Edinburgh, George Square, General

General View

Site Name Edinburgh, George Square, General

Classification General View

Alternative Name(s) University Of Edinburgh

Canmore ID 122519

Site Number NT27SE 1792

NGR NT 2584 7293

NGR Description Centred NT 2584 7293

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Ordnance Survey licence number 100020548. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Edinburgh, City Of
  • Parish Edinburgh (edinburgh, City Of)
  • Former Region Lothian
  • Former District City Of Edinburgh
  • Former County Midlothian

Sir Basil Spence

Building Notes

In 1947 the University of Edinburgh embarked on a programme of expansion. One of the key elements of the programme was the reintegration of university departments. The area outlined for redevelopment extended from the Old College on South Bridge southwards to the Meadows, with George Square as the centre of the new campus. In March 1954 Basil Spence was offered the post of Planning Consultant. This was Spence's first university consultancy post and he was responsible for drafting a comprehensive scheme for development over the next 50 years. Spence resigned from the post in December 1960.

Archive Details

The Sir Basil Spence Archive shows that Spence presented his initial scheme to the University Development Committee in November 1954 and that by 1955 he had persuaded them to accept the scheme as a general guideline for future development.

The Archive includes drawings, photographs and manuscript material detailing Spence's scheme, the key elements of which were that he would maintain the layout of the square and keep the central garden. He proposed siting the main library on the SW corner, the Arts Faculty along the east side and extending the Medical Buildings. The new buildings would be a combination of tower blocks and connecting linear buildings. These, Spence felt, would add interest and variety to the skyline.

In order for Spence's scheme to be put into practice everything, except the houses on the west side of the square, had to be demolished. The Archive shows that these houses were exempt from demolition because Spence felt they were the most interesting. He recommended external restoration and internal alteration to accommodate smaller departments. The Archive material also contains correspondence between the university and lobby groups who were opposed to the demolition of George Square. The material includes a letter from the University Development Committee to the Secretary of State for Scotland in response to objections raised by the Cockburn Association.

Archive Summary

The Sir Basil Spence Archive contains three manuscript folders, 18 photographs and 15 drawings relating to George Square. The drawings include sketch perspectives, preliminary plans for stages 1- 5 and a birds-eye perspective. The photographs include images of the square before, during and after redevelopment. The Spence Glover and Ferguson Collection, also held at RCAHMS, contains 29 photographs including images of the Basil Spence ARA and Partners' preliminary block model of the site.

This text was written as one of the outputs of the Sir Basil Spence Archive Project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, 2005-08. Information about the project can be found at http://www.basilspence.org.uk

Architecture Notes

Architect: James Brown 1766-1785

Sir Robert Lorimer 1919-1920 (Histology Building)

Masonry by Michael Nasmyth - father of Painter.

NMRS Print Room

48-60 George Square

General view of east side

W Schomberg Scott Photograph Collection

Acc No 1997/39


"The Builder" - August 18th 1931 containing two photographs, held in the National Library.

References for 5 George Square from the Scottish Record Office:

'New Stables. Payment of ?2.2.0 to Mr Nisbet, Mason, for advice and plan of stables.' Cash Book. 1768

James Nisbet, Mason died 1781.

GD 157/814 (Scott of Harden)

Building of the New House (5 George Square).

Payments to:-

Mr Brown, blacksmith, 'to account of work done'.

Peter Robertson 'for iron rails'.

Young and Trotter 'for account'.

James Stark, wright, 'for work at my house in George Square'.

Veitch, marble mason, 'for work at my house in Edinburgh'.

Armstrong, copper smith, 'for kitching in my new house'.

Cash Book. 1768

GD 157/814 (Scott of Harden)


RIAS Prospect magazine No. 16, Winter 1959, Pages 30 - 32.


Edinburgh Room, Central Library, Edinburgh

(James?) Brown

Edinburgh. House, near North East corner of avenue from the Workhouse to the Meadows; "new built", information from Mr Brown, architect, 1769

(Edinburgh Evening Courant, May 3, 1769)



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