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 25820 73290
325820, 673290


Captain Francis Fowke (Royal Engineers), 1861-71 and W Wing completed 1885-9 by W W Robertson. Later alterations and additions, including neo-classical SE extension by WT Oldrieve, 1910-14, further S extension of 1934-7 (Office of Works), W block by Gordon Benson and Alan Forsyth, 1998 and internal remodelling Gareth Hoskins, 2011 (see Notes). Symmetrical Venetian Renaissance museum building: 2-storey and basement arcaded main block (screen to double-height glazed hall) to centre, flanked by broad-eaved advanced 3-storey and basement pavilions to outer right and left; 1st floor bridge (link to Edinburgh University museum) to West College Street. Polished ashlar (local grey sandstone); shafts of window columns in red Melrose sandstone. Channelled basement; bays with paired stilted-arched windows separated by colonnettes on balustrades at ground and 1st floors, flanked by pilasters (Doric at ground floor, Corinthian at 1st); dentilled cornice and balustraded parapet.

NW (PRINCIPAL) ELEVATION: 3-bay advanced entrance section to centre: 2 tiers of broad steps with decorative cast-iron hand-rails to 3 2-leaf timber panelled doors (revolving door to centre) with plate glass fanlights in key-consoled moulded round-arched surrounds flanked by Doric pilasters on pedestals; carved heads (see Notes) in spandrels; paired stilted-arched windows to 1st floor; solid parapet above surmounted by 3 groups of figurative sculpture (see Notes). 6-bay recessed flanking wings: paired stilted-arched windows to ground and 1st floors; balustraded parapet surmounted by urns above. 2 flanking 3-storey wings: bipartite windows to basement and ground floors; paired stilted-arched windows above; broad modillioned eaves. 2 sets of wide 3 bay entrances broken through channelled basement to form new paired entrances at ground floor either side of staircase (2011).

E (COLLEGE STREET) ELEVATION: 3-bay E elevation of E pavilion to right, with channelled basement (sloped to fall of street); bipartite windows at ground floor and paired stilted-arched windows above, flanked by pilasters (Doric to ground floor, Corinthian to 1st and pilaster strips to 2nd); broad modillioned eaves above. Glazed bridge to Edinburgh University Museum: stilted-arched Corinthian arcade with moulded cornice and pitched, red-tiled roof on channelled, segmental-arched bridge. 4-bay E elevation of Oldrieve extension to left: tall moulded base course; recessed windows in 2-storey moulded surrounds; plain band course and dentilled cornice above.

Plate glass to timber sash and case windows. Red tiles to outer wings, Slated and glazed roof sections to rear.

REAR (LOTHIAN STREET) ELEVATION: 3-bay S elevation of Oldrieve block to right: tall moulded base course; recessed windows in 2-storey moulded surrounds; plain band course and dentilled cornice above. Bowed elevation of 1934-7 block to left: moulded concrete; segmental-arched door to right with curved metal canopy; bowed section to centre with vertical mouldings, small recessed windows in curvilinear surrounds to ground and tall vertical windows above; glazed section to left lighting stair; segmental-arched door with curved metal canopy.

INTERIOR: 3-storey main hall: glazed roof and galleries supported on decorative cast-iron columns; apsidal ends with paired cantilevered staircases to E and W; cast-iron balustrades with miniature stilted arches to galleries and stairs. Galleried spaces between principal elevation and main hall with original tiles to ground floor. Further smaller top-lit galleried halls off library. 2011 work excavated vaulted stone basement to create lower ground entrance floor with glazed lifts and new staircases to main gallery space. 1934 staircase to rear removed to form further open public spaces to rear of building.

Statement of Special Interest

A highly significant Victorian municipal museum building designed by a significant British Architect prominently sited to the heart of Edinburgh's Old Town on a new street that was specifically created in order to house the Museum. The internal space of the 3 storey main exhibition hall is arguably one of the most important public spaces in Scotland.

The building was originally known as the Museum of Science and Art and more recently as the Royal Museum. Foundation stone was laid by Prince Albert on 23rd October 1861 (his last public act). The E wing and half of the Main Hall were proceeded with first; The Builder of 1865 notes the completion of the E section, officially opened 19th May 1866. The remainder of the Main Hall and the galleries on the S side were completed by 1874, the W wing in 1888. Fowke was the engineer and architect to the Department of Science and Art. He also designed the London Exhibition Building of the Works of all Nations (1862), the Sheepshanks Gallery, now part of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin. Robert Matheson supervised the building of the E side and main block, W W Robertson the W wing. According to Grant, the Museum was lit in the evening by gas burners on horizontal iron rods, the number of jets exceeding 5000 - the same system, according to The Builder, as that used at South Kensington. According to The Builder the capitals, based on objects representing the natural history and geology of Scotland, were designed 'by Mr Sykes after the manner of the Oxford Museum' (ie the University Museum, by Deane and Woodward, 1854-60). The sculpture groups above the principal entrance representing Natural History, Science and Applied Art, and carved heads over the doors representing Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, James Watt, Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton and Michelangelo by John Rhind. There was an extension to Brighton Street (1934-37) and a further to the S of 1961 comprising the Lecture Theatre, education centre and a tea-room by Stewart Sim, 1958-61.

Captain Frances Fowke (1823-1865) was born in Belfast and educated at Dungannon College. He entered the Royal Military College in 1839 and was commissioned in the Royal Engineers from 1842 serving abroad. He was put in charge of the machinery at the Exposition Universelle of 1855 which resulted in him being appointed first Inspector in the Department of Science and Art. In 1857 he became its architect and engineer, which is how he came to design the Museum. Most of his buildings were in Renaissance style however his work as an engineer is of note using new cast iron technologies in his designs. This allowed him to create large iron framed buildings with large open galleries and spaces, important elements in his designs at the Museum and also at the Royal Albert Hall in London which he also designed.

A programme of internal refurbishment took place in 1986. The W extension, designed by Benson and Forsyth Architects, was opened in 1998. A further major refurbishment took place of the body of the museum in 2008-11 by Gareth Hoskins Architects. The paired basement windows to the channelled basement were replaced by paired 3 bay entrance doors leading to the opened up stone vaulted basement forming a new reception area to the lower ground floor. The 1934 staircase to the rear was removed and further open spaces created to lead the visitor up and into the rear of the building.

(List description updated at re-survey 2011-12.)



The Builder (22nd November 1862) (ill p841) and (19th August 1865). Grant Old and New Edinburgh (1885) vol ii pp 274-5. J Gifford, C McWilliam and D Walker, Buildings of Scotland Edinburgh (1984) p186. Dictionary of Scottish Architects (accessed 2011)

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: 31/05/2023 22:47