A Long History
In 2006, Salisbury Green, owned and managed by the University of Edinburgh, opened as a hotel and conference centre. This is the just the latest chapter in the long history of the fascinating building.
The original house at Salisbury Green was built for an Edinburgh merchant, Alexander Scott, in the 1750s, and its supporting walls are still encased within the existing building. Although fairly tall, with three floors, this first building probably had just two rooms on the ground floor and a maximum of three on the first and second floors. There also appears to have been servants’ accommodation in the attic, as indicated by the topmost pair of windows (which can still be seen) in the gable walls.
In 1770 the house was purchased by the Dick family of Prestonfield House as a residence for Lady Dick-Cunningham, and a single-storey drawing room extension was built, its bowed design possible inspired by a pair of two-storey bowed extensions at Prestonfield House. The room is still known as the Drawing room.
Adding a tower house
When publisher William Nelson acquired the house in 1860, he commissioned the architect John Lessels to make alterations. Lessels designed a single-storey extension to the rear and created a new block on the north side of the building. The façade of the original house was completely encased in new stonework and lavishly carved with Scots Renaissance detail.
Not only did the conversion provide extra living space but since the new block emulated a tower house of the fifteenth century, it gave the appearance that the main part of the house had been added later.
On the pediments of the block are heraldic motifs such as the letter N for Nelson and, from the family’s coat of arms, an arm holding a sword. Above a window casement is a pious inscription: ‘Every house is builded by some man but he that built all things is God’.
Pilasters and panelling
Within the house, the gallery boasts Jacobean-style oak panelling with pilasters and was originally papered in dark green with a gold stencilled floral pattern. The first flight of the staircase, relocated by Lessels, was given an unusual wrought brass banister with a foliated pattern and the entrance hall was lined with oak panelling.
The red velvet lined room (the Red Room) to the right of the entrance was probably intended for dining and remains unchanged in size and proportions since the original house was built. Above the doors are a pair of medallions which match one above the front door in the hall. In true Victoria manner, these seem to allegorise bountiful nature and the rewards of labour.
The room also has some of the original paintwork designed by the leading designer and mural painter, Thomas Bonnar. In the bowed drawing room is a further example of his work, the large oval panel which features his favourite motif: frolicking cupids with garlands of flowers, while a smaller oval features Flora and cupids.
The marble chimneypiece in this room is particularly fine and is likely to have been imported from Italy.
Nelson’s personal suite
The tower house extension allowed the creation of additional apartments – to the left of the entrance – which must have been William Nelson’s personal suite. The first room, known as the Bryce Room, has a handsome pink marble chimneypiece and within are tiles bearing the initials WN in yellow ochre and crimson. In the adjoining room, known as the Scott Room, the chimneypiece tiles are particularly fine and may be Minton.
The upper floors of the house were mainly devoted to bedrooms of a fairly plain nature. However, of particular interest is the former Reading Room (now bedroom 35) from the time when Salisbury Green was the first university hall of residence. This room is approached through a panelled corridor which is a few steps higher than the rest of the second floor, thus revealing the transition from the original house to the Victorian extension.
Despite the additional accommodation, Nelson required even more space, and an annexe was added to the rear. It is likely that either Lessels or his son, John, was the architect. Considerable care was taken to maintain the Baronial character by employing crowstep gables and a stubby hexagonal tower with a conical roof.
Student residence days
Salisbury Green and its grounds were purchased by Sir Donald Pollock (after whom the University’s main halls of residence are named) in 1942 to provide residences for students, and the house, along with the nearby St Leonard’s Hall, which he had bought in 1936, was presented to the university in 1943. Sir Donald was himself responsible for opening and running Salisbury House as a residence for male students in 1946.
When the first of the new halls in this area were opened in the 1960s, the men moved into these while women took their places at Salisbury Green. In the 1970s demand for student accommodation resulted in a two-storey annexe being added to the rear. The style of the walls and the crowstep gables make it difficult to distinguish this extension from the old annexe other than the weathering of the stone.
The latest chapter
And so to the latest phase in this fine building’s story – the conversion, carried out in 2006, from the student residence to a fine hotel and conference centre. The refurbishment of the building has transformed it into a magnificent, top quality venue.
The sympathetic refurbishment has retained all the period features within this fine building and provides 36 en-suite twin, double and single bedrooms, some of which are accessible for disabled guests. Each bedroom has the features you would expect from a hotel of this standard plus internet access (including to the University systems) and Freeview television.
Four beautifully proportioned meeting rooms are also available, each one offering a wealth of period features, and are flexible enough to host a variety of meetings and events. The hotel also benefits from access to all the facilities at Pollock Halls.