Edinburgh World Heritage - Riddle's Court


Riddle's Court

Enter under an archway and you will discover the architectural gem that is Riddle's Court. Riddle's Court has a distinguished history, playing host to a royal banquet in 1598 and becoming the residence of David Hume in 1751.


1590 Bailie John McMorran petitions the council to demolish a ruined building on the site and build a new mansion for himself.

1598 Riddles Court hosts a royal banquet

1726 George Riddell a wealthy tradesman of the town reconstructs the parts of the building facing the Lawnmarket, and the property becomes known as Riddell’s Court.

1751 The famous philosopher David Hume moves into an apartment in Riddles Court, he tells a friend he is now head of a household with, “…two inferior members – a maid and a cat.”

1887 Patrick Geddes holds the first university summer school and the building becomes a student residence.

1892 the architects S.Henbest Capper and George Shaw Aitken reconstructed Riddle's Court for Patrick Geddes as a University Hall.

The outside staircase

In the 1890s buildings either side of the passageway were demolished to form a courtyard. A new staircase had to be put on the outside of the building to allow access between the first and second floors.

‘Vivendo Discimus’

This Latin inscription above the archway means ‘By Living We Learn’, and dates to 1889 when Patrick Geddes, started the first Edinburgh University summer schools.

Painted landscapes

When Riddles Court was being restored in the 1960s a set of painted landscape panels dating to the early 1700s was discovered. They were painted by James Norie a Scottish landscape painter. Today you can see the painted panels in the Museum of Scotland.

Painted ceilings

A painted ceiling in the 'Beam Room' dates from the late 1500s and depicts crowns, dragons, grotesque faces and thistles.

In 1598 Riddle’s Court was used to host a royal banquet. The Duke of Holstein, brother-in-law to King James VI, was on an official visit and the city council wanted to host a banquet in his honour. As Edinburgh did not a have a grand town hall it was usual for the city officials to take turns in hosting important events in their own houses.

The City Treasurers Accounts give us an idea of the preparations.

Item payet to James Martein for foullis wylde and tame, £212 18s 8d
Item to James Heryot for V gallonis and ane quart of clairet wyn, £21
Item four trumpeteouris for their servive at the banquet, £13  6s 8d
Item payet for carrying the kingis and queenis Matjies veschellis
and other furnitour to the banquet and hame again, 33s 4d


In 1892 the architects S.Henbest Capper and George Shaw Aitken reconstructed Riddle's Court for Patrick Geddes as a University Hall.  Part of the building facing the Lawnmarket was demolished, leaving the octagonal stair tower isolated. The red sandstone archway was also created at this time.

In 1947 Riddles Court was taken into the care of the City of Edinburgh Council, and in 1964 it was opened as adult education rooms.

It is now used as the offices of the WEA (Workers Educational Association) Scotland.


Listen to city guides and interviews, browse the image galleries and watch the stunning time lapse videos.


Visit our learning site to download lesson plan, browse resources and find out about our schools programme.


Find out the latest on EWH projects and events.


© Edinburgh World Heritage. All rights reserved. Terms and Conditions | Cookie Policy
5 Bakehouse Close, 146 Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8DD. T: 0131 220 7720. E: info@ewht.org.uk
Registered in Scotland No.195077. Scottish charity No. SC037183


Website by Urwin Digital