Pear Tree House as a building now houses several businesses: The Peartree pub itself, our function suite The Counting House, The Blind Poet next door and a restaurant downstairs. Originally however, when built in 1749, it was a single and rather magnificent residential house built by William Reed, a merchant from Leith. At the time the building sat on Edinburgh’s southern border, and the original title deeds included a clause requiring “the planting of trees for the ornamentation of the City”. Originally known as Nicolson House (a name still attached to local streets and squares), it eventually became known as The Pear Tree House, or simply the Peartree, after the two large and remarkably hardy trees trained to grow on the front of the building.
Today the building and grounds remain true to their 18th Century design. Over its varied history the Peartree has provided the locus for many of the city’s influential citizens. In 1756 it passed to Sir James Fergusson, Lord of Session and remained in his family until 1770.
Until 1791 the two upper stories were occupied by blind poet Thomas Blacklock, whose family moved in literary circles of the day, with both Robert Burns and Dr Johnson having enjoyed the hospitality of the house. Blacklock’s disability led to him holding informal tutorials and classes for students at the nearby University Of Edinburgh (a thriving institution with a central role in the ongoing Scottish Enlightenment), and in return for these classes students would cook and carry out housekeeping for Blacklock.
The Peartree subsequently moved into the hands of the Usher family, and in 1826 Andrew Usher, progenitor of the famous brewing and distilling dynasty, was born. A family fortune was thereafter built on whisky, the company being at the forefront of popularising blended whisky.
As the company expanded the building moved from a family home to a more functional role, with the courtyard being used as a bonded store for whisky barrels and the upper floors used as offices for the company’s administration and accountants, hence the naming of The Counting House. Usher rose in status amongst Edinburgh’s most prominent citizens when in 1892 he gifted the £100,000 necessary to build a large civic hall for the city. The dome of the Usher Hall was in fact modelled on that of the upper floor of Pear Tree House, a period feature which still lends much atmosphere to the function suite today.
After WWI the Usher’s distilling family interests were taken over by Scottish Malt Distillers Ltd, and the Peartree passed into the hands of new owners where until 1971 the building and courtyard were contingent to the firm’s whisky trade. For much of the 1970s however, the building lay derelict until 1982 when the building took on its present incarnation as a public house, and the traditions of hospitality and good beers and whiskys continue in one of the Old Town’s most characterful and much loved buildings.