The building at Baxter’s Place has a fascinating history. It was the former home of several generations of the Stevenson family. This family was responsible for designing the majority of Scottish lighthouses for more than 150 years. Today it is a luxury hotel.
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Thomas Smith traded as a tinsmith in Edinburgh, where he produced oil lamps and brass fittings. For a while was a partner to the Commercial Shipping Company. He later secured contracts, providing street lighting apparatus in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and several other Scottish towns. The oil lamps used parabolic reflectors, which were much brighter than any produced by his rival companies.
Smith realised that he could put his innovative lighting to broader use. He became involved with the Northern Lighthouse Board, established in 1786. The NLB built their first four lights on the Scottish coast. These lights were at Kinnaird Head, North Ronaldsay, Eilean Glas and Mull of Kintyre, all on challenging sites. Smith was involved with the lighting of all of these.
Thomas had a sad start to his family life; in 1778, he married Elizabeth Couper, and they had three children, but she died in 1786. The following year, Thomas remarried, but his second wife died just four years later.
With the expansion of Greenock as a busy port, Pladda and Little Cumbrae Lighthouses were built. As the demand for new lighthouses increased, Smith was required to travel, often to remote locations. However, it wasn’t easy with a family to look after.
A close friend and neighbour, Jane Lillie, had known both of Smith’s wives. She offered to look after his children whilst he was away.
At age 19, Jane Lillie married Alan Stevenson. Their first and only child was Robert, born in Glasgow on 8th June 1772. Robert was named after his grandfather and great grandfather. Robert’s father, Alan, died in 1774 when he was only two years old.
Jane later married Thomas Smith on 14th November 1792, with two children from a previous marriage. She and Thomas had a daughter, Elizabeth, who died aged 7.
Robert frequently visited Thomas in his workshop, and by 1797 he had become an established business partner. He married Thomas Smith’s oldest daughter Jane in 1799. For many years, Jane had been his stepsister, meaning that Thomas Smith, his step-father, also became his father in law!
Smith bought the rights to a plot of land in the village of Greenside, part of the New Town alongside Calton Hill. A house was built at Baxter’s Place, with five stories facing north and six facing south. Behind it had an apple orchard and a large garden.
Baxter’s Place was set back from the quiet road leading down to Leith. A side entrance on the ground floor opened into Greenside Lane. From here, Thomas and Robert carried out their lighthouse business for the duration of their partnership.
Thomas Smith died in Baxter’s Place in June 1815, and his wife Jane died five years later.
Robert Stevenson became Engineer to the Northern Lighthouse Board in 1808, serving until he retired in 1843. He was responsible for the building of at least 23 lighthouses.
Robert and Jane had four children, a daughter, Jane Warden, and three sons: Alan, David and Thomas. The three sons would continue the line of lighthouse engineers. All of the second generations were born in Baxter’s Place.
Thomas and his wife had a son, Robert Louis. Despite his father wishing him to continue the tradition, became a prolific writer. Robert Louis Stevenson drew influence for many of his stories on his travels and experiences within the lighthouse service.
Robert Stevenson died on 12th July 1850, aged 78. He is buried in New Calton Burial Ground, Edinburgh, alongside his wife.
Robert had successfully moved his family’s graves to the new site after a battle to extend east from Princes Street and Waterloo Place.
By 2008 Baxter’s Place was standing derelict, having been vacant for many years. By March 2009, full planning permission had been granted for 1-5 Baxter’s Place to become a licensed hotel. However, it was not until 2013 that conversion of the terrace took place.
The three Georgian townhouses were converted into public rooms. Behind a new annexe was built containing most of the 240 hotel bedrooms. The Grade A listed Georgian building was officially opened in early 2017.
The hotel includes a replica bust of Robert Stevenson. There are lighthouse related artefacts, and the hotel includes the aptly named restaurant The Lantern Room.
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