This post is based on a talk for the National Trust for Scotland at Gladstone’s Land Study Day, 11 November 2015, which discussed makers and the materials of the fabric of Gladstone’s Land in Edinburgh. Thomas Gladstones bought the house around 1618, planning to extend the property southward into the Lawnmarket, and use the building by renting out the three main apartments and the ground-floor shop and tavern. He would live in the upper floors, where changes to the roof may have destroyed evidence of prestigious rooms, like the barrel vaulted gallery room that survives at Moubray House further down the street, or a similar painted gallery in Castlehill known from sketches and fragments, which depicted allegories of Christian life and the apocalypse. These rooms, appointed for leisure, are evidence that upper floor apartments in Edinburgh were luxurious.


Painted ceiling at Gladstone’s Land

We know that Gladstones lived on the upper floor from a 1631 disposition of the property which mentions three tenants with their halls, chambers and kitchens. The painted rooms were the halls, the usual presumption of the time was that a chamber was a bed chamber. Again, a tax assessment of 1635 puts Gladstones in the upper floors with three different tenants below – the tax assessors seem to have worked up the forestair and down the turnpike.[1]

The three painted rooms seem to have been built by Gladstones and completed in 1620 as apartments to be let. We don’t have the names of the names of the original tenants – and it may be unlikely that they had much to do with the design and decoration of these rooms. Gladstones was the sole client here, but the painted rooms were not part of his own home, despite the identification of a bird painted on the third floor as a ‘gled’ and therefore a rebus on his name.

The painted fruit and flowers remind me of tapestry borders – which can have the same feeling of flat arrangements, a carpet rather than swags and garlands. The painting at Gladstones Land is similar to a group of other ceilings including those at Old Gala House dated 1635, Aberdour Castle circa 1633, Northfield at Prestonpans 1622, at least two houses in Kirkcaldy, one of the ceilings across the road at Lawnmarket, where the timbers have been dated to 1604, and in Clement Cor’s house in Advocates Close on timber dated to 1590. If the painting in Advocates Close is as old as the dendrochronology dates suggest then the fruit and flower patterns were popular for around fifty years, painted by three generations of painters.

The process of buying an Edinburgh tenement and extending is not well documented – presumably other adjacent buildings were extended forward in the same period, and Gladstones project was not novel, though the quality of his stone façade is impressive. 

2 Timber

Some light on refurbishment of tenements might come from researching timber purchasing – the beams at Gladstones Land are of oak and the boards of pine, almost certainly from Norwegian, Swedish or Baltic sources.  Some timber came from the Swedish island of Gotland which supplied pine for roof timbers, from the port of Slite or Slitehaven. Such timber was shipped to Leith and sold on the shore; in 1585 James VI offered Sir James Preston of Valleyfield (near Dunfermline) as much timber on the shore of Leith to build his house, up to value of £100, as a wedding present.[2] There has been some debate as to nature of the supply of timber to Scotland, if it came in standard lengths, or even in pre-fabricated structures.

A document from 1605, paints a different picture. Here the timber order required specific lengths which relate to a planned building.[3] The Inglis brothers, Edinburgh merchants, wrote detailed instructions for a timberman David Cuik to buy timber for their house, and Cuik, it seems, was a novice traveller. He was sent to Stralsund in Pomerania where he was to hire a ship, and sail to Sleit in Gotland where he bought pine beams for the project (and special juniper firewood, a Swedish luxury much prized in Edinburgh), then sail back to Scotland, remembering the gold angel coin for the toll at Elsinore. The Inglises also noted which lengths could be cut in half if the ship wasn’t big enough: ‘if need bees for stowing ye may saw them in half’ – but in the event the ship was big enough, (NRS GD63/74).

The Inglises asked for very specific sections and lengths differing only by a foot a so, which seems odd to our more wasteful habits, which lengths David Cuik readily obtained. So it seems that Swedish suppliers were ready to pander to the foibles of Edinburgh specifiers, rather than Scottish builders suffer constraints dictated by the lengths of timber offered for retail on the Shore. Perhaps, trading in oak may have been different, anyway. This document seems to offer a glimpse of Edinburgh merchants demonstrating a certain versatility and knowledge both of building requirements and the detail of trade. Presumably the Inglis bothers had discussed the timber needed with the wright who would build their house, then they hired David Cuik.  Thomas Gladstones must have gone through a similar process, buying his timber, stone and slate for Gladstone’s Land.

3 Craftsmen at Gladstone’s land

There is little direct archival evidence about the re-build of Gladstone’s Land –  Gladstones owed a mason James Hastie £12-12s in 1622. This probably relates to work on the house, perhaps one or two weeks work by Hastie and his man. James Hastie had lent money to five fellow masons in 1622; William Hatlie, William Thorbrand,  Thomas Fleming,  Huw Fforest and John Watt,  masons and close associates who may also have worked at Gladstone’s Land. These men are otherwise recorded in the building accounts of the royal works at Edinburgh castle, Edinburgh burgh records, or the records of Heriot’s Hospital.

Gladstones had his windows fixed by the glazier, the glassinwright Clement Touris, and probably had a running account, owing Clement £10-4s in 1631, Clement owed David Jonkin another resident and Gladstone’s business partner £44.  Some painters identified themselves as ‘glassinwrights’ and painters. It seems unlikely that these workers were making stained glass, but they may have set imported stained and coloured glass into windows. These painters included in Edinburgh the brothers David and Thomas Binning in the 1570s and Andrew Mailling or Melville in Stonehaven in the 1590s. Clement Touris provided the windows at Parliament Hall.[4]

4 Painters materials and apothecaries

While researching the painting at Gladstones Land, it has been something of a result to find that wills shed some light on the trade in painting materials. The will of George Scott a Glasgow painter who died in November 1624 shows that he was not wealthy –  he had ‘na uther guids nor geir debts nor soumes of money except allanerlie the insyt of his hous with the abuilziement of his bodie’ estimated at £40. He had two large debts totalling £333, although I’m not entirely sure if this means he was bankrupt. In 1616 George Scot had account with an Edinburgh apothecary Thomas Traquair, whose account book was copied in his will; ‘Item George Scot painter in Glasgow £13-10s.’[5]

This was almost certainly a debt for purchasing painting materials. Most of Traquair’s clients were obviously wealthy or aristocratic, and no other craftsmen are identified. Edinburgh painters would pay cash for their purchases and Traquair it seems was more inclined to extend credit for larger intermittent purchases by out of towners. Scott had to buy materials in Edinburgh because they were not sold in Glasgow. A later version of Traquair’s will includes in his stock ‘tua pund wecht of colloreyis at ix lb the pund wecht summa xviii lb’.

Apothecaries had shops on the High Street. These shared some common ground with modern chemists; a will from 1599 gives a glimpse of an apothecary’s shop with ‘buists and painted piggis for mediceines’ – another in 1585 had ‘Danskene viol glassis’ (Dankene means from Gdansk), ‘Flanders cans for oyllis’, ‘littill piggis’ and fancy boxes. Tall ‘heich paintit piggis’, perhaps of Delftware cost 42s, shop furniture included 12 drawers ‘drawin schottils’ and shelving worth 50s. The display of glassware and brightly glazed maiolica or Delft earthenware vessels was in effect and purpose much like those of modern chemist’s shops

In 1633 the apothecary John Livingston supplied coals, paint brushes, nails, hair for plastering, red lead, vermilion, best blue, paint, and cotton wool to the royal works (assuming these were all payments to the same John Livingston).  He died in 1645 leaving a stock of colours, prominently listed first in his inventory and at £284-8s-8d forming a respectable fifth of the value of stock listed, which was summarised as;

Certane painteris cullors estimat to the sowme £284-8-8 d

Certane peppir estimat all to the sowme of £89

Mair certane spyceis estimat all to £287

Mair in his chope certane watirs estimat in cumulo to £34

Mair certaine confectiones wett and dry estimat all to £79

Mair ther certane droges estimate all to £278

Mair thair certane forsaid wair estimat all to £324

Mair thair certane glas wark estimat all to £62

The painter William Ker owed Livingston £31-2- 4d. Ker was a painter in Aberdeen, and as in the case of George Scott he probably had an account with an Edinburgh apothecary because materials were harder to acquire in Aberdeen. Similar observations have been made in England, where apothecaries in county towns do not seem to have held a range of painting stuff. Other merchants sold colours as well, the herald painter James Workman owed a George Geddes for paints in 1600.

Some apothecaries’ wills give detailed list of stock which include obscure Latin-named medical ingredients and food products, spices and the seasonings which overlap with the stock of grocers. Merchants who dealt in grocery ware, or in dye stuffs, or both were also able to supply painters. Judging by his will, the merchant John Riddoch of Gladstones Land was a merchant and grocer, who died at sea in 1632. He had a variety of stock some which he had imported, some still aboard ship, including; raisins, figs, tobacco, ginger, sugar candy, cinnamon, blue stiffing (a kind of laundry starch); smak (a black dye made from sumac leaves); indigo and gunpowder.

John Riddoch had started in business with his father-in-law Alexander Nobill, who had a more diversified business with the same groceries as John but his inventory also includes sheepskins, pots, pans and kettles, Swedish and Polish iron, dyestuffs, and pigments. Amongst the potential painting materials in Nobill’s inventory were; ‘thrie poiks of gall’ used to make inks; ‘ane trie of coprus’ – a barrel of copperas, used as a mordant but also a colorant in limewash; alum which was used as the base of lake pigments; some ‘reid brissil of the worst sort’ and other ‘reid brissil’ – brazil wood, a red dye used to make lake pigments; ‘blew brissel’ – blue brazil wood; ‘orchard litt’–  a red/blue dyestuff made from lichen; ‘roisat’ – rosin, a pine resin used by painters for certain colours and varnishes; ‘tua stane viij pund blew aiser at iiij lb the stane x lb.,’ – azure, a blue pigment; indigo; and ‘maither’– madder.

The ‘Blew aiser’ was clearly a painters’ pigment though it is not clear if this was azurite, blue verditer or smalt, three blue pigments used in this period. Skilled painters could convert dyestuffs like madder and other ‘brissels’ and ‘lits’ to lake pigments. The process was simply to precipitate the on dye suitable powders formed from alum in alkali conditions. The dry coloured powder could be made into paint like other crushed mineral pigments.

One customer with an unpaid debt was John Stewart a painter in Edinburgh. He must have disputed his bill of £8-16s which had come before the baillies of Edinburgh for settlement by decreit; ‘Item be Jon Stewart painter in Edr conforme to ane decreit obtenit befoire the proveists & baillies of Edr viij lb xvj s’.

John Stewart is just one of a number of painters in Edinburgh in the 1620s, and it is difficult to associate them with the surviving painted ceilings, though his career has some interesting details. John Stewart had been apprenticed to John Sawers elder in 1595 and then worked with John Workman. In 1604 Workman wrote to revoke a previous will saying he would leave nae thing in legacy to ‘his man’ John Stewart. It’s a pity we’ll never know how Stewart had offended.

Edinburgh accounts record a payment to ‘James Stewart’ in 1617 for painting and gilding the market cross, and it seems likely this John Stewart was meant. The main record of his painting work is two weeks work at Edinburgh Castle in June 1617. The accounts don’t say exactly what he did while he was working with James Warkman (nephew of the painter John who seems to have slighted him in his will). James Workman bought four dozen pots for his gang of painters. In these weeks the painters helped prepare the pageant of the dragon and St George to be played at Holyroodhouse for James VI and I. John Sawers and James Workman painted coats of arms and John Anderson painted the king’s birthroom and the adjoining rooms.  Stewart assisted in these works.

In conclusion; records suggest that building and rebuilding town houses were project-managed by owners who acquired and stockpiled building materials, and while it seems likely that these owners took the advice of wrights and masons there is little direct evidence of this, though the detail of Inglises’ timber order suggests they had consulted a wright.

In some cases tenement owners probably commissioned painting work rather than tenants and occupants. Painting work is very poorly documented. Here I’ve shown that painters bought their materials from apothecaries, and suggested that only Edinburgh apothecaries were involved in the trade, apothecary goods overlapped with grocery, and this was the merchandise sold by John Riddoch and Andrew Pringle, early shopkeepers at Gladstone’s Land, and it’s clear that merchant grocers’ imports included some paint materials.

[1] A. Allen & C. Spence, Edinburgh Housemails (SHS, Woodbridge, 2014), 89.

[2] Unpublished royal treasurer’s accounts. National Records of Scotland.

[3] National Records of Scotland. GD63/74

[4] Edinburgh City Archives: stent and account for building Parliament Hall.

[5] The quoted wills are from the commissary registers at NRS.

2 thoughts on “Painters, makers and materials in early modern Scotland

  1. This blog is great, Michael. Many thanks for doing it. I’m learning so much.

    all best for Christmas and New Year.


    Ian Campbell Hon. Professorial Fellow ESALA Edinburgh College of Art University of Edinburgh


    Liked by 1 person

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