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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 May 2007, 20:11 GMT 21:11 UK
Through the keyhole of Bute House
By Elizabeth Quigley
Reporter, BBC Scotland

Bute House (Pic: Crown Copyright)
The Georgian townhouse was designed by Robert Adam in 1791
Number 6, Charlotte Square, Edinburgh. It's perhaps not immediately recognisable as an important address.

But this is the location of an impressive Georgian townhouse which has played a role in Scottish politics since 1966.

This is Bute House - sometimes called Scotland's number 10 Downing Street.

Charlotte Square itself was designed by Robert Adam in 1791. He died a year later and never saw his plans come to fruition.

Others took on his designs and right in the middle of the north side of the square was number 6.

So, to borrow a phrase, who'd live in a house like this?

The first owner was a shoemaker called Orlando Hart who bought it in 1792.

Devolution impact

Sir John Sinclair took ownership in 1806 - he was the president of the board of agriculture and organised the First Statistical Account of Scotland.

At the start of the 1900s the fourth Marquess of Bute began buying up houses in the square and then in 1966, the house transferred to the National Trust for Scotland partly in lieu of death duties.

From then on the Scottish secretary was able to use Bute House - but not everyone who held the post was terribly keen.

Donald Dewar preferred to get "home to his own bed", according to his special advisor David Whitton.

Eight Scottish secretaries have been able to stay in the house and with devolution came a change of tenant to whoever holds the position of first minister.

Donald Dewar
Donald Dewar preferred not to stay at Bute House

And so in 1999 the name on the railings outside changed - and Bute House became the official residence of Scotland's first first minister, Donald Dewar.

The year 2000 brought a change of tenant and a change in how the house was used.

Henry McLeish was much more enthusiastic about throwing open the doors, and I remember being shown round the rooms by his wife Julie during one of the evenings the press were allowed into Bute House for a less formal occasion.

Yes, journalists and camera crews are sometimes allowed to catch a glimpse of the inside of the Robert Adam house.

I've been at press conferences, government launches and even that rare occasion where the fourth estate mixes rather more convivially than usual with politicians... the Christmas drinks do!

During Jack McConnell's time as first minister, he and his wife Bridget used it as a showcase for Scotland - hosting dinners prepared by local catering college students with guests entertained by musicians from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.

And with a new first minister already holding his first cabinet meeting at number 6 Charlotte Square - that opens up a whole new chapter in the story of Bute House.

Bute House lease 'under review'
22 Oct 06 |  Edinburgh and East

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