Listed Building

The only legal part of the listing under the Planning (Listing Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 is the address/name of site. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing – see 'About Listed Buildings' below for more information. The further details below the 'Address/Name of Site' are provided for information purposes only.

Address/Name of Site


Status: Designated


There are no additional online documents for this record.


Group Category Details
100000019 - See Notes
Date Added
Local Authority
Planning Authority
NT 25687 73542
325687, 673542


Robert Reid, 1810 (exterior) and William Stark, 1812-13 (interior) with staircase by W H Playfair, 1819 and William Burn, 1834. Symmetrical, 3-storey and basement, 19-bay Classical purpose-built library with advanced end bays and oversailing entrance platts. Ashlar with chamfered rustication to ground, rubble to rear. Round-arched openings to ground with deep-set windows. Impost course, band course, cill courses, cornice, panelled parapet to central and outer bays; balustraded parapet to others. Some pedimented windows to 1st storey with moulded architraves. Later wing to W.

FURTHER DESCRIPTION: entrance elevation to N (Parliament Square). Central 7 bays with advanced outer bays and engaged Ionic columns rising from 1st storey with blind balustrade at 1st storey. 2-leaf timber entrance doors to off-centre left and far right with semi-circular, multi-pane glazing pattern fanlights above.

Predominantly 12-pane timber sash and case windows to upper storeys, round-arched multi-pane timber sash and case windows to ground.

INTERIOR: (seen 2007). Outstanding, little altered, exceptional Neo-Classical scheme comprising principally two libraries linked by wide, imperial staircase to E with intricately carved metal balusters and timber handrail. Stair hall with Ionic and Corinthian columned screens and coffered dome. Both libraries of nave and aisles design with bays separated by fluted Corinthian columns and decorative metal anthemion balustraded balconies. 7-bay lower library with deep dentilled cornicing. 10-bay upper library with extended central 3-bay transepts to N and S with clasping piers at corners and shallow saucer dome above with painted frieze. Semi-elliptical coffered ceiling. Dentilled and finely carved decorative cornice. Stained glass window to W (see Notes). Other, smaller rooms, one with spiral staircase. Panelled timber doors. Internal links to National Library of Scotland and Parliament Hall (see separate listings).

RAILINGS: to front (Parliament Square) elevation. Very low stone wall with decorative iron railings and gates with 2 integral lamp standards with globe shades set into cast iron holders.

Statement of Special Interest

Part of an 'A' Group with Nos 2-11 Parliament Square, Advocates' Library, Signet Library, Parliament Hall, 1 Parliament Square, St Giles High Kirk, Charles II Statue, Lothian Chambers, City Chambers, Alexander and Bucephalus Statue, Queensberry Memorial and the Market Cross.

The Signet Library is an outstanding example of 19th century Classical architecture with one of the finest Neo-Classical interiors in the country. The entrance elevation to the North at Parliament Square is a well-detailed unified façade, which creates a strong visual feature in Parliament Square. It is continuous with the front façade of 2-11 Parliament Square (see separate listing), also by Robert Reid. The internal decorative scheme is exceptional with opulent ornamentation and intricate detail in both libraries and in the stair hall. The coffered ceiling and central dome in the upper library are particularly notable.

The library building was originally conceived as having one library on the ground floor for the Writers to the Signet, with the upper floor library belonging to the Faculty of Advocates. Robert Reid designed the exterior, but William Stark (1770-1813) was asked to complete the interior decoration as both the Faculty of Advocates and the Writers to the Signet preferred his designs to those of Reid. Shortly after the building was completed in 1822, the Faculty of Advocates decided to build their own separate library to the South of this one (see separate listing) and the upper storey was sold to the Writers to the Signet for £12000. When the 2 libraries came under the same ownership, William Burn designed a grand imperial stair to connect the two. This new staircase incorporated a Corinthian-columned screen by William Playfair which had been part of the previous entrance hall. The stained glass window in the upper library was installed in 1889 by James Ballantine for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.

Robert Reid (1774-1856) was the principal government architect in Scotland at the beginning of the 19th century. His career began in 1803 and his buildings were usually in the Classical style. His work included the Parliament Square façade of 2-11 Parliament Square.

References from previous list description: MacRae Royal Mile 23. Modern Athens. The Making of Classical Edinburgh. Playfair plans. University library.

List description revised as part of Edinburgh Holyrood Ward resurvey 2007-08.



1st Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1849-53). John Gifford, Colin McWilliam and David Walker, The Buildings of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1984. pf120. Charles McKean, Edinburgh, An Illustrated Architectural Guide, 1992, p20. Howard Colvin, Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840, 1995 p796, 917. Leaflet produced by Writers to the Signet.

About Listed Buildings

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

Listing is the process that identifies, designates and provides statutory protection for buildings of special architectural or historic interest as set out in the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997.

We list buildings which are found to be of special architectural or historic interest using the selection guidance published in Designation Policy and Selection Guidance (2019)

Listed building records provide an indication of the special architectural or historic interest of the listed building which has been identified by its statutory address. The description and additional information provided are supplementary and have no legal weight.

These records are not definitive historical accounts or a complete description of the building(s). If part of a building is not described it does not mean it is not listed. The format of the listed building record has changed over time. Earlier records may be brief and some information will not have been recorded.

The legal part of the listing is the address/name of site which is known as the statutory address. Other than the name or address of a listed building, further details are provided for information purposes only. Historic Environment Scotland does not accept any liability for any loss or damage suffered as a consequence of inaccuracies in the information provided. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing. Even if a number or name is missing from a listing address it will still be listed. Listing covers both the exterior and the interior and any object or structure fixed to the building. Listing also applies to buildings or structures not physically attached but which are part of the curtilage (or land) of the listed building as long as they were erected before 1 July 1948.

While Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating listed buildings, the planning authority is responsible for determining what is covered by the listing, including what is listed through curtilage. However, for listed buildings designated or for listings amended from 1 October 2015, legal exclusions to the listing may apply.

If part of a building is not listed, it will say that it is excluded in the statutory address and in the statement of special interest in the listed building record. The statement will use the word 'excluding' and quote the relevant section of the 1997 Act. Some earlier listed building records may use the word 'excluding', but if the Act is not quoted, the record has not been revised to reflect subsequent legislation.

Listed building consent is required for changes to a listed building which affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest. The relevant planning authority is the point of contact for applications for listed building consent.

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Printed: 26/05/2024 23:15