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New Parliament House

(Royal High School)

Old Royal High School building, Regent Road
©2015 Gazetteer for Scotland

Old Royal High School building, Regent Road

Located on Regent Road on the side of Calton Hill in Edinburgh, New Parliament House (often still referred to as the Old Royal High School) lies in need of a new purpose having been controversially spurned as the permanent debating chamber for the reconvened Scottish Parliament (created in 1999) in favour of a purpose-built new building in the Canongate.

Widely regarded as the city's best Neo-Classical building, this A-listed structure takes the form of a Greek temple and occupies a dramatic location high above the Canongate. The Royal High School was built in 1829 by Thomas Hamilton (1784 - 1858) and is regarded as his finest work. There was great rivalry between this building and Burn's Edinburgh Academy in Inverleith, and Hamilton's budget was augmented to ensure his was the grandest, yet the cost of £24,000 seems a bargain, even then. It consists of a central block with two small temples forming pavilions, all with grand porticos and linked by colonnades. By the middle of the 20th Century the building had become too small and was difficult to adapt to the needs of a modern school, thus these premises were abandoned and a very ordinary new Royal High School building in the Barnton district of the city was occupied in 1969.

Inside, there is a fine debating chamber, refurbished with the unrealised expectation that the devolution campaign of 1978 would give rise to a legislative assembly. The cost of the works embarrassed the government, and the building has been little used since. It passed to Edinburgh Council and concern has been expressed over its state of neglect.

The High School was originally founded in 1128 making it one of the oldest schools in the United Kingdom. It had at first been associated with Holyrood Abbey, although since the 16th Century it had been located in the High School Yards in the south of the Old Town. By the early 19th it had outgrown the High School Yards building and the school was in need of a new focus, with its educational standards criticised. King George IV contributed to the cost of the building which thus gained the 'Royal' epithet.

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