Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Restoration work begins at the Palace of Holyrood House

Abbey Strand scaffold wrap Image copyright Royal Collection Trust

Work has begun on the restoration of historic buildings and the creation of a learning centre at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh.

The learning centre will occupy the majority of the ground and first floors of the Abbey Strand buildings.

The first part of the works, removing the harling and drying out the exterior, is taking place behind a scaffold wrap.

The wrap shows the relationship between the palace, Abbey Strand and Edinburgh.

Image copyright Royal Collection Trust

Royal Collection Trust will develop the upper floors into holiday apartments, bringing the historic buildings back into full use.

The learning centre will provide spaces for school groups, families and adults to explore the history of the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the Royal Collection.

It is part of Future Programme, a £10m investment by Royal Collection Trust to enhance the visitor experience at the palace.

Other projects due for completion over the next few years include the creation of a public garden behind the Abbey Strand buildings, inspired by the lost 17th-century physic garden at the palace, a new ticketing space, and new displays of works of art from the Royal Collection.

Image copyright Royal Collection Trust

The Abbey Strand buildings have served many purposes over the centuries.

In 1541 James V of Scotland (1512-1542) used them to store 3,500 pikes and 500 halberds (two-handed pole weapons) during preparations for his ill-fated campaign against the English, which resulted in the defeat at Solway Moss and the King's death.

His daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots, succeeded him when she was just six days old.

Mary was one of the Palace's most famous residents, and the Abbey Strand buildings were converted into luxury lodgings for her large court.

From the late 17th to the 19th century (when imprisonment for debt was abolished), debtors who stayed in the boundary of Holyrood Abbey were protected from civil law and could not be arrested.

More than 6,000 people claimed refuge within the Abbey sanctuary, which included Abbey Strand, travelling from as far afield as Bohemia, the USA and the West Indies.

They included a Jacobite officer and clan chief, a professor of Maths at Edinburgh University, a former lady-in-waiting to Queen Caroline, the author Thomas de Quincey, and the Comte d'Artois, younger brother of the French king, Louis XVI. The novelist Walter Scott considered hiding at Abbey Strand when in financial difficulty in 1827.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries families were crowded into 25 tiny apartments in conditions that were damp, poorly lit and lacking in ventilation.

The oldest part of the buildings was home to Lucky Spence, the brothel keeper immortalised by the Edinburgh poet Allan Ramsay in his ballad Lucky Spence's Last Advice.

Abbey Strand has also housed many businesses, from taverns and breweries in the 18th century to a tourist information centre, tearoom and bakery in the 20th century.

Images on the Abbey Strand scaffold wrap

Image copyright Royal Collection Trust
  • Facing up the Royal Mile, on the gable end: Symbols from James V's Royal Arms, which once decorated the Palace's gatehouse and today can be seen on the wall by the Palace gates. They include a unicorn (adopted by Scottish kings as a symbol of purity and strength), a thistle (the floral badge of Scotland, used in Scottish heraldry for over 500 years) and St Andrew's Cross or Saltire.
  • On the Abbey Strand façade: A watercolour by James Skene of Abbey Strand and the Palace of Holyroodhouse in 1820.
  • On the north side, facing Abbeyhill: An early 19th-century watercolour by James Duffield Harding showing the palace against the backdrop of Arthur's Seat, with the Abbey Strand buildings and Victorian tenements in the foreground.

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