George Watson's College

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Not to be confused with John Watson's Institution.
George Watson's College
George Watson's College (coat of arms).png
Ex Corde Caritas
("Love from the Heart")
Colinton Road (Merchiston)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Type co-educational, independent
Religious affiliation(s) Christian
Established 1741 (as George Watson's Hospital)
Founder George Watson
Principal Melvyn Roffe
Pupils circa 2,300
Houses Cockburn-Greyfriars, Lauriston, Melville-Ogilvie, Preston-Falconhall
School colour(s)           Maroon, white
Sports Rugby, hockey, cricket, rowing, badminton, squash, football, sailing, rifle shooting, skiing, athletics, tennis, rock climbing, polo, surfing, fencing, curling.
Rival George Heriot's School
Publication The Watsonian, Caritas, Recorder, Tick Talk
School fees Per Annum: Nursery-£7,059(for a whole day), Junior School-£6,717/£8,094, Senior School-£10,419
Alumni Watsonians
GWC front.jpg

George Watson's College is a co-educational independent day school in Scotland, situated on Colinton Road, in the Merchiston area of Edinburgh. It was first established as a hospital school in 1741, became a day school in 1871, and was merged with its sister school George Watson's Ladies College in 1974. It is a Merchant Company of Edinburgh school.



The school was established according to the instructions of George Watson (1654–1723) who bequeathed the bulk of his fortune of £12,000 – a vast sum in 1723 – to found a hospital school for the provision of post-primary boarding education.

Watson was never a member of the Merchant Company of Edinburgh, but he was impressed by their running of the Merchant Maiden Hospital and so he chose the Company to implement the terms of his will. After some years, the Governors bought land known as Heriot's Croft, located off Lauriston Place in Edinburgh, close to the Meadows and opposite George Heriot's School, and engaged an architect. The foundation stone was laid on 22 May 1738, and the building was completed early in 1741. (At the time, there was concern that this site was too far from the city, but today it would be regarded as close to the city centre.)

The school opened as George Watson's Hospital on Whitsunday, 17 May 1741. The initial roll consisted of 11 boys, aged 9–10 years; by 1749 there were 30, while in 1842 pupils numbered 86, this figure being maintained until the end of the Hospital system in 1870.[1]

In accordance with Watson's will, the governors were responsible for former pupils up to the age of 25; they were helped to find apprenticeships and paid an allowance. Watson's stated preference was for allowing the hospital's charges to become skilled workers, though the governors also allowed boys who showed an ability to pursue medicine or academia.[2]

Re-establishment as a day school[edit]

By the 1860s, the hospital school system had fallen into general public disrepute, while the Merchant Company was fearful both of government intervention in the schooling system and of its own decline. The solution was to re-found Watson's, and the three other hospitals under its governorship, as day schools. In July 1868 the Company applied to Parliament for powers to reorganise their schools and make different use of their endowments to as to make education more widely available.

Watsons' was thus completely transformed, reopening on 26 September 1870 as a fee-paying day school with a roll of 800 boys, initially called George Watson's College Schools for Boys.

In 1869, the original hospital building was sold to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. When the infirmary sought to expand in 1871, the school moved a short distance west to the former Merchant Maiden Hospital building in Archibald Place. The original hospital building was incorporated into the infirmary, and the chapel remained in use as the hospital chapel until the infirmary was itself moved away. The remains of the building were demolished in 2004 during the redevelopment of the infirmary site by the Quartermile consortium,[2] which also redeveloped the site of the Archibald Place buildings, which had in turn been demolished in the 1930s after the school moved to its present site.

1932 buildings[edit]

250th anniversary plaque in Edinburgh's Greyfriars Kirkyard

In the years following World War I, the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary needed to expand once more and was interested in the site then occupied by Watson's. At the same time, the Archibald Place building was cramped and in need of modernisation, as well as being distant from the school's playing fields at Myreside. In 1924 the Merchant Company announced that they had taken the decision to sell the Archibald Place building to the Infirmary for a "fair" price.

In 1927, agreement was made to acquire the site of Merchiston Castle School – adjacent to the Myreside playing fields – and a competition was held to design the new school building. The winner was announced in June 1928 as James B Dunn, himself a Watsonian, with a plan described as "simple, direct and masterly".

Building work on the new site commenced in August 1929. The new building, facing Colinton Road, was in a neo-classical style and sandstone-faced. It is H-shaped, extending over two stories, with a large central Assembly Hall which seats up to 1835.

The new building was completed in 1932. It was opened on 22 September by HRH Prince George (later Duke of Kent).

Adjacent to the main building is the PE block, featuring gymnasia and a swimming pool, and also the school boiler house with its large chimney. Beyond the PE block is the Elementary building (now Upper Primary).

The Golden Jubilee of the creation of the 1932 buildings fell in 1982, and was marked by a number of celebrations. These culminated on 29 June by a visit from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. The Queen spent two hours touring the campus, including a short concert, and she unveiled a commemorative plaque.[2]

George Watson's Ladies College[edit]

George Square Melville House, built in 1871 on the site of Admiral Duncan's house, was the home of George Watson's Ladies College until sold to Edinburgh University in 1974.

The reforms, which saw the hospital's transformation into a day school, also saw the Merchant Company wish to open a school for girls. In July 1868, the Company applied to Parliament for powers to reorganise their schools and make different use of their endowments to as to make education more widely available.

In February 1871, the Company took over the lease of Melville House in George Square, Edinburgh and used it as the location of the nascent George Watson's College Schools for Young Ladies. It was renamed to George Watson's College for Ladies in 1877, and to George Watson's Ladies College in 1890.[2]


In 1967, the Merchant Company announced its plan to combine the two Watson's Colleges to form a single co-educational campus in Colinton Road. Building work was required to house the combined school. The main building was expanded with further science labs; the PE block grew a covered Games Hall; a new "Design Centre" was built to house art, technical and home economics departments; and a new Lower Primary building (for primary 1-3) was built adjacent to the existing Elementary (Junior School) building.

The first joint assembly of the amalgamated school was held on 1 October 1974. The school found itself in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest co-educational school in Scotland, with a roll of over 2,400 pupils.[2]

Since then the school has remained co-educational, and now serves day pupils only; previously various boarding houses were maintained from time to time in the Tipperlinn Road area, and on-campus at New Myreside House.

George Watson's College also incorporates the once entirely separate John Watson's School, the former premises of which now house the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

Each autumn a group of students at George Watson's College attend The Harley School in Rochester, New York for two weeks, during which they are hosted by the families of Harley students. The Harley partners are then sent to Edinburgh for two weeks during the spring to live with their hosted Watson's students.

Capital development[edit]

George Watson's College Centre for Sport was the result of a 6-year major refurbishment of existing sport facilities. This was the largest capital project undertaken by the school in over 70 years.

The Murray Family Pavilion was opened in January 2006 as Phase 1 of the redevelopment. It consisted of new changing rooms at the Myreside playing fields. Phase 2 - a new multi purpose sports hall located next to the existing PE building - was completed in January 2008.

In early 2009, the school took the decision to delay work on the final phase of the redevelopment, owing to the economic downturn. Work on Phase 3 - a full refurbishment of the existing PE building - began in July 2010. Flagship points of the redevelopment were the Ergo gym and a new social area to be known as The Hub which was designed to provide a view over the refurbished swimming pool. The modern fitness room was to be situated in the fully rebuilt central section of the existing building. Other facilities in the building were also to be remodelled and relocated.

The final phase was completed in May 2012 and the Centre for Sport was opened to the public shortly after by former pupil Sir Chris Hoy.


Pupils at the school are separated into four groups, known as "houses", a practice common in many British schools. Originally, the Boys' and Ladies' colleges had their own sets of houses, which were merged when the school amalgamated in 1974. The houses are:

  • Cockburn Greyfriars
  • Preston Falconhall
  • Melville Ogilvie
  • Lauriston

The school operates a house competition where members can earn house points through participation in various sporting and other events including dance, choir, cinema, general knowledge and drama. They can also be awarded points for participating in and winning various sports events held within the school including house rugby, badminton and football. The first event in the academic year where House points can be earned is the longest indoor golf chip competition (affectionately known as the '9-iron blooter'), and the final event is the annual Sports Day. The pupil heads of the winning house are awarded a trophy at the school's annual prize-giving ceremony.

In 2014 a new system was added for house points meant that Watson's pupils would have to earn "Caritas Coins" which would then be inserted into a glass box and counted at the end of house competitions to find out which house won.

Sports and affiliations[edit]

Sport plays a significant part in the life of the school.

The main sports of the school are rugby and hockey for boys, and hockey for girls. The school also regularly competes in many athletics, tennis and alpine events.

In 2007, the U15 Rugby Team won the Brewin Dolphin Scottish Schools Cup. They beat Edinburgh Academy 12-5 in the final. The school won the cup again in 2008. They beat George Heriot's 7-5. While being recognised as a bastion of Scottish rugby, the 1st XV took 10 years to win the U18 Brewin Dolphin Scottish Schools Cup.

There is an alumni rugby club known as Watsonians, who play in the Scottish Premiership Division Two.

The school is a member of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference.

George Watson's College Pipes and Drums[edit]

George Watson's College Pipes and Drums is a very successful pipe band affiliated with the school. It is regarded as one of the best juvenile pipe bands in the world, and has had much success in competitions. They have played abroad several times, as well as playing at the 2009 Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

GWC Drama Camp[edit]

Every year in the easter and summer holidays there is a drama camp that kids can sign up for. The purpose of the camp is to have fun and just generally muck around. Students from George Watsons College can also volunteer to help out during the camp but the age limit for helping out is S3 and above. Anyone who wishes to know more about the drama camp can find out about it when it is posted on the website a few weeks before the camp begins. It is very common for there to be a large amount of girls (90%) compared to boys (10%) but recently more boys have been attending. Hopefully this extra curricular activity will grow even more and many more people will enjoy it.

Notable alumni[edit]


  1. ^ Waugh, Hector Liston (1970). George Watson's College. George Watson's College. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Howie, Les (2006). George Watson's College: An Illustrated History. George Watson's College. pp. 1–270. ISBN 978-0-9501838-2-4. 
  3. ^ Paul Nuki., 2012. Retrieved 29 December 2012. Archived at WebCite here.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 55°55′49″N 3°13′4″W / 55.93028°N 3.21778°W / 55.93028; -3.21778