Bute House

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Bute House
Taigh Bhòid
Bute Hoose
Bute House, Charlotte Square - geograph.org.uk - 1325869.jpg
Charlotte Square elevation of Bute House
General information
Architectural styleNeoclassical
Address6 Charlotte Square
Town or cityEdinburgh
Coordinates55°57′9.360″N 3°12′29.016″W / 55.95260000°N 3.20806000°W / 55.95260000; -3.20806000Coordinates: 55°57′9.360″N 3°12′29.016″W / 55.95260000°N 3.20806000°W / 55.95260000; -3.20806000
Current tenantsNicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland
Named forJohn Crichton-Stuart, 4th Marquess of Bute
Construction started1793; 227 years ago (1793)
Completed1805; 215 years ago (1805)
OwnerNational Trust For Scotland
Technical details
Floor countFive
Floor area525.65 m2 (5,658.0 sq ft)[1]
Design and construction
ArchitectRobert Adam
DeveloperLord Provost and Edinburgh Town Council
Official website Edit this at Wikidata
Listed Building – Category A
Official name1-11 (inclusive nos) Charlotte Square with railings, lamp standards and boundary wall
Designated3 March 1966
Reference no.LB28502[2]

Bute House (Gaelic: Taigh Bhòid) is the official residence of the First Minister of Scotland located within Charlotte Square in Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland. Alongside two other offices at Holyrood and St. Andrew's House, Bute House also has a smaller office used by the First Minister when in official residence.[3]

Located at 6 Charlotte Square in the New Town, it is the central house on the north side of the square, and was designed by Robert Adam. Bute House was conveyed to the National Trust for Scotland by the Marquess of Bute in 1966. Between 1970 and 1999 it served as the official residence of the Secretary of State for Scotland. Since 1999 it has been the official residence of the First Minister.[4]

The four-storey house contains the Cabinet Room, offices and conference, reception, sitting and dining rooms where the First Minister works, and where Scottish Government ministers, official visitors and guests are received and entertained. The second and third floors contain the private residence of the First Minister. As well as serving as the official residence of the First Minister, Bute House is frequently used by the First Minister to hold press conferences, media briefings, meetings of the cabinet of the Scottish Government and appointing members to the Scottish Cabinet.[5]

History of the building[edit]

Early occupants[edit]

Robert Adam, the architect who designed Charlotte Square.
Robert Adam, the architect who designed Charlotte Square.

Charlotte Square was designed by Scottish architect Robert Adam. The Lord Provost and Edinburgh Town Council commissioned Adam to draw up plans for the Square in 1791 as the culmination of Edinburgh's first New Town. However, Adam died in 1792 and his completed designs had to be realised by others. The north side of the Square was built first and is faithful to his intentions.[6]

The plot where Bute House now stands was sold in 1792 by public roup (auction) to Orlando Hart, a shoemaker, prominent member of the Town Council and deacon-convener of the trades in Edinburgh, for £290.[7][8]

Sir John Sinclair, 1st Baronet

In 1806, Sir John Sinclair, 1st Baronet bought the newly completed house for £2950.[7][8] Sinclair was a Whig politician and a writer on finance and agriculture. He was also responsible for the compilation of the First Statistical Account of Scotland. Sir John Sinclair sold the house in 1816 to Lieutenant Colonel William Gabriel Davy.[4][7][9] His daughter Catherine Sinclair was born there in 1800.

In May 1818, the house was purchased from Davy by Henry Ritchie of Busbie. Ritchie was a Glasgow merchant, a partner in the Thistle Bank, and the owner of landed estates in Lanarkshire and Ayrshire.[7] He sold his Charlotte Square townhouse to Charles Oman, a hotel keeper and vintner, in May 1825.[7] Oman, a native of Caithness, had owned various hotels and coffee houses in Edinburgh over the decades, including the Waterloo Hotel on the city's Waterloo Place up until his purchase of 6 Charlotte Square.[10] Oman turned his new townhouse into Oman’s Hotel, which it was to remain for over 20 years. The fixings for the letters of the hotel's name can still be seen today on the exterior wall above the front entrance door of Bute House.[4]

Oman died in August 1826, but the hotel continued to operate under the ownership of his widow, Mrs Grace Oman (née Burns). The exiled Charles X of France stayed at the hotel for a brief time in 1832, during his second period of exile in Edinburgh.[4][9][11] Following Mrs Oman's death in 1845, 6 Charlotte Square was sold by her heirs to Alexander Campbell of Cammo, who lived in the house with his family until his death in 1887.[11] Campbell commissioned David Rhind to make various alterations and additions to the house in 1867. The next owner of the house was Sir Mitchell Mitchell-Thomson, 1st Baronet, who was to make it his home for the next 30 years. A partner in his family's timber business, and a director of the Bank of Scotland, he also served as the Lord Provost of Edinburgh from 1897 until 1900. In 1889, Mitchell-Thomson employed the architect Thomas Leadbetter to carry out further alterations.[4][9][11][12]

Bute family: 1922–66[edit]

John Crichton-Stuart, 4th Marquess of Bute

John Crichton-Stuart, 4th Marquess of Bute, had a particular enthusiasm for the amenity value of the Scottish townscape, and from the early 1900s onwards he began to buy up the central houses on the north side of Charlotte Square, with the intention of restoring Adam's original design, which had been compromised by 19th-century intrusions, including dormer windows and alterations to the proportions of the first-floor windows.[4][8] Lord Bute acquired the house at No. 5 first, in 1903, and thoroughly restored its interior in an Adam Revival style, furnishing the principal rooms with antique furniture so that it could function as the Butes' town house in Edinburgh. He subsequently acquired No. 6 in 1922 and No. 7 in 1927.[11] Lord Bute's enthusiasm for Charlotte Square was given permanent expression when the City of Edinburgh invoked the Town Planning (Scotland) Act 1925 to effect the Edinburgh Town Planning (Charlotte Square) Scheme Order, 1930. The Bute family thereafter moved from the house at No. 5 to the neighbouring property at No. 6, taking many of the contents of No. 5 with them.[8]

Transfer to the National Trust for Scotland[edit]

In May 1966 the Treasury accepted Nos. 5, 6 and 7 Charlotte Square in lieu of part payment of death duties on the estate of the 5th Marquess of Bute, who had died in 1956. The three houses became the property of the National Trust for Scotland, which proposed to lease No. 6 to a new trust which would administer the house as an official residence for the Secretary of State for Scotland, as a building where he could reside when in Edinburgh and where distinguished visitors could be received and entertained. The Bute House Trust was formed in 1966 to bring this idea to fruition.[13] The Trustees raised the £40,000 required for the alteration and redecoration of the house and its furnishings. The interior decoration and colour schemes were the responsibility of Lady Victoria Wemyss and Colin McWilliam. Because funding was tight, the interior refurbishment of Bute House was dependent on a number of loans.

Bute House is not owned by the Scottish Government, but remains in the ownership of the National Trust for Scotland, a charitable organisation dedicated to the preservation of historic buildings and sites of natural significance across the country. The property is also legally under the supervision of the Bute House Trustees, a group whose existence was provided for in the original trust deed passing ownership from the Bute family.

Official residence[edit]

From 1970 onwards, after the House was refurbished after its previous owners had given it and two adjoining houses to the National Trust for Scotland, Bute House became the grace-and-favour residence in Edinburgh of the Secretary of State for Scotland, the UK government minister charged with looking after Scotland's interests in Westminster, who remained as resident in it until devolution in 1999.

It is now the setting for the weekly meeting of the Scottish Government's Cabinet, which meets in what used to be the Secretary of State's study. The First Minister also greets dignitaries, and holds ministerial receptions and press conferences. Also located in the building is a private study as well as offices, kitchens and overnight accommodation. It is also where, like the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street, the First Minister makes press conferences and employs and dismisses government ministers.

Repairs and restoration[edit]

In 2017, following extensive survey work on the condition of the building undertaken by the building's conservators, Bute House was closed for urgent repairs, with the First Minister having to decant the building until necessary work was completed. The work to Bute House is being co-ordinated by Historic Environment Scotland, with "temporary measures" being put in place for the First Minister to reside and meetings of the cabinet whilst the building is being restored.[14]

Rooms and features[edit]

Front door and vestibule[edit]

Entrance to Bute House

Bute House is unusual for an Edinburgh New Town house, in that it has a central front door.[15] The main entrance door for most New Town houses would more normally be placed on the same side as the staircase. However, the central door of Bute House was a necessary function of Adam's palace front.[15][16] The wide, four-panelled entrance door is made of polished black oak. Between the top sets of panels are the brass Roman numerals "VI". Below the numerals, between the bottom sets of panels, there is a brass letter box on the left-hand side of the door, and a brass door knocker on the right-hand side. The door is framed by small side windows and adorned with a semicircular fanlight window. A black ironwork fence runs along the front of the house and up each side of the flight of six steps leading up to the entrance door. The fence rises on either side of the front step to support iron gas lamps.[17][18] Fixed beneath both lamps is a brass plaque with the inscription "Bute House Nº 6 Charlotte Square Official Residence of The First Minister".

The original plan of the Bute House entrance lobby or vestibule is not known. The present vestibule and its decoration were designed for the 4th Marquess of Bute in 1923 by his architect, Arthur Forman Balfour Paul. The thoroughness with which this space was redecorated suggests that the vestibule as inherited by Lord Bute may have been heavily adapted to suit Victorian taste.

As the vestibule does not open directly into the stairwell, Balfour Paul sought to ensure that it would not appear dark and forbidding by deciding to greet the visitor with a welcoming central chimneypiece in white marble facing the front door. The plan of the vestibule is T-shaped, with archways leading through from the right-hand and left-hand sides of the fireplace. The vestibule features a rosetted ceiling, highly decorative plasterwork in the Adam Revival style, and a floor of polished Caithness flagstones in octagons and squares, in the Georgian manner. To offset the move from the bright daylight outside, to the dark vestibule, a Regency convex mirror sits over the fireplace. The painting on the east wall is by the Scottish artist James McIntosh Patrick.


The staircase, lit by a circular cupola rising above a moulded frieze and cornice, is unusually dark for an Edinburgh New Town house because it continues up to the attic floor. The cantilevered stone steps would normally stop at the second or bedroom floor, with a cupboard-like arrangement of wooden stairs continuing to the attics. The uppermost flight of stairs was probably added in 1889 by Thomas Leadbetter, at the request of Sir Mitchell Mitchell-Thomson, who wanted a billiard room on the top floor of Bute House, in order to take advantage of the spectacular northern views over the Firth of Forth.

To offset the darkness on the ground floor, the walls were repainted in 2001 with a very light stone colour, repeating the existing scheme, while the balusters were repainted in white – a common late 18th-century treatment. Photographs of all the past First Ministers decorate the staircase wall on the ground floor. The longcase clock by James Ivory of Dundee, which stands at the foot of the staircase, was gifted to Bute House in 1970.

Drawing room[edit]

First Minister Alex Salmond and his cabinet in the Drawing Room, 2011

The present green colour scheme in the drawing room dates from 1985 when the damask curtains were introduced. The room features original elaborate ceiling plasterwork, with the frieze repeating the same festoons found in the ceiling decoration. In 1923, Lord Bute and Balfour Paul complemented this ceiling by introducing new doorcases in the same Adam style, together with an inlaid chimneypiece with a central tablet depicting Venus and Cupid and vases echoing the frieze. The new single-leafed doors replaced 19th-century double doors, which connected this large drawing room at the front of Bute House, to the back drawing room that is now the cabinet room.

The French chandelier is one of three spectacular Bute family pieces, accepted in lieu of death duties by the Treasury and subsequently transferred with the house into the care of the National Trust for Scotland. The full-length portrait on the north wall was painted by Allan Ramsay and shows John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (1713–1792), the first Scot to become British Prime Minister. Though long thought to be a copy by Ramsay's Studio, this painting is now acknowledged to be the original portrait commissioned in 1758 by the Prince of Wales, later King George III.

The other paintings in the room are on loan from the National Galleries of Scotland. The Millennium Collection of modern silver was commissioned by the Incorporation of Goldsmiths and is now owned by the Scottish Goldsmiths Trust. It was created to celebrate the return of a Scottish Parliament in 1999 and it is on permanent loan to the First Minister to promote the quality of Scottish silver craftsmanship. The fine gilded rococo chimney-glass is attributed to the London cabinet-maker John Mackie. The 18th-century mirror was originally made for the drawing room of Duff House in Banffshire. The large mahogany-glazed bookcase on the east wall displays the Bute House glass collection, engraved by Harold Gordon with images of the birds and wild flowers of Scotland.

Cabinet room[edit]

Meeting of the cabinet in the cabinet room, 2007

When Bute House was first furnished as an official residence in 1970, this room was intended as the Library or private study of the Secretary of State. With the establishment of the Scottish Government in 1999, it became the cabinet room. The original appearance of the room, with its robust colour scheme picking up the brown marble of the chimneypiece, is recorded in Harry More Gordon's conversation piece portraying all the successive Secretaries of State for Scotland. This room retains its original cornice but the chimneypiece and the shaped treatment of the south wall, which replaces the 19th-century double folding doors that led into the front drawing room, were introduced in 1923 by Lord Bute and Balfour Paul.

Colin McWilliam designed a desk and a bookcase incorporating copies of the portrait medallion of Robert Adam by James Tassie, for this room. The modern reproduction Georgian ladder back chairs were intended to complement the existing suite of dining chairs at Bute House. The chandelier was originally in the Butes’ dining room on the ground floor and now belongs to the National Trust for Scotland.

The dining room[edit]

In 1967, the Bute House Trust commissioned the mahogany pedestal dining table from Leslie & Leslie of Haddington. The table is in a late 18th-century style, as is appropriate to the character of the house, and was sponsored by Miss Elizabeth Watt. Miss Watt also commissioned the modern rosewood sideboard from the celebrated cabinet-maker, Edward Barnsley.


  1. ^ Lothian Valuation Joint Board (1 April 2017). "Bute House, 6 Charlotte Square – Summary Valuation Sheet, 2017 Revaluation". Scottish Assessors Association.
  2. ^ "1-11 (Inclusive nos) Charlotte Square with railings, lamp standards and boundary walls (LB28502)". portal.historicenvironment.scot. Retrieved 10 March 2020.
  3. ^ "Bute House - First Minister of Scotland".
  4. ^ a b c d e f "History of Bute House". Scottish Government. Retrieved 23 June 2015.
  5. ^ "Bute House - Edinburgh Guide". www.edinburghguide.com.
  6. ^ Bute House Guidebook.
  7. ^ a b c d e Gifford, p. 162.
  8. ^ a b c d Bute House Guidebook, p. 3.
  9. ^ a b c Youngson, p. 154.
  10. ^ Paton, p. 283.
  11. ^ a b c d Gifford, p. 163.
  12. ^ Bute House Guidebook, p. 7.
  13. ^ "Bute House Trust, Registered Charity no. SC015945". Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator.
  14. ^ "First minister's house shut for repairs". BBC News. 23 October 2017 – via www.bbc.co.uk.
  15. ^ a b Bute House Guidebook, p. 6.
  16. ^ Gifford, p. 168.
  17. ^ Gifford, p. 169.
  18. ^ Bute House Guidebook, p. 5.


  • Bute House Guidebook (2002). Scottish Executive.
  • Gifford, John, McWilliam, Colin & Walker, David (1984). Edinburgh: The Buildings of Scotland (Pevsner Architectural Guide). Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-09672-9.
  • Paton, Hugh (1842). A Series of Original Portraits and Caricature Etchings by the late John Kay. Hugh Paton, Edinburgh.
  • Youngson, A.J. (2001). The Companion Guide to Edinburgh and the Borders. Companion Guides. ISBN 978-1-900-63938-5.

External links[edit]