Sir James Murray, 1631-40 with later extensions to the north, Robert Reid, 1807-10, with internal links to the Supreme Courts to east, Advocates Library to west and Signet Library via lobby to northwest. Double height purpose-built Parliament Hall with outstanding elaborate timber trussed roof and with basement (Laigh Hall), all almost fully enclosed by later buildings. Rubble with ashlar margins. Eaves cornice. 4-bay buttressed west elevation with segmental arched windows. Pair of ogee-roofed bartizans with wall sundials to south wall; basket arched window to south wall.
Predominantly stained glass to traceried windows. Grey slates with later rooflights.
The interior was seen in 2014. Oak trussed roof supported on stone corbels, by John Scott, Master Wright to the Town of Edinburgh. Carved stone corbels probably by Alexander Mylne, 1630s, supporting beams. Geometric-patterned inlaid timber floor. South window with stained glass of 1866-68 by Wilhelm von Kaulbach (executed by Maximillian Ainmiller of Munich). Elsewhere heraldic glass of 1870 by James Ballantine. Round arched recesses flanking door to east; 3 late 19th century carved chimneypieces to west by William Adams, cabinetmaker, the central one incorporating 17th century Italian woodwork. Timber screen to south wall.
Laigh Hall (seen in 2014): Central round-arched arcade with 8 octagonal piers and simple chamfered round arches dividing space into two areas. Flat ceilings, the west one ribbed.
Statement of Special Interest
A Group with Advocates Library; Signet Library; Supreme Courts; 1 Parliament Square; St Giles High Kirk; Charles II Statue; Lothian Chambers; Alexander and Bucephalus Statue; Queensberry Memorial; City Chambers; and the Market Cross.
Parliament Hall, dating from 1631-40 is an outstanding example of an early 17th century building, the main space in which is largely unaltered as is the highly unusual and significant timber trussed ceiling. Designed by the preeminent Sir James Murray, the King's Master of Work, it is the oldest surviving Parliamentary building in the United Kingdom. Its palazzo style design with flat roof and corner bartizans (still in place on the south) was innovative in Scotland and designed to evoke power and authority. Part of the building's original function as the seat of the Scottish Parliament was lost after the Act of Union in 1707 but it continued as a multi-functional space serving as both courtroom and public hall until the early 19th century. It is a key element in the group of buildings around an important civic space in the heart of Edinburgh's Old Town created to reinforce the royalist centralised view of Government.
Parliament Hall is the earliest part of the complex of law-related buildings around Parliament Square. It was built at the instigation Charles I to provide a meeting place of Parliament for its brief sittings, a council house for the Privy Council and accommodation for the Lords of Session (later the Court of Session, this legal entity having been established 100 years earlier by James V). It was the responsibility of the Town Council to provide this building. The original main function, housing a national parliament, makes this building unique in pre-18th century Britain and Ireland and highly unusual in Europe.
After the Act of Union in 1707, Parliament Hall lost its main original function but preserved its multi-functional character. It served as a meeting place and town hall for the burgh as well as continuing to provide space for the Lords Ordinary and for the Court of Session. The Court of Session was divided into the Outer and Inner houses. The Outer House was accommodated in part of the main space of the hall, several hearings being carried on simultaneously. The judges of the Inner House of the Court of Session sat in the jamb of what was the original L-shaped structure. This section of the building was re-developed in the early 19th century and is now included in the listed building record of the Supreme Courts.
The development of Parliament Hall in some respects parallels the changes in the Scottish legal system. Prior to the 19th century lost its function as part-time court space in the early 19th century. Courtrooms dedicated to use as such were developed elsewhere in the greater complex of buildings in Parliament Square (see separate listing).
Architecturally this building is significant.The original palazzo exterior with flat roof and corner bartizans (visible from the west) represented a break with the Scottish tradition of steep roofs and towers in tollbooth buildings. In England and across Europe the choice of flat roof was used to denote buildings
Sir James Murray who was responsible for the design was the King's Master of Work from 1607 until his death in 1634.He was selected for this prestigious job because of his status as the country's most skilful architect. He was descended from an aristocratic family. His father, James Murray the elder, has been a wright in the royal works from at least 1575.By the second decade of the 17th century the younger Murray was enjoying the patronage of the foremost courtiers and of the king himself at Edinburgh Castle and Linlithgow shortly thereafter.
The original L-plan form of the building was based on masonic principles though this has been largely obscured by the incorporation of the jamb into the Supreme Courts. The 90 degree angle, the angle of dressed ashlar, was of paramount importance in the masonic craft. Freemasonry and its codes had been re-organised by Murray's predecessor in the role of King's Master of Work, William Schaw. These codes, which were applied to both plan and section, dictated the proportions and therefore by extension the appearance of the building. The Laigh Hall was part of this geometrically calculated design. Few buildings of this period designed under these principles must survive in Scotland.
Historically the setting of Parliament Hall is a very important element of the design. The creation of a large civic square in front of Parliament Hall was part of the overall concept. It enabled the gathering and viewing of the riding of Parliament, in which the members of the Scottish Parliament moved by procession to and from the building. The square celebrated the status of parliament and the town.
The most important interior feature is the timber trussed roof.The roof was constructed by John Scott, the King's master wright but it is not known if he or Sir James Murray was responsible for the design. The roof is the widest single span flat roof associated with Murray (the palaces at Edinburgh and Linlithgow had mid-span spine walls) but was also probably the widest yet built in Scotland. It is not a true hammerbeam roof as this would have necessitated an extremely high roof, something obviously ruled by the flat roofed exterior.It is a complex structure, the ornamental effect created by the roof's seeming complexity and openness, by the downward thrusting radial struts with curved fins and the contrast between the dark colour of the wood and the gilt finials.
Statutory address and listed building record revised as part of the Scottish Court Listing Review 2014-2015. Previously listed as 'Parliament Square, Parliament Hall'.
Ordnance Survey (Surveyed 1852, published 1854) Edinburgh. Large Scale Town Plan: Town Plan of Edinburgh (south west part). London: Ordnance Survey.
Gifford, J. McWilliam, C. and Walker, D. (1984) The Buildings of Scotland: Edinburgh. London: Penguin Books Ltd. pp118-125.
Cullen, W. D., Lord (1992) Parliament House: a Short History and Guide. Edinburgh: Scottish Courts Administration.
Gomme, A. (2002) 'Scottish Hammerbeam Roofs, and one that isn't' in Architectural Heritage: Journal of the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, Vol XIII, pp.20-35.
Glendinning, M. (2004) The Architecture of Scottish Government: from Kingship to Parliamentary Democracy. Dundee: Dundee University Press. pp.82-169.
Colvin, H. (2008) A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840. 4th edition. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
Dictionary of Scottish Architects. James Murray (Sir) at http://www.scottisharchitects.org.uk/architect_full.php?id=408113 [accessed 10 October 2014].
Scottish Courts website: http://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/the-courts/court-of-session/about-the-court-of-session [accessed 10 September 2014].
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Printed: 17/01/2021 05:25