Old College, University of Edinburgh

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The remodelled central courtyard, Old College, Edinburgh

Old College is a late 18th-century building of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. It is located on South Bridge, and presently houses parts of the University's administration, the University of Edinburgh School of Law, and the Talbot Rice Gallery. Originally called the "New College", it was designed by Robert Adam to replace a number of older buildings.


The east facade of Old College facing onto South Bridge / Nicholson Street, as built in 1827. A dome similar to Adam's original design was added in 1887.
Clip of George Square and the Old College at sunrise
Figure of Youth on the dome of Old College Edinburgh by John Hutchison

The South Bridge Act 1785 was passed in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom on 21 April 1785 and in 1789 taxes were raised to fund a new University building in Edinburgh to a plan prepared by Robert Adam, to replace an existing collection of dilapidated buildings of the University.[1] The foundation stone was laid in November of that year for what was proposed as a building with a "First Court", giving access to professor's lodgings, followed by a Great Court, around which the main academic halls and lecture rooms would be arranged. By the end of 1791 several apartments were in use, but in the following year the death of Robert Adam and the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars and the imposition of income tax slowed, then halted progress.[2] In 1815 further funds were raised, and work recommenced. Plans were submitted by nine architects showing their proposals to continue the design work, with the outcome that William Henry Playfair was appointed architect in 1817.[3] Playfair's design clove close to Adam's but combined the two courts into a single large quadrangle. By 1827 the building was virtually complete with the exception of fitting out the library, and construction of a dome which Adam had proposed at the east end of the building. This was left out as a cost saving, and the work was completed about four years later. The dome was added in 1887, to a design by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson, and funded by a donation from Gorgie industrialist and politician, Robert Cox.[2] The gilded statue of Youth which crowns the dome is by John Hutchison.[4]

The large bronze war memorial at the west end of the quadrangle was designed by Sir Robert Lorimer in 1922 and sculpted by Pilkington Jackson the following year.[5]

The quadrangle was never completed at the time the College was originally constructed. However, based on a proposal from architects Simpson & Brown the quadrangle now contains a central grass lawn encircled by a paved terrace of honey-coloured stone.[6] The new quadrangle is both a venue for graduation celebrations and festival events, as well as providing a more inviting entrance for the Talbot Rice Gallery.[7]


  1. ^ An Act for Opening an Easy and Commodious Communication from the High Street of Edinburgh, to the Country Southward. Parliament of Great Britain. 1785.
  2. ^ a b "Our campus | Edinburgh Law School". www.law.ed.ac.uk. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  3. ^ "Old College". Edinburgh World Heritage. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  4. ^ Buildings of Scotland: Edinburgh by Gifford McWiliam and Walker
  5. ^ Dictionary of Scottish Architects: Robert Lorimer
  6. ^ "Old College Quad". www.simpsonandbrown.co.uk. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  7. ^ "Old College Quad Resurfacing". Retrieved 11 January 2014.

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Coordinates: 55°56′50.6″N 3°11′13.9″W / 55.947389°N 3.187194°W / 55.947389; -3.187194