Listed Building

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

55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60 George Square, including boundary walls and railings, EdinburghLB28824

Status: Designated


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


Date Added
Last Date Amended
Local Authority
Planning Authority
NT 25947 72971
325947, 672971


James Brown 1774-1779. Numerous alterations and additions including: 1824 subdivision of 57 into 57 and 58; Frank W Simon and Tweedie 1893 (internal linking of numbers 56 and 57 for the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society); J M Johnston 1928 (internal alterations at number 56, also for the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society); University of Edinburgh Department of Works 1947 alterations and additions to number 60 for Midwifery Department) and many later alterations also by the University Department of Works.

5-storey, 3- and 5-bay, mainly rectangular plan classical style houses which form a terrace, now a series of university departments. Numbers 55-59 Craigleith droved ashlar; number 60 squared snecked pink and cream Craigmillar rubble sandstone with blue whin pinnings. Set on ground sloping north to south and forming the north east portion of George Square. Roman Doric doorcases (some with coupled columns) with elided friezes; number 60 with later Greek Ionic doorcase. Cast iron balconies to some windows at numbers 57 and 58.

4-pane glazing in timber sash and case windows. Tall corniced gable stacks with yellow clay cans.

The interiors were seen in 2015. Many have been altered and connected internally but still retain elements of outstanding Georgian interior schemes, including late 18th century staircases with decorative iron balusters and timber

handrails, marble and timber chimneypieces, panelled timber doors, fine cornices and some timber dadoes. The largest house on the east side was number 57 (now divided into numbers 57 and 58) and the interior is particularly fine. The decorative inner screen in the vestibule with fanlight is of note. There is a good 18th century staircase rising at the rear of the building which has fine iron balusters and timber handrail. The former public rooms have particularly good plasterwork, the two rooms at the front of the building having three windows and two windows respectively. The vestiges of archway between the two front rooms may suggest that this was one large entertainment space. There is a variety of other features in the other houses, but generally the surviving detailing is simple but of good quality.

Statement of Special Interest

Numbers 55-60 George Square designed by the architect James Brown in 1766 and built from 1774-1779 is an important surviving component of the square. George Square was the earliest and most ambitious scheme of unified town planning attempted in Edinburgh to date. The classical details of the doorpieces and regulated style of windows give the terrace coherence although there is considerable variation in the materials used in construction and in the height of the terraces. The concept of terraces with individual houses designed for occupation by one family was relatively new in Edinburgh where tenement living had been the norm and proved an immediate success with the aristocracy and leading citizens. This part of the square is little altered externally and while there have been a number successive occupants and uses, there are many surviving 18th century interior features. The terrace is also still an important element in the streetscape and the post-war university campus, which was expanded here from 1960 onward.

The importance of George Square lies in its pioneering design in the Scottish context. In England squares of houses had been built since the Great Fire of London, the first one to have a garden at its centre dating from the 1680s, while squares governed by sets of rules followed in the 1720s. Thereafter squares increased in number and scale both in England and Ireland and became an important feature of Georgian town planning from the mid-18th century to early 19th century across Britain. Some small scale projects such as Brown Square also designed by James Brown and John Adam's Adam Square (both now demolished) had been built in the early 1760s in Edinburgh but George Square represents a milestone in the development of planning in Edinburgh because of its size and the coherence of its design.

The conception of James Brown's George Square probably predates James Craig's New Town plan by a number of months. The Town Council of Edinburgh resolved to set up a subcommittee to develop the New Town project and to advertise a competition for a plan in January 1766. In May of that year competition entries were received and the results became known in August. However by comparison, James Brown had acquired the lands on which George Square is built in 1761 and the first occupant had moved into the square during 1766. The scheme must have been proposed some time before and therefore George Square is significant because of its early date as well as the concept of its design and the scale of the project.

It has generally been assumed that during the course of development of George Square the use of rubble walls with whin pinnings gave way to more regular coursing and droved ashlar suggesting that building began at the north end of this terrace and moved southwards. In fact, this is not borne out by studying the dates at which the buildings were occupied. In this terrace, at number 60 the walls are of rubble with pinnings. It was first occupied in 1774. Number 29 on the west side of the square, James Brown's own house, which is of dressed ashlar, was built and occupied by 1770, thus predating number 60 by four years. Therefore there must have been an element of choice by the client: the early buildings are not all of rubble and later ones of dressed ashlar.

The individual houses in George Square generally followed the standard Georgian pattern developed in London in the early 18th century, and used extensively by the older John Wood in Bath in the 1750s, three bays wide with the entrance door to one side. This pattern was to become the norm in houses in the New Town – for example in George Street, Heriot Row and Charlotte Square. It is possible that the pattern was introduced by James Brown into Scotland. The earliest houses built in the New Town – Thistle Court is thought to be the earliest or the houses in St Andrew Square which followed in the 1770s- do not use the three bay pattern and it is only slightly later that this was generally adopted. This adds to the significance of the surviving houses in George Square.

George Square was also a pioneer in the concept of a central semi-private garden area as opposed to many earlier British and Continental examples which had communal areas suitable for public gatherings and entertainments. James Brown clearly intended the gardens to be ornamental pleasure grounds, which were to be kept 'in good order and in an ornate manner' as indicated in his rules. It was not until 1813 that animals were removed from the railed off central area and gardens established. That year the proprietors organised for the Commissioners of George Square District to employ a person to prepare a plan and estimate the expense of laying out the ground after which John Hay, gardener, was employed to carry out the improvements. Robert Kirkwood's map of 1817 shows planting around the edges and around a central circular feature with paths leading to the four sides of the square.

Numbers 55-60 George Square have been altered at various different times and several have been connected internally to enable horizontal circulation. However some fine late 18th century details are still in place as well as some added in the 19th century. The interior details of numbers 57 and 58 (originally one large house but subdivided in the 1820s) are particularly noteworthy and include a fine 18th century staircase with iron balusters and timber rail, some good surviving 18th timberwork including dadoes in the public rooms and door and window architraves.

James Brown (1729-1807) was the second son of a William Brown of Lindsaylands, a Commissioner of Supply. James Brown's older brother was George Brown, an army officer, who became the laird of Elliston and Lindsaylands on his father's death in 1757 and was Receiver-General of Excise in Scotland. The square was named after him. As the son of a landed gentleman, James Brown may have had a scholarly rather than a practicaltraining. After developing Brown Square in the early 1760s, he purchased the lands of Ross House in 1761 and drew up plans for George Square and the surrounding area. Brown developed the areas around George Square in the 1780s and was involved in various projects such as the Riding School and the development of South Bridge. He was clearly held in considerable esteem by the city fathers as he was one of the trustees engaged to ensure that the Act of Parliament for building South Bridge and the wide range of improvements connected with this were carried out.

Statutory address and listed building record revised in 2015 as part of the University of Edinburgh Estates Listing Review 2015-16. Previously listed separately as George Square 55 (LB28823), George Square 56 (LB28824), George Square 57 and 58 (LB28825), George Square 59 (LB28826), George Square 60 (LB28827).



CANMORE ID 239014 (no 55); 239012 (no 56); 122523 (nos 57-

8); 122522 (no 59); 122521 (no 60)


Ainslie, J (1780) Map of Central Edinburgh. Edinburgh: John Ainslie

Ainslie, J (1804) Old and New Town of Edinburgh and Leith with proposed docks. Edinburgh: John Ainslie

Kirkwood, R (1817) This Plan of the City of Edinburgh and its Environs. Edinburgh: Kirkwood and Sons.


Edinburgh City Archives, Dean of Guild plans: nos 56-57, 20 July 1893; no 56, 13 July 1928 (both for the Edinburgh Medical

Missionary Society); no 60, 20 June 1947; no 59, 25 March 1955

(for University of Edinburgh); nos 55-57, 19 December 1975.


The Edinburgh Advertiser 6 March 1764

Caledonian Mercury 2 January 1771

Caledonian Mercury 5 February 1772

Caledonian Mercury 4 October 1775

Scots Magazine 1 June 1785

Printed sources

Arnot, H (1779) History of Edinburgh. Edinburgh and London: Printed for W Creech and J Murray.

Omond, G W T (1887): The Arniston Memoirs: Three Centuries of a Scottish House. Edinburgh: [s.n.].

Tait, M and Gray, W G (1948) George Square, Annals of an Edinburgh Locality 1766-1926 from Authentic Records. Book of the Old Edinburgh Club XXVI (1946-47)

Youngson, A J (1966) The Making of Classical Edinburgh. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Fenton, C (2002) A Century of Change in George Square 1876- 1976. Book of the Old Edinburgh Club n.s. volume 5, pp35-81

Mowat, I R M (2002) Adam Square: an Edinburgh Architectural First. Book of the Old Edinburgh Club n.s. volume 5, pp93-101

Kealy, L et al. (2006) The Georgian Squares of Dublin. Dublin: Four Courts Press


Dictionary of Scottish Architects [accessed 1 September 2015] [accessed 1

September 2015]

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55-60 George Square looking north, on clear day with blue sky
55-57 George Square looking south, on clear day with blue sky

Printed: 21/06/2018 18:59