Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Georgian House in Edinburgh

On my recent visit to Scotland I decided to take a look at a very particular attraction - the Georgian House in Edinburgh. For anyone who is interested in Georgian history, this house would be the perfect treat.

Exterior of the Georgian House, Edinburgh, Scotland. Source: Anson Clark    
Situated at  No. 7 Charlotte Square in New Town, the Georgian House was designed by Robert Adam as part of the Edinburgh modernization efforts. When the rich and powerful could no longer stand the dirt and squalor of Old Town, they decided to build a new elegant neighborhood, and thus the New Town was born.

Plan for the New Town by James Craig, 1768
The Georgian House has been restored and refurbished by the National Trust for Scotland. None of the original furniture or surroundings survived, so most of the details had to be reconstructed and all the bits and bobs taken from other places. But the resulting effect is more than magnificent. It feels like you stepped into the glittering world of Georgian Scotland.

The Kitchen in Georgian House gives a glimpse into the lives of the servants    
When visiting Georgian House, make sure to start from the basement. This is where they have the kitchen, the wine cellar and the china closet. You can watch a short film about the history of New Town and the lifestyle of the Lamont family, the first inhabitants of the house, in 1810.

The kitchen was my favorite space in the whole house. As someone who greedily devours all Georgian period film, I have seen enough parlors, ball rooms and bedrooms to last me a lifetime, but the kitchens and servants' quarters are usually left off the screen.

Still life with fruit and sugar loaf, 1720, Unknown artist
The kitchen had a a wonderful collection of period cookware and a whole assortment of things I have never seen before, so it was great fun to explore. On one side of the table I found a strange large whitish-gray cone. I was promptly informed that in the 18th century they did not have granulated sugar that we know today. Instead, sugar had to be purchased in large conical loaves. It was then broken into smaller pieces with the help of sugar nips. The cones were never seen outside the kitchen and sugar always arrived on the table in small manageable pieces in beautifully ornate silver or porcelain sugar bowls.

The white cloth signals that the food is ready to go to the dinning room. Source: Neil Holmes/The Bridgeman Art Library    

We often think that our ancestors were overburdened with technical incapacity, but I was amazed at how many clever devices they had to make their lives easier. The Georgian House kitchen hearth was equipped with a meat skewer that was designed to rotate automatically using the heat and steam from the fire. The scullery had a water pump that had been installed in 1819. I can only imagine how cutting edge and innovative this must have seemed to the young scullery maid who no longer had to haul the water from a well.   

Georgian House Dinning Room. The table is set for a 1810 dinner party 
The first floor has the Dinning Room and the Bedroom. The dining room is richly decorated with portraits and the table is set as it would have been for a dinner in 1810. I was surprised to see a bedroom on the first floor, but was informed by one of the guides that it was common for Scotland in the 18th century. The bedroom was located so close to the dinning room and other public spaces because it was often used as an informal sitting room by the lady of the house and her guests. The women would retire there after dinner and before going up to the drawing room.  

The lavish Drawing Room was used for balls and formal entertaining
The first floor had the Drawing Room and the Parlor. The Drawing Room overlooks the Charlotte Square and is the whole width of the house. This is where the family would entertain in a more formal style. It was also a place for balls and other social gathering of the season. The room is filled with portraits and paintings by popular artists  and has a large neo-classical fireplace showing off the master's wealth and fine taste. The mood is set by a faint sound of a piano recording playing in the background. I would not lie, I would have loved to start dancing in that room.

The Parlor is a private family room for the more intimate circle 
The other room on the first floor was the Parlor. That was a room where family members would gather for more informal pastime. It was a much smaller room and had a very cozy family feel to it. There were popular novels in the bookcase, newspapers on the table and embroidery on the walls, showing the elegant accomplishments of the young ladies' of the house. This was also the room where the family would take tea. The table had two tea caddies and a lovely silver tea set.

Tea caddy decorated with filigree, Grey Family of Nunnington Hall, Yorkshire.   
One of the things that drew my attention in the parlor was a lovely filigree tea caddy. Paper filigree, also known as quilling, was a popular accomplishment in the 18th and early 19th century. It involved curling colorful strips of paper into spirals and then arranging them into different designs to produce a very pretty effect.              

If you are wild about history, Jane Austen or just enjoy looking at beautiful objects and surroundings, I cannot recommend this place enough. There is a volunteer guide in every room who will help you with any questions as well as cards with detailed description of each room. The only drawback is that you cannot take pictures of the rooms or the exhibits. That is a bit disappointing, but you can always get a few nice postcards from the gift shop. This is the one that I got.

Sunderland Lustre Chamberpot, The National Trust of Scotland  
The inscription reads:      
This Pot it is A Present Sent.
Some mirth to make is only Meant, 
We hope the same you'll not Refuse 
But keep it safe and oft it Use. 
When in it you want to P-ss. 
Remember them who sent you 

You can find out more about the Georgian House here.  

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