governors house edinburgh

Governor’s House, Edinburgh

Governor’s House: Edinburgh’s Gothic Hidden Gem

Nestled below Edinburgh Castle, overlooking Waverley Station, sits a castellated Gothic mansion known as Governor’s House. Despite its grandeur and prime location, it remains surprisingly obscure. This remnant of the former Calton Jail harbors a fascinating history behind its imposing walls.

From Living Quarters to Multimedia Hub: The Many Lives of Governor’s House

The turreted sandstone building first served as living quarters for the governors and officials of Calton Jail upon its completion in 1817. Designed by renowned architect Archibald Elliot, its Gothic style echoed the nearby Old Observatory House on Calton Hill while taking inspiration from the older Bridewell prison.

After the jail’s closure in the 1920s, the House stood derelict for some time before undergoing refurbishment. Over the years it has been home to various government agencies, most recently housing the Scottish Government’s multimedia teams. Its grand rooms and proximity to the seat of power even saw it considered briefly as a possible new official residence for Scotland’s First Minister.

Today the building serves the vital yet unglamorous purpose of hosting offices for the Scottish Fiscal Commission. Despite its functional current use, the House still retains its impressive 19th century architectural embellishments.

The Last Vestige of a Vanished Prison

Governor’s House offers a tangible connection to the history of its site. It is all that remains of Calton Jail, once the largest prison in Scotland. At its 19th century peak the jail could hold over 400 prisoners. Condemned convicts would take their last walk from the prison gates to the nearby gallows on the Calton Hill.

See also  HM Prison Low Moss

The ominous shadow cast by the prison still lingers through Governor’s House. Its turreted design and remote cliffside location carry echoes of foreboding medieval fortresses and bastilles. Inside there may still hide reminders of its past through remnants of jail cells and quarters for guards.

For now the House stands sentinel, keeping watch over the bustling postmodern train platforms and shops that have replaced the grim walls of Calton Jail below. As a lonely remnant, it invites us to wonder about the many souls who passed through its gates.

An Architectural Gothic Survivor

Governor’s House represents one of Edinburgh’s few remaining Gothic structures. Its prominent site and façade make it a distinctive contribution to Edinburgh’s internationally renowned skyline. Views from the upper rooms take in Greyfriars Kirkyard, the elegant New Town, and the crenellated gates of Holyrood Palace.

The continued survival and reuse of Governor’s House allows a tangible glimpse into Edinburgh’s 19th century architectural past. Within its rooms still reside echoes of the Gothic Romantic movement that swept through a city once known as the “Athens of the North”. Its imposing façade harbors memories of a time when ornate embellishments prevailed over minimalist designs.

The House provokes curiosity about what other forgotten stories Edinburgh’s buildings might tell if similarly preserved. Its lingering presence keeping vigil over the modern trains below invites us to ponder this intersection between old and new.


Behind the fortified walls of Governor’s House hides a microcosm of Edinburgh’s history. Its varied past hints at forgotten stories waiting to be rediscovered. Though now often overlooked by bustling crowds below, the House brings Gothic romance to Edinburgh’s skyline.

See also  HM Prison Manchester

This remnant and once home of Calton Jail governors stands as a stubborn bastion. Refusing to yield fully to modern redevelopment, it retains echoes of the many prisoner souls who passed through the former prison’s imposing gates. As a relic of Edinburgh’s 19th century architectural heritage, Governor’s House continues to watch silently over the capital’s evolution.


When was Governor’s House first completed?

Governor’s House was completed in 1817 as part of the Calton Jail complex, which opened that same year.

What architectural style is Governor’s House?

Governor’s House was designed in the Gothic Revival style, featuring castellated turrets reminiscent of medieval fortresses.

Who designed Governor’s House in Edinburgh?

The architect Archibald Elliot, known for structures like Waterloo Place, designed the distinct Gothic façade of Governor’s House.

What was Calton Jail used for?

Calton Jail, which opened in 1817, served as the main prison for Edinburgh and the largest in all of Scotland during the 19th century. At its peak it held over 400 prisoners.

Why is Governor’s House historically significant?

As the last surviving remnant of Calton Jail, it preserves a tangible architectural connection to what was once Scotland’s most important prison and criminal justice site.

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