The current hotel has an interesting history, and was the former home of several generations of the Stevenson family, a family responsible for the design of the majority of Scottish lighthouses over a period of more than 150 years.
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Thomas Smith traded as a tinsmith in Edinburgh, where he produced oil lamps and brass fittings, and for a while was partner to the Commercial Shipping Company. He later secured contracts, providing street lighting apparatus in parts of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and a number of other Scottish towns. The oil lamps used parabolic reflectors which were much brighter than any produced by his rival companies.
Smith realised that his innovative lighting could be put to wider use, and when the Northern Lighthouse Board was established in 1786, with authority to build four lights on the Scottish coast (Kinnaird Head, North Ronaldsay, Eilean Glas and Mull of Kintyre), Thomas was involved with the lighting of all of these lighthouses, which were all located on challenging sites.
Smith 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.
By this time, with the expansion of Greenock as a busy port, Pladda and Little Cumbrae lights had been built, and more lighting around the coast was urgently needed. Smith was required to travel, often to remote locations, but with a family to look after, this was difficult. A close friend and neighbour, Jane Lillie, who had known both of Smith’s wives, offered to look after his children whilst he was away.
At 19, Jane Lillie married Alan Stevenson. Their first and only child was Robert, born in Glasgow on 8th June 1772, named after his grandfather and great grandfather. Robert’s father Alan died in 1774 when he was only two years old.
Jane was looking after Thomas Smith’s children. She later married Thomas Smith on 14th November 1792, with two children from a previous marriage, and they 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. She had been his step sister for many years, 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. Here, at Baxter’s Place a house was built with five stories facing north and six facing south, with an apple orchard and large garden. It was set back from the quiet road leading down to Leith. A side entrance on the ground floor opened into Greenside Lane, and 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 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, and all of the second generation were born in Baxter’s Place. Thomas and his wife bore a son, Robert Louis, who 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 Cemetery, Edinburgh, alongside his wife. Robert had successfully moved the graves of his family 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 a number of years. By March 2009 full planning permission had been granted for 1-5 Baxter’s Place to become a licensed hotel, but it was not until 2013 that conversion of the terrace took place and the modern extension at the rear of the building was demolished. The three Georgian town houses were converted into the public rooms, and 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, and other lighthouse related artefacts, and the hotel includes the aptly name restaurant The Lantern Room.