EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
St Andrew Square in Edinburgh's New Town is one of the city's finest public spaces, as well as being where the New Town began development in 1767. Both the monument in the centre of the square, and one of the buildings around its edge, share a connection with branches of the Dundas family, who in the eighteenth century were one of Scotland's most powerful dynasties.
Sir Lawrence Dundas emerged from the merchant branch of the Dundas family. His father had owned a cloth and drapery business in the Luckenbooths, in the heart of the Old Town's market area on the Royal Mile, but Lawrence left the family trade to rise through the social ranks to become a property developer, and later a director of the Royal Bank of Scotland.
In the 1760s, when James Craig was laying out his design for Edinburgh's New Town, the garden of St Andrew Square was intended to have a church to Scotland's patron saint built on the east side of the square. A parallel arrangement was planned for the west end of George Street, where St George Square (now Charlotte Square) would have a grand church built on its western side, creating a lateral symmetry across the New Town, with the two churches 'bookending' the grand central thoroughfare of George Street.
When the land was put up for purchase, the plot which had been set aside for the Church of Scotland was instead retained by Lawrence Dundas - he felt the site facing across the square would be better suited to his family home than a church, and he foiled Craig's plans for symmetry across the city. The church dedicated to St Andrew was instead built on George Street itself, where it remains today.
The grand villa that Lawrence Dundas made his family home was bought by the Royal Bank of Scotland after Lawrence's death in 1781, and later became the world headquarters for the financial organisation. The building remains in the RBS holdings today, and is open to the public as a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland - visitors to the grand banking hall can enjoy something of the splendour that Lawrence Dundas built for his family, in lieu of the church.
In the centre of St Andrew Square stands an impressive monument, which many (reasonably) assume to commemorate the patron saint of Scotland, for whom the square is named. In fact the monument was built for Henry Dundas, a wealthier, more powerful relative of Lawrence Dundas, who earned his own place in the Edinburgh Rogues' Gallery for his own underhand activities.
For twenty years Henry Dundas - known in Scotland as Harry the Ninth, due to the amount of power he wielded over the country - was treasurer to the British Navy, as well as being the UK's first Secretary of State for War. He was also a vocal opponent to the abolition of the UK's role in the slave trade.
In 1801 Dundas resigned after being investigated for claims of misappropriation of public finances when the Navy discovered a proportion of its cash wasn't in the coffers where it should be.
At the time, Henry Dundas was a member of the Houses of Parliament, and when the allegations of financial corruption emerged he was thrown out - he remains the last MP to be impeached.
The 150ft monument to Dundas was designed in 1821, and paid for "by contributions from officers and men of the Royal Navy", which could be considered a euphemism for the manner in which Dundas spent the money he is alleged to have embezzled from his former employer...
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