Council Chamber and Refectory

The two finest historical rooms in the Hospital are the Old Refectory, or Wester Laigh Hall, and the Council Chamber.


The Old RefectoryThe Refectory, nowadays the Staff Common Room, is a long, low room entered immediately from the Quadrangle with a huge classical fireplace at either end spanned by a remarkable flat arch and ornamented with massive decorations. One bears Heriot's Coat of Arms and the other an elaborate monogram consisting of all the letters in the Fireplace in Old Refectoryname of George Heriot ingeniously interwoven.

In 1680 Sir Thomas Murray of Glendoick, the Lord Register of Scotland, asked permission to set up a press here to publish the new Acts of Parliament. As the Hall was then superfluous to the Hospital's need, the Governors granted it to him with the rooms above to hang out the newly printed sheets.

The ceilings in the Old Refectory and Council Chamber are more difficult to date. They do not have the appearance of 17th. century plaster work, but the Council Chamber ceiling existed by 1847. If they are not original there are two possible later designers: John Adam, who redesigned the approach from the Grassmarket and made other alterations for the Governors in 1762, or William Henry Playfair, who was employed by them between 1829 and 1832.

Originally adjoining the Refectory were a scullery and kitchen, which occupied the ground floor of the north-west tower. The kitchen, an arched apartment, was the first portion of the building to be completed.

The Council Chamber was the last room to be properly finished. In August 1688, a The Council Roomproposal was made to line the windows with timber and the walls with gilded hangings. Nothing was done, however, until 21st April 1790, when the Treasurer was instructed "to cause lynne the Council Chamber with wainscot and to agree at the easiest rate he can for finishing there-of with any wright he shall employ". This was done, and the room was entirely wainscotted with fine old oak, including an entablature of the Corinthian order, Print of Tiles in Council Roomperhaps by Alexander Eizat. An ornamental breaking is formed on the north side of the room with the pilasters of the same order.

In the centre is the fireplace with a finely-carved mantelpiece and a highly-relieved Wooden Crest in Council Roomwreath and festoon of fruits , flowers and grain surrounding the Founder's arms. Originally this space contained a painting by Bonar representing tradition in the Hospital that three boys discovered the mineral spring where St. Bernard's Well now stands. The room also contains an unusually large gate leg council table and houses copies of important documents relating to the history of the Hospital.

There are two important paintings in the room. Nearer the window is a painting of the Founder copied by the Scottish painter, George Scougall, about 1698 from the original painting of Van Somer, which is now lost. Nearer the door is a portrait of James Jackson (Treasurer of the Trust to 1804) painted by one of the Hospital's most famous Former Pupils, Sir Henry Raeburn. A tunnel-vaulted Charter Room is adjacent to the Council Room.