Edinburgh Assembly Rooms


I was away for part of the Doors Open Day weekend, but did manage one Age of Sail visit, to the Assembly Rooms in George Street – a space which I used to know fairly well when they held the Fiddle Festival there, but after the last renovation they made a deliberate decision to price themselves out of the reach of anything local, which I still think is a shame.


I remember being told on a previous tour – possibly at the reopening – that the great alcove in the ballroom was for the musicians – with no artificial amplification, the only way to fill the room with sound was to bring multiple players. In the early days this would have been fiddlers, with cello as the bass – a lovely combination!

Musicians’ alcove

The rooms opened in 1787, and chandeliers, among all kinds of other decorations, were added in 1796. I’m not sure whether these are the originals – the best I can say is that I can’t find anything saying they’re not, although if they are they’ve been adapted at least twice, first to gas and then to electricity.


‘Corinthian pilasters’ were also added in 1796, although I think some of the more… elaborate of the decoration is Victorian.


The two drawing rooms at either end of the ballroom are early 20th century additions, but they’re very well done.

Drawing room

The vestibule at the top of the stairs has statues made of Coade stone, a form of artificial stone (made of fired clay) popular in the late 18th century – these apparently do date back to the original opening, although again they’ve been converted for electric light.

Vestibule and statues

Downstairs is a room now used as a separate restaurant, although it was used by the assembly rooms before the last renovation – it became the supper room in the early 20th century renovations, but I’m not sure what the space was originally – it would have been a smaller space, anyway, as it’s now mostly under the Victorian music hall.


The portico was added in 1818, as the entrance didn’t look grand enough from the street!


The building has done well in keeping space and light on all sides, in an area where even the grandest buildings are usually terraced – the original lanes on both sides have been built over to form the drawing room extensions, but the lanes are still there, and windows behind.

Of course, round the back, like everything else, it doesn’t look grand at all!

Round the back

Odds and ends from the Isle of Wight


I didn’t go to the Isle of Wight to look for the Age of Sail (I went to sail round it on the Waverley and walk round it on my feet, both of which plans failed), but I can’t go anywhere without falling over something.

The first thing I came across was a monument to HMS Sirius, the flagship of the First Fleet, which sailed from a point in the Solent just offshore in 1787 – copies of the monument are also in Sydney, and at Norfolk Island where the ship was wrecked.

HMS Sirius monument
HMS Sirius plaque

Further round are the remains of the old church at St Helens – built close to the sea, it was already being eroded away in the 17th century, and in 1719 the remaining part of the tower was bricked up and painted white as a sea mark, a new church having been built further inland.

St Helen’s church
St Helens church plaque

(No one really seems to know why holystones are holy – they might have been ideally full of holes, like pumice, they might have been used for special Sunday cleaning, or it might just be that the sailors had to go down on their knees to use them!)

Another plaque record that HMS Victory was anchored off St Helens when Nelson left England for the last time and came to join her in September 1805 – I was more surprised by this than I should have been, because it’s not far from Portsmouth at all, and an island isn’t really a separate place to a ship.

Nelson plaque

I spent my second day on the island all along the lonely south shore, so it was the afternoon of the third day that I came to Newtown and its notorious town hall – this was once a busy town and harbour, with two seats in parliament as a royal burgh, but the harbour silted up and the population drifted away, leaving it as a ‘rotten burgh’ in Georgian times, with eventually only 23 voters for the 2 MPs!

Newtown Town Hall
Newtown Town Hall porch

Throwback: Waterloo

(This isn’t a new write up any more than it’s a new visit, but I haven’t posted it here before!)

It was few year ago now – before the 200th anniversary – that I was at a dance festival in Belgium, and instead of going into Brussels for the day before an evening flight home, slipped off to Waterloo.

After a week in Flanders it was a bit disconcerting to be thrown into French halfway through the train journey, especially in a town with such a Flemish name. The town itself has the main museum, and a very helpful tourist office.

The Wellington museum

The Wellington museum in the town was originally the inn where he spent the nights before and after the battle.

Waterloo museum

(I wasn’t sure whether I was allowed to take pictures in the museum or not as I didn’t see any signs, but no one was watching me, and I had the flash off.)

I liked this picture, showing Scottish soldiers with captured eagles.

Scottish soldiers

And of course I have a soft spot for Alexander Gordon, as another Scot – this is the bed where he died.

The bed where Alexander Gordon died

The great man himself, in the room where he wrote his dispatches – I think!


And there were ships! Napoleon being transferred from Bellerophon to Northumberland


It was a shame for him, but I love the idea of a monument to a leg.

Uxbridge’s leg

I bought a copy of this map, in the hope it would help me understand the Master and Commander books better, but I don’t know what I did with it…

1815 map

The tourist office had given me information about buses, but I decided to walk down to the battlefield – partly because I’d hardly walked anywhere for days, and partly to walk past some of the monuments. The first part was all very modern and dull, though – the bus might have been better!

The monuments

This is the memorial to the surgeons of the field hospital at Mont St Jean farm.

Field hospital memorial

And Mont St Jean itself.

Mont St Jean

I liked this painting.


The monuments are a wonderful mixture of large and imposing and small and unassuming.

The Belgian monument.

Belgian monument

General Picton.


The Inniskilling Regiment of Foot.

Inniskilling regiment

A monument to a French regiment.

A French monument

The Hanoverian monument.

Hanoverian monument

Alexander Gordon’s monument, and its inscription

Gordon monument
Gordon monument inscription

From there it’s not far to the battlefield – the Butte du Lion is very visible from the main road.

The battlefield

Butte du Lion
The lion

I was surprised by how flat the battlefield was, even allowing for the earth that was moved to make the mound.

The battlefield
The battle

The panorama was crowded but still surprisingly evocative – the soundtrack (including bagpipes) definitely helps with that.


A model of La Haie Sainte farm, at the centre of the battle.

Model of La Haie Sainte