Edinburgh is a city bursting with grand buildings and monuments, many of which remain occupied or in use long after they were originally constructed. And many of these buildings were paid for by private finance - houses and banks which were funded by the wealthy figures who owned or operated them.
Other buildings - such as the National Monument on Calton Hill or the Scott Monument in Princes Street Gardens - were established by public subscription, and paid for by donations from the general public.
But there are also a tranche of buildings in Edinburgh which were created as philanthropic gifts from wealthy benefactors to the city - particularly from the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Many of these survive as major landmarks in Edinburgh today, and show how important such philanthropy was for the general betterment of the city across the centuries.
Here's a selection of Edinburgh buildings established by wealthy patrons.
EDINBURGH CENTRAL LIBRARY
Possibly one of the greatest philanthropists ever to come out of Scotland - and a notable corollary to the stereotype of the Scots as misers - was Andrew Carnegie.
Born in Dunfermline, just outside Edinburgh, Carnegie became the richest man in America (possibly the richest man in history, if the value of his fortune is adjusted for inflation) and spent an estimated $70,000,000 establishing over 2,500 public libraries around the world - nearly 1,700 of them were in his adopted home of the United States of America.
In the 1880s, he offered Edinburgh £25,000 as seed funding to establish the city's first public library. (Subscription libraries, paid membership institutions, had existed since Allan Ramsay established the first circulating library in 1725, but Carnegie's libraries were to be free access to all.) The city initially turned down Carnegie's offer, and he was moved to double it.
Edinburgh Central Library opened in 1890, making it the last city in Scotland to offer a public library service. Today the building remains actively used as a library, on George IV Bridge in the Old Town.
Edinburgh's largest purpose-built concert hall opened in 1914, with £100,000 donated by Andrew Usher, a brewer and distiller in the city.
There had been discussion about the possible site of the Usher Hall, with some early suggestions that it should be constructed at the western end of the the Meadows public park, which had been the site of a huge exhibition in the 1880s. This suggestion was vetoed on the grounds that the Meadows had been set aside as public parkland, and so a site on Lothian Road was identified, where a school had been demolished. Construction began in 1910, twelve years after Usher's death.
The Usher Hall remains actively used for concerts, university graduations and other large events throughout the year.
Andrew Usher's hall had been established shortly after his commercial brewing rival, William McEwan, had given money to the University of Edinburgh to build a hall in his name, as a way of countering some of the public feeling that brewers were responsible for many of the social ills of the period.
McEwan had given the university £113,000 to build a hall on Bristo Square, which continues to operate as the university's graduation hall. The interior of the building is exceptionally grand, with the domed ceiling of the space decorated with mosaics representing allegorical figures of the kind of academic subjects studied by the students.
The McEwan Hall opened in 1897.
MODERN ONE AND MODERN TWO
A short walk from the West End of the New Town are the city's two modern art galleries - named, not very imaginatively, Modern One and Modern Two. Both were originally built to service the needs of disadvantaged children in Edinburgh, with benefactors who left money acquired through private business.
Modern One was formally John Watson's Institution, created with money left by a lawyer and Writer to the Signet (a Scottish society of solicitors) John Watson in 1762. The building was designed by William Burn, and served as an educational facility for disadvantaged children, surviving up until 1975 when the school was closed and the John Watson's Trust was created. The trust continues to award financial support to local families who need help covering costs of educating their children.
Modern Two had an even stronger philanthropic purpose originally. In 1727 an Edinburgh merchant named Andrew Gairdner helped to found a institution to support orphans in the city - at one time having around 200 children under its care.
In the 1820s the Orphan Hospital needed to be relocated, and found a home on the land at Belford, where the grand building which would house it was designed by Thomas Hamilton - the intention was to create a structure which didn't resemble the typical workhouses or similar institutions, the better to improve the experience of the children housed within it.
The Dean Orphanage, as it became, opened in the 1830s and was built with sandstone from the nearby Craigleith quarry, and features a clock from the original city gateway on the Royal Mile. In the 1990s the children's home closed, and in 1999 the building became the Dean Gallery, part of the National Galleries of Scotland.
SCOTTISH NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY
Another of the National Galleries' buildings was also established as a philanthropic venture - except this one was purpose-built as a gallery space.
The Scottish National Portrait Gallery on Queen Street was funded with around £70,000 of money from John Ritchie Findlay, the owner of the Scotsman newspaper, in the 1880s. Although he ended up covering the whole cost of the gallery, he withheld his name from the project until after it was completed. The building was the world's first gallery space to be constructed as a portrait gallery - today it charts the history of Scotland through the people who shaped the nation.
Ritchie was no stranger to philanthropic developments, and was responsible for several other projects in the city for the general betterment of Edinburgh's residents.
GEORGE HERIOT'S SCHOOL
Several of Edinburgh's private school institutions were established as charitable organisations, and probably the best known is George Heriot's School.
Heriot was a jeweller and goldsmith in the city, nicknamed 'Jinglin' Geordie' because of the sound of coins and jewels rattling in his pockets as he walked though the city! He became the official jeweller to James VI of Scotland, and on his death in 1624 his estate was divided up to established charitable trusts across Scotland.
Edinburgh was gifted nearly £25,000 - a fortune for the time - to build a hospital in Heriot's name. The hospital later became a school for disadvantaged children, and today is one of the most prestigious private schools in the country...
ST MARY'S EPISCOPAL CATHEDRAL
Another West End landmark, the three tall towers of St Mary's Cathedral dominate the skyline at this edge of the New Town. The building was established in 1874 and was designed by George Gilbert Scott.
It was built on land left to the church by two sisters named Barbara and Mary Walker, with money to construct a cathedral building dedicated to St Mary. The two slightly shorter towers were completed in 1917 and are nicknamed Barbara and Mary, after the sisters themselves.
One of my favourite guidebooks of the city describes St Mary's Cathedral as being "Worth seeing, but not worth going to see"...!
So there is a grand tradition of philanthropic gifting in Edinburgh, and many of the city's landmarks exist thanks to the generosity, vision and wealth of past residents who were generous enough to contribute such important institutions to the city they called home.
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On a recent tour I found myself reflecting on a level of paradox to Edinburgh's buildings that I hadn't fully recognised before.
I often talk about how the Old Town isn't that old and the New Town isn't that new - but although the New Town is the side of the city celebrated for its Georgian style, there is a fair amount of Georgian development in the Old Town, too. And I'd never fully recognised this because we often talk about the Georgian style rather than the Georgian period - things which are subtly different!
Our use of terms like Georgian and Victorian relate specifically to the reigns of the various monarchs who ruled Britain at different times. The Victorian period was 1837 to 1901, during the reign of Queen Victoria. We are currently in a Carolean era, after the end of the second Elizabethan era last year - terms which feel slightly unfamiliar or incongruous in terms of contemporary Britain!
But the Georgian period was longer than most - stretching from 1714 to 1837, during the reigns of (collectively) Georges I to IV, and the brief reign of William IV. Because of the extended nature of this period, there isn't necessarily any such single style that we could consider 'Georgian', as the style understandably shifted and changed over 123 years - a period almost twice as long as the Victorian era.
So whilst New Town is what we think of as representative of Georgian style - distinctive detailing in the buildings and the furniture - Old Town itself has a number of Georgian era buildings which often get unfairly overlooked.
Here's my showcase of some Georgian era features to be discovered in Edinburgh's Old Town...
St Cecilia's Concert Room
Hidden in plain sight just off the Cowgate, this building today houses a museum of musical instruments, as well as a performance space. But St Cecilia's concert room was built in the 1760s - right in the heart of the Georgian period - and is the oldest purpose-built concert hall in Scotland.
The oval shape of the concert room is distinctive, with its glass cupola and the addition of sweeping modern seating for the comfort of contemporary audiences.
Built and named not for any George of the Georgian dynasty, but for the brother of the developer who built it, George Square is at the heart of the University of Edinburgh's central collection of buildings today.
Many of the original building were demolished during the mid-twentieth century, and buildings like the university's central library occupy a significant space on the square.
But original residential properties are still visible on two of the square's four sides - including the former homes of both Arthur Conan Doyle and Sir Walter Scott - with some very distinctive 'cherry cocking' decorative detail in the stone work. Inlaying smaller blocks of stone amongst the bigger pieces creates structural strength as well as being visually interesting.
George IV Bridge
One Georgian feature that is named for one of the actual Georges is this major roadway connecting the Lawnmarket on the Royal Mile to Forrest Road, across the Cowgate valley.
Built by Thomas Hamilton in 1832 to commemorate the visit of George IV to Edinburgh ten years previously, this bridge was originally freestanding, and then enclosed by the buildings erected to enclose it on either side.
An earlier bridge, again from the Georgian era, is South Bridge, built in the 1780s, and crossing the Cowgate further to the east...
Edinburgh City Chambers
One of the architects most closely associated with the Georgian style is Robert Adam, who designed Charlotte Square in Edinburgh's New Town - considered some of the finest surviving Georgian architecture anywhere in Europe. But Adam also worked on buildings in the Old Town, including the City Chambers, which he designed in 1760 alongside his older brother, John.
Intended as the Royal Exchange, the building was originally designed to be an indoors trading space for the market traders who congregated around the nearby Mercat Cross. But the traders didn't want to use it, and so it was later taken on by Edinburgh City Council, who continue to utilise the space today.
Another Robert Adam design, the Old College of the University of Edinburgh was the university's first purpose-built school building, and sat at the end of South Bridge. Designed in the 1780s, the building was unfinished at the time of Adam's death, and was later finished by William Henry Playfair.
Although the exterior of the building is impressive, a visit to the Talbot Rice Gallery provides a chance to see the interior of the space too, where the grandeur of the Georgian style is readily apparent...
Dating from 1722, the Candlemaker Hall on Candlemaker Row was - unsurprisingly - the guild hall of candlemakers! The two square towers are typical of the guild hall style that can be found elsewhere in Edinburgh too, and the candlemakers were originally located safely beyond the city walls to avoid the city becoming damaged by fires.
Buildings like this are typical of the 'rubble built' style that was common before the later use of worked stone cut into neat blocks, which is the more common form during the later Georgian style periods of development.
Built in the 1740s, these residential properties just off the Royal Mile on Canongate are typical of the style of housing that developed prior to the tenement style which proliferated during the Victorian improvements to Edinburgh.
Here the rubble built stonework has been covered with plaster, known as harling, which was then painted in a variety of paints drawn from natural pigments - often ochre, pink and cream.
Chessel's Court had also been the site of Edinburgh's customs house, where notorious criminal Deacon William Brodie committed his final robbery before finding his way to the city gallows, in 1787...
New Assembly Close
Built around 1813, the hall on New Assembly Close is today part of the Faculty of Advocates, lawyers from Scotland's legal system, with part of the building dating back earlier to a time when it served as Edinburgh's Assembly Rooms, a meeting space for dancing, balls and society functions.
The building survived the Great Fire of Edinburgh in 1824, and was at one time a branch of the Commercial Bank of Scotland. It features architectural elements that are more typical of what we recognise from Georgian style structures - the symmetrical frontage, the columns, ashlar stone blocks, the windows of different proportions, and the fanlight over the entrance.
Taken together it is apparent from just this selection of structures that the Georgian era buildings of Edinburgh's Old Town offer more of a variety of style and structure than is associated with the New Town.
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David Bryce was born on South College Street in Edinburgh's Old Town in 1803, and would go on to leave his mark on the city in a variety of structures that combine iconic 19th century style with practicality and function - so much so that many of his developments remain in use. You're likely to have been inside a David Bryce building in Edinburgh today and not even known it!
Bryce studied under the architect William Burn, and later became his business partner (and co-holder with him of the Grand Architect post at the top of Scottish freemasonry). Their working relationship dissolved following a design dispute in 1845, after which Burn moved to London, leaving Bryce to contribute to Edinburgh's Old and New Towns alone.
One of his earliest surviving projects in Edinburgh can be found on George Street in the New Town, where he designed the Caledonian Insurance Company offices - today the building is the George Intercontinental hotel.
Although the building looks outwardly unremarkable, it was typical of the 1840s style that combined elegance and simplicity, reflecting a little of the Georgian-era elements that the original buildings of George Street would have exuded.
More typical of the later Scots Baronial style, when Victorian decorative detail began to take prominence in buildings across Edinburgh, is his design for the British Linen Bank, which today is another hotel on nearby St Andrew Square.
These grand temples of finance were intended to create an impressive visual effect, and even today this former bank building has a style and a level of detail that intrigues passers-by - as with most buildings in Edinburgh you need to look up from street level to fully appreciate its impact!
In 1848 Bryce supervised the demolition and removal of Trinity College Church, a 15th century church building which had stood in the village of Calton, and which was being removed in order to accommodate the development of Waverley railway station. Memorably (as I often describe on my tours) the church was never rebuilt quite as had been promised to the people of Calton - what remains of it can still be found nearby...
In 1853 Bryce built the Surgical Hospital at the site of what had been Edinburgh's first hospital, on Infirmary Street in the Old Town. Today this site is owned and occupied by the University of Edinburgh, and Bryce's building remains as a campus structure.
Not all of Bryce's buildings have survived - having built the Freemasons' Hall on George Street, the building would later be replaced with a more modern structure, for example, and several other Bryce developments in the city would fall to either the Victorian improvements or the 20th century wrecking ball.
One significant structure which has survived is Bryce's redevelopment of the Bank of Scotland headquarters at the top of the Mound.
The bank had taken offices here in 1806, when it was still under the governance of Henry Dundas, but in the 1860s David Bryce was commissioned to redesign the building in which the bank was based. He created the very distinctive Baroque style of the building which stands today, visible from Princes Street and with its decorative dome topped by the figure representing the goddess Nike, symbolising victory, created by John Rhind.
Visitors can still explore Bryce's bank building today, as the basement has been turned into the Museum on the Mound, telling the history of banking and finance in Scotland.
Another of his bank designs, again on George Street in the New Town, is today the Standing Order pub.
Two of Bryce's later designs remain iconic and highly visible in the city today.
To the north-west of the New Town stands Fettes College, one of the city's private schools, which dominates the skyline of the area with its tall spire which combines Scots Baronial detail with a French chateau style. Noted for its academic reputation, Fettes has educated generations of Scots, including actor Tilda Swinton, former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and (in fiction) James Bond...
Back in the Old Town, probably the largest of Bryce's designs was the 1870s Royal Infirmary building, which operated as Edinburgh's main hospital from the late 19th century up until 2005, when it was sold for redevelopment.
The site has been undergoing a significant transformation into contemporary housing and office space, known as Quartermile, and today combines glass and steel modern structures with Bryce's decorative stone towers and wings of the original hospital.
One of the best places from which to see the combination of new and old is from the Meadows, the large parkland onto which the site backs.
Bryce died in Edinburgh on 7 May 1876, never living to see his Royal Infirmary project completed. He was buried in the New Calton burial ground, where his grave faces Arthur's Seat and overlooks the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the bottom end of the Royal Mile.
Among the pantheon of Edinburgh's grand designers, David Bryce is one whose work continues to impact visitors today.
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I often introduce tours by explaining that Edinburgh's New Town isn't as new as people expect, and its Old Town isn't as old as people expect - in fact much of the Old Town is up to a century newer than the New Town, creating an interesting paradox! Edinburgh is a city where 'old' and 'new' are only ever relative terms.
My tours explore this paradox in much more detail, to uncover the various levels of illusion that make up the city centre, and in the Old Town we often spend time talking about how the Victorians acted to 'improve' the city in the late nineteenth century.
The overcrowding and squalor of the mid-eighteenth century had led to the development of the New Town in the 1760s, the first time Edinburgh had been able to expand in any substantial way from the narrow strip of rock of the Old Town. But by a century later again the Old Town was once more coming under scrutiny for the parlous state of its streets and houses.
Figures like George Bell, an early kind of sociologist, led the calls for the Old Town to be overhauled and modernised, to bring it into a kind of status with the New Town.
His studies, such as Blackfriars Wynd Analysed, published in 1850, used direct research and interviews with residents of the Old Town to make the case for improvement. Streets like Blackfriars Wynd had in excess of a thousand people living on them, with most families living in single rooms, and having to subsist on the average salary of £5 per year - money that was almost entirely spent on basic commodities like food, leaving them having to turn to increasingly desperate means to raise the other money needed to pay rent, buy clothes, feed their children...
The city authorities at the time were not unsympathetic to the conditions people are living in, but couldn't see a way to develop the city - with so many people living in such dense slum districts as Cowgate and West Port, they can't imagine how substantial renovation can occur without displacing many people from their homes.
Only after the collapse of Paisely Close in November 1861, when people are killed as they slept by the building being reduced to rubble around them, does the city realise it has to find proactive ways of renovating Edinburgh's Old Town to prevent further tragedy.
Lord provost William Chambers is the man who oversees the implementation of what were known as the Edinburgh Improvement Acts, specific pieces of legislation that laid out the principles by which the city could proactively grow and develop.
Spreading into the suburbs, developing southwards towards Marchmont, Bruntsfield, Southside and Morningside, and northwards past the New Town in areas like Stockbridge, allowed the city to grow substantially from the very tight city centre.
Building associations of local businesses were formed to manage the development of specific local streets. The narrow closes and wynds - typically having been just three or four feet wide - were knocked together to create wider, more open streets, and modern tenement housing was put up to accommodate people in better quality, more secure properties which were then managed locally.
Instead of paying rent to a landlord who didn't necessarily live nearby, and so wasn't invested in actively maintaining the spaces, now tenants could rely on the businesses who had helped fund the development to provide a more hands-on attitude to their lettings.
Although 'tenement' is often thought of as poor quality housing in some parts of the world, Edinburgh's tenements were (and often still are) much better housing than earlier properties. Housing multiple families in a single stair, they were a form of communal living that created shared responsibilities for the space, and allowed even relatively poor families the luxury of warm, dry accommodation.
Edinburgh's tenements were originally styled by an architectural partnership of David Cousin and John Lessels, and the buildings on St Mary Street, just off the World's End on the Royal Mile, are noted as the first properties erected as part of the cohesive Improvement of the city centre.
Today the bulk of Edinburgh's city centre accommodation are still these Victorian tenement properties erected between the 1860s and the 1890s. Very often the buildings have dates in the stonework marking the precise year in which they were built, but the Scots Baronial styling can help date any building without a specific date stone.
Some estimates of the Improvement Acts suggest that in excess of 75% of Edinburgh's original Old Town buildings were lost and demolished in this process of upgrading the city.
Whilst it is undoubtedly a loss to the city's visible heritage that so many of these structures were dismantled and replaced, it is important to note that the motivation for doing so wasn't wanton vandalism (which the Victorians also had a habit of) but for the very necessary and important improvement of the ancient city.
Some of the original buildings still survive - on Bakehouse Close, for example, where the Museum of Edinburgh is housed in one of the sixteenth century buildings, and on Advocate's Close, where the original doorways into the property are still marked with the date 1590, as well as with individual structures surviving on lanes like James Court and Riddle's Court.
This is why I always encourage visitors to get off the Royal Mile itself and to explore the lanes of the old city, as this is where the more interesting, historical structures often survive. Those visitors who go looking are rewarded by discovering these more original features of the Old Town.
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