons. [1]

The main non-residential building in the 19th century was the Imperial Hotel, which stood at the lower end on the site of the Lord Advocate's house. This site was redeveloped several times: next as offices for the Edinburgh Evening News then as the main office for the Edinburgh Festival.

The iconic framed view of the Scott Monument from the top of Advocates Close The iconic framed view of the Scott Monument from the top of Advocates Close.jpg
The iconic framed view of the Scott Monument from the top of Advocates Close

A number of 16th century buildings survive on the east side of the close. In the 1920s, as a result of slum clearance programmes, most of the buildings on the west side of the close were removed. This demolition retained various carved doorways but moved them together, where they now stand in a mutually impossible relationship for each to be used. The demolitions created a new view of the Scott Monument, which stands slightly off axis to the close.

The bronze plaque at the head of the close was added in 1935 by the City Architect, Ebenezer James MacRae.

The first renewal of interest in the street (other than as a viewpoint) was in 1993 when the newly created Old Town Conservation Committee chose to site their office in the oldest remaining building: at the head of the close on its east side. This involved a wholesale restoration of the building, revealing a large 16th century fireplace within and several painted ceilings. This block lost its top two floors in the slum clearance of the 1920s. [2] A doorpiece slightly further down the close echoes the fireplace design.


Roxburgh Court viewing down Warriston Close including the greatly rebuilt and extended building on the close - part of the award winning Advocates Close scheme Roxburgh Court viewing down Warriston Close including the greatly rebuilt and extended building on the close.jpg
Roxburgh Court viewing down Warriston Close including the greatly rebuilt and extended building on the close - part of the award winning Advocates Close scheme

The scope of the scheme, although centred on Advocates Close, ran from Warriston Close to Byers Close/Evening News Steps, and from Market Street to the Royal Mile: one of the largest development sites ever in the Old Town, therefore highly sensitive.

The City of Edinburgh Council sold a large section of its former offices early in the 21st century, stretching along the length of Advocates Close. These ran from Market Street to the Royal Mile. In order to control the sensitive suite (which was expected to go to multiple developers) a rigid but generous development brief was created, with multiple urban design objectives: retaining the view of Scott Monument: retaining all closes and re-opening closed closes; creating a new square at Roxburgh Court; and adding missing storeys. A mix of modern and traditional forms was encouraged.

The buildings on the Royal Mile were converted first, including reopening of the long-closed Roxburgh Close. The Royal Mile section is so authentic that it is frequently forgotten that the entire ground floor is new. It is often forgotten that this was part of the redevelopment.

The section of the site between Roxburgh Close and Warriston Close was previously the huge publishing works of W & R Chambers. [3]

The bulk of the lower buildings were originally obtained by a local company, Station Properties. A scheme was drawn up for redevelopment, mainly as flats, by Morgan McDonnell architects. Unfortunately, as a result of the banking scares at the end of 2008, despite being close to completion, the original developer was declared bankrupt and the scheme was relaunched under new ownership.

The development brief for the site required a new pedestrian link between the Evening News Steps and the centre of Advocates Close. It clarified which buildings had to be preserved, whilst allowing generous new-build, especially above the existing structures. [4] The resultant mix of old and new is highly respectful of Edinburgh's historic character, whilst creating a vibrant new scheme of hotels, offices and bars. [5]

At the centre of the redevelopment (topographically rather than conceptually) lies the bar, the "Devil's Advocate", converted from the 19th century boilerhouse which served the buildings to north and east. The northern part of the site is mainly occupied by a hotel operated by Motel One.

The zone to the south and east includes a new restaurant, Angels with Bagpipes, which was part of the development brief site, but developed by a separate architect. This overlooks Roxburgh Court to the east, which is the area of most change in the development as a whole. Here the planner co-ordinated different architects and developers to create a vibrant new square, connecting to Warriston Close.

Arguably the most dramatic change is the re-addition of two floors and a pitched roof on the Warriston Close building. This presents a new stone gable to Princes Street. On the courtyard side the architecture echoes the forms of the past but is 100% new.

The development won several awards including RIAS Andrew Doolan Best Building in Scotland Award for 2014, [6] and due to the high planning input of the Planning function of City of Edinburgh it won the RTPI's Best Development on the Ground 2014. [7] It also won the RICS award of 2015. [8]


Archaeological excavations undertaken in 2012 in advance of the redevelopment, by AOC Archaeology found the remains of a 16th-century tenement, which was owned at different times by the Cants, Hamiltons and Raes, all burgesses or merchants of the city. The tenement was demolished and back-filled with rubble during the late 19th century. The excavations provided information on the initial settlement of Edinburgh's Old Town in the 12th/13th century to the clearing and landscaping of the tenement area in the late 19th century. The artefacts found showed the expansion of the area in 16th and 17th centuries, as well as the decline during the later 17th and early 18th centuries. [9]

Famous Residents

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Royal Mile</span> Tourist attraction in Edinburgh

The Royal Mile is a succession of streets forming the main thoroughfare of the Old Town of the city of Edinburgh in Scotland. The term was first used descriptively in W. M. Gilbert's Edinburgh in the Nineteenth Century (1901), describing the city "with its Castle and Palace and the royal mile between", and was further popularised as the title of a guidebook by R. T. Skinner published in 1920, "The Royal Mile (Edinburgh) Castle to Holyrood(house)".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rottenrow</span>

The Rottenrow is a street in the Townhead district of Glasgow, Scotland. One of the oldest streets in the city, it underwent heavy redevelopment in the 20th century and now forms part of the University of Strathclyde's John Anderson Campus.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sciennes</span> Human settlement in Scotland

Sciennes is a district of Edinburgh, Scotland, situated approximately 2 kilometres south of the city centre. It is a mainly residential district, although it is also well-known as the site of the former Royal Hospital for Sick Children. Most of its housing stock consists of terraces of four-storey Victorian tenements. The district is popular with students, thanks to its proximity to the University of Edinburgh. Its early history is linked to the presence in the area of the 16th-century Convent of St Catherine of Scienna, from which the district derives its name.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Timeline of Edinburgh history</span> Timeline of history in Edinburgh, Scotland

This article is a timeline of the history of Edinburgh, Scotland, up to the present day. It traces its rise from an early hill fort and later royal residence to the bustling city and capital of Scotland that it is today.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">New Town, Edinburgh</span> Central area of Edinburgh, Scotland

The New Town is a central area of Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. It was built in stages between 1767 and around 1850, and retains much of its original neo-classical and Georgian period architecture. Its best known street is Princes Street, facing Edinburgh Castle and the Old Town across the geological depression of the former Nor Loch. Together with the West End, the New Town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site alongside the Old Town in 1995. The area is also famed for the New Town Gardens, a heritage designation since March 2001.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Granton, Edinburgh</span> Edinburgh suburb

Granton is a district in the north of Edinburgh, Scotland. Granton forms part of Edinburgh's waterfront along the Firth of Forth and is, historically, an industrial area having a large harbour. Granton is part of Edinburgh's large scale waterfront regeneration programme.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">The Canongate</span> A district of Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland.

The Canongate is a street and associated district in central Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland. The street forms the main eastern length of the Royal Mile while the district is the main eastern section of Edinburgh's Old Town. It began when David I of Scotland, by the Great Charter of Holyrood Abbey c.1143, authorised the Abbey to found a burgh separate from Edinburgh between the Abbey and Edinburgh. The burgh of Canongate that developed was controlled by the Abbey until the Scottish Reformation when it came under secular control. In 1636 the adjacent city of Edinburgh bought the feudal superiority of the Canongate but it remained a semi-autonomous burgh under its own administration of bailies chosen by Edinburgh magistrates, until its formal incorporation into the city in 1856.

Sir Frank Charles Mears LLD was an architect and Scotland's leading planning consultant from the 1930s to the early 1950s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Old Town, Edinburgh</span> The oldest part of Edinburgh

The Old Town is the name popularly given to the oldest part of Scotland's capital city of Edinburgh. The area has preserved much of its medieval street plan and many Reformation-era buildings. Together with the 18th/19th-century New Town, and West End, it forms part of a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Easter Road is an arterial road in north Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. The road is so called as it was known as the "Easter (eastern) road to Leith". As maps of Edinburgh in the late 18th century show, it had a counterpart in "Wester Road". Until the creation of Leith Walk in the middle of the 17th century these were the two main routes from Leith to Edinburgh. Historic personages who have ridden up Easter Road have included Mary, Queen of Scots (1561) and Oliver Cromwell.

The Bruce Report is the name commonly given to the First Planning Report to the Highways and Planning Committee of the Corporation of the City of Glasgow published in March 1945. It influenced an intensive programme of regeneration and rebuilding efforts which took place in the city and surroundings from the mid-1950s and lasted until the late 1970s. The author was Robert Bruce, Glasgow Corporation Engineer at the time.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cockburn Street, Edinburgh</span> Thoroughfare in Edinburgh, Scotland

Cockburn Street is a picturesque street in Edinburgh's Old Town, created as a serpentine link from the High Street to Waverley Station in 1856. Originally named Lord Cockburn Street after the then recently-deceased Scottish lawyer, judge and literary figure Henry, Lord Cockburn who was influential in urging his fellow citizens to remain vigilant in ensuring that early-Victorian expansion, e.g. improvements such as Cockburn Street, did not irrevocably damage or obliterate the built heritage and environment.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ebenezer James MacRae</span> Scottish architect (1881–1951)

Ebenezer James MacRae was a Scottish architect serving as City Architect for Edinburgh for most of his active life.

Robert Reid Raeburn was a Scottish architect in the mid-19th century operating primarily in and around Edinburgh.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Robert Paterson (Scottish architect)</span> Scottish architect

Robert Paterson (1825–1889) was a 19th-century Scottish architect. His most famous work is the Cafe Royal in Edinburgh. Almost all his works are in Edinburgh, mainly in the Scots Baronial style, including a number of churches for the United Presbyterian Church.

Robert Macfarlane Cameron RIBA DL (1860–1920) was a 19th/20th century Scottish architect, specialising first in public houses and later in cinemas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Dick of Braid</span> Scottish merchant and financier

Sir William Dick of Braid (1580–1655) was a 17th-century Scottish landowner, banker and merchant who served as Lord Provost of Edinburgh from 1638 to 1640. His fortunes took him from being "the richest man in Scotland" in 1650 to his death as a pauper a few years later.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Byres of Coates</span>

Sir John Byres of Coates (1569–1629) was a 16th/17th century Scottish banker and merchant who served as Treasurer and Old Provost for Edinburgh Town Council. Old Provost is the equivalent of Deputy Provost.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">James Bonar (philanthropist)</span> Scottish lawyer and philanthropist

James Bonar WS (1801–1867) was a Scottish lawyer and philanthropist who was an important figure in the Disruption of 1843 serving as Secretary to the Free Church of Scotland and a major figure in Edinburgh Society. He was also involved with promoting the welfare and education of the deaf in Scotland and Edinburgh in particular.


  1. Grant's Old and New Edinburgh vol.2 p.226
  2. Old Town News June 1993
  3. 1877 Ordnance Survey
  4. City of Edinburgh Council: Development Brief
  5. Scotsman (newspaper) 15 December 2015
  6. "Advocates Close named Scotland's 'best building'". BBC News. 5 November 2014.
  7. [ dead link ]
  8. "Advocate's Close scoops top prize at RICS Awards 2015".
  9. "Vol 67 (2017): Where There's Muck There's Money: The Excavation of Medieval and Post-Medieval Middens and Associated Tenement at Advocate's Close, Edinburgh | Scottish Archaeological Internet Reports". Retrieved 30 August 2021.

Coordinates: 55°57′01″N3°11′29″W / 55.95015°N 3.19144°W / 55.95015; -3.19144