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  • Writer's pictureRobert Sproul-Cran

Where is the old Scottish Parliament hiding?

Remarkably there are significant parts of the old Scottish Parliament still in existence if you know where to look.

Let's take stock of what can be seen on site.

Built into the Reid facade in Parliament Square is a pediment from above one of the original windows. I believe this one is either from the 'jamb' - the annexe to the east of Parliament Hall which originally made the building L-shaped - or from the facade of Parliament Hall itself.. Let's remind ourselves of the layout.. Here's the original building, in the de Wet print of 1640:

The Arnot print from the History of Edinburgh of 1816 shows two triangular pediments above windows on the walls on either side of the round stair tower in the corner.. So what happened to the other three? I believe I have found all of them. More of that in the next blog. But first let's keep looking at the historical record. The jamb has a door and two windows on the ground floor and three windows to the first floor. The building originally stopped where the corner turret is shown at roof level. The print above shows the building after the Exchequer was added, extending the jamb further east. It shows a doorway with a guard standing duty, pillars on either side, and a pediment above.

Look around Parliament Square and we find this...

It's not visible in the Arnot print, but would seem to have been a feature above the doorway, possibly under the shelter of the outer door, and hidden from this artist's viewpoint. The pristine state of the stonework would support this theory.

We know that the figures of Justice and Mercy are within Parliament Hall, in a hallway, and between them is a crest...

These are the stone carvings above the main door in the Arnot print. The conch shell is likely to be one of the three protruding pieces of stonework protecting the statues and crest from the rain. The size of the block of stone that the shell protrudes from is a good match with the courses of stonework in the existing Parliament wall hidden behind the Reid facade. But what of the crest? The design is wrong. It is not the one shown above the main door of Parliament Hall. To find that one we must head south of Edinburgh, past Gorebridge, to Arniston House. Below are some photos from a research trip made with Jennie Findlay - Head of Library and Archive Services at the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service - where we were shown round by Lady Dundas and her daughter Henrietta.

Arniston House south facade. Note the crest at roof level.

Here we find the crest which originally graced the wall above the main door to Parliament Hall, together with a thistle and a rose. Look back to the Arnot print, and you'll see a couple of supports to the crest, with distinctive curlicues. Back in the 1820s Lord Dundas salvaged masonry which was removed from the old Scottish Parliament and had it transported to his estate. Now we're on the trail, let's head to the walled garden.

And there we make some really exciting discoveries.

Here are the supports for the crest, mounted upside down as a decorative feature on either side of the gate. Turn them the right way up and we see how they would have fitted to the side of the crest.

And above these another two stylised shells. So together with the one in Parliament Hall it looks like we have the full set!

Now let's look at these two gargoyles - a lion and a dragon. The key to identifying these is the fact that neither has a lower jaw. They are also set into what looks like a section of horizontal moulding - as if part of a longer architectural feature. We can spot them on the Arnot print - although it's tricky with this small web image. They are on the main facade of Parliament Hall, just below the roof balustrade. One is just right of centre - the other on the left hand side. They will have had lead pipes as mouths, and will have drained water off the roof.

The lintel looks as if it has come from above an upper window. Some illustrations show a triangular pediment, but the Arnot print suggests that the upper storey didn't have enough space for that, and a decorative horizontal lintel was used. This is the only one I'v tracked down so far, but it seems a very plausible solution to this part of the jigsaw puzzle.

The gargoyle above that is a puzzle. But a search online reveals that there's another one in a grotto in the grounds which I haven't yet visited. So if there are two, could they also relate to the upstairs windows? If you look at the photograph above a clue presents itself. The moulding along the bottom of the gargoyle matches the moulding along the top of the lintel, which is in a short and a longer length. Could the gargoyle originally have been lower down, and part of the window surround? This might explain why the Arnot illustration shows a fairly horizontal decoration while the de Wit and others show something closer to a triangular pediment.

Finally - an instantly recognisable feature of the main doorway to Parliament Hall - the pyramid blocks in a column on either side. You can see these clearly in both the de Wet and Arnot prints, although the number shown seems to change every time.

Let's fit all these elements together and add them to our 3D model. Most of the features are actual 3D scans built up from photos taken on site. So we're now starting to see a detailed view that seemed lost forever when the demolition gangs arrived in 1824. Here's a rendering of work so far. More remains to be done to make it truly photorealistic, but we're now looking at a building which nobody has seen for exactly two hundred years.

Next time I'll continue looking at the Arniston House masonry, and the trail will lead to the Scottish Borders, and the new Scottish Parliament too...


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