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 Cordiner's History

[We are compiling information about the background history of Cordiner's Land and the Cordiner's Guild in Edinburgh, and would appreciate details or pictures you have to share!]

Cordiner's Land is an historic building, which occupies an ancient site within the World Heritage Trust area of Edinburgh's Old Town. Early maps of Edinburgh in the Middle Ages show buildings clustered around this location, which was the Western gate (West Port) into Edinburgh through the Flodden Wall (remaining sections of the Flodden Wall can be seen nearby).

Historic Scotland included Cordiner's Land on its Statutory List, with Category C(s) Listed status, on 10th April, 1986.

The building features distinctively Scottish architecture, crowstepped gables and, possibly its most notable feature, the decorative stone panel of the ancient Cordiner's Guild. This reinstated emblem of the Cordiners is important to Edinburgh's history, as there are apparently only 2 known building emblems remaining (one on Cordiner's Land, and one on a building in the Cannongate at the bottom of the Royal Mile).

cordiner's guild emblem dated 1696There is an inscription on the Cordiner's Land stone, dating from AD1696, which reads:

‘Behold How Good A Thing It Is,
And How Becoming Well,
Together Such As Bretheren Are,
In Unity To Dwell’

[The Cordiner's Land Residents' Association has a preservation plan for this emblem.] 


There is another historic plaque on the front of Cordiner's Land historic plaque dated 1887dated 1887. Around that time the site was redeveloped, providing better quality housing for the poor, with improved facilities such as wash houses for laundering and adequate toilet blocks. A design feature was improved space and ventilation afforded by the open walkways and large windows, set around a central garden and drying green. This was in contrast to the usual dark, damp, unlit closes and stairwells which were common features of Edinburgh's Old Town residential buildings. The inscription on this plaque reads:
"Love God Above All And Your Neighbour As Yourself" 

Cordiner's Land eventually fell into disrepair and suffered neglect for many years. It was again refurbished (and modernised) in the 1980's. It now comprises 3 main separated buildings, as listed below, but preserves some of the original features of external balcony walkways, open staircases, terraced courtyard gardens, a tower and bridge. 

1:  the North facing West Port street frontage 4 Storey block of 19 flatted dwellinghouses, with 7 shops at street level;
2:  the rear East facing garden frontage terraced 2 storey block of 4 flatted dwellinghouses
3:  the 2 storey individual dwelling house (formerly the 'Signal House') located to the rear of the gardens.

Currently, of these 24 private residences, 7 are owner-occupied, 15 have long-term tenants, and 2 are used as holiday rental homes with Four-Star Self-Catering status. [21 Cordiner's Land is in the rear East facing garden frontage block.]

detail from inside canongate churchABOUT CORDINERS  The word Cordiner derives from the French word for shoemaker, Cordonnier. Cordiners were leatherworkers, mostly shoemakers who made a complete new shoe, whereas cobblers worked with old leather and repaired shoes.  The symbol of the cordiner is the half moon leather worker's knife, which when linked with a Crown indicated membership of the Cordiner's Guild. Shoemakers were also known as Cordwainers in England, and Souters in Scotland.

 tribute to the cordiners inside canongate church




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