Donaldson's College

Entrance to Donaldson's College
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Entrance to Donaldson's College

Located in west-central Edinburgh, on West Coates, is the magnificent A-listed edifice of Donaldson's College, for more than 150 years the principal locus for education of the deaf in Scotland. Built with a legacy which amounted to the entire estate of publisher Sir James Donaldson (1751 - 1830), it was intended to educate poor children, although from the outset it was agreed to encourage deaf children. The site was purchased in 1833 and, following a competition, the architect William Henry Playfair (1789 - 1857) was engaged and began construction in 1842. The resulting structure was built around a quadrangle in the Tudor style, replete with massive towers, each composed of four smaller towers each capped with ogee domes. Completed in 1851, Queen Victoria is said to have commented that the building was grander than many of her palaces. The interior is austere, although the chapel benefitted from a grand beam ceiling and fine stained glass. However, the glass was blown-out during an air-raid by a German Zeppelin in 1916.

Until 1938 the school operated a unique co-educational system, teaching deaf children alongside hearing. Thereafter it was able concentrate entirely on the education of the deaf. During the Second World War the school was used to house both German and Italian prisoners-of-war and evidence of their existence can still be found.

The School was renamed Donaldson's College in 1992, reflecting its role in supporting the deaf of all ages. Between 2001 and 2007 the Dovecot Studios tapestry workshop occupied premises at the rear of the school. In 2007, Donaldson's moved to a purpose-built school in Linlithgow, more suited to modern educational needs. The Edinburgh building was sold to locally-based Cala Homes for £22 million, to be redeveloped as luxury apartments. Buildings at the rear have been demolished and replaced by a parade of stylish homes by Richard Murphy Architects, which overlook the Water of Leith.

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