The History of Cheval Abbey Strand Apartments at Holyrood
Dating back as early as 1460, the site on which Cheval Abbey Strand Apartments at Holyrood now sits contains some of the earliest dwellings still standing in Edinburgh today. In May 2019 a project began to restore the the property, and the careful redevelopment has optimised the excellent quality of materials and the subtle elegance of the original building, restoring many of the interior features.
Constructed by Abbot Crawford between 1460 and 1480, the west side of the building is the earliest surviving structure. In preparation for the Battle of Solway Moss in 1541 against King Henry VIII’s English forces, Abbey Strand was predominantly used as a weapons store, housing upwards of 3,500 pikes and 500 halberds. After the Scottish Reformation in 1560, Holyrood Abbey lost control of the Abbey Strand area, which was rebuilt and transformed into a fashionable Renaissance style dwelling. The neighbouring palace gave way to a trend of high-quality housing, which eventually provided accommodation for Mary Queen of Scots and James V’s courtiers and household, before a third storey was added to the building in 1566.
Taking advantage of the area’s “sanctuary” status, debtors moved to Abbey Strand seeking refuge from the threat of imprisonment. The sanctuary contained within its five-mile boundary the King’s Park, Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags, as well as the Abbey and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. This boundary was shown by a series of brass “S” shapes in the pavement; one of which can be found just outside reception. Go on, take a peek from your bedroom window – can you see them? With as many as 40 tenants living in such crowded proximity at the same time, living conditions began to deteriorate. Businesses set up to cater for such a large number of residents began to open on the ground floor of Abbey Strand, including a brewery and a row of taverns. The Crown Inn, Abbey Tavern and the Queen’s Arms were popular haunts for the well-known brothel keeper “Lucky Spence”, who is also rumoured to have resided (and worked) at Abbey Strand.
By 1916 the taverns were all closed due to unsatisfactory conditions (to say the least) and the building restored – during which, the houses, tenements and shops were vacated for the duration of construction. Finally, by 1933, all remaining residents were evicted. From the 1960s onwards, several restoration projects have taken place, including a revamp of the building’s exterior to give it a more antiquated appearance that we see today. By the 1960s the floors and ceiling had been strengthened using intricately painted beams salvaged from Midhope Castle, which can be seen today in the Learning Centre next door.