Tables Through Time tour spotlights three women who lived at Gladstone's Land


24 June 2021
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After opening to the public for the first time last month following a £1.5m restoration, the National Trust for Scotland’s Gladstone’s Land on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile is introducing its first ever interactive historical food tour.

The ‘Tables Through Time’ tour follows the lives of three women that lived and worked at Gladstone’s Land, telling the story of changing tastes in food in Edinburgh’s Old Town and the impact of trade, class and fashion on people’s diets.

As well hearing about these people, the conservation charity will also be inviting guests to sample some of the food and drink these individuals may have consumed. 

A brief history of Gladstone's Land

Records show there was a property on the Royal Mile site as early as 1501 but little is known about the early residents. Thomas Gladstone and his wife, Bessie Cunningham bought the building in 1617.

17th-century Edinburgh was extremely overcrowded and by 1630 the population was roughly 25,000, making it one of the most densely populated cities in Europe. Buildings extended upwards. Gladstone’s Land has six storeys.

Gladstone was a middle-class merchant and the property was an investment that was intended to generate rental income. The couple extended it to the front and it is likely that they commissioned the painted walls and ceilings with the idea of attracting wealthier tenants.

The building continued to be a prosperous commercial hub (although it was split into multiple ownership) until the late-18th century when wealthy residents moved to the fashionable and spacious New Town, leaving the Old Town to the poor.

The building was saved from demolition in 1934 by the NTS who purchased and renovated it, rediscovering the painted ceilings (under a layer of plaster) in the process. It was one of the first properties the Trust bought, after being set up in 1931.

History food tours

Based on specially-commissioned research from Lindsay Middleton, PhD researcher in food history at the University of Glasgow and University of Aberdeen, the tour goes from a 17th-century kitchen on the first floor, an 18th/19th-century draper’s on the second floor and a 20th-century boarding house on the third floor. 

Food historian Lindsay Middleton said: “Historical food is something we are becoming increasingly interested in, whether it is history week on the Great British Bake Off or reading recipes in historical cookbooks and marvelling at strange ingredients and cooking techniques. Scottish food does have a rich and varied history. In the harsh climate, Scottish people have had to be creative with food. 

“On the Tables Through Time tour, we look at three women who lived in Gladstone’s Land, and how food and drink figured in their lives. Considering the different foods that would have been cooked and eaten within the property throughout its history will show how food, life, and work have always been linked.” 

Tickets for the tour can be booked at the NTS website.

(Report and images courtesy of National Trust for Scotland)