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1-3 Seafield Place, 2, 4 Seafield Road with Railings

A Category B Listed Building in Leith, Edinburgh

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Latitude: 55.9713 / 55°58'16"N

Longitude: -3.1516 / 3°9'5"W

OS Eastings: 328221

OS Northings: 675963

OS Grid: NT282759

Mapcode National: GBR 8Y6.3Y

Mapcode Global: WH6SM.K5GP

Entry Name: 1-3 Seafield Place, 2, 4 Seafield Road with Railings

Listing Date: 14 December 1970

Category: B

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 364033

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB27075

Building Class: Cultural

Location: Edinburgh

County: Edinburgh

Town: Edinburgh

Electoral Ward: Leith

Traditional County: Midlothian

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John Paterson, 1813. Alterations to south section before 1850; further alterations ca. 1880 to form shop on ground floor, further internal and minor external alterations, early 20th century. 2-storey classical, originally roughly U-plan, building on corner site, comprising near-identical 5-bay elevations to north and west and 3-bay curved corner, formerly Seafield Baths, now public house and flats on prominent corner site. Polished ashlar sandstone, rusticated masonry to outer bays of ground floor. Base course; band course, corniced at centre bays; moulded cill course to 1st floor windows; eaves cornice and blocking course; corniced parapet with plain raised tablet and guttae beneath. Architraved 1st floor windows, alternately corniced and pedimented.

Entrances at centre of symmetrical main elevations with tripartite doorways in recessed arches with flanking 4-pane lights; fluted Roman Doric tetrastyle porches with balustrades above. Porches flanked by windows framed by Doric pilasters, the bay to right on Seafield Place now a doorway. Round-arched openings within ashlar recesses in advanced outer bays.

12- and 14-pane glazing in timber sash and case windows. Piended grey slate roof with ribbed leaded dome over corner. Multi-flue ashlar wallhead stack.

INTERIOR: not seen (2013).

RAILINGS: dwarf wall to street with ashlar cope and iron railings; cast-iron gatepiers with pineapple finials.

Statement of Interest

The former Seafield Baths and hotel building, dating to 1813, is striking austere classical building and is significant as an early surviving baths complex. Externally the building is little altered. It occupies a prominent corner site and is designed in a distinctive classical style. The building makes an important contribution to a part of the city which is now largely commercial and industrial in character.

The plans for the original building were published in the Edinburgh Almanac of 1812 and these show a roughly symmetrical U-shaped building at ground level. The ground floor contained a range of baths and dressing rooms while the first floor contained the baths keeper's apartment and eight rooms which were let out to those using the baths. The ground floor of the south leg was the gentlemen's wing with cold and hot baths and dressing rooms and an oval plunge bath. By the 1850s (First Edition Ordnance Survey map, 1849-53) the south leg is marked as Seafield Lodge and Seafield Cottage. This suggests that this part of the building had been separated off and was in separate ownership by this date.

The former Seafield Baths are also important as the only surviving example in Edinburgh of a building which housed seawater baths. In the early 19th century Edinburgh boasted several seawater bathing establishments. The earliest of these baths was Frithfield, begun in 1794, which stood in Salamander Street, west of Seafield Baths. These were followed in 1804-7 by Portobello Baths situated at the north end of Bath Street in Portobello. Trinity Baths were probably built at the same time as the Trinity Crescent (1824) where they were located. They were certainly in operation in 1838. None of these now survive. Further afield in Scotland there were eight seawater baths by 1820s. Of these only a handful survive.

The building is significant historically. Sea water baths were important to those seeking cures for a range of illnesses. The beneficial effects of seawater had been recognised by the mid-18th century. A number of books and treatises appeared about this time including in 1755 Dr Richard Russel's 'A dissertation on the use of seawater in the diseases of the glands' while The Scottish doctor William Buchan in his hugely popular 'Domestic Medicine' first published in the 1770s recommended seawater as a useful cure. Seawater baths in resorts on the south coast of England began to appear from the mid-18th century, Margate being one of the first. Scotland followed quickly and salt water baths were erected at Peterhead in 1762.

Until the baths were built, horse-drawn bathing machines on the seafront offered the only way of taking the waters for those who required some degree of privacy. The popularity of these early baths is demonstrated by the ease with which subscriptions were collected for their erection. Initially Portobello Baths were to have two warm baths and one cold one but within a few months there were to be eight warm baths, the cost of the building rising from £1600 to £4000. Seafield Baths with the ancillary accommodation cost more than £7000.

The Seafield Baths continued to be used through most of the 19th century. They were still operational in the 1870s. Thomas Aitken, a Leith merchant, owned the property by that date and his daughters were the hotel and baths keepers. By the early 1880s Miss M Aitken had opened a shop selling spirits at the corner section which is when a doorway here was presumably inserted. The baths were reduced in size and by 1900 there were no longer used as baths, the remaining parts of the property becoming flats. Catherine Aitken was still running the corner property as a public house in 1914.

John Paterson (?-1832) who designed the baths is probably best known as an architect of country houses in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A native of Edinburgh, he moved to Elgin for a number of years but returned to Edinburgh where he was appointed clerk of works to the University of Edinburgh, through the offices of Robert Adam. After the death of Adam he became the leading practitioner of the 'Castle Style' in his country house designs. He was equally accomplished in the classical style and produced a number of fine classical interiors. He was particularly fond of oval and circular rooms which the original plan for Seafield Baths demonstrates, with an oval plunge bath for gentlemen, circular hot baths for ladies, and a circular stair well and a fine circular room on the corner at first floor level.

Very few of Paterson's public buildings survive and this underlines the importance of the former baths. On stylistic grounds the former Leith Bank in Bernard Street has been attributed to him and there are echoes of the bank in the Seafield building in the prominent central dome. The commission for the baths led to further work in this area as he drew up a feuing plan with elevations for developing the Seafield Estate shortly after their completion.

Listed building record updated 2014.

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