Pilrig House, Edinburgh

Pilrig House is a late example of a traditional Scottish Laird’s house, converted from dereliction by Michael Laird Architects into six apartments. It is set in the grounds of Pilrig Park in south Leith, on the edge of Edinburgh’s city centre.

Built in 1638 in an L-shaped plan around a turnpike stair for the Edinburgh goldsmith, Gilbert Kirkwood, the originally plain house was soon embellished with a Greek classical doorway and a curvilinear gable. In 1828, James Balfour extended the house using the well established architect William Burn. The house was gifted to the Corporation of Edinburgh in 1941 with the intention that it became a museum for Leith.

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Although Category A listed in 1966, within three years the William Burn extension had been demolished. This architectural vandalism was compounded as the building languished and regretfully in 1971 the house was burnt down.

The ruin of the stone walls with free standing crow-stepped gables and chimneys dominated the Park for twelve years. In 1983, the unique nature of Pilrig House was recognised and following an architectural competition restoration was undertaken. The exterior and turnpike stair were restored to their original condition. Natural sandstone was used for all new masonry, even where covered with harling, and time was spent retrieving decorative stonework from the rubble left inside the shell. Copestones and skew putts to the curvilinear gable and the marriage lintel were salvaged, cleaned and where possible returned to their original position.

The proposal was made to create six apartments within the original fabric. While five of these are currently private residences, the other is a holiday apartment, which in conjunction with its setting in a public park, allows good public access to this important Scottish house.

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