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First visitors for historic building

Re-planted Botanic Cottage blooms again

Botanic Cottage opening dayOne of Scotland’s historic gems today welcomed its first visitors following a painstaking operation to relocate and rebuild it in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

The Botanic Cottage, which occupied a site on Leith Walk for more than 240 years, was rescued from demolition in 2008. It has been recreated from the the original plans, using the materials which were dismantled, numbered and moved to its new home.

It was once a gardener’s home and teaching centre and stood at the entrance to the old RBGE site on the north west side of Leith Walk. The building survived two centuries of upheaval and development, only to be left a near-ruin until its rescue.

A trust was formed to save it and it will now be used as a centre for community and education work in the Garden.

Finishing touches were done to the building exactly 250 years after the original builders were completing the original. In May 1766, the first students arrived for teaching sessions, a tradition that will continue.

Sutherland Forsyth , community engagement co-ordinator, in the former lecture room
Sutherland Forsyth , community engagement co-ordinator, in the former lecture room

Simon Milne, Regius Keeper at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, said: “The completion of the Botanic Cottage is such an achievement for everyone involved.  It’s taken a lot of grit, determination, skill and commitment to get the building from Leith to Inverleith, and reconstructed, and I appreciate the efforts of everyone who has played a part in bringing it back to life.”

Apublic Garden Gala will be held on 30 May (12pm-6pm), allowing visitors the opportunity to look inside the rebuilt cottage.  At this event, visitors will have the chance to explore inside the Cottage and learn about its historic journey while enjoying an afternoon out with live music, creative activities, cooking demonstrations, dancing and storytelling.

Original Botanic CottageLucy Casot, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: “While today marks the end of the most incredible piece of conservation, it also marks the beginning of a new lease of life for this historic cottage.”

The building was the idea of the Regius Keeper and leading figure of the Enlightenment, John Hope, who in 1763 moved the Botanic Garden to its third site in Inverleith. He commissioned John Adam, one of the most eminent architects at the time, and James Craig, who would go on to design Edinburgh’s New Town, to design a home for his head gardener, John Williamson.

It served as the main entrance to the Garden, and as a teaching facility for Edinburgh’s medical students learning about botany and horticulture.

It was used in this way until RBGE moved to its present site in the 1820s.  It then became a private dwelling, and more recently business premises.

RBGE’s community engagement coordinator for the Botanic Cottage project, Sutherland Forsyth, said: “The Botanic Cottage reconstruction has been a project like no other and we are delighted that it once again provides an inspirational learning space that can be used by a wide range of school and community groups.

Botanic Cottage archway“Detailed records kept by the original builders show that in April and May 1766, craftsmen were adding the final touches to the building, which is exactly what is happening in the present day, making the timing of the reopening particularly special.

“We owe a great debt of thanks to the many campaigners and craftsmen that helped bring the Cottage back to life and for the support and huge interest we received in the project.”

In December the Botanic Cottage received a commendation at the UK Georgian Group’s annual awards, recognising exemplary conservation and restoration projects in the United Kingdom, and rewarding those who have shown the vision and commitment to restore Georgian buildings and landscapes.   

As well as being the home of head gardeners, the cottage also served as the gateway for visitors to the Garden and had a classroom on the upper floor where John Hope lectured medical students about botany and horticulture.

After the RBGE moved to its present site in the 1820s, the cottage was left behind. By the mid-2000s it was threatened with demolition until a community campaign, which later formed the Botanic Cottage Trust, recognised the significance of the building and partnered with RBGE to find a new future for the cottage.

The Heritage Lottery Fund, as well as other trusts, foundations and individuals, have funded the rebuilding of the Botanic Cottage as a community and education centre for the Garden.

Photos of rebuilt cottage: by Terry Murden; photo of derelict original in Leith Walk showing what was the first floor, with ground floor below road level (contributed).

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