Lord and Lady Alva’s Georgian House: The House

When he died in 1796, James Erskine, Lord Alva (b. 1722) left a complex estate. One of his homes was Drumsheugh House in the West End of Edinburgh. When his descendants contested the provisions of his will early in the nineteenth century, the Court ordered that an inventory of the contents of the manor house be taken. The records of the legal matters relating to Erskine’s will survive in the National Library of Scotland which has the inventories, and in the Signet Library which has the Session Papers presented to the Court. The inventories include lists of Erskine’s furnishings as found in each room. The information from the inventories is worth comparing to the recreation of an interior of the same period now displayed National Trust for Scotland’s Georgian House at 7 Charlotte Square.


Robert Kirkwood, Plan & Elevation of the New Town of Edinburgh
(Edinburgh : Kirkwood & Son, 1819)
National Library of Scotland

The manor house at Drumsheugh was much larger than the Lamont family’s townhouse in Charlotte Square. It was located in what is now Edinburgh’s West End. The house was built about 1720 for a linen manufacturer who also had a factory next to the house. In 1755, the Erskine family ‘laid out’ money to the architect John Adam, son of William and older brother of Robert and James, presumably for remodelling. They bought additional land at the site at the same time.[1] The manor was valued at £2100 in 1770 and by then included the house, ‘offices’ (meaning outbuildings), a stable, a coach house, and gardens.[2]

Detail: Drumsheugh House and Charlotte Square
National Library of Scotland

Some idea of the house’s scale can be determined by newspaper advertisements offering it for let at the turn of the eighteenth century. Lord Alva’s Drumsheugh House – as it was called even after his death – consisted of fourteen rooms for the family including a dining room measuring 27 by 22 feet and a drawing room measuring 30 feet by 20. All of the main rooms were on the first floor. An additional ‘half-sunk’ floor presumably housed the kitchen and cellars.[3] The gardens included a forecourt, a kitchen garden, and a pleasure garden. All of these were planted with flowers and shrubs.[4]

By the 1790s, Lord Alva had sold his estates at Barjarg and Alva and was concentrating his efforts on his suburban Edinburgh home. Unsurprisingly for a lawyer and former Baron of the Exchequer, Erskine was very much aware of leaving instructions about his property for those who survived him after his death. In 1790, he ‘by disposition’ instructed that if she survived him, his second wife, Jean Stirling,  Lady Alva should have the ‘liferent of his house at Drumsheugh’ and its furnishings. This arrangement was fine-tuned in 1792 after the death of Lord Alva’s grandson and heir so that, with Lady Alva’s consent, the house and lands were to be held in trust for the three children of his eldest son.

Despite Lord Alva’s careful plans, his descendants questioned his arrangements after his widow’s death.

Find out what happened next: Lord and Lady Alva’s Georgian House: The Family

[1] NLS MS 5158, f. 24.[2] NLS MS 5158, f. 27.[3]Edinburgh Advertiser (6 March 1798).[4] NLS MS 5158, f. 50.

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