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  • Writer's pictureRobert Sproul-Cran

Uncovering the old Scottish Parliament

Updated: Jan 3

There used to be a Scottish Parliament before it was dissolved by the Act of Union in 1707. Astonishingly, the building still exists - hidden but waiting to be uncovered.

Parliament Square behind St Giles Cathedral looking West

Let me apologise in advance for my ignorance at the start of this detective tale, but perhaps it will help you to come along on my voyage of discovery. I started as somebody who was brought up in Edinburgh, went to school there, did a postgraduate degree at Edinburgh University. I took an interest in Edinburgh's past, but didn't realise how large were the gaps in my knowledge. Many years ago I had visited Parliament Hall, but regarded it as part of the Scottish legal establishment. I just didn't appreciate how rich its history was.

I knew that lawyers would discuss cases while walking up and down its length to avoid curious observers from listening in on the conversation. The Hall is within a neo-classical building complex, but I assumed that the exterior was lost forever.

There is a model within the Hall which shows what it used to look like.

The model shows a grand doorway on the West facade with classical statues above. This would have led directly into the Parliament Hall. Scottish baronial architecture gives the building a distinguished air, with turrets on each corner. In the angle between the main Hall and 'the Jamb' is a tower containing a spiral staircase giving access to upper floors and the roof. I was delighted to discover that within the rooms adjacent to the Hall, close to this model, the rescued statues of Justice and Mercy are displayed, together with other salvaged stonework.

With the help of Jennifer Findlay, the Head of Library and Archive Services at the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, I started to realise that there was far more to be seen if you knew where to look. If you go to George IV Bridge, next to the National Library, you can look across a courtyard to an old building with stained glass windows. Despite living in Edinburgh most of my life I hadn't realised that this was the exterior of the old Scottish Parliament - Parliament Hall - in plain sight, but with no label, no explanatory plaque, no acknowledgement whatsoever!

And there is so much more. In future blog posts I'll take you with me on my travels of exploration, which so far have stretched from Stirling to the Scottish Borders.


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