Scott Conversion at 12 North Street
Two restorations in the 1930 by James H Scott from Gillespie and Scott. He joined the family firm in 1930 and over the next 20 years made his greatest contribution to the firm’s work by pioneering, in St Andrews, the restoration of traditional dwellings.
In 1937, Scott drew up plans for the conversion into one house of eight dwellings at 12-20 north street for his own use. The building comprised of two properties, probably originally built in the 17th century, but with 18th century details. This seems to have been the first deliberate attempt in St Andrews to restore domestic buildings so as to preserve, particularly on the exterior, the characteristic features of burgh architecture. It is also likely to have been on of the earliest such restorations in Scotland, contemporary with the reconstruction, in 1937, of the first two house at Culross, in Tanhouse Brae, by J Wilson Paterson, Architect for Historic Buildings for HM Office of Works, on behalf of the NTS. It is possible to trace a number of influences on these early endeavours to preserve the traditional Scottish burgh houses. Whilst Scott seems deliberately to have set out to preserve the original Scottish character of the houses in North Street, this was not a particularly scholarly restoration, but rather a romantic, artistic interpretation, with its unharled exterior and the creation, on the first floor, of a minstrels gallery with the rood exposed to the rafters. In these respects it was clearly in the Arts and Crafts tradition; particularly in the decision to remove the harl and to leave the natural stone uncovered, thereby breaking with the local practise of harling the outside walls for protection from the elements, together with the medievalising of parts of the interior. Scott was a keen antiquarian who collected architectural features from demolished buildings. The incorporation of architectural features from other buildings was a device used by Sir Frank Mears at Huntly house.
James Scott’s pioneering work in St Andrews appears therefore to have been influenced by a mixture of Arts and Crafts philosophy, antiquarian interest, and, not least, a growing desire to preserve the characteristic features of Scottish burgh houses.
In October 1937 James Scott submitted plans for the reconstruction of 12-20. The plans were passed by the Council, despite the fact it had to take the unusual step (at that time) of agreeing to relax the provisions of the Burgh Police Acts, which required ceiling heights to be no lower than 8 feet. This meant that Scott was able to retain the original ceiling heights.
Removed two doorways from 12-16 and two from 18-20. Incorporated a pend, inserting two small windows and a recessed portion of wall to that it was possible to see where the pend was. During the restoration it was discovered that the front elevation of 18-20 had originally been further back (possibly in line with 12-16) and had probably been extended outwards to enlarge the house in the late 18th century. Scott kept the existing window sizes and their random distribution. The elevations were left unharled, with recessed pointing. This was the fashion of the 1930s and seems to have been regarded as an artistic effect.
Scott seems to have been keen to keep original old features wherever possible. The memel joists and panelled doors, probably added in the eighteenth century, were retained. These elements were incorporated in a somewhat romantic vein: the joists were left exposed, and on the first floor of 12-16 the attic floor was largely removed to create a drawing room open to the roof beams. A portion of the loft floor was retained at the far end to create a minstrels gallery. New fireplaces in period style were introduced, although a raised platform above the fireplace in the first floor drawing room was retained. Throughout the interior the plaster of the walls was left unpainted, which the Citizen believed added “much to the artistic effect of the general design”.
It is difficult to know what motivated James Scott to undertake this restoration in what was the poorest part of St Andrews. Medical Officer of Health reported to the Town Council in June 1938 : I may say the alterations which have been affected comprise on of the best illustration of what can be done towards preserving old buildings I have ever seen.
On 7th December 1936, St Andrews town council recommended that 12-20 North Street be bought by St Andrews architect James Hoey Scott. The existing tenants were to be re-homed by 15th May 1937 when the proposed reconstruction was to go ahead on the building. Most of the tenants were rehomed to the outskirts of town in the newly build Lamond Drive area. The renovation took place in December that year.
Ideas of ‘historic conservation’ had been strengthened by the setting up of the National Trust for Scotland in 1931 and the introduction of the ‘Bute Lists’, a system of identifying buildings of significant architectural or historical interest in older Scottish burghs. The ‘listings’ system is still in use today.
In St Andrews itself, the Preservation Trust, the first organisation of its kind in Scotland, was established in 1937. In the same year, local architect James Hoey Scott, submitted plans for the reconstruction of Nos. 12-20 North Street to the Town Council.
During the 1930s housing legislation was introduced by the national government, which effectively threatened the continued existence of a number of old properties in St Andrews, including Nos. 12-16 and Nos. 18-20 North Street.
One of the earliest restorations of its type, Scott intended to convert the two blocks, (containing 8 rooms), into one house for his own use. The existing tenants were to be re-homed in the new municipal housing. Although Scott’s restoration was ‘romantic’ rather than scholarly, it served as an example to other private restorers and the newly formed Preservation Trust.
A keen antiquarian and painter, Scott was determined to retain as many of the old features wherever possible. However, the interiors were altered considerably in order to modernise them and create one house: new rooms were incorporated and the staircases removed. New fireplaces were installed and a minstrel’s gallery was created on the first floor using the columns from a four-poster bed as supports.
Early photographs show that Scott removed two exterior doorways from Nos. 12-16 and one from Nos. 18-20, retaining one doorway for each block. The obsolete doorways are now windows.
The small front garden is a later addition and the extension at the rear of the house, which Scott referred to as, ‘the sun room’, now houses a permanent exhibition of objects from Keith’s the Chemist, an old St Andrews firm.
The pioneering importance of Scott’s work to the preservationist movements was noted at the time, an article in the St Andrews Citizen (December 25th 1937) described it as “a splendid example of how old dwelling homes in Scotland can be preserved and made again healthy, convenient and alive”.
Self Portrait of James Scott (circa 1937)
James Hoey Scott painted this self portrait not long after remodelling 12-20 North Street in 1937. Scott was born in 1892, in St Andrews. He joined his father’s local architecture practice, Gillespie and Scott, and the firm was key to the preservation of many historic buildings in St Andrews. The St Andrews Preservation Trust purchased the house from Scott in 1961, and some 20 years later the Trust opened it up as a public museum.
Donated by James Scott.
Slum Housing’ to Museum: The History of 12 North Street
12 North Street is an important building for exploring the social history of St Andrews. Once the site of terrible living conditions for generations of fisher families, its restoration is an excellent example of early building preservation in Scotland
The recorded ownership of a property at 12 North Street can be traced back to the sale of a house on the site in 1723, with a building possibly existing as far back as the late 1500s. The house was mainly let out to local fisherfolk by wealthy merchant landlords. It was divided into four rooms that housed up to ten people each. There was no running water, with an outside toilet and washhouse shared between 8 families. These ‘slum housing’ conditions reflected the poverty of the fishing community located at this end of St Andrews, traditionally known as the Ladyhead. In 1935, the local council marked the house for demolition.
The house was purchased in 1937 by James Scott, a local architect, saving it from demolition. Scott’s renovation combined both 12-16 North Street and 18-20 North Street into a single house. The original style of the building was largely retained, although the internal spaces were altered. Several tenants stayed with Scott during his ownership, including Polish soldiers billeted in St Andrews during the Second World War (1939 – 1945). The house was also a popular venue for local artists to collaborate throughout the 1940s and 1950s.
The property was sold to St Andrews Preservation Trust in 1961 with numbers 18-20 being sold privately by the Trust. In 1982, the Trust converted the house into a museum. As a large presence in the lives of generations of local families, the house was a perfect setting for amplifying local histories.
“the alterations which have been affected comprise one of the best illustrations of what can be done towards preserving old buildings I have ever seen.” Medical Officer of Health (June 1938)
Front entrance of 12-16 North Street in 1937 with its three front doors. The lime harling on the exterior walls was removed during the 1937-38 restoration to protect the stonework. Photographer: G Bottomley (Nor.S 126)
Timeline in vinyl for wall:
1723 12-16 North Street sold by Alexander Bell, first recorded owner
1842 Dr John Adamson reports unsanitary conditions at east end of North Street
1935 Town Council recommends demolition of 12-20 North Street, as part of ‘Slum Clearances’
1937 12-20 North Street purchased and restored by James Hoey Scott
1961 St Andrews Preservation Trust purchases 12-20 North Street
1982 Preservation Trust open public museum at 12 North Street
Although evidence suggests that a building existed on this site during the late mediaeval period, it is likely that 12 – 20 North Street was built in the late 17th century.
The earliest recorded owner of the house was Alexander Bell in 1723. Six separate owners followed before it became the museum you stand in today. One of these owners was Alexander Kay, a local grocer and tradesman. In 1937, ten years after his death, his wife Mary sold the family home to the architect James Hoey Scott, who sympathetically restored the house.
The oldest window in the property is that on the right of the fire escape on the first floor. On the ground floor, the inner entrance door is original.
The census records of 1851-91 indicate that 12-16 North Street was a four-roomed dwelling, each room containing one family of up to eight persons. They tended to be owned by wealthy tradesmen who let the properties to fisher families. In 1842, a report for the Poor Law Commission illustrated the poor sanitation and overcrowding endured by the inhabitants.
‘The east end of North Street… is covered with offal of every kind and upon the back of many of the houses there are dung-hills filled with mussel-shells, dung from pigsties, &c’.
In 1936, another report stated that 12 – 20 North Street, “ is unfit for human habitation. Action should accordingly be taken under section 16” – section 16 being a demolition order.
Clearances of Houses
Between 1933 and 1938 the Town Council undertook a programme for dealing with insanitary houses. Many old houses were demolished.
In 1937, the year that The St Andrews Preservation Trust was founded, local architect James Hoey Scott, submitted plans to the Town Council for the reconstruction of 12-20 North Street. Although Scott’s plans were somewhat idealistic, they served as a good example to other restorers and to the newly-formed Preservation Trust.
Scott plans would see the conversion of eight dwellings into one house. This was the first attempt in St Andrews to preserve the characteristic features of burgh architecture. It was one of the earliest such restorations in Scotland.
The plans were passed by the Council who relaxed the provisions which required ceiling heights to be no lower than 8 feet. This allowed Scott to retain the original ceiling heights on the ground floor.
A keen antiquarian and painter, Scott wanted to keep many original features. The memel joists and panelled doors, probably added in the eighteenth century, were retained. The joists were left exposed, and on the first floor the attic floor was largely removed to create a drawing room open to the roof beams. Depsite retaining some period features, the interiors were altered considerably in order to modernise them and create one house. The front garden is a later addition, and the extension at the rear of the house, which Scott referred to as, ‘the sun room’, now houses the chemist shop display.
Once the restoration was complete, a medical officer reported to the Town Council in June 1938 that it was, ‘the best illustration of what can be done towards preserving old buildings I have ever seen’.
The establishment of a town museum was first mentioned in St Andrews Preservation Trust minutes in 1956. The Trust obtained the building in 1962.
James Scott first offered 20 North Street to the Trust at the cost of £5000. After enquiring as to whether Mr Scott had any objections, it was agreed to convert the property back into two separate properties and to sell 18-20. The Trust purchased 20 North Street from Mr Scott at a cost of £5000, and it was agreed that the property at 18-20 should be sold for no less that £3000. Miss Janet Low, of the famous Dundee supermarket chain William Lows, funded the conversion.
In 1962, the St Andrews Preservation Trust divided 12-16 and 18-20 into two self-contained buildings. The first building was to serve as the Trust’s headquarters, while the second was sold as a privately owned house, subject to conditions to safeguard its architectural features in the future.
Life as a Museum
For many years, members of the Trust staged Summer Exhibitions in 12 North Street. The popularity of these, and the increasing number of bequests, led to the establishment of a permanent museum in 1981, at the time, the only public museum in St Andrews. The museum’s first full season was in 1983 and in 1991, the first full-time curator was appointed.