Listed Building

The only legal part of the listing is the address/name of site. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing – see ‘About Listed Buildings’ below for more information.


Status: Designated


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Date Added
Local Authority
Planning Authority
NT 26227 74162
326227, 674162


William Henry Playfair, 1825-6. Square-plan Greek Doric memorial. Polished ashlar. Projecting base plinth (to sections outside enclosure only) supporting podium with projecting base course chamfered to upper section; moulded cornice; tetrastyle blind colonnade of engaged fluted Greek Doric columns; entablature with metopes ornamented with laurel wreaths, pyramidal stone roof.

S ELEVATION: inscribed on podium: 'Joanni Playfair Amicorum Pietas, Desideriis Icta Fidelibus, Quo Ipse Loco Templum Uranaie Suae, Olim Dicaverat, Hoc Monumentum, Posuit MDCCCXXVI, Nat VI IDUS MART MDCCXLVIII, OBIT XIV KAL SEXTIL MDCCCXIX'.

Statement of Special Interest

This elegant monument, designed by one of Scotland's most distinguished architects, is important for its architectural quality and its prominent position on Calton Hill. It is also significant as a memorial to one of the most eminent figures of Edinburgh's Enlightenment (the two men were closely related; John Playfair was William H. Playfair's uncle).

Professor John Playfair (1748-1819) was Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh University. He was also the first President of the Astronomical Society. The monument was first proposed in 1822, when the town council received an application from a Committee of Subscribers to build a monument on a site next to the observatory. This was approved on the condition that the monument be built within the next two years. However, it was not until 1825 that Playfair's design was constructed. In 1828 Playfair's observatory compound wall was built, incorporating the Playfair monument at the SE corner. It seems likely that W. Playfair had always intended this, as more prominent sites, such as that later occupied by the Dugald Stewart Monument, were eschewed for a position which balanced that of the Old Observatory House standing at the SW corner of the compound wall. It has also been suggested that the positioning is symbolic, literally representing John Playfair's role as a 'cornerstone' of the development of the observatory.

The inscription on the podium of the monument translates as follows:

To John Playfair

His friends' piety

Spurred on by constant longings

in the place where he himself

had once dedicated a temple to his Urania

Placed this monument 1826

Born 10th March 1748 Died 19th July 1819



Plans in Edinburgh University Library. Appears on Ordnance Survey Map, 1854. I. Lindsay, GEORGIAN EDINBURGH, (1974), p.41. Gifford, McWilliam and Walker, EDINBURGH, (1991), pp436. Edinburgh City Council, CALTON HILL CONSERVATION PLAN, (1999).

About Listed Buildings

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

Listing is the process that identifies, designates and provides statutory protection for buildings of special architectural or historic interest as set out in the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997.

We list buildings which are found to be of special architectural or historic interest using the selection guidance published in Designation Policy and Selection Guidance (2019)

Listed building records provide an indication of the special architectural or historic interest of the listed building which has been identified by its statutory address. The description and additional information provided are supplementary and have no legal weight.

These records are not definitive historical accounts or a complete description of the building(s). If part of a building is not described it does not mean it is not listed. The format of the listed building record has changed over time. Earlier records may be brief and some information will not have been recorded.

The legal part of the listing is the address/name of site which is known as the statutory address. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing. Even if a number or name is missing from a listing address it will still be listed. Listing covers both the exterior and the interior and any object or structure fixed to the building. Listing also applies to buildings or structures not physically attached but which are part of the curtilage (or land) of the listed building as long as they were erected before 1 July 1948.

While Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating listed buildings, the planning authority is responsible for determining what is covered by the listing, including what is listed through curtilage. However, for listed buildings designated or for listings amended from 1 October 2015, legal exclusions to the listing may apply.

If part of a building is not listed, it will say that it is excluded in the statutory address and in the statement of special interest in the listed building record. The statement will use the word 'excluding' and quote the relevant section of the 1997 Act. Some earlier listed building records may use the word 'excluding', but if the Act is not quoted, the record has not been revised to reflect subsequent legislation.

Listed building consent is required for changes to a listed building which affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest. The relevant planning authority is the point of contact for applications for listed building consent.

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Printed: 28/02/2020 23:17