Each September, all across Scotland, some of the finest and most interesting buildings are open for members of the public as part of Doors Open Day. It’s a chance to peek into places that are not usually open to the public. It is a fantastic way to discover the history and architecture of these amazing buildings. This year, the Signet Library will be open on Sunday 27 September from Noon for you to discover us in all our glory.
Some of you may have attended an event in the Upper Library or have enjoyed Afternoon Tea in the Colonnades, but we promise you there is plenty more to discover!
You'll find the history of the Library in our recent post and we’ll be telling more of the story on the day. In advance, I discovered a few facts that intrigued me – come and discover more about them on Doors Open Day.
The Signet Library continues to be a working legal library and the home of the Society of Writers to Her Majesty’s Signet. The work of the WS Society to support the Scottish legal profession continues, as it has done for over 500 years.
There must be very few buildings in the City that can claim to have the original furniture that dates back nearly two hundred years. The beautiful tables and chairs in the Upper Library date back to the 1820s and were made by in Edinburgh by the celebrated furniture maker William Trotter. Incredibly the tables are still used on a regular basis for events. Look up and you will see the magnificent cupola painting, by Thomas Stothard, depicting Apollo and the Muses, accompanied by poets, orators, historians and philosophers.
The fabulous staircase that swoops up from the entrance hall is the third installed into the Signet Library. Originally there was a dividing wall between the entrances to the Lower Library (owned by the WS society) and the Upper Library (originally built for the Faculty of Advocates but acquired shortly after its completion by the WS Society). It must have looked very different then. In 1819 by William Playfair reconstructed the staircase originally created by Robert Reid for the Faculty of Advocates. Then in 1833 it was reconstructed again by William Burn for the WS society to link the two libraries for the first time.
If you quiz the Signet Library staff on their thoughts on the building, the number of stairs always gets a mention. Staff run up and down the west staircase (which is normally out of bounds to the public and is out of sight) between the kitchen and Colnnades tea salon in the Lower Library many times a day. Originally the westmost end of the building was separate and used as a book store.
A feature of the Upper Library at the west end, is the stained glass window at one end of the Upper Library installed to commemorate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887. It depicts, along with the Royal Arms and those of the Society, those of the Keepers and Deputy Keepers who had held office in the 50 years to 1887. The window hides a secret. The window backs onto another building where we have placed spotlights. When lit in the evenings, the stained glass adds a lovely glow to the Upper Library.
You can visit the Signet Library between Noon and 5 pm on Sunday 27 September. We look forward to welcoming you. Why not stop for refreshments at Colonnades which will be open on the day? Look out for the specially woven carpet featuring the WS logo and the magnificent columns that give the tea salon its name! You can make your reservation online - simply use the widget top right or call 0131 226 1064.
Check out other Doors Open Day venues in Edinburgh