Scott Monument

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Not to be confused with Scott Statue.
The Scott Monument

The Scott Monument is a Victorian Gothic monument to Scottish author Sir Walter Scott. It is the largest monument to a writer in the world.[1] It stands in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh, opposite the Jenners department store on Princes Street and near to Edinburgh Waverley Railway Station, which is named after Scott's Waverley novels.

Design and Concept[edit]

The tower is 200 feet 6 inches (61.11 m) high, and has a series of viewing platforms reached by a series of narrow spiral staircases giving panoramic views of central Edinburgh and its surroundings. The highest platform is reached by a total of 287 steps (those who climb the steps can obtain a certificate commemorating their achievement). It is built from Binny sandstone quarried near Ecclesmachan in West Lothian. Bill Bryson has described it as looking like a "gothic rocket ship".[2]

The choice of stone is notable, as it is an oily stone, known in the 19th century to trap dirt, so quickly ages to black, a necessary part of the Gothic concept, which was purporting to be medieval. Given the wide availability of other stones in the area, it is therefore a very deliberate, rather than accidental, choice: the monument was designed to go black.

In terms of its location, it is placed on axis with South St David Street, the main street leading off St Andrew Square to Princes Street, and is a focal point within that vista, its scale being large enough to totally screen the Old Town behind. As seen from the south side, Princes Street Gardens, its location appears more random, but it totally dominates the Eastern Section of the gardens, through a combination of its scale and elevated position relative to the sunken gardens.


Masons working on the Monument, photographed by Hill & Adamson in the early 1840s
The Sir Walter Scott statue designed by John Steell, located inside the Scott Monument

Following Scott's death in 1832, a competition was held to design a monument to him. An unlikely entrant went under the pseudonym "John Morvo", the name of the medieval architect of Melrose Abbey. Morvo was in fact George Meikle Kemp, forty-five-year-old joiner, draftsman, and self-taught architect. Kemp had feared his lack of architectural qualifications and reputation would disqualify him, but his design (similar to an unsuccessful one he had earlier submitted for Glasgow Cathedral) was popular with the competition's judges, and in 1838 Kemp was awarded the contract to construct the monument.

John Steell was commissioned to design a monumental statue of Scott to rest in the space between the tower's four columns. Steell's statue, made from white Carrara marble, shows Scott seated, resting from writing one of his works with a quill pen and his dog Maida by his side. The monument carries 64 figures (carried out in three phases) of characters from Scott's novels by a variety of Scots sculptors including, Alexander Handyside Ritchie, John Rhind, William Birnie Rhind, William Brodie, William Grant Stevenson, David Watson Stevenson, John Hutchison, George Anderson Lawson, Thomas Stuart Burnett, William Shirreffs, Andrew Currie, George Clark Stanton, Peter Slater, [3] and two female representatives, Amelia Robertson Hill (who also made the statue of David Livingstone immediately east of the monument), who contributed three figures to the monument,[4] and the otherwise unknown Katherine Anne Fraser Tytler.

The foundation stone was laid on 15 August 1840. Following permission by an Act of Parliament (the Monument to Sir Walter Scott Act 1841 (4 & 5 Vict.) C A P. XV.), construction began in 1841 and ran for nearly four years. The tower was completed in the autumn of 1844, with Kemp's son placing the finial in August of the year. The total cost was just over £16,154.[5] When the monument was inaugurated on 15 August 1846, George Meikle Kemp himself was absent; Kemp having fallen into the Union Canal while walking home from the site on the foggy evening of 6 March 1844 and drowned.

Modern administration[edit]

In the early 1990s it was proposed that the stonework should be cleaned. There were views for and against cleaning and a scientific/geological investigation, including cleaning trials on samples of stone, was carried out. It was decided not to clean the stone due to the damage it would sustain. A restoration programme was undertaken involving replacing old repairs and damaged areas with Binny stone for which purpose the original quarry was re-opened.[6] The fresh stonework contrasts with the smoke-darkened original.

The overall cost of the restoration was £2.36 million and was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Scotland and the City of Edinburgh Council.[7]

The monument is now administered by the Culture and Sport division of the City of Edinburgh Council. (See External Links for visitor information.)

A panorama of Edinburgh, seen from the Scott Monument

In Popular Culture[edit]

The monument is featured prominently in the movie Cloud Atlas, as a location which the character Robert Frobisher frequents.


  1. ^ "Museums and galleries - Scott Monument". The City of Edinburgh Council. 
  2. ^ Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island Ch. 25
  3. ^ "The Character Statues". 
  4. ^ Buildings of Scotland:Edinburgh by Gifford McWilliam and Walker
  5. ^ "The Scott Monument". 
  6. ^ "The Monument". Retrieved 31 January 2012. 
  7. ^ As stated on an information panel in the monument

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 55°57′8.7″N 3°11′35.8″W / 55.952417°N 3.193278°W / 55.952417; -3.193278