St Cecilia's Hall

St Cecilia's Hall is a small concert hall and museum in the city of Edinburgh, Scotland, in the United Kingdom. It is on the corner of Niddry Street and the Cowgate, about 168 metres (551 ft) south of the Royal Mile. The hall dates from 1763 and was the first purpose-built concert hall in Scotland. It is a Category A listed building.[1]

St Cecilia's Hall
St Cecilia's Hall, Edinburgh, by Jim Barton, Geograph 4253114.jpg
Façade of St Cecilia's Hall on the Cowgate
St Cecilia's Hall is located in Edinburgh city centre
St Cecilia's Hall
Location in Edinburgh
St Cecilia's Hall is located in Scotland
St Cecilia's Hall
Location in Scotland
Location50 Niddry Street EH1 1LG, Edinburgh, Scotland
Coordinates55°56′56″N 3°11′11″W / 55.9490°N 3.1865°W / 55.9490; -3.1865Coordinates: 55°56′56″N 3°11′11″W / 55.9490°N 3.1865°W / 55.9490; -3.1865
TypeMusic museum, concert hall
CuratorJenny Nex
ArchitectRobert Mylne
OwnerUniversity of Edinburgh
Listed Building – Category A
Designated14 December 1970
Reference no.LB27760

The University of Edinburgh owns the hall, which houses a public exhibition of highlights from the University's Musical Instrument Collection. The Russell and Mirrey Collections of keyboard instruments, the Anne Macaulay Collection of Stringed instruments, and the Shackleton Collection of wind instruments, primarily clarinets, are among the component collections. It is used for concerts presenting music from various traditions, as well as a venue for the Edinburgh International Festival and the Festival Fringe during the summer.


The distinctive elliptical Sypert Concert Room

St Cecilia's Hall was originally commissioned by the Edinburgh Musical Society (EMS) and designed by the Scottish architect Robert Mylne, who also designed Blackfriars Bridge in London. The EMS was founded in 1728, and for its first 35 years its members met in the upper hall of St Mary's Chapel, a small church that formerly stood to the north of the present hall. In December 1763, after completion of Mylne's new hall, the EMS held an inaugural concert in honour of Saint Cecilia, patron saint of musicians.[2]

St Cecilia's was the first purpose-built concert hall in Scotland when it was completed in 1763, not far behind the first in Europe, the Holywell Music Room in Oxford, built in 1748. Mylne designed the building with an oval concert hall on the first floor level with a rehearsal room on the ground floor. Originally, the main entrance opened out to a small courtyard off Niddry's Wynd, and a portico was added to the entrance around 1787.[2]

In 1785 the City of Edinburgh commenced a major civil engineering project — the construction of South Bridge, a road bridge above the Cowgate to link the Old Town to the university in the south of the city, which was completed in 1787. The new bridge resulted in the loss of several ancient closes, including Niddry's Wynd; St Cecilia's Hall lost its original entrance courtyard. With South Bridge and its high tenement buildings looming over St Cecilia's, the Cowgate became a dark and undesirable location for Edinburgh's concert-goers, who by now were flocking to the newly built Assembly Rooms in the more fashionable New Town on the other side of the city. Audiences at St Cecilia's Hall dwindled and eventually the EMS discontinued performances; the last EMS concert was held in 1798. By 1801, the EMS had quietly disbanded and sold the hall to a Baptist congregation.[3][2]

On 16 October 1821, St. Cecilia's Hall became the site of the Edinburgh School of Arts, now Heriot-Watt University, first lecture in chemistry. It was then home to classes between 1821 and 1837 when the institution moved to Adam Square.[4]

The building was later used as a Freemasons' lodge, a warehouse, a school (headed by Andrew Bell), and as Magdalene Cairns's Excelsior Ballroom. It was purchased by the University of Edinburgh in 1959.


The exterior is in plain Neoclassical style, with ashlar facing. On the upper floor is the Sypert Concert Room, an elliptical room with a moulded plaster cornice, and a domed ceiling topped with a central elliptical cupola. William Adam (1738–1822) visited the hall and wrote to his brother John Adam that he had found it "ugly and squat".[5] In 1966, the university commissioned the architect Ian Lindsay to reconstruct the interior of the concert hall. He built a new eastern elevation and made a new entrance to the hall.[1][6]

In 2016, St Cecilia's Hall underwent a £6.5m restoration and renovation in order to improve the concert hall and museum facilities. The project was partly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, as part of its work to support historical buildings of cultural importance. It re-opened to the public in 2017.[7]

Music museumEdit

St Cecilia's Hall, in addition to being a concert venue, includes around 500 artefacts from the University's world-famous Musical Instrument Collection, which is recognised by Museums Galleries Scotland as being of National Significance for Scotland.[8] The Collection as a whole contains around 6,000 pieces, all of which can be accessed for research purposes via the Centre for Research Collections.[9] Rodger Mirrey, John Donaldson, Anne Macaulay, Raymond Russell and Sir Nicholas Shackleton are among the collectors who have donated instruments to the Museum.[2].Some of the instruments are utilised in performances in the Hall by local, national, and international musicians.[10] The Collection is used in university teaching and educational visits by groups of all ages and stages, from school children to special interest groups.[11]


Binks GalleryEdit

Discover the fascinating history of keyboard instruments in the Binks Gallery, where the lid is lifted to the many different keyboard instruments that have evolved over time.

In this gallery, you can learn about the various types of keyboards in 'Uncommon keyboards,' meet the most prominent harpsichord builders in 'Meet the Makers: Craftsmen, entrepreneurs, and brands,' and uncover some of the more unscrupulous instrument makers in 'Copies and Counterfeits.' [12]

1812 GalleryEdit

In the 1812 Gallery, the decorating of keyboard instruments and their role in society take centre stage. In 'Keeping Up with Fashion,' visitors may learn how keyboard instruments were once status symbols, and in 'From Home to Hall,' they can also learn how keyboards have been both essential domestic and performance instruments.[12]

Wolfson GalleryEdit

Strings, woodwind, brass, and percussion are on display in the Wolfson Gallery, which highlights the creation and development of musical instruments. The shapes of instruments, as well as the materials and technologies used to produce them, have evolved over time, influencing the style and sound of music. Visitors can envision how music sounded in the past by learning about the history of the musical instruments on display.[12]

Laigh HallEdit

Music is a method of communication and a component of every culture, and we examine the universality of music and musical instruments in the Laigh Hall. 'Playing Together' delves into the delights and challenges of playing instruments with others, while 'Global Sounds' demonstrates how people from all over the world utilize music and musical instruments in similar ways.[12]

Sypert Concert HallEdit

The Sypert Concert Space, an attractive room with a peculiar elliptical shape, sits in the core of St Cecilia's Hall. This is the oldest concert venue in Scotland and the second oldest in the United Kingdom. The inaugural concert at St Cecilia's Hall, designed by architect Robert Mylne (1733-1811) and commissioned by the Edinburgh Musical Society, was given in 1763.

During its heyday in Georgian society, the Concert Room hosted some of Scotland's top performances, showcasing international performers and composers. It is now the ideal venue for everything from historical chamber music to intimate modern concerts and performances.[12]

In 1967, a chamber organ built by John Snetzler for the Earl of Normanton in about 1750 was bought for the hall. It was installed in the Sypert Concert Room by the Nottinghamshire organ builder firm Goetze and Gwynn. Immediately after installation, the mechanism was damaged by dry air and was rendered unplayable until it was restored in 2017.[13]

Opening HoursEdit

The opening hours are from 10am to 5pm, Thursday to Saturday. Entries are free of charge. The Concert Hall of the museum can be hired for events and conferences.[14]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "University of Edinburgh, St Cecilia's Hall, Niddry Street and Cowgate, Edinburgh". Historic Environment Scotland. Archived from the original on 8 March 2018. Retrieved 8 March 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d "ST CECILIA'S HALL Niddry Street, Edinburgh Conservation Plan" (PDF). Simpson & Brown Architects. December 2009. Archived (PDF) from the original on 16 March 2018. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  3. ^ "A Brief History of St Cecilia's Hall". University of Edinburgh.
  4. ^ "The Edinburgh School of Arts". Heriot-Watt University. Retrieved 3 March 2021.
  5. ^ Edinburgh, Niddry Street, St Cecilia's Hall. Canmore: National Record of the Historic Environment. Historic Environment Scotland. Accessed March 2018.
  6. ^ "Sypert Concert Room". St Cecilia's Hall. University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 8 March 2018.
  7. ^ "St Cecilia's Hall Redevelopment Project". University of Edinburgh. 2016. Archived from the original on 17 May 2017. Retrieved 8 March 2018.
  8. ^ "Explore all aspects of the Accreditation and Recognition Schemes". Museum Galleries Scotland. Retrieved 2 March 2022.
  9. ^ "Centre for Research Collections". The University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 2 March 2022.
  10. ^ "What's On – St Cecilia's Hall". Retrieved 2 March 2022.
  11. ^ "Planning Your Visit – St Cecilia's Hall". Retrieved 2 March 2022.
  12. ^ a b c d e "About The Museum – St Cecilia's Hall". Retrieved 23 February 2022.
  13. ^ "Edinburgh University Musical Instrument Museum, Restoration of the St Cecilia's Hall Chamber Organ". Goetze & Gwynn. Archived from the original on 8 March 2018. Retrieved 8 March 2018.
  14. ^ "What's On – St Cecilia's Hall". Retrieved 23 February 2022.

External linksEdit