Lamb`s House

The following is taken from the Booklet on the House as issued by the National Trust for Scotland
Lamb`s House was probably the finest house in Leith in the 16th and 17th centuries.  The house has been owned by the National Trust for Scotland since 1958, with small pieces of surrounding land being acquired later.

Lamb`s House is of major importance as a combined dwelling and warehouse, of which many more examples survive in harbour towns across the North Sea.  As in Scottish castles of the period, none of its features is entirely decorative.  Its character depends rather on the arrangement of turnpike stair, tall chimneys and crow-stepped gables.  Inside, the house has massive fireplacess which indicate the original layout of the rooms and ogee-arched sinks on the stair with the waste outlet at the bottom.

Historians are uncertain about the exact age of Lamb`s House.  Those who attribute it to the mid-sixteenth century base their assumption on a contemporary record which claims that Mary Queen of Scots remainit in Andro Lamb`s hous be the space of ane hour on her arrival from France in 1561.

The architecture of the house, however, is definitely mid-sevententh century.  This does not mean that Mary did not stay in a house on this site but suggests that the original building may have been demolished and replaced.

Mary, Queen of Scots landing in Leith on 19th August, 1561
                                                           Sir William Allan 1782 - 1850

The first recorded resident as listed in the 1743 deed for the property was Andrew Lamb.  Traditionally this is the same `Andrew Lamb` who attended the first General Assembly in December 1560 and entertained Mary Queen of Scots in 1561.

An alternative suggestion is that the house was the home of another Andrew Lamb, successively Bishop of Brechin and of Galloway and minister of South Leith.  The bishop belonged to the same family - in fact he was probably the first Andrew Lamb`s son.

Although there is some dispute over the identity of Andrew Lamb himself, there is no doubt that the Lambs were a prominent family who had lived in Leith since the early 14th century.  They were wealthy landowners for, besides Lamb`s House, they also owned a tenement south of the Water of Leith in Restalrig.

Ownership of the property becomes clearer as time goes on, falling into a variety of hands after Andrew Lamb`s death.  It returned to the original family`s hands in 1800 when Dr Cheyne, a descendant of the Lambs, moved in.  He lived in the house until 1822 but, following his death, his family emigrated to Australia.

By the early years of the 20th century Lamb`s House had been subdivided to form homes for eight families but by 1933 the building had deteriorated and was in grave danger of being demolished.  This nearly occurred accidently in 1936-37 after some children broke into the house and lit a bonfire.  An article about this caught the eye of Robert Hurd, Honorary Secretary of the Saltire Society and he subsequently suggested to the Marquess of Bute that the house should be saved.  The Marquess bought it in 1938 for £200 and spent thousands of pounds on its restoration.

In October 1958 The National Trust for Scotland wrote to Lord David Stuart, the son of the Marquess of Bute, that they had decided to accept his kind offer of Lamb`s House and the building became Trust property.

In 1961 Lamb`s House was leased to the Edinburgh and Leith Old People`s Welfare Council, now Edinburgh and Leith Age Concern who helped to raise money to restore the building and convert it into a Day Centre for retired people.  In 1962 the building was formally opened for its new use by Qiueen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.  mazny facilities are available in the house which is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm for people to relax or learn new skills such as art, card games, carpet bowls, etc.  In addition the house has minibuses which are used daily to transport people to the centre, or on outside excursions.

The success of Lamb`s House largely depends on its many volunteers and the House`s own policy-making Management Committee whose members bring their different skills and new ideas to the centre.  This point is emphasised by the launch this year of the Lamb`s House Heritage Appeal.  This is designed to provide for the long-term upkeep of the building and garden area as well as the fabric and facilities within. 

If you feel you would be able to help then please ring 0131 554 3131..
Photo by John Stewart 2000