The flats at Ramsay Garden are an iconic part of central Edinburgh‘s skyline.
Nestled below Edinburgh Castle at the top of the Royal Mile, the distinctive red and white buildings are now mostly used as holiday lets.
But they have a long and interesting history, from their creation as homes for wealthy aristocrats, to their eventual transformation into student halls.
Revitalising the Old Town
In the 19th century, the Royal Mile wasn’t the charming and picturesque street it is today.
After the construction of the New Town in the previous century, the Old Town had fallen into disrepair as its wealthiest residents moved out.
Many of the buildings on the Royal Mile had turned into slums, where the poorest of Edinburgh’s population were forced to live.
In the late 19th century, Scottish biologist, sociologist and town planner, Patrick Geddes, came up with a plan to improve the Royal Mile though a series of urban renewal initiatives.
By demolishing slums, revamping old tenements and building new houses, he hoped to improve the living conditions of the working class, as well as encouraging wealthier members of society to move to the area.
Part of this plan included the construction of Ramsay Garden, a collection of beautiful, spacious flats with some of the best views of the city.
The origins of Ramsay Garden
Ramsay Garden gets its name from the famous Enlightenment poet, Allan Ramsay the Elder.
In 1733, he was the first person to build a significant structure on the site – Ramsay Lodge.
It was also sometimes called Ramsay Hut, or Goose-pie Lodge because of its octagonal shape.
The property was later extended by Ramsay’s son, who built three additional houses to form the start of Ramsay Garden.
It wasn’t until Geddes became involved in the 1890s that Ramsay Garden started to take the shape locals will recognise today.
Funded by prospective buyers of the finished apartments, and partly by a sum of £2,000 from his wife’s inheritance, Geddes set about revamping the existing Ramsay Lodge and building six additional flats alongside it.
Geddes appointed architect, Stewart Henbest Capper, to design the new buildings in the Scots Baronial architectural style.
The project was later taken over by another architect, Sydney Mitchell, due to Capper’s ill health.
As the more famous of the two, Mitchell often gets credited with Ramsay Garden’s unique design, but it was actually Capper who came up with the vast majority of the concept.
The resulting design is a mixture of traditional Scottish architecture and more elaborate French-inspired design – hence the castle-like towers, turrets and balconies.
After construction was completed in 1893, the Geddes family moved into the fourth floor apartment at number 14.
It had 12 large rooms (including a 20 by 40 feet drawing room) and sweeping views across the city.
Edinburgh’s fanciest halls of residence?
As well as housing wealthy families in private residences, Ramsay Garden was also home to many students.
Geddes, who had previously studied in European universities, was inspired by the superior student facilities he had seen on the Continent.
Partnering with the Town and Gown Association, he established halls of residence in newly renovated buildings across the Old Town – including Ramsay Garden.
It was mainly the older part of the building, Ramsay Lodge, that was used as student accommodation, and sometimes lectures and seminars were held there too.
By the end of the 19th century, Geddes had provided quality housing for more than 2000 students and staff from the University of Edinburgh.
Ramsay Lodge remained as student accommodation until 1945, when it was sold by the Town and Gown Association to the Commercial Bank of Scotland.
Million pound property
Long gone are the days when Ramsay Garden provided affordable student accommodation.
Now, the properties are some of the most desirable in Edinburgh, with flats selling for over £1 million in recent years.
But despite their central location, stunning views and spacious rooms, few locals actually live in Ramsay Garden.
Their location right next to the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle means that the surrounding area is often busy and noisy, especially during tourist season.
Instead, many of the flats are used as rented holiday accommodation, giving visitors the chance to stay in some of Edinburgh’s most beautiful and historic properties.
• This article was originally published in our sister title, the iNews.