Edinburgh: The Pear Tree House
The Pear Tree House does not stand still for very long! Since coming to the Pear Tree last year George Fyvie has striven to create a powerhouse hub to give back to the community as much as we have been given! They make extensive use of the Counting House (upon which the dome of the Usher Hall was based due to it being the traditional home of the Usher family.
“We also count ourselves proud to be a home to many local groups such as Edinburgh Tango and Edinbop Swing Dancing, along with The Edinburgh Fortean Society, Midlife Crisis rock and grunge and the fantastic Ragged University project – aiming at giving free education to all who want to learn!”
During the Edinburgh festival we also are a focal point for the cream of the free fringe – this year alone so far we have had 4 and 5 star review shows such as: Austentatious, Ceilidh Kids, How to be a German, Dusty Limits (up for the best Cabaret “TO&ST” awards).
The Pear Tree itself is well known for its fantastic student and local community support, our outdoors beerfests (such as www.30daysofipa.co.uk), live music showcased by local and international talent and of course our internationally famous Beer Garden.
Here’s a bit of history from the summer edition of pints of view.
In a past issue of POV it was mentioned that Pear Tree House was a rather unusual name for a pub. In fact this historic building only became a public house in 1982, but before then it had a long and interesting history stretching back two and a half centuries. By the middle of the 18th century, Edinburgh’s more prosperous citizens were increasingly looking to move outwith the crowded and insalubrious confines of the Old Town.
With the New Town not yet conceived, attention turned to the southern hinterland where the recently drained meadows offered an appealing prospect. Accordingly, in 1746 one William Reid, a wealthy Edinburgh merchant, feued ground to the south of Bristo Port belonging to Lady Nicholson.
Here he built a fine, commodious three storey dwelling house with an enclosed courtyard to the front overlooking the meadows and the goosedub. The goosedub was a sump on the northern fringe of the erstwhile Burghloch and it was here in about 1598 that the pioneering Edinburgh Society of Brewers erected a windmill and cistern to pump brewing water to their brewery situated adjacent to Greyfriars Kirkyard. The windmill fell into disuse in about 1735 and was subsequently demolished.
However it is commemorated to this day by Windmill Street, a short thoroughfare leading into George Square from Chapel Street. Meanwhile William Reid’s house, which was originally known as West Nicholson House to differentiate it from Lady Nicholson’s own dwelling, was sold in 1756 to Sir James Fergusson, Lord Kilkerran. He died in 1759 but the house continued to be occupied by his widow Lady Jean Maitland, until her death in 1766. It then passed to her son Sir Adam Fergusson who later sat as a member of parliament for Edinburgh at Westminster.
In 1770 the house was sold to Dr Thomas Blacklock, a highly regarded blind academic, poet and preacher. Many important visitors, amongst them Dr Johnson and Robert Burns, came to the house to pay homage to the doctor. Blacklock died in 1791 but his family continued to live in the house. In about 1819 the house was acquired by Andrew Usher of Huntly Burn near Melrose who moved to the city to enter the wines and spirits trade.
His wife Margaret Balmer was a noted purveyor of wines and cordials made from the fruits of the hedgerow. She reputedly gave one of her recipes, for Green Ginger Wine, to family friend John Crabbie who went on to make a fortune from it. It is believed that it was Margaret Balmer who planted the fine old pear tree, which grew up in front of the house for very many years and which gave the house its current name.
Andrew Usher had no fewer than eleven children and became the progenitor of a very famous brewing and distilling dynasty. His sons James and Thomas entered the brewing industry by acquiring the Merchant Street Brewery in 1831 and prospered to the extent that they were later able to build themselves a large new modern brewery at St Leonards. Meanwhile Andrew Usher jnr, having pioneered vatted whiskies, acquired in 1859 the Sciennes Distillery which was formerly the Newington Brewery.
He became a very rich man indeed and a noted public benefactor, his lasting gift to Edinburgh being the Usher Hall. In time, the Ushers’ wealth allowed them to purchase grand houses and country estates and Pear Tree house was relegated to office use. When the Usher distilling interests were disposed of to the Distillers’ Company Ltd in 1919, Pear Tree House was included in the sale.
It was subsequently utilised for many years by DCL subsidiary J & G Stewart Ltd who had assumed the rights to the Usher whisky brands. The house continued to be used as an office and store until finally vacated in 1972 whereupon a decade of disuse and neglect ensued. There appeared to be a real danger that this outstanding example of domestic Scottish vernacular architecture would be demolished. Thankfully saner counsels prevailed and in 1982 it was converted into a vibrant and popular public house, with the former courtyard becoming an outdoor eating area.
Its accessible location and close proximity to Edinburgh University has ensured the continued popularity of Pear Tree House with both the student fraternity and local denizens alike. Long may it continue. My thanks to John Dallas of the Edinburgh History Magazine for help with this article. Charlie McMaster, Edinburgh Brewing Heritage Pear Tree House, Edinburgh – a brief history cheers George Fyvie General Manager
Hi I’m George Fyvie I run Pear Tree House Partnership which encompasses The Pear Tree (with Edinburgh’s biggest beer garden), The Counting House function suites and the Blind Poet live music bar. I have been in the bar trade for 19 years now and I have always believed that the “pub” is a local community hub and should always be giving back to the community as much as it receives.
I have been involved with housing various groups over the years, from Edinburgh Forteans society, Edinburgh Sceptics, Games clubs, book clubs – you name it! I always enthusiastically embrace different groups and help them as much as I can.
When Alex Dunedin described ragged university to me I thought to myself – what a great concept, id love to help – what can I do to support him. Then I thought to myself – of course – become a community hub for him to approach and meet people from all walks of life, from university lecturers and judges to authors to your average Joe Bloggs.
I also offered him the use of the Counting House- a perfect venue to host talks and use the space for providing free education. Ragged is a fantastic concept and deserves to be fully embraced by the masses who wish to learn and expand upon the fountain of knowledge and I for one will always be an advent supporter.
‘To receive guests is to take charge of their happiness during the entire time they are under your roof.’
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. (1755-1826)