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The History of Edinburgh World Heritage

The first completed project at 23 Fettes Row, officially unveiled by the Queen Mother in 1975

Edinburgh World Heritage was established on 31st March 1999.  It inherited the tradition of work undertaken by two bodies:

  • Edinburgh New Town Conservation Committee: established in 1970 to tackle the economic and physical problems that threatened the Georgian New Town at that time; and
  • Edinburgh Old Town Committee for Conservation and Renewal (which changed its name to Edinburgh Old Town Renewal Trust): established in 1985 with an emphasis on renovation and re-development of the Old Town appropriate to its then near-derelict and depopulated state.

At its inception, Edinburgh World Heritage was given the following Terms of Reference by its sponsors, Scottish Government (now via Historic Environment Scotland) and the City of Edinburgh Council:

  1. Historic Building Grants: To stimulate and co-ordinate action for the conservation and repair of historic buildings in the World Heritage Site.
  2. Conservation Area Issues: To promote the preservation and enhancement of the character of the Site; and to develop and maintain an Action Plan.
  3. Advice: To advise Scottish Ministers and the Local Authority on major policy and development issues; and to comment on other planning issues as necessary.
  4. Monitoring: To monitor the Site on behalf of Scottish Ministers; and to inform and advise organisations involved in the management of the City Centre.
  5. Projects: To initiate projects and attract funding for the preservation and enhancement of the Site.
  6. Promotion: To promote the World Heritage Site through education, exhibitions, conferences and examples of skill and good practice.

These have since evolved with the organisation.

Edinburgh World Heritage was originally based in 5 Charlotte Square but since 2011, the office has been in Acheson House, 5 Bakehouse Close, 146 Canongate.

The first office of Edinburgh World Heritage was in Charlotte Square, before the move to Acheson House.

Saving the New Town

We can still enjoy the New Town today because of the efforts of an army of volunteers.

Sir Robert Matthew

By the 1960s, parts of the New Town were in very bad condition and there was a clear risk that many historic buildings could be demolished. Ironically, it was the modernist architect Sir Robert Matthew who led efforts to save them, using his influence as a government adviser to raise the issue.

An army of architects, surveyors and students organised by the Edinburgh Architectural Association took to the streets to assess the scale of the repairs needed. The results of their hard work were then discussed at a major conference held at the Assembly Rooms in 1970, and the outcome was that the government and the city council decided to act. The Edinburgh New Town Conservation Committee was formed, to offer grants to help home owners with the cost of repairs.

The first completed project was at 23 Fettes Row, and was officially unveiled by the Queen Mother in 1975. Today, the brown plaques which mark the buildings repaired can still be seen throughout the New Town.

Restoring the Old Town

The situation in the Old Town, in comparison to the New Town, was much more complex and required a different approach for its rehabilitation.

In 1985, the Edinburgh Old Town Committee for Conservation and Renewal, later to be called the Edinburgh Old Town Renewal Trust, was established to “promote, co-ordinate and publicise action for the conservation and economic and social revival of the Old town of Edinburgh”. There was greater emphasis on the need to stimulate social and economic regeneration.

Visit our Projects page to see highlights of our work.