Parliament House, Edinburgh

Parliament House in the Old Town in Edinburgh, Scotland, is a complex of several buildings housing the Supreme Courts of Scotland. The original building was home to the Parliament of Scotland from 1639 to 1707. It is located in the Old Town, just off the High Street section of the Royal Mile, beside St Giles' Cathedral. It is a Grade A listed building.[1]

Parliament Square, Edinburgh, showing the Signet Library behind the statue of Charles II. The entrance to Parliament House is in the corner to the left of the library.

Parliament Hall

The oldest part of Parliament House is Parliament Hall, which the Town Council of Edinburgh, at its expense, had built as a permanent home for the Parliament of Scotland, and as such is the oldest extant purpose-built parliamentary building in the British Isles.[2] It was designed by James Murray and completed in 1641.[3] The main interior feature is the elaborate oak trussed flat roof supported on carved stone corbels. Often described as a hammerbeam roof, it is a false hammerbeam, necessitated by the flat roof design. The internal ornamentation is provided by downward thrusting radial struts.[1] The roof of the former Tron Kirk further down the High Street is similar in style but, because of the pitch of the roof, is a true hammerbeam.[4]

After the Acts of Union 1707, the Parliament of Scotland was adjourned, and the building ceased to be used for its original function.[5] The records of the Scottish Parliament were kept in the Laigh Hall on the ground floor until they were moved to General Register House in 1789.[6] The stained glass south window was installed in 1868.[7] The Hall was used for the sitting of courts, but in recent times has been subject to restoration work and now remains open as a meeting place for lawyers.[5]

Artwork in Parliament Hall

Figures of "Justice" and "Mercy".

The sculptor, Alexander Mylne (d. 1643), carved the royal arms over the entrance of Parliament House in 1635 and the two figures of Justice and Mercy on the same building in 1737.[8] Within Parliament Hall there are several fireplaces: the right-hand example of the two smaller fireplaces has carved scenes from The Merchant of Venice.[3]


1877 plan of the complex, including Parliament Hall, the Signet Library and the Advocates' Library

Even while the old Parliament was still in existence, parts of the buildings were used for legal cases, and afterwards this became the main function of the building. The building is now used to house the College of Justice and other connected functions. In modern times, the building is chiefly used by the Court of Session, which hears civil cases, whilst most of the work of the High Court of Justiciary, which hears criminal cases, takes place in a dedicated building on the other side of the Royal Mile which formerly housed Edinburgh's Sheriff court.[9]


The Advocates Library was founded in 1682, and is currently located in a William Henry Playfair-designed building to the west of the south end of Parliament Hall. It remains a heavily used legal resource. As well as collecting legal works, it was also a deposit library, and in 1925 the non-legal books in their collection were given to the new National Library of Scotland, which is located next to the library, on George IV Bridge.[10]

To the west of the north end of Parliament Hall is The Signet Library. It is a private library, funded by members of the Society of Writers to Her Majesty's Signet, who are generally practising solicitors. Construction began in 1810 to a design by Robert Reid, and it presents a classical front to Parliament Square. This façade wraps around Parliament House as well, and replaced the existing Scottish baronial façade.[11]

See also


  1. Historic Environment Scotland. "Parliament Hall, Parliament Square, Edinburgh  (Category A Listed Building) (LB27704)". Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  2. "Records of the Scottish Parliament, St Andrews University. Under Locations of Parliament". Retrieved 26 August 2013.
  3. "Edinburgh, 11 Parliament Square, Parliament Hall". Canmore. Retrieved 28 October 2012.
  4. "The Tron Kirk". Edinburgh World Heritage. Retrieved 5 November 2020.
  5. "Parliament Hall". Scottish Parliament. Archived from the original on 25 September 2010. Retrieved 18 July 2010.
  6. "Parliament House". Gazetteer for Scotland. Retrieved 5 November 2020.
  7. "A-Z of Secret Edinburgh: Parliament Hall". The Scots Magazine. Retrieved 5 November 2020.
  8. D. Howarth, "Sculpture and Scotland 1540–1700", in F. Pearson, ed., Virtue and Vision: Sculpture in Scotland 1540–1990 (Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 1991), ISBN 0903598140, pp. 28–9.
  9. "High Court of Justiciary". Gazetteer for Scotland. Retrieved 5 November 2020.
  10. "Our History". National Library of Scotland. Retrieved 5 November 2020.
  11. Historic Environment Scotland. "Parliament Square, Signet Library, including railings  (Category A Listed Building) (LB27709)". Retrieved 16 April 2020.
Preceded by
St Giles Cathedral
Home of the Parliament of Scotland
Succeeded by
General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland