Listed Building

The only legal part of the listing under the Planning (Listing Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 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. The further details below the 'Address/Name of Site' are provided for information purposes only.

Address/Name of Site


Status: Designated


There are no additional online documents for this record.


Date Added
Local Authority
Planning Authority
NT 23447 73744
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 (accessed 18/12/08).

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. Other than the name or address of a listed building, further details are provided for information purposes only. Historic Environment Scotland does not accept any liability for any loss or damage suffered as a consequence of inaccuracies in the information provided. 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: 30/03/2023 02:54