The Literature House
IMAGINE…a Literature House for Scotland, the centre piece of a literary quarter…a place dedicated to telling our story as a nation built on books…for us to understand and celebrate that story, for our children to discover their part in it.
This is our vision for Edinburgh as the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature and is something we are working to make real.*Update*
The Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust has selected Stirling Prize winning architectural firm Witherford Watson Mann to lead the next phase of development at the Literature House in Edinburgh. They will be working in partnership with Groves-Raines Architects Studios, who have an outstanding record in conservation, restoration and reuse of historic buildings in Scotland, and with Edinburgh-based Studio MB, a multi-award winning interpretive design agency who work internationally.
This comes following a competitive public procurement process led by RIAS Consultancy.
A Literature House for Scotland
We would like to create a dynamic space where classic design and cutting edge technology tell Scotland’s story of great books and great writers. A place where you can experience an evolving, immersive exhibition – its data-driven wizardry set amongst the painted beams and flagstones of John Knox House, one of Scotland’s most important medieval buildings.
Edinburgh's Literary Quarter
We see Scotland’s new Literature House as part of a thriving literary quarter at Edinburgh’s Netherbow on the Royal Mile. It would be a honeycomb of closes, gardens and streets with year-round events, exhibitions and interactive learning. All of this would be centred around Scotland’s new Literature House at John Knox House, next door to the award-winning Scottish Storytelling Centre, the world’s first purpose built modern centre sharing live storytelling on the capital’s Royal Mile since 2006.
In 2004 we worked with partners to secure Edinburgh’s title as a UNESCO City of Literature. Today we are working with partners to transform how we tell Scotland’s story as a literary nation and how we support Scotland’s literary community, and to realise our ambition of creating a Literature House for Scotland, a Litreachas Hoose, an Taigh Litreachais.
The Literary Quarter and The Literature House bring together an unusual mix of spaces: closes, gardens, courtyards, streetscape, 99-seat theatre, workshop rooms, indoor performance/exhibition space, café, bookshop and six rooms within the current John Knox House Museum (period domestic setting).
Our writers have changed the World
Scotland has a wonderful story to tell – of men and women, past and present – and we need to tell it.
In the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature we have more statues to animals than to women writers. Our Edinburgh’s Writers’ Museum is lovely but is dedicated to just three men.
Scotland’s literary story is so much more than this; it is a brilliant and breathtaking tale of writers and books that have changed the world, of inspiring ideas and incredible men and women.
Nine Netherbow facts to make your jaw drop
The Netherbow is the area around John Knox House (JKH) and its adjoining building, the Scottish Storytelling Centre, and it was the old gateway into the city. In this place, Edinburgh’s story has taken shape across the centuries.
John Knox House is one of the oldest buildings in Edinburgh with parts of it dating back to 1470. It was saved from demolition because of public outcry with (famously) children donating their pocket money to help save it!
Daniel Defoe, who wrote Robinson Crusoe, used to live next door in Moubray House, when he was a spy for the English government.
Just a stone’s throw away is where Scotland’s first book was published in 1508, The Complaint of the Black Knight on the Chepman and Myllar press. From this humble beginning grew Scotland’s great story as a centre of publishing.
It is believed John Knox died in this house whilst writing his great work, a fiery polemic on religion, politics and education – a good writer never puts his pen down.
Famous women linked to this location include Mary Queen of Scots who visited on Halloween 1561 – a carved panel in the beautiful Oak Room of John Knox House commemorates the moment.
The oldest carved inscription in Edinburgh – our oldest public piece of writing – is on John Knox House; it is in Scots and dates from 1561, reading ‘Love God above all and your neighbour as yourself’.
The first English language bible to be used in Scotland was published by Thomas Bassendyne here in Fountain Close, just opposite John Knox House. This ‘Geneva Bible’ was a hugely significant book, transforming religion in Scotland and it included John Knox’s call to overthrow tyrants by violence if necessary.
The first book printed in Scottish Gaelic, Bishop John Carswell's translation of the Book of Common Order or 'Knox's Liturgy', was originally published in 1560 by Robert Lekprevik who lived in the Netherbow.
This location was the scene of Scotland’s first literary quarter and today it is part of a thriving scene. It is home to Scottish Book Trust, The List, Canongate Books, The Saltire Society, the world’s oldest international storytelling festival and the Scottish Storytelling Centre, which has a fantastic year-round programme for children and families.