Old Royal High School

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This article is about the proposed site of the Scottish Assembly. For the present building housing the devolved Scottish Parliament, see Scottish Parliament building.
The Old Royal High School
Detail of the Old Royal High School from Regent Road

New Parliament House (commonly known as the Old Royal High School) is a 19th century neoclassical building on Calton Hill in the city of Edinburgh. The building was constructed for the use of the city's Royal High School, and gained its current name as a result of a proposal in the 1970s for it to house a devolved Scottish Assembly.

After the Old Royal High School was vacated in 1968, the building became available and was refurbished to accommodate a new devolved legislature for Scotland. However, the 1979 devolution referendum failed to provide sufficient backing for a devolved assembly. Its debating chamber was later used for meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee, the committee of Members of Parliament in the United Kingdom House of Commons with constituencies in Scotland.

Subsequently the building has been used as offices for departments of Edinburgh City Council, including The Duke of Edinburgh's Award unit[1] and the Sports and Outdoor Education unit.[2]

With the passage of the Scotland Act 1998 and the introduction of Scottish devolution in 1999, the Old Royal High School was again mooted as a potential home for the new Scottish Parliament. Eventually, however, the Scotland Office decided to site the new legislature in a purpose-built structure in the Holyrood area of the Canongate. A number of uses have been suggested for the building, including a home for a Scottish National Photography Centre. As of February 2010, Edinburgh City Council - the building's current owners - have initiated a project to lease the building to be used as a hotel and art gallery.

Edinburgh's original Parliament House is in the Old Town just off the Royal Mile and currently houses the Court of Session. These were the buildings of the former Parliament of Scotland which existed before the formation of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707 and the foundation of a British Parliament sitting at London's Palace of Westminster.

Construction and Royal High School[edit]

The Royal High School in 1829

The A-listed building was erected for the Royal High School between 1826 and 1829 on the south face of Calton Hill as part of Edinburgh's Acropolis, at a cost to the Town Council of £34,000.[3] Of this £500 was given by King George IV 'as a token of royal favour towards a School, which, as a royal foundation, had conferred for ages incalculable benefits on the community'.[4] It was designed in a neo-classical Greek Doric style by Thomas Hamilton, who modelled the portico and Great Hall on the Hephaisteion of Athens.[5] Paired with St. George's Hall, Liverpool, as one of the ‘two finest buildings in the kingdom’ by Alexander Thomson in 1866, it has been praised as 'the architect's supreme masterpiece and the finest monument of the Greek revival in Scotland'.[6][7]

Scottish devolution[edit]

After the school relocated to larger modern premises at Barnton in 1968, the vacated building was considered by the Scottish Office as a home for the Scottish Parliament. The School's Great Hall was converted to a debating chamber prior to the failed 1979 devolution referendum.[8] In 1994 Edinburgh City Council reacquired the complex from the Scottish Office for £1.75m.[9]

Following the successful referendum in 1997, the Secretary of State for Scotland, Donald Dewar, accepted an alternative proposal to erect a new Parliament building at Holyrood, reportedly due to concern that the Old Royal High School had become a 'nationalist shibboleth'.[10] Critics also contended that the Calton Hill site was relatively inaccessible, lacked sufficient office space, and would be difficult to secure against a terrorist attack.[11][12]

The Under-Secretary of State, Lord Sewel, remarked of this decision: ‘Many people understandably assumed that the Old Royal High School building on Calton Hill would be the automatic choice for the site. As I say, that is perfectly understandable given that it was prepared for a similar purpose, to house a parliament in the 1970s. During the wasted years of the previous Administration, it remained a symbol of hope in Scotland. Clearly, there is great sentimental attachment to it in the hearts of the people of Scotland. However, time has moved on since then, in much the same way as our vision of a parliament has evolved.’[13]

Prospective and future uses[edit]

In 2004, Edinburgh City Council gave its support to a plan by HM The Queen's former royal press secretary, Michael Shea, to use the Old Royal High School as a Scottish National Photography Centre at a cost of £20 million, though the proposal failed to gain the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, seen as a prospective key funder.[14][15][16]

In February 2010 Edinburgh City Council announced a plan to use the building as a hotel and public art gallery, described as an "arts hotel". The cost was estimated at £35 million, and the project was awarded to Duddingston House Properties to develop. The City Council will retain ownership of the building. [17]

In 2015, another proposal was brought forward to use the building as a luxury hotel. The plan involved the construction of two additional wings on either side of the building in a modern architectural style. It has been opposed by the city's civic trust, the Cockburn Association.[18]


  1. ^ "The DofE Award in Edinburgh". The Duke of Edinburgh Award. Retrieved 2010-03-03. 
  2. ^ "Sport and Outdoor Education - About The Unit". Edinburgh Grid For Learning. Retrieved 2010-03-03. 
  3. ^ Murray, History, p. 45.
  4. ^ Barclay, Tounis Scule, p. 60.
  5. ^ Murray, History, p. 46.
  6. ^ David Watkin, ‘Elmes, Harvey Lonsdale (1814–1847)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2004. Retrieved on 5 September 2007.
  7. ^ Gavin Stamp, ‘Hamilton, Thomas (1784–1858)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. Retrieved on 2 November 2007.
  8. ^ Overview of New Parliament House
  9. ^ ‘Royal High to become photography museum’, Sunday Times, 30 September 2001, Home News Section, p. 21 – Scotland News.
  10. ^ Holyrood Inquiry (3.34), pp. 45-46. Retrieved on 3 September 2007.
  11. ^ Kenny Farquharson and Joanne Robertson, ‘Calton Hill backers admit it is too small for parliament’, Sunday Times, 2 April 2000, Home News Section, p. 2 – Scotland News.
  12. ^ David Denver, Scotland Decides: The Devolution Issue and the 1997 Referendum. London, Frank Cass, 2000, pp. 192-3. ISBN 0-7146-5053-6.
  13. ^ Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Lords. 12 November 1997. col. 229. 
  14. ^ ‘Royal High to become photography museum’, Sunday Times, 30 September 2001, Home News Section, p. 21 – Scotland News.
  15. ^ ‘Holyrood hold-up casts shadow over photography project’, The Times, 11 November 2005, Home News Section, p. 32 – Scotland.
  16. ^ Michael Blackley, 'Boost for £20m photo centre bid at Royal High'. Edinburgh Evening News, 7 August 2007. Retrieved on 4 September 2007.
  17. ^ 'New life' for capital's landmark, BBC News, 3 February 2010. Retrieved on 4 February 2010.
  18. ^ http://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/royal-high-school-hotel-plan-will-save-building-1-3704821

Coordinates: 55°57′13″N 3°10′49″W / 55.95361°N 3.18028°W / 55.95361; -3.18028