Little-Known Places - Doors Open Day: Botanic Cottage, Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh

Although I've never gone to one, in recent years I've become aware of the Open House London event where various, often not usually open to the public, places throw their doors open for a weekend for visitors to take a look. What I hadn't appreciated was that this concept has spread to cities across the world and that there's a similar event, called Doors Open Day, across Scotland throughout September. Even better, this last weekend Edinburgh was one of the locations taking part.

I only found out about this a few days before so the website listing all the places open over the weekend was extensive by that point, where to begin? I decided to whittle down the search by sticking to places that were easily accessible and those hopefully not so likely to be incredibly popular and therefore busy. Lastly, although everywhere is free to enter, that's the idea that you get to see places you can't normally or else would usually have to pay for, some places (popular ones) did have a ticketing system to stagger entry times so I avoided those too. That still left a lot of choice and from that I picked out places that I thought sounded interesting. It turned out there were a few quite close to our home and in the end we opted for one pretty much on the doorstep - the Botanic Cottage.



We actually live really close to Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Gardens, somewhere I've already been to a couple of times and will share more about in due course I promise, the Botanic cottage is in the gardens and somewhere we thought would be nice to combine with an afternoon walk there. Obviously being new to Edinburgh I didn't know of the cottage's existence until Doors Open Day came on to my radar and then knew nothing about it either. It turns out though that it's quite special.

The cottage originally stood in the grounds of the Botanic Gardens when they were housed on a site at Leith Walk (somewhere we coincidentally went to the day before and having done so not somewhere I could now imagine housing a Botanic Gardens) from 1763 until the early 1820s. At this time the gardens were well-known as a place for academics to study subjects such as garden design and plant classification as well as also being popular with visitors and residents of Edinburgh. Eventually the gardens moved to where they are now and the cottage became a private home and in time offices and other business premises before eventually being abandoned and threatened with demolition in the mid 2000s.

At this stage  a community group got together and began to research the property further. This was when they discovered there was a lot more to this cottage than had first been thought. It was designed by the architect John Adam and when the group delved further they unearthed extensive records from the time of it being built, including bills from the original tradesmen and historic drawings of it. When it was first built it served as the home of the principal gardener of the Botanic Gardens, a man by the name of John Williamson, with the doors in the side wings of the cottage being used as entrances for both the public and staff. The upstairs was used as a classroom and they discovered hundreds of teaching documents including lecture notes and the names of over 1000 students who were taught in the classroom from the 1760s to the 1780s. At the time this classroom was where medical students were taught botany by Professor John Hope (a professor of botany at Edinburgh University) and, as a result of these volunteers hard work, it is now one of the oldest surviving classrooms from the Scottish Enlightenment. Just in case you don't know, the Scottish Enlightenment was a period in the 18th Century of significant intellectual and scientific accomplishments in Scotland. A quick search on the Internet will tell you a lot more about this time and the main players if you want to learn more.

However, returning to the cottage, all of these discoveries obviously made it a prime candidate for saving from demolition. As I mentioned before at this point the house was not where it now is and it was decided to carefully dismantle the building, numbering all the pieces, and move it brick by brick to its new home in the Botanic Gardens reconstructing it there using traditional methods. It was opened in May 2016 and is now once again used as a classroom and learning centre for a whole range of activities and events as well as opening its doors to the public for events such as Doors Open Day. Take a look here for details of upcoming events that may be of interest to you.



I love visiting places that are not typically open to the public, are abandoned in someway or have a hidden story to tell, you only have to read my Singapore blog to realise that. The opportunity then to see somewhere I may not otherwise get the chance to (practically on my doorstep) was too great to miss, even more so because I'm still so new to this city. It turned out to have a lot more history and interest to it than I perhaps anticipated beforehand and definitely got me thinking about all the other hidden pieces of interest Edinburgh has to share with me.

If you visit the Royal Botanic Gardens you can see the cottage from the outside at anytime but if you happen to be there on a day it's open to the public or get the opportunity to attend an event there, go and have a peek!

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