Six great examples of Edinburgh stone architecture and masonry: a personal pick

From its commanding castle and medieval wynds to rows of Victorian terraces and fine traditional tenements, when it comes to architecture Edinburgh has it all.

Working as a stonemason every day to preserve this great city of stone, you get a feel for the different styles that characterised the city through the ages – and inevitably, you develop a few favourites!

Here are some of mine: a mixture of the very old and newer stone renovation projects; some famous, others not so well know. I’ve included a mixture of grand buildings and humble homes, as befits a city in which great stonework of all kinds sits side by side: some I’ve had the pleasure of working on myself as part of RS Masonry’s commitment to help restore, protect and preserve stone walls and house fronts.

Whether it be re-pointing a wall or re-creating the original clean lines of a mason’s chisel using modern lime mortar techniques, it’s always satisfying to work on a building that has stood the test of time and still looks fantastic to this day!

1. Holyrood Abbey

he span of history in this corner of Edinburgh is vast. The adjacent Palace is now the main tourist attraction and itself boasts some fine stonework but the ruined abbey reminds me how good Scotland’s medieval masons were: Both the Romanesque arcades and the huge gothic window are magnificent, and some of the vaulting that once supported a vast roof gives an idea of how the church would once have looked. Contrast this with the modern Parliament building across the road, if you will!

2. Charlotte Square

It’s impossible not to pick something from Edinburgh’s great Georgian architectural gem, the New Town. I’ve talked about the masons who built the New Town in more detail in a previous blog on here, and the West End is a great place to inspect their work. I’ve been involved in restoring corbels, balustrades and other moulded stonework in this part of the city – look out for the contrast of old and new moulded stone, and you might see my contribution!

3. Arboretum Road

t wasn’t just the Georgians who had an eye for good stonework and fine residential building: the Victorians were pretty good as well! Working on some lime pointing and other restoration of a fine Victorian facade on Arboretum Road recently, it struck me that this is a fine example of the 19th century style. Lush front gardens and sweeping lawns can make the stonework a little harder to spot, but it’s well worth taking a look next time you’re in the vicinity of Innerleithen Park or the Botanical Gardens.

4. St Giles

Edinburgh’s ‘cathedral’ is a wonder of stonework, with lots to admire from masons of various periods in the city’s history. The core of the building you see today dates from shortly after 1385, when a fire destroyed the original church on the site. The famous crown steeple dates from the late 15th century, and there are numerous later additions. St Giles hasn’t survived all on its own – masons over the centuries have worked to preserve its stonework and walls, most notably during two major restorations in the Victorian period.

5. Seaforth Drive

A perfect row of distinctly Scottish terraced houses graces this road in Blackhall, and it still has space for some fine little tenement buildings as well. A sought-after residential area, the houses have been well maintained and the stonework is in excellent condition: The whole street matches, with two distinct stone colours used to great effect.

6. The National Museum of Scotland

Victorian Edinburgh meets modern sympathetic stone building, all in one vast fascinating building! The former Royal Museum building, from the 1860s, is in a style known as Victorian Venetian Renaissance. When more space was needed a new Museum in the 1990s, a new project was begun to build something that was both modern and echoed Edinburgh’s architectural heritage: the result uses Moray Sandstone to form curves more usually associated with more modern materials.