Listed Building

The only legal part of the listing 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.


Status: Designated


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Group Category Details
100000019 - See Notes
Date Added
Local Authority
Planning Authority
NT 25684 73512
325684, 673512


W H Playfair, 1830 with alterations, Robert Matheson, 1856. 2-storey and basement, 9-bay, L-plan, Tudor collegiate, purpose-built advocates' library and associated rooms, abutting to E of Parliament Hall and to W of National Library of Scotland (see separate listings) with distinctive full-height canted bay windows. Grey tooled ashlar. Band courses, cornice.

N ELEVATION: to courtyard. 5-light bay windows with stone mullions. Advanced, pedimented entrance porch to far left with recessed 2-leaf, 4-panel timber door in shouldered arched doorway. Faculty of Advocates' crest and motto set in apex panel (see Notes).

Predominantly square 5-pane vertical glazing pattern with some hoppers to windows. Grey slates. Piended roofs.

INTERIOR: (seen 2007). Excellent decorative scheme with many original features. Library with exceptional deep square-coffered ceiling with central pendants. Deep decorative plaster cornice with patera design. Timber bookcases and shelving. Some moulded stone and marble fire surrounds. Other timber fire surrounds, one with elaborately carved timber mantle. Rooms with timber panelling. Swing doors to E lead to Parliament Hall. Corridor link to National Library to W.

WALL AND RAILINGS: to N. Low ashlar wall surmounted by decorative cast iron railings and gate.

Statement of Special Interest

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

This is the premier Law library in Scotland with an exceptionally fine decorative interior by the renowned architect W H Playfair and an unusual Tudor collegiate bay-windowed façade to the North. The Advocates' Library building forms an important part of the extensive and significant 19th century improvements to the Judicial buildings of Edinburgh in Parliament Square. The Advocates' Library is also of historic importance as it was the forerunner to the National Library of Scotland.

The Library was founded in 1689 and housed in a variety of rooms within the Parliament House complex until, in 1810, the upper room of the Signet Library (see separate listing) was built for the Faculty. Shortly afterwards, the Faculty of Advocates decided they would prefer to be directly linked to Parliament Hall (see separate listing) and they decided to build their own separate library. They then sold the upper storey of the Signet Library to the Writers to the Signet for £12000 and commissioned Playfair to build a new library to the South. Previous buildings on the site prevented a satisfactory link to Parliament Hall and this was not done until 1856, when Matheson designed a more acceptable linking corridor, adding 2 bays to the E of the North elevation. He also altered the rooms to the South of the library.

Above the external entrance door to the library is the Crest of the Faculty of Advocates with a Lion Rampant, Sword and Scales and above is its motto Suum Cuique - to each his own.

The Advocates' Library was founded in 1689 and became a copyright library in 1709. This gave it a legal right to claim a copy of every book published in Britain. By the early 20th century, it had built up a vast collection of both legal and general books and manuscripts. The cost of upkeep of this collection was onerous and, after much debate, the National Library of Scotland Act of 1925 allowed for the building of a separate structure on George IV Bridge owned and run by the nation. The Advocates' Library then transferred many of its books to the National Library, whilst keeping it legal texts.

W H Playfair (1789-1857) was an renowned and eminent architect and a leading figure in Edinburgh's Enlightenment. He was responsible for significant buildings in 19th century Edinburgh including the National Gallery (1848), The Royal Scottish Academy (1822-6) and Royal Circus (see separate listings). An expert exponent of the Greek Revival style, his buildings helped to create the Enlightenment character of Edinburgh.

Robert Matheson was Clerk of Works for Scotland from 1848.

Previously listed with Nos 2-8 Parliament Square, High Court of Justiciary. Now listed separately.

List description revised as part of the Edinburgh Holyrood Ward resurvey 2007-8.



1st Edition Ordnance Survey Map, (1849-53). John Gifford, Colin McWilliam and David Walker, The Buildings of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1984. p121. Iain Gordon Brown, Building for Books, 1989.

About Listed Buildings

Listing is the way that a building or structure of special architectural or historic interest is recognised by law through the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997.

We list buildings of special architectural or historic interest using the criteria published in the Historic Environment Scotland Policy Statement.

The information in the listed building record gives an indication of the special architectural or historic interest of the listed building(s). It is not a definitive historical account or a complete description of the building(s). 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 only legal part of the listing is the address/name of site. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing and if a number or name is missing from a listing address it may still be listed. Listing covers both the exterior and the interior and any object or structure fixed to the building. Listing can also cover structures not physically attached but which are part of the curtilage of the building, such as boundary walls, gates, gatepiers, ancillary buildings etc. The planning authority is responsible for advising on what is covered by the listing including the curtilage of a listed building. Since 1 October 2015 we have been able to exclude items from a listing. 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 Historic Environment Scotland Act 2014. 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 current legislation.

If you want to alter, extend or demolish a listed building you need to contact your planning authority to see if you need listed building consent. The planning authority advises on the need for listed building consent and they also decide what a listing covers. The planning authority is the main point of contact for all applications for listed building consent.

Find out more about listing and our other designations at You can contact us on 0131 668 8716 or at


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Printed: 22/04/2019 19:06