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Listed Building

The legal part of the listing is the address/name of site only. All other information in the record is not statutory.

The 1894 Building, The Royal Observatory, Observatory Road, EdinburghLB27740

Status: Designated


Where documents include maps, the use of this data is subject to terms and conditions.



  • Category: A
  • Date Added: 14/12/1970
  • Last Date Amended: 18/04/2016


  • Local Authority: Edinburgh
  • Planning Authority: Edinburgh
  • Burgh: Edinburgh

National Grid Reference

  • NGR: NT 25866 70650
  • Coordinates: 325866, 670650


W W Robertson of HM Office of Works, 1892-4, with later alterations circa 1940. 2- storey and basement, T-plan, Italianate observatory building housing telescopes set to centre of large observatory complex on top of Blackford Hill in Edinburgh; with 3-stage octagonal telescope tower to the east and 2-stage telescope tower to the west. Cream coloured Northumberland sandstone, channelled to basement with copper drums to telescope towers.

OCTAGONAL TOWER: base course; cill course to ground floor windows; carved aprons, pilasters and pediments to ground floor architraves; cill course, flanking pilasters and floral panels at 1st floor windows; floral frieze, dentilled eaves and pierced parapet corbelled out above with floral copper insets; panelled copper telescope drum above with scallop shell motif, floral frieze and finials. Single windows to both floors and basement to each face; intricately carved bipartite oriel window to northwest at ground floor.

SQUARE TOWER: base course; paired pilasters, dentilled eaves and pediments to ground floor windows; carved panels above; cornice corbelled out with scallop shell finials; panelled copper telescope drum above with floral frieze and finials. Single window to south and bipartite window to the north; modern flat roofed extension adjoining to the west.

BLOCK LINKING TOWERS: flanking library wing and joining towers; channelled basement; lugged architraves to ground floor windows; cornice; balustraded parapet. There are 11 bays to the north elevation between the octagonal tower to the east and the square tower to the west with regular fenestration. To the south (entrance) elevation: 3-bay to the east with regular fenestration. 5-bay to the west with central basement doorway, panelled door, plate glass fanlight with single window to ground floor above and to both floors to penultimate and outer left. Later addition of square- plan pedimented lift shaft tower to penultimate right with basement doorway (circa

1940). Engaged 4-stage circular plan stair tower to outer right with pedimented doorway to basement; cornices and floral aprons to architraved stair windows above; fluted frieze, dentilled cornice, stone cupola and finial. Predominantly plate glass timber pivot windows. Flat roofs; corniced and coped wallhead stack to library wing.

LIBRARY WING TO SOUTH: channelled basement; panelled attic frieze inscribed with names of famous astronomers; eaves course; dentilled eaves; cornice; lead blocking course with lion s head dies. East elevation: 5 bay with single bay linking block to the north; small single windows to basement bays; single architraved windows to ground floor above with floral carved aprons and cornices to penultimate and outer left. South Elevation: advanced central bay; small basement window; tripartite window to ground floor above with Doric columns, floral carving, lettered frieze inscribed 'AD Royal Observatory 1894', cornice and roundel with carved portrait of observatory patron, Lord Crawford, in relief; single small attic window above. West (entrance) elevation: engaged circular plan tower to outer left; single window at ground; small single attic windows; south facing Doric porch adjoining to right with dentilled eaves, cornice and carved heraldic panel to parapet; steps to 2 leaf paneled door; floral carving to architrave; bipartite window to the west.

The interior was seen in 2015 and has some late 19th century features remaining. Restored entrance hall with ceramic mosaic floor, balustraded stair, stylised Ionic columns, decorative cornice, paneled ceiling and replica of original brass lantern. Library with gallery level and cast iron spiral stair case. Early 20th century telescopes housed to top of towers (See Statement of Special Interest).

Statement of Special Interest

'The 1894 Building' was designed and built from 1892-4 as the principal building in an outstanding and unique nationally important group of buildings within a walled compound forming the new Royal Observatory on the Blackford Hill. 'The 1894 Building' was designed with functionality to house the telescopes but is also a highly detailed bespoke design for a scientific facility which continues in the same use.

The Royal Observatory and its associated complex of buildings were built on Blackford Hill in Edinburgh from 1892-4. The complex first appears on the 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey Map of Edinburghshire (surveyed 1894, published 1897). The new observatory was built following a donation of astronomical instruments and literature to th e City of Edinburgh from the 26th Earl of Crawford from his private observatory on the family's estate at Dunecht, Aberdeenshire. Since 1822 the Edinburgh Royal

Observatory had been housed in the Observatory Building on Calton Hill however by 1888 its efficiency had been affected by inadequate buildings, outmoded instruments and by what had become an unsuitable site.

In 1888 a Royal Commission recommended that the Edinburgh Observatory should cease to be a National Scottish Institution and that its buildings should be handed over to the University. It was this threat to the future of the Observatory that prompted the

Earl of Crawford to offer his gift of the instruments and astronomical library from his own personal estate on the condition that the Government build a new building on the Blackford Hill site and maintain it to ensure a future for the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh. The publicly funded site was designed to act as a public monument to astronomy as well as a state-of-the-art research centre for the time.

The resulting brief for the architect W W Robertson (1845-1907) was to create a building to adequately house the technical instruments and library whilst also designing the group of buildings to a high level of detail and design quality befitting the buildings' status as a public monument for the city of Edinburgh. The carved stone Zodiacal designs to the main observatory building are finely detailed and the stone towers with their copper domes are both practical and highly decorative.

The multi-period site continues to be in use for the purpose for which it was built and is a nationally important for astronomical research and study in the UK and is now (2015) occupied by the Scientific Technologies Facilities Council and the University of Edinburgh. The telescopes were designed and built by Grubb Parsons of Newcastle: to the east tower is a 36 inch telescope built in 1928, which, when installed in 1930, was the largest operating telescope in Britain.

The architect Walter Wood Robertson (1845-1907) was born in Elie in Fife and studied architecture at Edinburgh College of Art. In his early career he spent time articled to the offices of both Peddie and Kinnear and Brown and Wardrop before spending some time working in London. Robertson is best remembered for his large Post Office commissions at Perth, Greenock and Dundee executed from 1897-1898, however the observatory site, completed a few years earlier, is also one of his most prominent commissions.

Statutory address and listed building record revised in 2016. Previously listed as 'Observatory Road, Blackford Hill, The Royal Observatory'.



Canmore observatory-road-the-royal-observatory CANMORE ID 75955


2nd Edition Ordnance Survey Map of 1894 Edinburghshire, Sheet III SE

Printed sources

Gifford, J. McWilliam, C. Walker, D (1992) Buildings of Scotland, Edinburgh: Penguin p486.

Online sources

Dictionary of Scottish Architects: [accessed 26/10/2015]

Royal Observatory of Edinburgh:

About Designations

Listed Buildings

Listing is the way that a building or structure of special architectural or historic interest is recognised by law through the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997.

We list buildings of special architectural or historic interest using the criteria published in the Historic Environment Scotland Policy Statement.

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Printed: 25/04/2018 23:12