The History of Cheval Old Town Chambers
The City of Edinburgh is split into two historic areas: The Old Town and The New Town.
The Old Town dates back to medieval times and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The spine of the Royal Mile runs the length of the Old Town with Edinburgh Castle sitting prominently on a crag at the top of the Royal Mile and the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the bottom. Recent political developments now also see the Scottish Parliament prominently sitting at the bottom of the Royal Mile. Probably the most striking feature of the Old Town is the density of tightly packed tenements separated by narrow ‘Closes’ (alleys). An impression of verticality is further exaggerated by the steep topography of the Old Town ridge and adjacent valleys.
The sense of containment is relieved by the contrasting views afforded by the Closes towards the New Town. After many years when the fabric of some of the buildings was allowed to deteriorate, the renovation of Cheval Old Town Chambers was an opportunity to be involved in the revival of the Closes including Advocate’s Close where the property sits.
For the adventurous and those seeking a spot of fitness, the network of Closes not only provides a short cut through the interior of the Old Town, but also a chance to capture unique vistas and reveal discreet attractions. Advocate’s Close dates to the 16th Century, when The Royal Mile was the hub of the City. It takes its name from Sir James Stewart of Goodtrees, the last Advocate of Scotland in office during the time of the Restoration, Revolution and Union.
Advocate’s Close was formally known as Stewart’s Close, Provost Stewart’s Close and Sir James Stewart’s Close, all four names arising from Sir James Stewart of Coltness, Provost of Edinburgh in 1648 and 1658. His son, Sir James Stewart of Goodtrees, Lord Advocate of Scotland from 1692-1702 and 1711-13, rebuilt the house soon after 1688 and lived in it until his death in 1713; thereafter it belonged to the family until 1769, when it was sold off by the Lord Advocate’s grandson, also Sir James Stewart. By 1765 there were a number of additional constructions to the east and west, including James’s Court and the Exchange (completed 1753). It was about this time that many of the slums which had been created by the overcrowded Old Town were swept away with the creation of the New Town to the north. Market Street was created between 1780 and 1817 with Cockburn Street not appearing until the 1850s/60s. At around the same time, the 16th century tenements to the west side of Advocate’s Close were demolished and now lie in the centre of the plot, where the archaeological evaluation occurred.
- 1544 – Advocate’s Close – a steep and narrow close believed to date from 1544. John Scougall, painter to William III and Queen Mary, was an early resident here, as was Bishop Bothwell (Abbot of Holyrood House 1570). It takes its name from Sir James Stewart of Goodtrees, the last Advocate of Scotland in office during the time of the Restoration, Revolution and Union. Doorheads, inscribed with his initials and HB for his wife Helen Bellenden, still exist.
- 1765 – The characteristic herringbone pattern of development in the Old Town evolved from the tight feuing (an ancient way to allocate land) of property fronting the high street and was well established by the mid-sixteenth century. The close grained pattern of long, thin merchant houses and tenements separated by narrow closes developed on plots originally occupied by single houses with private gardens to the rear. By 1765 the potential for further development within this framework had been more or less exhausted with tenement properties of up to ten storeys accommodating a population of 70,000 along the Royal Mile. The pressure of overcrowding provided the impetus for design of a New Town to the north.
- 1793 – Construction of the Lawn Market Bridge (later developed as The Mound) commenced in 1793.
- 1831 – The City Improvement Act of 1827 sought to bring elements of rational planning and order to the medieval clutter of the old town and in this area saw the construction of George IV Bridge as a major traffic artery, bisecting the Lawn Market into two distinct upper and lower reaches and joining with Bank Street to form a north-south and east-west cardinal node.
- 1877 – The construction of Cockburn Street (1859) radically altered the historic pattern of development as it swept through the tight grain of closes and tenements to provide traffic access to Waverley Railway Station.
- 1926 – North of vacant ground on Advocate’s Close, the Evening News boiler house was constructed in 1896. The east side of Advocate’s Close was substantially redeveloped in 1882 as offices and print works in a rustic baronial style.
- 1940 – The Imperial Hotel was demolished to make way for the six-storey Evening News office building of 1928. This was constructed over the former northern sections of the News steps route in order to adjoin buildings at 2-4 Cockburn Street and subsume the lower three floors of existing premises (the top three floors having first been removed) at the north end of Advocate’s Close. The News steps were re-routed to their present location on the west side of the Evening News building.
- Demolition of premises fronting on the High Street between Roxburgh’s Close and Warriston’s Close made way for construction of further City Council buildings at 329 High Street and created Roxburgh’s Court which interlinked the two closes.
- 2011 – Old Town Chambers and surrounding developments were formed out of 11 buildings and now occupy a landmark position between Advocate’s Close and Roxburgh’s Close with many apartments providing stunning vistas towards the New Town, The Forth Bridges and Fife.
- 2014 – Old Town Chambers opened its doors to guests
- 2020 – Old Town Chambers joined the Cheval Collection, rebranding as Cheval Old Town Chambers