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- Category: A
- Date Added: 15/06/1965
- Local Authority: Edinburgh
- Planning Authority: Edinburgh
- Burgh: Edinburgh
National Grid Reference
- NGR: NT 23447 73744
- Coordinates: 323447, 673744
William Burn, 1825-8; later additions to N. 2-storey and basement 21-bay former school, now art gallery, set in landscaped parkland. Hexastyle Greek Doric Portico in antis to centre, flanked by 5 recessed bays; advanced and pilastered 3-bay end pavilions. Sandstone ashlar. Banded base course; banded cill course at 1st floor corniced eaves course with triglyph entablature across whole façade. Moulded architraved surround to main entrance with latticework fanlight over 2-leaf door. Moulded architraved windows at ground and 1st floors (corniced at ground floor).
N ELEVATION: 3 storeys, 7 bays with advanced 5-bay centre, pilastered outer corners to recessed flanking bays. Paired shouldered arched tripartite windows at 1st floor in recessed surrounds with ashlar transoms and narrow sidelights.
S ELEVATION: similar to that at N.
W (REAR) ELEVATION: 3 storeys, 22 bays with advanced 4 bay centre and advanced and pilastered 2-bay end pavilions. Coursed squared rubble with ashlar quoins, some ashlar to end pavilions. Band courses at ground and 1st floors. Banded cill courses and corniced eaves course with triglyph entablature to end pavilions. Regular fenestration with large rectangular windows at 1st floor; blind windows to end pavilions. Single storey, double gabled, outbuilding to far right (S) with timber louvered ventilator to roof; connected to main block by single storey corridor. Later outbuildings to far left (N).
Predominantly large 12-pane timber sash and case windows. Piended roof to advanced block at rear; grey slates. Corniced ashlar ridge stacks; modern clay cans. Cast-iron rainwater goods.
INTERIOR: predominantly plain interior scheme, now in use as an art gallery with some later additions and alterations.
S GATE LODGE: sandstone ashlar; Doric portico and moulded architraved windows. Some later additions to rear. Corniced sandstone ashlar piers adjacent with cast-iron vehicle and pedestrian gates.
N GATE LODGE: small T-plan lodge; coursed squared rubble with ashlar quoins. Raised sandstone ashlar window surrounds. Similar adjacent piers and gates to that at S.
Statement of Special Interest
Outstanding example of Greek Revival style by William Burn, characteristic of his early works. The building was originally designed as a boarding school for the fatherless children of middle class families, now in use as an art gallery, with landscaped parkland grounds filled with art and land works by prominent modern artists. The architectural treatment is restrained with the composition of the façade unified by the triglyph entablature which runs across the advanced and recessed bays. Other than simple moulded detailing to the windows, the focus on the facade is on the high quality stonework and the central portico. The design echoes Burn's treatment of contemporary country houses, including an 1826 scheme for Garscube House. The setting of the building within landscaped parkland also alludes to country house architecture. The original interior scheme was plain, with a simple plan form which included a hall to the rear. The later alterations to form the National Gallery of Modern Art have not changed the character of the original interior with the simplicity of decoration and plan form largely retained.
The school was originally built following a bequest from John Watson who left £5000 on his death in 1762 to the Writers to the Signet for charitable use. By 1822 the sum stood at £110,000 and an Act of Parliament was passed for the establishment of a school with boarding accommodation for the fatherless children of the professional classes.
William Burn was an Edinburgh based architect, who after training in the office of Robert Smirke in London returned to work in his family firm before setting up an independent practice in 1814. A number of his early commissions were on public buildings, and it is for Crichton Royal Infirmary in Dumfries (see separate listing) that he is most well known, along with country house work which was the mainstay of his practice. The composition of John Watson's School is characteristic of Burn's early works in which the influence of Robert Smirke is very clear in the emphasis on simple Greek compositions. Burn later began to move away from this style, and in partnership with David Bryce he notably pioneered the introduction of the palazzo style for city buildings, seen in his original designs for the original New Club in Edinburgh (see separate listing).
List description revised as part of resurvey (2009).
Ordnance Survey, Large Scale Town Plan (1849 - 53); Stark, J, Picture of Edinburgh: containing a history and description of the city',(1806); RCAHMS, RAB/292/149, engraving of the 'New John Watson's Hospital,' (1830); J Gifford, C McWilliam, D M Walker, The Buildings of Scotland: Edinburgh (1988) p. 392; Lindsay, Georgian Edinburgh, p. 43; Boyd, S, 'Gymnastic exhibition', Prospect, Spring 1996 (No 59), 4-5; Dictionary of Scottish Architects http://www.scottisharchitects.org.uk (accessed 18/12/08).
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