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Listed Building

The legal part of the listing is the address/name of site only. All other information in the record is not statutory.


Status: Designated


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  • Category: A
  • Date Added: 14/12/1970


  • Local Authority: Edinburgh
  • Planning Authority: Edinburgh
  • Burgh: Edinburgh

National Grid Reference

  • NGRNT 25866 70650
  • Coordinates325866, 670650


W W Robertson of HM Office of Works, 1892 1894; 1967 additions.

2 storey and basement, T plan, Italianate observatory building with

3 stage octagonal telescope tower to E and 2 stage telescope tower to W. Cream sandstone brought from Northumberland, channelled to basement with copper drums to telescope towers.

OCTAGONAL TOWER: base course; cill course to ground floor windows; carved aprons, pilasters and pediments to ground floor architraves; cill course, flanking pilasters and floral panels to 1st floor windows; floral frieze, dentilled eaves and pierced parapet corbelled out above with floral copper insets; panelled copper telescope drum above with scallop shell motif, floral frieze and finials. Single windows to both floors and basement to each face; intricately carved bipartite oriel window to NW at ground.

SQUARE TOWER: base course; paired pilasters, dentilled eaves and pediments to ground floor windows; carved panels above; cornice corbelled out with scallop shell finials; panelled copper telescope drum above with floral frieze and finials. Single window to S, bipartite window to N; modern flat roofed extension adjoining to W.

LIBRARY WING: channelled basement; panelled attic frieze inscribed with names of famous astronomers; eaves course; dentilled eaves; cornice; lead blocking course with lion's head dies.

E elevation: 5 bay with single bay linking block to N; small single windows to basement bays; single architraved windows to ground floor above with floral carved aprons and cornices to penultimate and outer left.

S ELEVATION: advanced central bay; small basement window; tripartite window to ground floor above with Doric columns, floral carving, lettered frieze inscribed "AD Royal Observatory 1894", cornice and roundel with carved portrait of observatory patron, Lord Crawford, in relief; single small attic window above.

W (entrance) elevation: engaged circular plan tower to outer left; single window at ground; small single attic windows; south facing Doric porch adjoining to right with dentilled eaves, cornice and carved heraldic panel to parapet; steps to 2 leaf panelled door; floral carving to architrave; bipartite window to W.

LINKING BLOCK: flanking library wing and joining towers; channelled basement; lugged architraves to ground floor windows; cornice; balustraded parapet. 11 bay to N elevation between octagonal tower to E and square tower to W; regular fenestration. To S (entrance) elevation: 3 bay to E; regular fenestration. 5 bay to W; central basement doorway; panelled door; plate glass fanlight; single window to ground floor above and to both floors to penultimate and outer left. Square plan pedimented lift shaft tower to penultimate right with basement doorway. Engaged 4 stage circular plan stair tower to outer right with pedimented doorway to basement; cornices and floral aprons to architraved stair windows above; fluted frieze, dentilled cornice, stone cupola and finial.

Predominantly plate glass timber pivot windows. Flat roofs; corniced and coped wallhead stack to library wing.

INTERIOR: largely remodelled but with some original features remaining. Recently restored entrance hall with ceramic mosaic floor, balustraded stair, stylised Ionic columns, decorative cornice, panelled ceiling and replica of original brass lantern. Library with gallery level and cast iron spiral stair case. Original telescopes to octagonal towers.

Statement of Special Interest

B-group with Astronomer's House, Gate Lodge, Gate and Gatepiers. Now used by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council and the University of Edinburgh: the Observatory also has a visitor centre incorporating the original telescope in situ. The telescopes were designed and built by Grubb Parsons of Newcastle: to the east tower is a 36 inch telescope (referring to the size of its main mirror) built in 1928, which, when installed in 1930, was the largest operating telescope in Britain; to the west is a Schmidt telescope built in 1930 but bought by the Observatory in 1951. The incentive for building the Observatory was the gift to the city of a collection of astronomical instruments and literature by the Earl of Crawford. The architect had to marry design and utility to produce a building capable of housing the telescopes and withstanding the climate (thus the drums were thought more suitable than more typical domes for housing telescopes). The result remains impressive despite unfortunate modern extensions. The Astronomer's House and Gate Lodge now serve as offices.



Gifford McWilliam and Walker EDINBURGH (1992), p486; J Brian Crossland VICTORIAN EDINBURGH (1966), p34.

About Designations

Listed Buildings

We list buildings of special architectural or historic interest and these are selected according to criteria published in the, Annex 2, pp74-76.

The information in the listed building record gives an indication of the special architectural or historic interest of the listed building(s). It is not a definitive historical account or a complete description of the building(s). The format of the listed building record has changed over time. Earlier records may be brief and some information will not have been recorded.

Enquiries relating to works to listed buildings should be made to the local authority in the first instance. Listed building consent is required for works which a local authority considers will affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest and local authorities also decide if listed building consent is required.

Listing covers both the exterior and the interior. Listing can cover structures not mentioned which are part of the curtilage of the building, such as boundary walls, gates, gatepiers, ancillary buildings etc. The local authority is responsible for advising on what is covered by the listing including the curtilage of a listed building. For information about curtilage see

Legislation introduced on 1 October 2015 allows us to state that: an object or structure fixed to the listed building; any object or structure within the curtilage of the listed building; and, any part or feature of the listed building that is not of architectural or historic interest may be excluded from a listing. If part of your building is not listed under the new legislation, the part will be excluded in the statutory address and in the statement of special interest. The statement will use the word 'excluding' and quote the relevant section of the Historic Environment Scotland Act 2014. Some earlier listed building records may use the word 'excluding', but if the Act is not quoted, the record has not been revised to reflect current legislation.

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