The Well Court was commissioned in the 1880s by Sir John Findlay, who was then the owner of The Scotsman newspaper. He bought land in Dean Village and had old tenements there cleared away, to allow his new housing to be built.
- 1883 J.R. Findlay commissions architect Sydney Mitchell to design Well Court.
- 1886 Work on Well Court is completed.
- 2007 Work starts on a major restoration of the building funded by Edinburgh World Heritage and the property owners.
The Carved Plaques
The building has many carved red sandstone plaques to commemorate its building.
The clock tower rises above what once was the social hall. A possible source for the design of the tower is the 17th century Earl’s Palace in Kirkwall.
The font originally belonged to the nearby Belford Church, built 1888-1889, which was also designed by Sydney Mitchell. It was brought to Well Court following the church’s conversion to the Belford Hostel.
Four and five-storey tenement flats enclose a communal courtyard which is evocative of the old squares – such as James Square in the Old Town.
The accommodation in Well Court was originally intended for local workers in the Dean Village area. An advertisement from the 1880s described Well Court as, “providing homes of two and three rooms with conveniences, let to a respectable class of working men at rentals of £7 to £12 per annum.”
Although housing conditions were relatively good, the residents were under strict rules and could be locked out if they stayed out at night too long.
The 1891 census was taken on the night of 5 April and shows us some of the first residents of Well Court. By looking at the census, it is clear to see that the first inhabitants of Well Court were mostly families with very young children.
- No. 5 Well Court
- William Burnett, Head, 46yrs, Railway Guard
- Margaret, Wife, 39yrs
- James, Son, 16yrs, Bakers Apprentice
- William, Son, 14yrs, Blacksmith’s Apprentice
- Margaret, Daughter, 12yrs, Scholar
- Agnes, Daughter, 11months
- John Stott, Lodger, 46yrs, Sergeant of Police
In 2007 Edinburgh World Heritage and the owners of the building funded a major restoration of Well Court. Using only traditional materials, the project has restored the building back to its original appearance.
The work has included repairs to the stonework, roof, windows, clock tower and communal areas.
The philosophy adopted for the project was minimal repair based purely on need and using only traditional materials.
A match for the distinctive red sandstone was found in a quarry in Dumfries, and new handmade roof tiles were also carefully sourced, as their colouring and irregular pattern form an important part of the character of the building.
Original paintwork was still evident on the stair windows, and this was analysed to identify the correct colour scheme for the building.
Well Court Podcast
Listen as conservation architect Bob Heath tells the story of Well Court, from the Victorian model housing through to its recent restoration.
Download Well Court Podcast (mp3 | 2.8MB)