Between Urbanisation and Conservation: an Edinburgh perspective
Edinburgh-based photographer Thomas Feige has begun a photography project that will look at the relationship between Edinburgh’s historic buildings and…
1st August 2018
Edinburgh World Heritage
Which is the most splendid of the later extensions to the New Town?
There are perhaps two main contenders: the Calton Scheme by William Henry Playfair, and the Moray Estate by James Gillespie Graham. These areas of Edinburgh make for delightful evening strolls – why not do them both and decide which is the most commodious and elegant?
The City of Edinburgh had owned most of The Calton since 1723. In 1811, it persuaded the other landlords to join in a single scheme. A design competition was advertised, and William Henry Playfair was eventually appointed. Building began in 1821.
The initial design was intended to include a square, and houses for all classes except the poorest. However, the scheme as completed was largely restricted to houses for the landscape-loving ‘circle of fashionable and wealthy people’. The area therefore lacks the architectural hierarchy of some other parts of the New Town.
Notable previous residents include Louis-Antoine, son of the last Bourbon King of France, Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, daughter of Louis XVI, children’s author Helen Bannerman and composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.
After visiting Calton Hill, take a walk along Regent Terrace, and then into Royal Terrace to enjoy the views south and north, as well as domestic architecture of extraordinary quality. The palace-front of Robert Adam’s earlier Charlotte Square was rejected by Playfair in favour of a procession of grand and austere Neo-Classical houses. By the time you reach Blenheim Place your spirit will be uplifted.
The 10th Earl of Moray’s estate consisted of 13 acres purchased from the Heriot Trust in 1782, and in 1822 it was decided that it should be feued for development. James Gillespie Graham’s designs were available by July, and by 1836 it was almost completely feued.
The layout is geometrically complicated, being formed by an oval, crescent and polygon, but is a triumph of harmonious unity. Graham clearly intended his designs to rival Playfair’s great set piece at the Calton and in its contrasts and panoramas, sylvan walks and elegant pavilions, it is unrivalled in Scotland, perhaps in the world.
The estate has been home to a legion of Scottish figures including the publisher William Blackwood and the Scottish Colourist Francis Cadell (both Ainsley Place), social reformer Helen Kerr (St. Colme Street), the writer Thomas de Quincey (Forres Street), the sculptor John Steel (Darnaway Street) and, perhaps accepting defeat, William Henry Playfair himself (Great Stuart Street).
Ready to explore the World Heritage Site on foot? Take a look at our walking trails.