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George Square

The George Square Campus of the University of Edinburgh
©2014 Gazetteer for Scotland

The George Square Campus of the University of Edinburgh

Located to the northwest of Buccleuch Place in Edinburgh, running south towards the Meadows, is George Square. Originally laid out in 1766 by James Brown, a speculative builder, it was the first new development outside the overcrowded Old Town. Its construction began just a year before the New Town, on the opposite side of the city, whose grand architecture quickly eclipsed Brown's more modest scheme. Many famous individuals lived here; the boyhood home of Sir Walter Scott (1771 - 1832) was at No. 25 and Thomas Carlyle (1795 - 1881) courted Jane Welsh at No. 22, both still extant. Artist Waller High Paton (1828-95) lived at No. 14 and anatomist Sir John Struthers (1823-99) live at No. 15. Lord Braxfield (1722-99), model for Robert Louis Stevenson's Weir of Hermiston, had a house here as did Henry Dundas, Viscount Melville (1742 - 1811), his nephew Robert Dundas of Arniston, Admiral Duncan, Viscount Camperdown (1731 - 1804), Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, the Countess of Sutherland (1765 - 1839), Henry Erskine, Lord Advocate, and lexicographer Rev. John Jamieson (1759 - 1838).

The original terraced houses can be viewed on the complete W side, with a further fragment remaining in the NE corner. Elsewhere the square was decimated in the 1960s through the construction of tasteless concrete monstrosities for the University of Edinburgh. Enormously controversial at the time, this was widely regarded as University's most disgraceful act against the architecture of the city. The only 19th-century building is the former George Watson's Ladies College (1876) now, like all of the other buildings, occupied by a University Department. The University had first purchased property in the Square in 1914 and began a major programme of redevelopment in 1949. Plans were delayed while battles were fought with conservationists, but eventually the new buildings went up; the David Hume Tower (1963), the Appleton Tower (1965), the William Robertson Building, a new University Library (1967, by Sir Basil Spence and regarded as one of the finest buildings of its type in Europe), the Adam Ferguson Building (1970) and the George Square Theatre (1970). The remaining Georgian properties in the square were Category A-listed in 1970, with the David Hume Tower and the University Library being given the same designation in 2006.

George Square Gardens are a substantial area of parkland occupying the centre of the Square. These have changed little over the years and are now open to the public and provide one of the venues for Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August. The Edinburgh Labyrinth is also located here, built by the University 2004-05 and based on the Mediaeval labyrinth laid in the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France.


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