Edinburgh World Heritage recently did some research into the history of the two beautiful Victorian properties that now make up the Dunstane Hotel. Here’s what they uncovered …
At the entry to the World Heritage Site
The Dunstane Hotel sits at the entry to a magnificent World Heritage Site. In 1995 UNESCO recognised the unique character of Edinburgh with its medieval Old Town sitting in immediate contrast above its Georgian New Town. The site is recognised by UNESCO as having outstanding universal value.
The Dunstane in West Coates is well located to allow an exploration of the site and we have a walking trail available at reception, which will guide you to the heart of the World Heritage Site.
Origins of the West Coates area
The properties of the hotel comprise numbers 3 and 4 West Coates and number 5 Hampton Terrace.
West Coates was farm land owned by the George Heriot’s Trust. This was an attractive place to build grand suburban houses for wealthy professionals as it was already connected to the centre of Edinburgh by a turnpike toll road which led to the neighbouring Coltbridge estates. Haymarket Railway Station nearby also provided good links to the west, north and south of the country.
From farmland to Victorian villas
Numbers 3 and 4 West Coates were built on land sold at auction in 1851 to George Lorimer, a builder, with plans to build ‘Victorian Villas’. These homes were to be built immediately to the north of the Turnpike Road.
The architect of the Jacobean/baronial style villas was Alexander Black, architect for George Heriot’s School, who did not live to see their completion. In 1865 George Heriot’s Trust regained ownership and began to sell the new villas while retaining their feudal superiority.
5 Hampton Terrace was completed by 1869, after permission had been granted to:
“erect a house or villa agreeable to the plan approved of by the Feoffers of Trust and Governors of George Heriot’s Hospital”.
4 West Coates was marketed as Dunstane Villa and purchased in 1866 by Thomas Gill a silk merchant at Romanes & Paterson of North Bridge. In 1875 he purchased a neighbouring plot of land to the north. Thomas was a single man who lived there with two servants until the early years of the twentieth century.
3 West Coates was marketed as Randolph Villa and purchased in 1865 by John Kirkhope a grocer who traded from Melville Place. The house was home to him, his wife, six children and two servants. The Kirkhope family retained the property until the early 1920s.
5 Hampton Terrace’s first owner was Archibald Shearer, a music seller. There was a connection with the Dunstane Villa from the beginning. His wife Margaret was the sister of Thomas Gill of Dunstane Villa. They had three children and two servants.
Around 1900 Archibald died, and in 1901 the widowed Margaret moved across the road to stay with her brother Thomas in his final years in Dunstane Villa.
Dunstane Villa remained in the hands of Thomas Gill’s heirs until the late 1920s. By 1930 the property had been purchased by a distiller, Sir Henry James Ross (pictured). His father donated the Ross Fountain in Princes Street Gardens to the City of Edinburgh. He lived there until the late 1950s when the property became Dunstane College, a training facility for the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) until the 1970s.
Randolph Villa was owned from the 1920s by a Mrs. Annie Young and her heirs. However by 1950 it was owned by Sir John Edmund Ritchie Findlay, proprietor of the prestigious Scotsman newspaper.
From 1901 no. 5 Hampton Terrace was the home of Elizabeth Menzies, a widow, who lived there with her two children, a nephew and two servants. The house was then occupied in the twenties, thirties and forties by Mrs Margaret Cunningham. In the fifties two medical men lived there, first Dr Alex Black and then Dr Alexander Donaldson Willox.
The Dunstane becomes a hotel
In the 1970s Dunstane Villa was purchased by a Mrs Scott who began to convert the house into a hotel. This conversion work was continued by William Hunter and by 1994 the hotel came into the ownership of Mr and Mrs Veitch who paid a fee to their feudal superiors, George Heriot’s trustees, to obtain permission to run the premises as a licensed hotel;
‘the use of the same as a licensed hotel shall not be considered a nuisance in terms of the said feu charter’
To the present
The Dunstane Hotel was bought by current owners, Derek and Shirley Mowat (pictured), in 1998.
In 2007 the link between Dunstane Villa and 5 Hampton Terrace was restored when number 5 was bought by the Mowats in 2007. The building was opened in 2008 as the 18-bedroom Dunstane City Hotel, by former Scotland rugby union international Scott Hastings. The two properties are now known as Dunstane Houses and are operated as one hotel.
Researched by Edinburgh World Heritage, a charity, funded by donations, City of Edinburgh Council and Historic Scotland, which seeks to conserve and promote the city’s World Heritage Site. If you would like to donate to their work a collection can is held at the Dunstane Reception.