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


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Date Added
Local Authority
Planning Authority
NT 26422 74037
326422, 674037


Thomas Hamilton, 1825-9. Important Greek Revival school building of principal floor and basement (no basement to N elevation), composed of a powerful symmetrical grouping of principal Doric temple-pavilion, flanking colonnades and subsidiary temples, fully exploiting a prominent elevated site sloping N to S and W to E. Advanced central temple style pavilion with prostyle portico, connected by flanking wings with stoa colonnades to advanced single bay pavilions which are further connected at basement level, by curved exhedra, to small, inward-facing pavilions with tetra-prostyle porticoes (described separately). Predominantly droved ashlar; polished ashlar to S elevations (excluding wall behind colonnades) and upper floor to advanced bays to W and E elevations; broached ashlar to pilasters, base courses, band courses and coping. Base course; dividing band between basement and principal floor (excluding N elevation and recessed bays of E and W elevations; eaves cornice and blocking course; additional plain architrave, frieze and corniced parapet to outer pavilions; Greek Doric entablature to colonnaded wings and S, E and W elevations of central pavilion, (enriched with wreaths to S half of central pavilion); antefixae to central pavilion. Pilasters dividing bays to pavilions to N elevation and to corners of outer bays to E and W pavilions; paired pilasters to outer pavilions to S elevation; fluted Greek Doric columns dividing bays to central pavilion and flanking wings to S elevation. Predominantly regular fenestration; architraves (predominantly lugged) to all Vitruvian openings; to advanced bays of E and W elevations and outer pavilions to S elevation, windows with hoodmoulded petal-glazed fanlight breaking band course to basement, Vitruvian windows with panelled apron and cill course to principal floor. To NW of main building, classical LODGE, Robert Wilson, 1885. To NE of main building, large classical CLASSROOM BLOCK, Robert Wilson, 1894 (incorporating single storey gymnasium of 1885).

S (PRINCIPAL) ELEVATION: central pavilion: to basement/ podium, to outer left and right, linked by anthemion-headed cast-iron railings, advanced portals with timber-panelled doors in Vitruvian openings framed by pylons; to either side of basement, timber-panelled door in Vitruvian opening; to principal floor, hexastyle portico with single return column and anta to either side; to central bay, 2-leaf timber-panelled door in Vitruvian opening; large inscribed panel above door (see Notes); to return walls to E and W, 2-leaf timber-panelled doors. To flanking wings: to basements, to outer ends, timber-panelled door in Vitruvian opening; to principal floor, hexastyle colonnades in anta, to outer ends, timber-panelled door. To flanking pavilions, slightly recessed central section. To exhedra, Vitruvian doorways to outer ends.

E ELEVATION: 5-bay elevation; slightly advanced outer bays. To basement, rectangular windows to central bays. To principal floor, to central bays, rectangular architraved windows with panelled aprons and cill course.

W ELEVATION: as E elevation.

N ELEVATION: 5-bay advanced pedimented central pavilion flanked by lower 7-bay sections with 3-bay advanced pavilions to outer left and right. To central pavilion, windows to 3 central bays; to E and W return elevations, 2-leaf timber-panelled doors in corniced Vitruvian openings; carved stone plaque above W door (see Notes); 5-bay clerestory fenestration. Flanking wings: 2-leaf timber-panelled doors with small window above to 2nd and 6th bays; slightly advanced central bay with tripartite window. Corniced octagonal clerestory breaking blocking course to central bay. To flanking pavilions: broken cill course; to centre bay, window with panelled apron; to E pavilion, small basement window to centre bay; blind windows to left bay; to W pavilion, blind window to right bay; to inner return elevations, 2-leaf timber-panelled doors with window above (brass plaque to right of door to E pavilion; see Notes).

GLAZING etc: predominantly distinctively patterned multi-pane glazing in timber top-hopper windows; 6-lying-pane glazing in timber top-hopper windows to S elevations of outer pavilions and advanced bays to E and W elevations. Pitched leaded roof to central pavilion; to flanking wings, flat roofs; to centre (above octagonal clerestorys) shallow conical roofs of graded grey slate with stone urn finials; to outer pavilions, leaded platform roofs. Cast-iron down-pipes with ornamental hoppers.

INTERIOR: predominantly symmetrical plan; central hall flanked by small ante-rooms leading to former Rector?s room and Library; plain class rooms in basement and outer pavilions. Central Hall: rectangular hall with floor tiered down to central apsidal-ended orchestra with gilded anthemion railing; to E, W and S walls, gallery with timber parapet of coffered panels divided by battered pilasters with anthemion finials; gallery supported by gilded cast-iron columns with branched foliate capitals; to N wall, panels above windows; pilasters dividing bays; to E and W walls, windows at gallery level divided by pilasters; to S wall, pilasters to gallery level; dentilled cornice with anthemion and palmette frieze above; very shallow curved coffered ceiling with ornate rosettes and egg and dart mouldings (some rosettes removed; see Notes); dividing beams (corresponding to bays) with guilloche mouldings to soffit and Greek fret mouldings to sides. Ante-rooms: timber-panelling to dado height to walls; plain cornicing; top lit by square cupola above deep central lightwell (square with rounded corners) with roll-mouldings to inner edge. Former Rector's Room (to W) and Library (to E) (see Notes): square rooms top lit by octagonal clerestorys; timber-panelling to dado height to walls; classical stone chimneypiece to S wall (W room only); cornice above and below clerestory windows; ceiling of 8 inclined sections with wooden beading forming panel on each, with flat octagon to centre with bay-leaf garland. Remaining classrooms etc very plain.

SMALL PAVILIONS: rectangular plan (longer elevations to S and N) temple style pavilions with tetra-prostyle porticoes to inward-facing gables; pilasters dividing bays to pedimented outer gables; 3-bay S elevations, 3-bay E and W elevations; principal floor and basement (no basement to N elevations; low basement to W pavilion; full height basement to E pavilion). Predominantly polished ashlar; droved ashlar to N elevations. Base course; Greek Doric entablature (plain entablature to N elevations), antefixae. Single storey battered buttresses to outer ends of S elevations. Predominantly regular fenestration; windows in Vitruvian openings with lugged architraves to principal floor to S elevations and to central bay to W elevation of W pavilion. To W pavilion: to E elevation, timber-panelled door to right bay, raised window to centre bay, blind window to left bay. To E pavilion: to W elevation, single window to each bay; to E elevation, 2-leaf timber-panelled door to centre; to N elevation, window to far left.

GLAZING etc: predominantly 12-lying-pane glazing in timber top hopper windows; 10-lying-pane glazing in timber top hopper windows to basement to E pavilion; 2-lying-pane glazing in timber windows to basement to W pavilion. Pitched leaded roofs. To N elevations to both pavilions, very low ashlar wallhead stacks with squat circular cans.

RETAINING WALLS, GATEPOSTS AND RAILINGS: predominantly arrow-headed railings to walls to E boundary, to S walls to right of E small pavilion and to sunken areas surrounding main building; ornate anthemion-headed design with dog-bars to all gates and to railings to W and SW boundarys; plainer anthemion-headed railings to N boundary; all railings of cast-iron. Walls predominantly of droved ashlar with base course; squared coursed rubble to N and E boundary walls; flat ashlar coping to all walls; all piers of ashlar, with base course, cornice and square cap-stone. To sunken areas and steps around main building, retaining walls with railings. To S boundary, between small pavilions, channelled, battered wall; to centre, recessed section flanked by 2 projecting sections with pedimented Vitruvian gateways with gates. To S, adjoining E pavilion, high wall with slightly advanced section to right. Deep base course; plain entablature; blocking course surmounted by railings. To left, round-headed niche flanked by pilasters; to right, flanked by paired pilasters, 2-leaf timber-panelled door in Vitruvian opening with raised and corniced doorpiece. Adjoining to right at pavement level, retaining wall; to N, parallel higher level rubble retaining wall with 2 droved ashlar courses to top, surmounted by railings. To N boundary, retaining wall surmounted by railings. To E boundary, to NE, high wall terminated to S by pier; to SE, lower wall surmounted by railings. To W boundary: to far left, railings flanking access road to Calton Hill with pier to right; railings running to S, broken by 2 pairs of panelled, battered gatepiers (double gate to centre flanked by pedestrian gates); railings continuing on low wall round to SE.

LODGE: Latin-cross plan single storey classical building with pedimented gables; 4-bay S elevation with projecting bay to inner right; all other elevations 3-bay with projecting centre bay. Polished ashlar. Base course; band course; eaves cornice; acroteria to apex and ends of pediments. Pilastered corners to projecting wings. Predominantly regular fenestration; lugged architraves to windows; blocked window to centre bay to E elevation. To inner left bay to S elevation, stone steps leading to timber-panelled door with rectangular fanlight in lugged architraved opening.

GLAZING etc: predominantly 6-pane glazing in timber sash and case windows. Pitched leaded roof. Ridge stack to E wing; stack to N pitch of W wing; both stacks corniced ashlar with circular cans. Cast-iron down-pipes with ornamental brackets.

CLASSROOM BLOCK: Classical, near-symmetrical building; 2-storey, 4-bay central block flanked by advanced 2-storey, 3-bay pavilions with single storey wings to outer left and right (3-bay to left, original openings removed to right). Polished ashlar. Base course; cill band to 1st floor; eaves band course and cornice; corniced parapet (eaves cornice and blocking course only to central section). Pilastered corners. Predominantly regular fenestration; architraved windows to 1st floor to central section. Timber-panelled doors with tall fanlights to 3rd bay from left (approached by modern ramp), to E side of W pavilion and W side of E pavilion (approached by modern steps).

GLAZING etc: predominantly 6-pane timber sash and case windows; 4-pane timber sash and case windows to 1st floor. Roof not seen, 2002. Cast-iron down pipes with ornamental hoppers.

Statement of Special Interest

The former Royal High School is of great architectural, cultural and historical significance. One of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in Scotland, and designed by a leading architect of the early 19th century, its unique and powerful combination of setting, massing and masterful use of classical architectural language cemented Edinburgh's reputation as the Athens of the North, and also alluded to the academic aspiration and achievement of both the school and Scotland as a nation.

The Royal High School originally had its home on Infirmary Street in the Old Town, and had built a new building there in 1777. However, an increase in numbers and the increasing inconvenience and perceived indignity of the Old Town site (many of the pupils' families having moved to the New Town) led to the proposal for a new building on a new site. In 1822, a committee of subscribers proposed a new and independent school in Canonmills; they were persuaded that the City should build the school and that it should be associated with the old Royal High. However, the City eventually decided that the arrangement of two schools would be educationally and socially devisive, and in 1823 decided on a single school on a central site (the original subscribers then independently established their school, Edinburgh Academy (see separate List description) at Canonmills).

The City first settled on a site just to the NE of the former Dundas mansion (now the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland) in St Andrews Square as their preferred location for the Royal High. They asked Thomas Hamilton (who had previously been asked to prepare a scheme for the Canonmills site) to provide a design. He put forward a Roman style square building raised on a high plinth, surmounted by a colonnaded drum and dome. However, the City was outbid for the site by the Royal Bank, and was forced to look elsewhere. In 1825, the southern slopes of Calton Hill were accepted as the alternative site, and again, Hamilton was asked to prepare a new scheme. This time, he proposed a Greek Doric building which fully exploited the picturesque potential of the site. The decision to use Greek rather than Roman styles was significant, and architecturally it cemented Edinburgh's claim to be the 'Athens of the North'.

The foundation stone was laid at lavish ceremony in 1825; objects including coins, newspapers and plates engraved with the names of those involved were sealed inside a specially hollowed foundation stone. The building was completed in 1829, at a cost of #33,970, nearly #14,000 over budget. The construction work included cutting away around seventy cubic yards of solid rock from the side of Calton Hill to level the site.

Inspired by the dramatic setting, and the backdrop of the unfinished National Monument (based on the Parthenon at the Acropolis in Athens) on the hill above, Hamilton created a monumental composition based on the temple (e.g. the Propylaeon at the Acropolis), the lesser temple (e.g. that of Unwinged Victory in relation to the Propylaeon) and the stoa or market colonnade. In doing so he strongly reinforced the similarities between Calton Hill and the Acropolis, and thus between Edinburgh and Athens. The order of the central temple-style pavilion is based on the Temple of Theseus, illustrated in Stuart and Revett's Antiquities of Athens, published in 1794. The outer pavilions are loosely based on the monument of Thrasyllus. Earlier drawings show that Hamilton had experimented with various details such as carved wreaths to the parapets of the outer pavilions, a sculpted tympanum to the central pediment, and oculus windows to the projecting basement of the central pavilion. A pair of statues representing distinguished literary characters associated with the school was to have been installed on the top of the projecting gateways in front of the central pavilion, but this never happened due to a lack of funds.

The inscription above the door to the central pavilion is in Latin and can be translated as follows:

'High School of Edinburgh, founded Three hundred years ago, and consecrated to the study of polite learning, now by an act of the Town Council enlarged and fitted up in this new situation, suitably to the dignity of the city and the resort of scholars. This edifice, commenced with the usual solemnities in the year 1825, by Alexander Henderson, Lord Provost of the city, was reared with every regard to elegance under the auspices of William Trotter, the succeeding Lord Provost; the expense being chiefly defrayed from the funds of the city, aided by the voluntary contributions of patriotic citizens, in the reign of George the Fourth, a most munificent Prince, who vouchsafed his royal favour and aid to this undertaking.'

The carved stone above the NW door to the central pavilion was brought from the original High School buildings in the Old Town. It depicts the City's heraldic castle and bears the inscription 'IR6. MUSIS RES PUBLICA FLOREAT 1578'. The brass plaque to the right of the door to the east outer pavilion bears a shallow relief portrait bust of Thomas Hamilton by D.A. Francis, 1929, and inscription reading 'THOMAS HAMILTON, RSA, ARCHITECT OF THE ROYAL HIGH SCHOOL'.

Aside from its aesthetic impact, the building is also highly successful for the way in which Hamilton solved the main disadvantage of the Greek Revival style, namely that of adapting a windowless Greek temple form to modern use. The central hall is lit by windows high on the wall of the main 'temple', providing cross lighting for the coffered ceiling and yet invisible from the front of the building. The Rector's room and Library are lit from above through the octagonal clerestorys.

The central hall's gallery was originally accessed by stairs that flanked the doorway in the S wall, which had a raised and pedimented Vitruvian doorpiece with acroteria. In the early 20th century, probably shortly after the end of The Great War, this doorpiece was replaced by a marble doorpiece of two fluted Greek Doric columns supporting an entablature and pediment with anthemion acroteria; the gallery stairs were also removed at this time, allowing two marble framed plaques naming pupils who had died in the War to be affixed to the S wall flanking the door.

The small pavilion to the W was originally the janitor's lodge, but was converted to a swimming bath in 1885, and subsequently altered to a workshop 10 years later when the Classroom Block to the NE was converted and extended to accommodate a new swimming pool.

In 1968, the Royal High School vacated its Calton Hill premises, moving to a new location at Barnton. The main building, including the central hall, was adapted for use as a debating chamber for the anticipated Scottish Assembly in 1977-80 by the Property Services Agency. As part of the adaptation, much internal detail was altered or lost, particularly in the central hall. The original benching was removed and replaced by modern seating and several rosettes were removed from ceiling coffers to accommodate overhead electric lighting. The doorpiece to the centre of the south wall of the hall was removed and the doorway blocked up; the gallery, which originally just ran down the east and west walls, was extended to include a new concave section on the south wall. Other alterations that affected both the central hall and other areas of the building included the renewal of much of the woodwork and the loss of Hamilton's original ingenious 'disappearing' sash windows.



Wood's Plan of Edinburgh, 1823. Kay's Plan of Edinburgh, 1836. OS maps, 1854,1896. T.Shepherd, MODERN ATHENS: EDINBURGH IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, (1829), p48-49. A.J. Youngson, THE MAKING OF CLASSICAL EDINBURGH, (1966), pp156-159. The Scottish Georgian Society (Ed. N. Allen), SCOTTISH PIONEERS OF THE GREEK REVIVAL (1984), pp37-42. Gifford, McWilliam and Walker, EDINBURGH, (1991), pp439-441. H. Colvin, BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF BRITISH ARCHITECTS, (1994), pp453-455. Glendinning, MacInnes and MacKechnie, A HISTORY OF SCOTTISH ARCHITECTURE, (1997), p202-203. Edinburgh City Council, CALTON HILL CONSERVATION REPORT, (1999). John Lowrey, FROM CAESAREA TO ATHENS, article in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 60/2, June 2001, p136-157. RHCAMS Collections.

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