Central Edinburgh’s ‘House Of Seven Thousand Books’

Stevenson House, a multi-storey Georgian guesthouse close to downtown Edinburgh, is a veritable mansion of books, a literary paradise for any well-respected bibliophile.

Shelves in many of its rooms bulge with new and old, hardcovers and softbacks, as divers as ‘A Cabinet Of Greek Curiosities’ and ‘Notes From The Cevennes’ to ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ by Stella Gibbons.

Prominent among this treasure trove of literary triumphs, is the works of Robert Louis Stevenson, for this is where the famed Scottish author of such novels as ‘Treasure Island,’ ‘Kidnapped’ and ‘Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ lived for decades before leaving for the US and Samoa.

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Built between 1802 and 1806, Stevenson House is located on Heriot Row in Edinburgh’s New Town district, a five-minute walk from the city’s main shopping area along Prince’s Street. Always in private ownership, it is still the family home of John and Felicitas Macfie and their children and seems to have defied the passing of time, with its abundance of furnishings harkening back to a bygone era, with finely-carved walnut dressers, cabinets and cupboards, some being a century – perhaps several centuries – old.

Immediately inside the entrance hallway is a Beaufort chest with a vintage grandfather clock nearby chiming away the hours and beside it a spacious room where breakfast and dinner are served, in a personal, intimate setting.

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An original stone staircase with cupola on top letting in sunlight leads to an upper floor, with a collection of swords decorating the walls. Above is an elegant drawing room, which caters for receptions of up to 80 guests, with piano, original fireplace, various antiques, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, an inviting divan and soft armchairs. Mister Stevenson made his presence felt here, in the form of a small statue standing on the floor, the tall, angular Scottish author in long walking boots as if gazing intently around the room.

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Our bedroom, next to it, one of two guest rooms in the house, featured William Morris wallpaper and a wide selection of artefacts, many being family heirlooms. Above a marble mantelpiece stood a charming porcelain lamp-stand. Around the walls were an array of pencil sketches and oil paintings while an impressive pair of crystal ceiling lights hung from a high stucco ceiling. Pulled aside, heavy velvet curtains revealed a large window looking out on to an elongated garden filled with bay trees, a rowan and a cherry tree. For myself and my companion, however, the room’s centrepiece was a delightful canopy-style four-poster bed.

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Adjacent and separate was our bathroom, well-carpeted, with an old-fashioned dressing table, vanity mirror and stool and more than 30 framed artworks on the walls, ranging from seascapes and landscapes to Chinese etchings. It also featured the original enamel bath installed by Thomas Stevenson, with antique shower overhead. Between bathroom and bedroom, I counted over a hundred books stacked along shelves and along most flat surfaces.

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John Macfie stands proudly in his ornate drawing room beside a statue of Scottish author, Robert Louis Stevenson.

While we didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Felicitas Macfie, John proved to be an entertaining raconteur, well-versed in the life of R.L. Stevenson and many other literary and historical issues relating to Scotland and beyond its shores. He and I spent a most convivial evening over a generous dram of Scotch delving into a diverse range of subjects.

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Having studied history at Cambridge University, John was selected for the university’s prestigious academic team, which featured on a popular national television competition suitably entitled, ‘University Challenge.’ He then studied law in Scotland, and practised for more than 30 years. Felicitas, from Germany, studied hospitality in Lausanne and worked in Edinburgh’s historic Balmoral hotel. 

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With only the quaint Queen Street Gardens between it and the city centre and the Stockbridge district with its independent shops and popular Sunday market, as well as the cafés and antiques shops of Dundas Street close by, not to mention this property’s singularly authentic literary pedigree, Stevenson House is a prime choice of accommodation on a visit to Scotland’s capital city.

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