In 1763 the Royal Botanic Garden moved to a new home on Leith Walk, and the following year work began on a remarkable building at its entrance: the Botanic Cottage.
Threatened with demolition and being lost forever in the early 2000s, a community campaign saved the cottage, and it is currently being re-built in the present Botanic Garden in Inverleith, as a centre for community and education use. The cottage will be completed in autumn 2015.
When complete, the Botanic Cottage will simultaneously be the newest and oldest building in the Royal Botanic Garden. Discover its fascinating story…
When Professor John Hope became the sixth Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in 1761, he made a momentous decision early on in his tenure: close down the existing small physic gardens at Holyrood and what is now Waverley Station, and create a new, much larger garden on a five acre site on Leith Walk. At its entrance, Hope decided to build a little house which could serve as a gateway to the garden, a home for his head gardener, and a classroom in which he could teach medical students about botany – it would come to be known as the Botanic Cottage.
Designed by noted architects John Adam and James Craig – the latter responsible for designing the layout of Edinburgh’s New Town just a few years later in 1767 – the Botanic Cottage was completed in 1765. Hundreds of students learnt about botany in its large upstairs room overlooking the garden, hearing directly from Professor Hope about his experiments and studies, and referring to his detailed diagrams and illustrations.
You can find out more about the historic Leith Walk Botanic Garden and the cottage in this report from an archaeology dig of this long lost garden in the summer of 2014. Download the report here.
However, when it was decided to move the garden in the early 1820s, this time to a much larger site in Inverleith, the Botanic Cottage was left behind on Leith Walk. Over the next two centuries the cottage became a private dwelling, and later offices, before being subjected to vandalism and arson by the start of the 21st century. Threatened with demolition, a community campaign saw the cottage saved for the nation and a new vision emerged for its future: it would be carefully dismantled stone by stone, moved across the city, and rebuilt in the present Royal Botanic Garden. In keeping with its history as a place of learning, it was decided that the cottage would become a hub for increased community and education programming in the gardens, providing much needed shelter, storage, indoor learning spaces and other facilities.
In September 2014 work began on rebuilding the cottage in the RBGE Demonstration Garden, using the historic materials and traditional techniques. As the building work progresses there will be opportunities for community groups to visit the site, hear talks about the history of the cottage and the project, and discover how they can make use of the new facilities once the building work is complete in autumn 2015.
Keep up to date with the latest developments by following the project's progress on Twitter @BotanicCottage
With a flourishing education programme for schools and students, as well as special community gardening projects such as the Edible Garden, RBGE is committed to helping people learn more about the world of plants. The Demonstration Garden is the outdoor hub for these activities, and with the new spaces created in the Botanic Cottage – including two new teaching and community rooms in the historic building, and two additional spaces in newly built wings on either side – opportunities for engagement will be greatly increased. It is hoped that people of all ages and backgrounds will make use of the new centre, with access and activities free of charge.
This exciting new future for the Botanic Cottage has been made possible by generous donations from a range of individuals and funding bodies, including the Heritage Lottery Fund. We are extremely grateful for the support of so many people in helping to save this unique building. You can find out more about the appeal campaign here.
Find out more about the archaeology dig of the Botanic Cottage site and the adjoining land which took place in the summer of 2014: the report has been split into four sections - one, two, three and four