Open

Most of our places are now open. Find a place to visit near you.

Back to places
Edinburgh & The Lothians

Gladstone’s Land

The history of food and drink at Gladstone’s Land

Gladstone’s Land has been a commercial hub for more than 500 years, and food and drink has been at the centre of many of its businesses. From dram shops to dairies, this unassuming tenement has seen it all.

In 1632, the wealthy merchant John Riddoch died. He left a very comprehensive will that listed all of the goods in his shop at Gladstone’s Land, including expensive items such as nutmeg, ginger, figs, almonds and sugar, which were imported from all over the world. He also listed details of his debtors; among these was Issobell Johnstone. Johnstone ran a tavern in the cellar of Gladstone’s Land, buying alcohol from Riddoch and selling it on for her own profit; she owed him £122. This is the earliest reference to food and drink being sold at Gladstone’s Land and marks the start of a long and diverse history.

An oil painting of five men grouped together around a table in the bottom left of the image, drinking and talking. In the background are more men, including one who is taking a nap on a long bench.
Tavern scene, by David Teniers the Younger, 1658

Dram shops and pubs

It seems that Gladstone’s Land residents were fond of a tipple, as taverns and spirit dealers are a regular feature in the property’s trading history. Neil Ezat was, once again, using the basement to sell ale from in the 1750s, and there was a constant presence of dram shops and public houses between the mid-19th and mid-20th century. This unbroken run was ended by the closure of the Rabbie Burns Bar in the 1950s.

Other drinks were also available. Robert Hill sold tea from the property in the 1840s, and a 19th-century image shows a large ‘coffee house’ sign on the front of the building. This may have been for Mr Muir’s Refreshment House, which is listed on the property valuation record for 1855.

An engraving of Gladstone’s Land showing the front of the property and the houses on either side. On the property are two signs, one for Ross’s Tavern and the other for an unnamed coffee house.
The frontage of Gladstone’s Land showing Ross’s Tavern and a coffee house sign, 1880

The dairy

In 1904, Minnie and Rosa Thomson opened a dairy on the ground floor, which was taken over by Archibald Ramage a few years later. He ran it until 1936. Ramages Dairy probably supplied cream to Orazio Capaldi, an ice cream dealer operating a couple of doors down at 453 Lawnmarket in the 1920s.

Iced desserts have been around for 2,000 years, with records showing that the Romans enjoyed ice mixed with fruit. The emperor Nero is reputed to have ordered snow to be brought down from the mountains to make an early form of sorbet. By the 18th century, iced desserts were a recognised status symbol since, before modern freezing techniques, ice was difficult to obtain and keep. Ice cream was not widely eaten in the UK until the 19th century, when traders started to import ice from Norway, Canada and America.

Many early ice cream recipes were developed in Italy, and Scotland’s fledgling ice cream industry was predominantly run by Italian families. By the 1920s, ice cream was available to most and came in a huge variety of flavours, from classics such as strawberry and chocolate to more adventurous options including Neapolitan and rocky road.

A black and white engraving of a number of Edwardian women standing at a counter in an ice cream parlour. A small child stands in between them at the centre. A smartly dressed man serves them behind the counter.
An Edwardian advertisement for Coca Cola showing an ice cream parlour

Ice cream parlour and coffee shop

Today, we are continuing this long tradition at Gladstone’s Land with our own ice cream parlour and coffee shop on the ground floor. Our ice cream is supplied by Equis and includes a brand new flavour, elderflower and lemon curd, which has been made specifically for the property and based on an ice cream recipe from 1770.