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Edinburgh, 537-539 Castlehill, Rear Block To North

Tenement (17th Century)

Site Name Edinburgh, 537-539 Castlehill, Rear Block To North

Classification Tenement (17th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Sempill House; Semple's Close

Canmore ID 254568

Site Number NT27SE 5339

NGR NT 25444 73547

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Edinburgh, City Of
  • Parish Edinburgh (Edinburgh, City Of)
  • Former Region Lothian
  • Former District City Of Edinburgh
  • Former County Midlothian

Architecture Notes

NT27SE 5339 25444 73547

NT27SE 314 25453 73542 537-539 Castlehill, Front Block to S

17th century rear block of three storeys, stair tower to close on E side. Front block early 19th century, three storeys.

RCAHMS 1951.

Semple's or Sempill's Close was named for the mansion at the foot of the close built by a David Brown in 1638, and occupied by Grissel, Lady Semple, widow of Francis, 8th Lord Semple, prior to 1734, when it was acquired by Hugh, 11th Lord Semple. It seems also to have been called Williamson's Close from a house in it owned by Joseph Williamson, advocate, of a family with a penchant for naming their properties humorously. (from Stuart Harris, "Place Names of Edinburgh", 1996, page 559)


Publication Account (1951)

10. Sempill's Close, 541 Castle Hill.

The building standing at the N. end of Sempill's Close, and now connected to the Rainy Hall of the New College, has four storeys above a "laigh" floor, the upper ones entered from a projecting newel-stair. The lintel of the stair entrance bears a shield charged : A fess between three crescents in chief and a mullet in base, possibly for Rossiemont. An index hand then points to the inscription PRAISED BE THE LORD, MY / GOD, MY STRENTH, & MY REDEEMER/ ANNO DOM 1638, beyond which is a merchant’s mark to balance the shield at the other side. The entrance lintel of the house at the level of the close is inscribed, between an index hand and the same merchant's mark, SEDES MANET OPTIMACOELO ("The choicest seat remains in Heaven")1638. The entrance lintel of the lowest house bears no inscription. The masonry throughout is rubble with freestone dressings. The two lower storeys have been modernised as kitchens and sculleries in connection with the Rainy Hall, while the upper floors have been gutted. On one side of the modern corridor leading to the Hall' there is an old door lintel, inserted above a modern fireplace. It is inscribed BLISSIT BE GOD IN AL HIS GIFTIS / 1580. A second lintel is inset above the Hall door at the end of the corridor; it bears two shields with monograms, the dexter one defaced and the sinister one made up of the initials M A G I. The shields are separated by the motto LAVS HONOR DEO (" Praise and honour to God "), and are flanked by the initials I R, possibly for Jacobus Rex.

The four-storeyed rubble-built tenement on the E side of the Close, now hidden from Castle Hill by a modern building in front, also dates from the 17th century. Although it has been modernised internally, the N. house on the top floor still has vestiges of panelling and plaster cornices, as well as a bolection-moulded fireplace of stone, all evidently original.

The close takes its name from Grissel, widow of Francis, eighth Lord Sempill, who occupied one of the houses at the inner end. Cf. O.E.C., xii p. 8.



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