Old Royal High School

The Old Royal High School as seen from Regent Road

The Old Royal High School, also known as New Parliament House[attribution needed], 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 alternative name as a result of a proposal in the 1970s for it to house a devolved Scottish Assembly.

After the Royal High School was relocated 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. In 2015, The City of Edinburgh Council, which currently owns the building, has initiated a project to lease it to be used as a luxury hotel. 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 SchoolEdit

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]

The school relocated to larger modern premises at Barnton in 1968.

Scottish devolutionEdit

The building was considered by the Scottish Office as a home for the Scottish Assembly. 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 that led to the formation of the Scottish Parliament, 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 usesEdit

The Old Royal High School

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. The proposal failed to gain the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, seen as a key funder.[9][14][15]

In 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 Duddingston House Properties (DHP) were awarded the project to prepare a design. DHP were awarded a conditional 125-year lease[16] with the City Council retaining ownership of the building.[17]

In 2015, another proposal was brought forward to use the building as a luxury hotel at an estimated cost of £55 million.[18] The plan, put forward by DHP and Urbanist Hotels, involved the construction of two additional six-story wings on either side of the building in a modern architectural style and the hotel would be managed by Rosewood Hotels & Resorts.[16][19] It was opposed by Scotland's national heritage agency Historic Scotland,[20] Edinburgh's civic trust, the Cockburn Association,[18] the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, Edinburgh City Council planning department and over 1,700 people who sent in objections.[21][22][23][24] The Royal High School Preservation Trust also put forward an alternative plan costing over £25 million[25] in 2015 to use the building to house St Mary's Music School.[26] The headteacher of the St. Mary's Music School, Dr Kenneth Taylor, estimated the cost in the region of £35 million.[27] An American philanthropist, Carol Colburn Grigor, pledged to underwrite this proposal through the Dunard Fund.[28] In 2015 the Dunard Fund gave the Royal High School Preservation Trust £1.5 million held in a restricted reserve which can be released only for expenditure connected to purchasing the building.[29] The Dunard Fund has the power to appoint 5 of the 6 Trustees of the Royal High School Presevation Trust.[30] The Fund has two major projects it intends to support and, "therefore, as a matter of strategy, the trustees are retaining a substantial part of available funds at present."[30]

Edinburgh Council rejected the hotel plans in December 2015,[31] following which the developers appealed the decision to the Scottish Government in 2016[32] but then put the appeal on hold and submitted an alternative reduced plan.[33][34][35] Edinburgh Council accepted plans for the St. Mary's Music School in 2016[36] but the hotel developers said their 2010 contract gave them sole rights to the site until 2022.[34] Over 3,000 people submitted objections to the alternative hotel plan put forward by the developers[37][38] and in August 2017, Edinburgh Council rejected the alternative hotel plan.[39][40] A public inquiry to determine the future use of the building opened on 4 September 2018.[41] During that inquiry, the Director of Edinburgh World Heritage, Adam Wilkinson, admitted to Photoshopping a picture of the proposed hotel development that was shown to the public at a Save the Old Royal High School meeting at Central Hall in Tollcross in March 2017.[42] That meeting was held with the support of both Edinburgh World Heritage and the Cockburn Association.[42] The doctored image showed the proposed extensions to the school as significantly bigger than detailed in the submitted plans, indicating the proposals would have a greater impact on Calton Hill than was put forward by the developers.[42]


  1. ^ "The DofE Award in Edinburgh". The Duke of Edinburgh Award. Retrieved 3 March 2010.
  2. ^ "Sport and Outdoor Education - About The Unit". Edinburgh Grid For Learning. Retrieved 3 March 2010.
  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. ^ a b ‘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. ^ ‘Holyrood hold-up casts shadow over photography project’, The Times, 11 November 2005, Home News Section, p. 32 – Scotland.
  15. ^ Michael Blackley, 'Boost for £20m photo centre bid at Royal High'. Edinburgh Evening News, 7 August 2007. Retrieved on 4 September 2007.
  16. ^ a b "Plans for Royal High School hotel unveiled". BBC News, Edinburgh Fife & East Scotland. 2 September 2015. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  17. ^ 'New life' for capital's landmark, BBC News, 3 February 2010. Retrieved on 4 February 2010.
  18. ^ a b Ferguson, Brian (28 February 2015). "Royal High School hotel plan 'will save building'". Edinburgh Evening News. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  19. ^ "Rosewood Edinburgh to open in 2018". Incentive Travel. ITCM. 3 September 2015. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  20. ^ Amos, Ilona (21 September 2015). "Black mark for high school developers". The Scotsman. p. 12. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  21. ^ "Planning Application Comments; 15/03989/FUL | Change of use, alterations to and restoration of principal former Royal High School building." City of Edinburgh Council. 31 December 2015. Retrieved 1 September 2017.
  22. ^ Morrison, Richard (23 October 2015). "Edinburgh council is wrecking the city with these crass building schemes". The Times. Retrieved 23 October 2015.
  23. ^ Grant, Alistair (15 October 2015). "Over 2000 objections to Royal High hotel plan". Edinburgh Evening News. Retrieved 15 October 2015.
  24. ^ Ferguson, Brian (3 September 2015). "Battle brewing over Royal High School". The Scotsman. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  25. ^ Ferguson, Brian (7 December 2015). "St Mary's Royal High School concert venue plans unveiled". The Scotsman. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  26. ^ Gourtsyannis, Paris (16 June 2015). "Performances aid music school pitch for Royal High". Edinburgh Evening News. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  27. ^ "Royal High site inquiry gets under way". BBC News. 18 September 2018. Retrieved 19 September 2018.
  28. ^ Ferguson, Brian (23 April 2015). "Arts backer reveals rival Royal High School bid". The Scotsman. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  29. ^ "ROYAL HIGH SCHOOL PRESERVATION TRUST - Filing history (free information from Companies House)". beta.companieshouse.gov.uk. Retrieved 19 September 2018.
  30. ^ a b "DUNARD FUND - Filing history (free information from Companies House)". beta.companieshouse.gov.uk. Retrieved 19 September 2018.
  31. ^ "Royal High School hotel plans rejected by Edinburgh councillors". BBC News. 17 December 2015. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  32. ^ Ferguson, Brian (19 March 2016). "Royal High hotel developers lodge last-ditch appeal". The Edinburgh Evening News. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  33. ^ Ferguson, Brian (1 September 2016). "Developers to unveil new plans for Royal High hotel". Edinburgh Evening News. Retrieved 11 September 2016.
  34. ^ a b "Hotel developers launch drastic bid to win planning permission for Royal High". Edinburgh Evening News. 3 November 2016. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  35. ^ Mcaskill, Mark (16 April 2017). "Fury over luxury hotel 'vandalism' at Royal High". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  36. ^ "Edinburgh's Royal High School could become music school". BBC News. 18 August 2016. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  37. ^ Wade, Mike (31 August 2017). "Top heritage bodies call for rejection of Old Royal High School hotel plan". Retrieved 1 September 2017.
  38. ^ [1] Scotsman, 21 August 2017
  39. ^ Donnelly, Brian (31 August 2017). "Royal High School hotel plan rejected". The Herald Scotland. Retrieved 1 September 2017.
  40. ^ "Edinburgh Royal High School hotel plans rejected". BBC News. 31 August 2017. Retrieved 1 September 2017.
  41. ^ "Public inquiry to decide former Royal High School site". BBC. 4 September 2018. Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  42. ^ a b c "Edinburgh heritage boss apologises for 'misleading' photograph". Retrieved 21 October 2018.

External linksEdit

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