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Interesting houses and residents

More on Newington House

Mention could be made here of Duncan McLaren (McLaren Road and Duncan Street) who lived in Newington House for 38 years, from 1848 to 1886. As Edinburgh city treasurer, McLaren saved the city from bankruptcy and as lord provost (1851-4) he was responsible for securing the Meadows as a public park and for obtaining a drainage system for the Newington area. His wife was the sister of the Victorian reformer John Bright (Bright's Crescent). In 1907 Newington House was bought by Dr J G Bartholomew of the famous map-making firm, whose neo-classical Edinburgh Geological Institute (now converted to apartments, as Bartholomew House) was opened in nearby Duncan Street in 1911. He was the last private owner. From 1915, Newington House became a centre for the Scottish National Institute for the War Blinded but eventually fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1966. The site was then purchased by the Edinburgh University, which built student flats there.

Grade A listed buildings

In an area characterised for the most part by handsomely designed and built stone villas, there are now three Grade A listed buildings of national/international importance: the fine Arthur Lodge on the corner of Blacket Place and Dalkeith Road; and Nos 23 and 25 Blacket Place, with their multi-coloured stone detailing (architect Sir James Gowans). The mixed stone banding and round arched windows are unique in Blacket, while the distinctive frontage shows the architect's characteristic enthusiasm for different building materials.

Arthur Lodge is the most distinguished building of the area. The architect is possibly Thomas Hamilton, designer of the old Royal High School on Calton Hill, but it was erected by Robert Mason, an Edinburgh builder, between 1827 and 1830. The exterior displays a classical Greek style with impressively cut Craigleith sandstone. Internally no two rooms have the same floor and ceiling levels; the architect believed the height of a room should vary according to the other two dimensions. In August 1830 Robert Mason declared himself bankrupt and the house was bought by David Cunningham, one of Edinburgh's leading silversmiths and the city treasurer. In 1841 it was sold to Major James Arthur, who gave the house the name which it has today. Previously it was known as Salisbury Cottage. In 1896 Andrew Usher, the Edinburgh brewer and donor of the Usher Hall, lived in the house. Andrew Usher's daughter subsequently lived there with her husband William Burn-Murdoch, artist, Antarctic explorer and co-founder of the Scottish National Party. In 1985 the house was bought by John Pinkerton QC and Jack Howells, who renovated and transformed both the garden and the interior of Arthur Lodge with judicious use of objets d'art, painted murals and plaster-cast statues, all of which blend to create a stunning effect. It is of no wonder it was once described as one of the most interesting buildings in Scotland.

Other listed buildings in the Blackets

There are also 27 Grade B and 9 Grade C listed properties, including Belleville Lodge (now a nursing home), at the junction of Blacket Avenue and Blacket Place. This takes its name from the colloquial name for Newington. The Lodge had one of the largest gardens on the site and in the 1880s a cow was kept there, though the neighbours drew the line at a new-build byre.

Across Dalkeith Road

To the east of Dalkeith Road within the boundaries of the Blacket Conservation Area lie several major buildings, two of note being in University of Edinburgh ownership. The eighteenth-century Salisbury Green Mansion is set within the Pollock Halls site, while the fine early Victorian Abden House lies off Marchall Place. Abden House, until the 1960s, was the official residence of the university's principal and vice-chancellor. Both buildings now form part of the university's student accommodation and conference/function facilities.

Across Minto Street

To the west of Minto Street, on the other side of the Conservation Area, is the district covered by the West Blacket Association, comprising both sides of Minto, Gray and Middleby Streets, much of Duncan Street, the south side of Salisbury Place and the north side of much of West Mayfield. The area is principally - but not exclusively - residential, containing, in addition to the handsome, early nineteenth-century villas and terraced houses, a number of commercial enterprises and public buildings. Most notable is the modern National Library of Scotland centre, at the corner of Salisbury Place and Causewayside.

Some previous Blacket residents

Some of the villas have housed the famous. David Octavius Hill, the pioneer photographer, who helped found the Royal Scottish Academy, lived in Newington Lodge, on the corner of Mayfield Terrace and Dalkeith Road. Dr Joseph Bell, great-grandson of Benjamin Bell of Newington House, was the first resident of 44 Blacket Place; he was the inspiring teacher of Arthur Conan Doyle and, allegedly, an early model for Sherlock Holmes. No. 16 Blacket Place was the one-time home of Hans Gál, the composer, musicologist and inspiration of the Edinburgh Festival, while 15 Blacket Place was the home of Conrad Wadddington, who founded the Department of Genetics and the Centre for Human Ecology at the University of Edinburgh.

Nos 12/14 Mayfield Terrace was home, in the 1930s, to the famous athlete and later missionary Eric Liddell. For nearly 50 years, until 1986, Mary Newberry, daughter of the director of the Glasgow School of Art and one of the last personal acquaintances of Charles Rennie Macintosh, lived at 13 South Gray Street. In the 1960s, Lindsay Kemp, the dancer, actor, mime artist and director lived at 13 Dryden Place, where among others he entertained the singer and songwriter David Bowie. The eminent botanist Professor A. G. Morton and his family moved into 6 Dryden Place in 1974 and their daughter Alisoun still lives there. Among his many scholarly works is History of Botanical Science, the first history of botany for 100 years; when writing it, he read his sources, be it Theophrastus or Cesalpino, in their original languages to avoid perpetrating existing mistakes in translation. He also devoted time to translating poems of the Austrian poet Lenau, to his own poetical compositions, to studying of classical philosophy in the original and writing John Hope 1725-1786, Scottish Botanist (1986), a biography produced for the bicentenary of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. During the late 1990s, the novelist Ian Rankin and his family lived at 11 Dryden Place.

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