The Signet Library is one of the most iconic Georgian buildings in the country. Its neo-classical grandeur has always been impressive, but today, it truly looks its best following the most significant refurbishment since the building was completed 200 years ago.
For the first time, the Signet Library is open to the public to visit and enjoy the surroundings. Award winning hospitality providers Heritage Portfolio have created a stunning tea salon, the Colonnades, in the Lower Library at the Signet Library. Here you can partake of afternoon tea, light lunches and breakfast. 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
Over just a few months, in between delivering memorable weddings and conferences, the Lower Library has been transformed as part of a £250,000 restoration project. Firstly, 40,000 books, furniture, sculptures, paintings and artefacts from the WS Society’s collections were relocated. Then, led by interior designer Amy Schellenberg, an army of talented craftsmen have stripped back the years to reveal the room in new glory.
The history of this part of Edinburgh is fascinating. If you’d been standing just outside the building in the 17th century, you’d be in the midst of shops and workshops. You’d see the goldsmiths’ and clock makers’ workshops and Edinburgh’s first coffee shop set up by Colonel Walter Whytfoord. What an appropriate location for the Colonnades in the heart of the city even today.
Walking into the Signet Library entrance, take a moment to glance down. Renovations have uncovered the original flagstones – remarkably intact and undamaged. Imagine all the feet that have passed this way walking into the Parliament Hall or up architect William Burns’ stairs to the Upper Library. Glimpse through the door at reception and you’ll see members of the legal profession deep in confidential conversation as they walk the length of Parliament Hall and back.
1 Plan of the Signet Library and surrounding buildings 1870
You’ll now be walking on our new carpet, specially designed and created for the Colonnades. It features the WS logo and a pattern that reflects architectural features of the building and then past the James Cowan clock which was made in his workshop just outside this building in the 1770s. The Writers to the Signet moved into the Lower Library in 1815. The Upper Library was completed in 1822, just in time for George IV’s visit to Edinburgh, the first by a monarch in 100 years.
2 Thomas H Shepherd's engraving of the Upper Library
The first glance of the Georgian elegance will take your breath away. Built in the neo-classical style, the Colonnades’ Corinthian columns glow, with acanthus leaves picked out in gold. Natural light streams into the room and through the balustrades that line the gallery. Motifs on the gallery include ostrich feather, egg and dart and acorns. Gleaming glass topped tables are topped with specially commissioned silverware. These are original to the building and actually channelled warm air from the boiler room, as a very early form of central heating! You will sit amongst the beautiful leather bound books that line the shelves. The engraving pictured shows the Upper Library in the 1820s.
Every second year Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II attends the Signet Library for the installation of the Knights of the Thistle. Her Majesty, the Knights and Royal party robe and assemble in the Lower Library (now the Colonnades) just where you will be sitting. Members of the Royal family also visit the Signet Library on other occasions. You are in Royal company!
Come and visit the Colonnades soon and experience our fabulous venue and partake of afternoon tea. A perfect way to absorb the wonderful history. Use the booking form on the right or call 0131 226 1064.
Colonnades is open Sunday – Friday 11am to 8 pm. Last sitting for Afternoon tea 6pm.