A 500-year-old tenement in Edinburgh will reopen to the public today after a £1.5m restoration – bringing to life the stories of its residents through the centuries.

Gladstone’s Land, which dates back to 1501, is one of the oldest buildings in the Royal Mile, in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town.

Once home to many wealthy residents, the six storey tenement in the Lawnmarket at the top of the Royal Mile is now a National Trust for Scotland (NTS) tourist attraction.

The newly-restored building represents a new approach from the conservation charity, with visitors actively encouraged to connect with the property by interacting with the exhibits to find out about its history.

Items can be picked up, chairs sat on and drawers and cabinets opened to reveal secrets about the property’s past. Interactive food tours are also planned for later in the month, when visitors will even be able to taste the types of food their ancestors would have eaten.

Rescued from demolition by the NTS in 1934, over the last 40 years, the attraction’s focus has mainly been on the life and times of merchant Thomas “Gledstanes” who, together with his wife Bessie Cunningham, bought the building in 1617.

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Edinburgh was one of the most densely populated cities in Europe in the 17th century and buildings like Gladstone’s Land extended upwards. Gladstone also commissioned the property’s famous Renaissance-style painted ceilings to attract wealthy tenants. Now, thanks to years of meticulous historical research led by visitor services managers Dr Kate Stephenson and Anna Brereton, the lives of other residents are being told too.

Three floors of rooms have been laid out to reflect how they would have lived and worked over the centuries. The real-life stories of individual residents and the trading history of the property show the rise and decline of the address. They also reflect the fortunes of the city’s Old Town as a whole, bringing Gladstone’s Land to life in a new way.

Based on the will of wealthy 17th-Century merchant John Riddoch, one room shows the recreation of his stockroom with the likes of ginger, sugar, pepper and cinnamon abounding.

Another space shows a draper’s, based on the surviving trade accounts of a late 1700s business trading in silks, laces and printed cottons, including costumes for visitors to try on.

One floor of Gladstone’s Land is opening for the first time, presenting an early 20th-Century boarding house inspired by Mary Wilson, a widow who in 1911 placed a newspaper advertisement offering a room in her apartment as suitable lodgings for “two or three respectable men”.

At street level, a new coffee shop has been created, peppered with references to the property’s past. Gladstone’s Land can lay claim to being the oldest continually trading place of commerce in Edinburgh and the coffee shop -- an important part of Edinburgh’s culture for centuries -- continues that tradition. An ice cream parlour on the same floor includes specially created flavours.

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Researchers developed elderflower and lemon curd using documents related to the first sales of ice cream in Edinburgh in the 1900s and tastes associated with the property’s history. A sundae called “The Butcher” is named after one of the former residents and includes vanilla, whisky and bacon.

Self-catering apartments on the upper floor have also been redesigned to create beautiful flats for holiday lets, profits from which will support the Trust’s wider conservation activities. Stuart Maxwell, NTS’ General Manager for Edinburgh & East, said: “When we closed in February 2020 we expected that we’d be opening the doors to the new Gladstone’s Land in August last year, but world events took over.

“We’re really pleased to reveal what’s been going on behind the hoardings and give people the chance to reconnect with this incredibly special place.

“Work really started many, many years ago when the team came up with the idea of shifting the focus away from the prosperous merchant who owned the property to the people who actually lived and did business there.

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“By poring over documents such as wills, ships’ logs, trade accounts and newspapers we’ve been able to put together an incredibly detailed portrait of the individuals who inhabited the property over the last 500 years.

“We know how much people love Gladstone’s Land and we can’t wait for them to reconnect with its impressive history.”