Edinburgh World Heritage

A home for Mrs Kerr

A compact and bijou apartment at the Nelson Monument.

The Nelson Monument was begun with a surge of enthusiasm in November 1805, to commemorate Lord Nelson’s death at the Battle of Trafalgar. However the fundraising effort quickly slowed, leaving an un-finished monument and a large debt. In 1814 the fundraising efforts were revived, and an Edinburgh merchant called Robert Johnston took on the unenviable task of treasurer to the fundraising committee.

Realising that income was urgently needed, he opened the monument to the public and used their entrance fees to pay off some of the debt. He also leased the rooms around the base of the monument to a ‘keeper’. One of the first was a Mrs Kerr, a widow of a petty officer, who was licensed to sell ‘Breakfast, soups, Jellies, Dinners, Tea, Coffee, etc.’ in a small restaurant on the ground floor.

However a problem that Johnston had not foreseen was house and window tax. An initial survey said that the building was not exempt, but he appealed against the decision. In 1815 the surveyors returned, but their report noted, “…a person who lived in the apartments in the base of the monument operated it as a pastry shop and tavern.” That was the final word and Johnston had to pay the tax.

The monument had a live-in keeper until 1868, when the council decided that it should cease to be used as a dwelling, because of a “…want of water and water closets…” However these problems were later solved, and the last keeper left the monument only five years ago.

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