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

ST ANDREW SQUARE, MELVILLE MONUMENT WITH BOUNDARY WALLS AND RAILINGSLB27816

Status: Designated

Documents

There are no additional online documents for this record.

Summary

Category
A
Date Added
13/01/1966
Supplementary Information Updated
15/11/2022
Local Authority
Edinburgh
Planning Authority
Edinburgh
Burgh
Edinburgh
NGR
NT 25595 74109
Coordinates
325595, 674109

Description

Description:

Designed by William Burn and erected 1821–23, this is a tall and prominent commemorative monument to Henry Dundas, First Viscount Melville (1742–1811). Located in the centre of St Andrews Square, Edinburgh, it is in the form of a fluted Doric column, over 150 foot tall, surmounted by a statue of Dundas designed by Francis Chantrey and carved by Robert Forrest (added to the column in 1827).

The monument is built from polished Culallo sandstone. Partly modelled on Trajan's Column in Rome, the column stands on a cubic pedestal with eagles at each corner. The column has a laurel wreath base and an egg and dart torus at the capital. It contains an internal spiral stair with a doorway on the west side of the pedestal.

Above the column, there is a circular drum pedestal which supports a 15-foot-tall statue of Henry Dundas, carved by Robert Forrest. It depicts him standing in the robes of a peer, left hand to chest, and facing west along George Street.

A low boundary wall of saddleback ashlar footings with metal railings encloses the square with canted corners. The railings are by architect, Leslie Grahame Thomson and were installed in 1947 to replace earlier railings.

Historical development

Henry Dundas died in 1811 after a career at the apex of Scottish and British politics. In 1817, A committee was set up to raise funds and oversee the building of a new national monument to his memory. The process was not straightforward and involved negotiations over issues such as site, cost, and style of monument. Calton Hill, the top of Leith Walk, and Melville Street in the West End were among the locations debated before a plot at the centre of St Andrews Square was made available following negotiations in which the city of Edinburgh agreed to assume guardianship of the monument. William Burn's design was submitted for approval to the Dean of Guild in February 1821 and a warrant for its plan was granted on 5 April 1821 (Godard Desmarest 2018).

The monument was funded through the Royal Navy, with the subscription raised mainly by navy officers as tribute to Dundas for his services towards the protection of British sailors while Treasurer of the Navy (Godard Desmarest 2018: 112). Work on the column took place from 1821–23 and was carried out by William Armstrong from Edinburgh with Robert Stevenson as consulting engineer. Stevenson finalised the foundations and column dimensions. He superintended the build, with the column erected using the iron-balance crane pioneered for the Bell Rock Lighthouse in Angus (LB45197) (Paxton and Shipway 2007 www.canmore.org.uk).

The statue of Dundas was added to the column in 1827. Designed by English sculptor, Francis Chantrey (1781–1841) it resembles his earlier marble statue of Dundas (installed 1818 in Edinburgh's Parliament House). The carving was executed by Robert Forrest, a stone mason and sculptor from Carluke in South Lanarkshire (1790–1852). The completed Melville Monument was drawn by Thomas H. Shepherd to feature in the 1829 volume, 'Modern Athens, Displayed in a Series of Views'.

In 1866 the architect, John Dick Peddie (1824–1891) was appointed to design new railings and a boundary wall for St Andrews Square in order to replace the earlier boundary structures, which were by then in poor condition (Byrom 2005: 43–44). These 19th century railings were later removed during the Second World War as part of the war effort and were replaced in 1947 by railings to a design by Leslie Grahame Thomson (see also railings at Charlotte Square, LB27840, which are of the same design). In 2008 the layout of St Andrews Square was redesigned by Gillespies in a project to improve the square as public space (www.gillespies.co.uk). The 1947 railings and earlier boundary wall remained in place as the latest iteration of a long tradition of enclosure and demarcation of the square. Also in 2008, the Melville Monument was restored as part of the Twelve Monuments Project, a joint initiative of Edinburgh World Heritage and the City of Edinburgh Council (www.ewh.org.uk).

In 2021, the City of Edinburgh Council fixed a brass information plaque to the north elevation of the pedestal. This followed a campaign begun in 2015 by human rights activists, Adam Ramsay, and Professor Sir Geoff Palmer to "explain in more detail the history behind Henry Dundas" and to "encourage a more honest representation of the city's ties to the slave trade" (Edinburgh Evening News 09/06/2020). The monument has become a site of public protest and debate about the visibility and recognition of Britain's colonial past as part of the global response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, USA in 2020 (see social historical interest).

Statement of Special Interest

Statement of Special Interest:

  • Erected under the supervision of Robert Stevenson using the world's first iron-balance crane, the column is an outstanding example of Neoclassical design by a leading architect and a feat of early 19th century engineering.
  • A highly visible element of the Edinburgh skyline, the monument retains its setting of a Georgian square, with St Andrews Square an integral part of James Craig's 1767 New Town plan. It is among the most prominent landmarks in Edinburgh.
  • While commemorative monuments of the 19th century are not rare, this example stands apart from others due to its scale and ambition.
  • This monument is associated with a major figure in late 18th century politics and is of outstanding historic interest.
  • The commemoration of Dundas is a focus point in ongoing modern debate about public memorials, collective space and how we represent the impact and legacy of our imperial and colonial past.

Architectural interest

Design

The Melville Monument is an architecturally outstanding example of a commemorative column designed by William Burn using the massive proportions and classical detailing inspired by antiquity. His design was based on Trajan's column in Rome, built in 113 CE, with simple fluting replacing the original's encircling sculptural frieze. The statue, commissioned from Francis Chantrey at the height of his success as a portrait sculptor was designed with the facial features exaggerated for viewing at a distance. In scale and design, the monument contributed to the emerging architectural character of the New Town of Edinburgh, shaping its identity as a city of the Enlightenment and empire (Godard Desmarest 2018).

The use of innovative engineering techniques is part of the monument's special architectural interest. Leading up to the build, neighbouring landowners had expressed concern about the stability of such a tall and heavy structure so close to their properties (Godard Desmarest 2018: 120). The engineer, Robert Stevenson, ensured the success of the design by strengthening the foundation walls with stone instead of rubble and supervising the erection of the 1500 ton column using the iron-balance crane pioneered during his construction of the Bell Rock Lighthouse off the coast of Angus (LB45197) (Institute of Civil Engineers plaque 2013; Paxton and Shipway 2007 www.canmore.org.uk).

Setting

The Melville Monument is centrally located in St Andrews Square at the east end of George Street. It retains its historic setting of a deeply formal, planned urban environment based on principles of order and symmetry. St Andrews Square was the very first of the new garden squares to be completed following the adoption of James Craig's 1767 plan for the first New Town, serving as private pleasure grounds for the surrounding properties. Initially a fashionable residential area, the square acquired its more commercial character from around 1820. While St Andrews Square is now public space, the physical relationship between the monument, garden grounds and surrounding streetscape remains little altered (2021).

The monument has outstanding architectural interest as a focal point in long distance views. The control of urban vistas and sightlines preoccupied architects and urban designers during this period as they sought to enhance the picturesque qualities of the Scottish capital. The erection of the Melville Monument completed the vista of George Street (for which an equestrian statue had previously been suggested) and the column remains a landmark in the view east along George Street (Godard Desmarest 2018: 109). From elevated vantage points elsewhere in the city the column punctuates the skyline and contributes to the ornamented historic character of Edinburgh's New Town as developed during the early 19th century.

Historic interest

Age and rarity

Nineteenth-century classical-style commemorative monuments such as columns, pillars and obelisks are not a rare building type in Scotland. Many were built in prominent locations on hilltops, country estates and in towns and cities to memorialise important individuals or events and those that survive are of historic interest in understanding how cultural and national identity was represented during the 19th century.

The Melville Monument is a particularly large example and is among a series of prestigious monuments built during a relatively short space of time in early 19th century Edinburgh, including Nelson's Monument on Calton Hill (1814–16, listed category A LB27823), the National Monument to the dead of the Napoleonic Wars (1826–29, listed category A, LB27820) and the Burns Monument (1830, listed category A, LB27801). Impressive public monuments using classical architectural references were a means to celebrate Scotland's distinct national culture and participation in what was conceived as a wider 'heroic age of progress' (Carter McKee 2015, Godard Desmarest 2018).

The form of a monumental column on this scale is relatively rare. The best known in a UK context is probably Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, London (1839–1842, listed grade 1, reference 1276052). In Scotland, the Duke of Gordon monument in Elgin (also by William Burn) is a Doric column (1839, listed category A, LB30775). The Glenfinnan Monument in Highland (1814, listed category A, LB308) is a cylindrical tower, part modelled on Roman columns (Rodger 2016: 41). Other examples on a lesser scale include the Reformers Monument in Kilmarnock (1885, listed category B, LB35926), and the Langside Battlefield Monument in Glasgow (1887, listed category B, LB32360).

Social historical interest

Further to its conventional commemorative function, the Melville Monument has acquired additional meaning in the context of discussions about imperial legacies in Scotland's built environment and the power of memorials and monuments to reflect and reproduce social ideas about the past (e. g. Draper 2020; Williams 2018; Alderman and Dwyer 2009; Managing Imperial Legacies https://blogs.ed.ac.uk/managingimperiallegacies).

The memorialisation of Henry Dundas by such a large monument provoked debate in Edinburgh around the time of its build (Godard Desmarest 2018: 111, 125). Two centuries on, the monument is again at the heart of public discussion. In the summer of 2020 it became a focus for renewed debate on Britain's colonial history and the politics of commemoration as part of the global response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, USA and mainstream media coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement. It was among many monuments, statues, buildings, artworks and street names worldwide subject to calls for removal, re-interpretation or renaming to address the disparity in official or established narratives of history and to acknowledge enduring impacts of historical colonialism and slavery in society. Following a campaign for a more inclusive interpretation of the Melville Monument, Edinburgh City Council affixed a plaque to the pedestal in 2021 which is dedicated to the memory of more than half a million Africans enslaved and trafficked from 1793–1807 (City of Edinburgh Council, 11 June 2020; Edinburgh Evening News, 17 March 2021).

Association with people or events of national importance

Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville (1742-1811), was a lawyer and politician who became one of the most influential members of the British government in the late 18th century. From an established legal and landowning family, he rose fast in politics to become Solicitor General at 24, MP for Edinburghshire at 32 and Lord Advocate by the age of 33. He combined the role of the most powerful Scottish politician with a deepening engagement in British and imperial affairs at the centre of William Pitt's administration, holding naval offices, expanding British influence and presence in India, and serving as Home Secretary from 1791–4 and Secretary of State for War in 1794–1801 during the period of the French Revolutionary Wars.

In the late 18th century, Britain's maritime empire was expanding across the globe. In the Caribbean, gains were made from former French territories and Britain extended its Atlantic empire, furthering its dominance in a region of strategic and economic importance. Sugar was Britain's largest import, (Dalziel 2006: 56, Ward 1998: 421), while the Caribbean formed its largest export market outside Europe. The trade depended on the continued mass enslavement of people from Africa, trafficked by merchants in ever growing numbers to shortened and brutalised lives of chattel slavery in New World plantaions (Dalziel 2006: 41; www.slavevoyages.org). The wealth derived from this trade created personal fortunes, underpinned financial systems, stimulated British industry and furthered imperial expansion. Those who benefitted from the status quo formed a powerful lobby against the abolition movement, which was led in parliament by William Wilberforce.

Henry Dundas was a prominent figure in these events and disputes, attentive to the economic dimensions of empire, and a strategist in its military incursions, which included in 1795–96 the biggest single British overseas expedition yet attempted (see Fry 2021 for biography; Duffy 1998 for imperial war strategy).

Henry Dundas is recognised internationally as a historical figure of debate. In the early 21st century, it is mainly his role in the complex parliamentary struggle for the abolition of slavery that attracts most controversy. When Wilberforce proposed a motion to abolish the slave trade with immediate effect, Dundas came forward in 1792 to propose a gradual approach to abolition. The British slave trade was abolished in 1807. Among academics, biographers, commentators and descendents of Dundas, there are now differing opinions on his motives and the extent of his personal influence in the matter.

Some argue that Dundas was a pragmatist who considered immediate abolition to be impossible owing to the political circumstances of the day and that his intervention was a compromise measure that helped ensure the eventual legislative success of the bill for the abolition of the slave trade. Others hold Dundas to be instrumental to the delay, arguing that he regarded enslaved labour as crucial for maintaining the economy and Britain's military power, and that his actions from 1792 indicated opposition to abolition (Selected references include Historians on Dundas and Slavery 2021, Leask 2020 and 2021, McCarthy 2022, Melville 2020, Mullen 2021 and Renaming Dundas Street for linked articles and reading list https://www.toronto.ca/community-people/get-involved/community/recognition-review/renaming-dundas-street 2022).

In 1801, Pitt's administration came to an end and Dundas' period of high office was largely over. He was raised to the peerage in 1802 and was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty in 1804. In 1806 he was impeached for the alleged misappropriation for public funds but was later acquitted. Dundas died in 1811.

The Melville Monument is an imperial monument in "character and context" (Godard Desmerest 2018: 105) and draws attention to the personal legacy of Henry Dundas. It has become emblematic of fresh attempts to interpret and understand our imperial legacies and a focal point for modern debate over the commemoration of historical figures in the public realm. Other monuments to Dundas include a granite obelisk on Dunmore Hill, near Comrie in Perthshire (erected in 1812 near his estate of Dunira, listed category B, LB5321), and a white marble statue by Francis Chantrey completed in 1818, inside Parliament House in Edinburgh. Street and place names memorialise Dundas in Scotland (e. g. Dundas Street in Edinburgh) and worldwide in former territories of the British Empire, especially in Canada, including Dundas, Ontario, and Dundas Street in Toronto. A renaming project for Dundas Street in Toronto was approved in July 2021 (https://www.toronto.ca/news/city-council-approves-renaming-dundas-street/).

Listed building record revised in 2022.

References

Bibliography

References

Canmore: http://canmore.org.uk/ CANMORE ID 52413

Printed sources

Alderman D. H and Dwyer O. J. (2009) Memorials and Monuments. In Kitchin R, Thrift N (eds) International Encyclopedia of Human Geography, Vol. 7, pp. 51–58. Oxford: Elsevier

Byrom, Connie (2005) The Edinburgh New Town Gardens, 'blessings as well as beauties' Edinburgh: Birlinn

Carter McKee, Kirsten (2015) The Genius Loci of the Athens of the North: The cultural significance of Edinburgh's Calton Hill. In Garden History vol. 43, supplement 1: The Proceedings of the Edinburgh Gardens and Squares Conference (Spring 2015), pp.64–69

Dalziel, Nigel (2006) The Penguin Historical Atlas of the British Empire, London: Penguin Books

Draper, N. (2020) The fall of slavery: Statues, symbols and social contention. Opinion article in History & Policy, 10 June 2020, https://www.historyandpolicy.org/

Duffy, M. (1998) World Wide War and British Expansion 1793–1815 in Marshall P.J. (ed.) The Oxford History of the British Empire: Vol. 2 The Eighteenth Century, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Evans, Brian M. (2015) St Andrews Square: Shaping a place. In Garden History vol.43, supplement 1: The Proceedings of the Edinburgh Gardens and Squares Conference (Spring 2015), pp. 79-86

Godard Desmarest, Clarisse. (2018) The Melville Monument and the shaping of the Scottish Metropolis. In Architectural History vol.61, pp.105–130

Leask, David (2020) Henry Dundas was playing long game to abolish slavery, historian suggests The Times, Wednesday 22 July 2020

Leask, David (2021) Dundas "key" to Britain's slave army, investigation finds, The Herald 29 March 2021

Melville, B. (2020), If we pervert the facts of history how can we progress in our future? | by Bobby Melville | Medium https://medium.com/@bobbymelville1/if-we-pervert-the-facts-of-history-how-can-we-progress-in-our-future-3f07eea5d762, [Accessed August 2021]

McCarthy, Angela (2022a) Bad History: The Controversy over Henry Dundas and the Historiography of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, Scottish Affairs, Vol 31: 2

Mullen, Steven (2021) Henry Dundas: a 'great delayer' of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. Scottish Historical Review, Vol. 100, issue 2, https://www.euppublishing.com/doi/10.3366/shr.2021.0516 [Pre-publication version accessed via http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/240875/ May 2021]

Rodger, Johnny (2016) The Hero Building: An Architecture of Scottish National Identity (London: Routledge).

Ward J. R (1998) The British West Indies in the Age of Abolition 1748–1815 in Marshall P.J. (ed.) The Oxford History of the British Empire: Vol. 2 The Eighteenth Century, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Williams, Lisa (2018) Edinburgh's Part in the Slave Trade, Historic Environment Scotland Blog: https://blog.historicenvironment.scot/2018/11/edinburghs-part-slave-trade/?hootPostID=00c2ecef0dd21177e632ba544cdbeda9

Online sources

City Council approves renaming Dundas Street, https://www.toronto.ca/news/city-council-approves-renaming-dundas-street/ [accessed July 2021]

City of Edinburgh Council News: New wording for plaque at Melville Monument agreed, 11 June 2021, https://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/news/article/12885/new-wording-for-plaque-at-melville-monument-agreed [accessed July 2021]

DUNDAS, Henry (1742-1811), of Melville Castle, Edinburgh, History of Parliament Online, http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1790-1820/member/dundas-henry-1742-1811 [Accessed May 2021]

Edinburgh Evening News: Penicuik professor calls on city council to add plaque to controversial slave trade statue, 9 June 2020 https://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/people/penicuik-professor-calls-on-city-council-to-add-plaque-to-controversial-slave-trade-statue-2878799 [accessed August 2022]

Edinburgh Evening News: Slavery plaque approved for Edinburgh's Henry Dundas Monument https://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/politics/slavery-plaque-approved-for-edinburghs-henry-dundas-monument-3168888?fbclid=IwAR0y56iIK1IItuSXKKzkHyw6dNytdoVa1Lkq33AS3FfPyeX8hF675b86v7o [accessed May 2021]

Fry, M. 2021, Dundas, Henry, first Viscount Melville (1742–1811), politician. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-8250.

Historians on Dundas and Slavery online event 2021, University of Edinburgh, Recording via https://www.ed.ac.uk/history-classics-archaeology/news-events/events-archive/2020/historians-on-dundas-and-slavery [Accessed August 2021]

Managing Imperial Legacies, https://blogs.ed.ac.uk/managingimperiallegacies// [Accessed May 2021, web address updated 2022]

Recognition Review 2021, Toronto City Council https://www.toronto.ca/community-people/get-involved/community/recognition-review/) [Accessed May 2021].

Recognition Review 2021, Historical Research on the Life and Legacy of Henry Dundas, Toronty City Council, https://www.toronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/98f2-Recognition-Review-Historical-Research.pdf, downloaded from https://www.toronto.ca/community-people/get-involved/community/recognition-review/renaming-dundas-street/ Historical Research on the Life and Legacy of Henry Dundas (toronto.ca) [Accessed September 2022]

St Andrews Square, Edinburgh, www.gillespies.co.uk/projects/st-andrew-square [Accessed May 2021]

Trans Atlantic Slave Trade Estimates, www.Slavevoyages.org [accessed September 2022]

Twelve Monuments Project, Edinburgh World Heritage, www.ewh.org.uk [Accessed May 2021]

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