Edinburgh World Heritage - Writers Museum


Writers Museum

The Writers' Museum, also known as Lady Stair’s House, has a rich and varied history. Connected with many famous historical figures, it was saved from demolition in the 1890s.


1622 The house is built by Sir William Gray of Pittendrum.
1719 Elizabeth, Dowager Countess of Stair, buys the building and the close and house take on her name.
1800s The house gradually falls into disrepair and is divided into many separate apartements.
1893 Lord Rosebery, a distant relative of Sir William Gray, buys the house and the architect George Shaw Aitken is commissioned to restore the building.
1907 The house was gifted to the city for use as a museum.

The carved stone plaque

Over the door is a plaque carved with the date 1622 and the initials of Sir William Gray and his wife Geida Smith. Above the doorway are the words, “Fear the Lord and depart from evil”.

The fireplace

The main room on the first floor has an impressive fireplace from the original building.

The turret

This was added during the restoration of the building in the 1890s, at a time when a style of architecture called ‘Scottish baronial’ was very fashionable.

Sir William Gray was a very successful merchant, and able to afford to build a house for himself and his family in the city’s Lawnmarket. The house was located down one of the hundreds of narrow passageways known as closes.

Gray gained great influence and wealth during the early 1600s. However, his luck was not to last...

During the Civil Wars Gray was fined and imprisoned for corresponding with the Scottish Royalist James Graham, the 1st Marquis of Montrose. A further ordeal occurred in 1645 when his daughter died of the plague in the old house.

The traumatic events of the 1640s were to hasten Gray’s death, which took place in 1648. Gray’s widow, Geida, survived him and continued to live in the house for many years.

Eventually the close leading to the house became known as Lady Gray’s Close in her honour. It kept that name until the 1700s when Lady Stair moved into the house, and the close was re-named after her.


By the 1890s, Lady Stair’s House was in very bad condition, and was ready for demolition. It was saved in 1893 when the house was bought by Lord Rosebery, a direct descendant of Sir William Gray.  The restoration was carried out by George Shaw Aitken from 1895 to 1897 in an imaginative re-working of early 17th century Scots architecture.

The restoration saved the building, but in the process it was altered greatly. Much of the house was in an unsafe condition, and the demolition of the north, south and west wings was seen as unavoidable.

Traces of Gray’s original house can still be seen. The lower part of the stair tower with has a carved door piece. Note the lintel dated 1622 and carved with the initials of Gray and his wife Geida Smith.  A stone stair with steps of uneven height is also thought to date from the original building.

Following the restoration, Archibald Primrose gifted the building to the city for use as a municipal museum.

The Writers Museum is open to the public: Monday - Saturday 10am -5pm
Admission free.


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.


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5 Bakehouse Close, 146 Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8DD. T: 0131 220 7720. E: info@ewht.org.uk
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