Great Britain

First look: Edinburgh's oldest surviving shop to be turned into ice cream parlour and cafe on Royal Mile

The home of the new ice cream parlour and cafe on the Royal Mile has been trading as a shop going back as far as 1501.
The home of the new ice cream parlour and cafe on the Royal Mile has been trading as a shop going back as far as 1501.

One of the oldest buildings on Edinburgh's Royal Mile, which is believed to be home to the city's longest-running shop, is to be become home to a cafe and ice cream parlour under plans for a £1.4 million makeover.

Gladstone's Land, a townhouse which has been a fixture on the Lawnmarket for more than 500 years, was once home to some of the wealthiest inhabitants of the Old Town and is said to boast the only surviving shop frontage dating back to the 17th century.

Gladstone's Land has been a fixture on the Royal Mile for more than 500 years.

Gladstone's Land has been a fixture on the Royal Mile for more than 500 years.

Now the building, which already houses a museum recalling hundreds of years of tenement life on the Royal Mile, is getting a modern makeover from the heritage body which saved it from demolition more than 80 years ago, which will also include the conversion of an office into a new holiday apartment.

The creation of a cafe and ice cream parlour are said to be inspired by the long history of trading at the site, where the Old Town's residents were once able to stock up on much sought-after tea, coffee, chocolate and spices.

The historic hand-painted Renaissance features of the six-storey building are being retained as part of the refurbishment which the National Trust for Scotland has recently started on site.

The cafe and ice cream parlour are being created on the ground-floor of the shop, where there are records of it being used as a shop dating as far back as 1501. The National Trust insists it will still be running a shop alongside the new catering facilities.

The Gladstone's Land attraction is said to have a glimpse into the lives of the Royal Mile's 16th and 17th century inhabitants.

The Gladstone's Land attraction is said to have a glimpse into the lives of the Royal Mile's 16th and 17th century inhabitants.

It was expanded and remodelled in the 17th century by the merchant Thomas Gladstone, with the basement originally home to a tavern, an upmarket grocery on the ground floor and opulently decorated apartments on the upper floors. Its early tenants included the Reverend William Struthers, the minister at St Giles' Cathedral,

The project will also see a makeover for the three existing holiday apartments at what national agency VisitScotland promotes as "the best address in town," due to its close proximity to Edinburgh Castle.

A spokesman for NTS said the project would "keep the historical nature of the building at the forefront of the refurbishments."

Stuart Maxwell, the trust's general manager for Edinburgh, said: "“We’ve drawn on Gladstone’s Land’s long history as a trading post and commercial site as inspiration for our plans here on the Royal Mile.

The hand-painted Renaissance interiors of Gladstone's Land are said to date back to the 1620s.

The hand-painted Renaissance interiors of Gladstone's Land are said to date back to the 1620s.

"Built for a merchant, it was involved in the importing of tea, coffee, chocolate and spices which will all flavour the new experience and the stories we will tell here.

"These changes will make a trip to Gladstone’s Land even richer and give people more reasons to come back and sample it again and again."

Operations manager Claire Grant said: “Gladstone's Land has had an incredible life in its 500 year history and it’s wonderful to be able to show it off like we’re going to be doing here.

"We’ll be telling its fascinating story in more engaging ways, telling people why it’s so important from the hand-painted Renaissance interiors which date back to the 1620s to Edinburgh’s only surviving 17th-century arched shop frontage.

Gladstone's Land will boast four upgraded holiday apartments once the 1.4 million makeover is carried out.

Gladstone's Land will boast four upgraded holiday apartments once the 1.4 million makeover is carried out.

"We reckon it might be a contender for the oldest shop in the city too.

"We’ve got records dating back to 1501 which chart its history as a place of trading going up to 1954. Then it gets a bit hazy. In 1980 we reopened it to the public but we’d love to be able to fill in those last 26 years if anyone can remember."

The history of Gladstone's Land as a hub for the trading of tea, coffee, chocolate and spices is said to have inspired the new cafe and ice cream parlour.

The history of Gladstone's Land as a hub for the trading of tea, coffee, chocolate and spices is said to have inspired the new cafe and ice cream parlour.

Gladstone's Land was opened up as a museum by the National Trust for Scotland after it was rescued from demolition in 1934.

Gladstone's Land was opened up as a museum by the National Trust for Scotland after it was rescued from demolition in 1934.