Learn about where we came from!
Take a Virtual Tour Around Our Museum
Join Andriy on a journey through the past of the St Andrews Heritage Museum and Garden, how it evolved, and the people who lived there.
A History of 12 North Street
Although evidence suggests that a building existed on this site during the late medieval period it is believed 12-20 North Street was built in the late 17th century. The oldest window in the property is on the first floor to the right of the fire escape. On the ground floor, the inner entrance door is original.
The earliest recorded owner of the house was Alexander Bell in 1723. Six separate owners followed until 1937 when the house was sold to local architect, James Hoey Scott.
Census records indicate that 12-16 North Street was a four-roomed dwelling, each room containing one family. In 1842, a report for the Poor Law Commission illustrated the poor sanitation and overcrowding endured by the fisher family inhabitants. A late report in the 1930s recommended demolition.
In 1937 James Hoey Scott started the reconstruction of 12-20 North Street that would save it from demolition. His plans converted eight dwellings into one large house. It was one of the earliest such restorations in Scotland. Once complete, a medical officer reported that it was, “the best illustration of what can be done towards preserving old buildings”.
In 1962, the St Andrews Preservation Trust purchased the house for £5000 dividing it into two self-contained buildings. The first building was to serve as the Trust’s headquarters, while the second was sold privately, subject to conditions safeguarding its architectural features. Miss Janet Low, of the famous Dundee supermarket chain William Lows, funded the conversion.
For many years, the Trust staged summer exhibitions in 12 North Street. The popularity of these, and the increasing number of bequests, led to the establishment of a permanent museum in 1981. At the time, 12 North Street was the only public museum in St Andrews. The Museum’s first full season was in 1983. The first full-time curator was appointed in 1991.
The Trust was founded in 1937. In our first annual report (viewable here), there was concerns that the character of St Andrews was being lost with development of the city following World War One “to an extent undreamed of by previous generations”. The Lord Provost at the time, Dr W. Norman Boase, stressed the importance of preserving the old buildings which were rapidly disappearing from the city, and there had been some will to make this a reality as far prior as 1931.
An informal conference was called, where it was decided that an independent local body be created to safeguard the old buildings which give St Andrews its unique character. This body was to be called the St Andrews Preservation Trust. This was to be more than a simple unofficial society for those interested; rather a regulatory body based on the mutual desire to preserve St Andrews’ heritage. It is with this mandate that the Trust still operates today.
When war struck in 1939, the Trust encountered new challenges. In 1940 it was recognised that the war effort superseded the Trust’s needs, however Ronald Gordon Cant, Chairman of the Trust, stressed the importance of not only working within the bounds imposed by war, but also that of planning for peacetime. Thus while slowed, the Trust continued its work. Of note was the reconstruction of London Close in order for it to be repurposed as a club for young people, part of a nationwide government scheme to promote young people’s welfare during wartime, and by December 1941 construction was complete. The Trust was not always in harmony with the government, however. Our 1945 report shows that the Trust resisted efforts to widen roads for large trucks carrying war materiel and successfully ensured that ‘Truck Roads’ like these would not go through the city and ruin its character for short-term gain. By 1948 the economic effects of the Second World War were still being keenly felt, with tradesmen being in critically high demand, however the Trust continued its work regardless.
Now the Trust continues the work of its founders; we always strive to strike a balance between the imperative to maintain the character of St Andrews, and the necessity of infrastructural change. This is evident in our motto: Preserving the Past | Planning for the Future. In the coming decades we hope that not only will the Trust still work to protect St Andrews’ heritage, but also that it will help to guide property developers in shaping St Andrews for the better, for all.