This website uses cookies. Find out more.OK

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


Print this record

There are no additional online documents for this record.


  • Category: A
  • Date Added: 25/02/1965


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

National Grid Reference

  • NGRNT 23541 73377
  • Coordinates323541, 673377


W H Playfair, 1842-52. Interior decoration, D R Hay. Quadrangular Elizabethan orphan hospital complex comprising 2-storey ranges between 4-storey square-plan corner towers with angle turrets; additional, central tower to front elevation; octagonal turrets to centre of courtyard elevations; chapel projecting to centre of rear elevation; balustrades and flights of steps to terraces at S, E and W elevations; pair of lodges to West Coates, with boundary wall, piers, railings, gate piers and gates to street. Coursed, polished sandstone ashlar (Binny stone from Bathgate) with polished dressings. Base course; corniced string course between each floor; band of rosettes beneath heavily-projecting cornice; buckle quoins to all exterior angle turrets; window jambs chamfered throughout.

Small-pane timber sash and case glazing throughout. Grey slate roof; tall octagonal cans with bevelled faces, heavily moulded at top; cast-iron rainwater goods to rear elevation and to courtyard ranges.

S (FRONT) ELEVATION: symmetrical 18-bay elevation comprising 2-storey, 5-bay blocks between end towers, made up of pair of 4-storey turrets flanking 3-storey canted bay, and central tower with 5-storey octagonal turrets flanking 4-storey entrance bay. SW and SE towers: square-plan, comprising 4 ogee-domed angle turrets with advanced canted bays between (to 2 exterior faces), surmounted by castellated parapet and polygonal flues. Central tower: 4 domed, lanterned octagonal turrets, with moulded Tudor-arched entrance and 3-storey oriel window between 2 front towers. 5-bay blocks between towers: pair of 5-bay, 2-storey buttressed and castellated ranges linking SW and SE end towers with central tower.

W (SIDE) ELEVATION: symmetrical 19-bay elevation comprising end towers (articulated as S faces of SW and SE towers above) with 2-storey, 13-bay block between (articulated as 5-bay blocks to S elevation above), with entrance at ground, 4th bay from S end, as follows: Tudor-arched opening in rectilinear surround with corbelled hoodmould; 2-leaf coffered timber door with coffered band above and multi-pane fanlight with vertical astragals.

E (SIDE) ELEVATION: as W elevation with minor differences: additional, basement floor to NE tower; single-bay, square-plan, walled terrace area with panelled and corniced die and pedestalled pyramidal finial, all supported on pair of large, curvilinear brackets to left-hand bay of NE tower at ground level. Service rooms at basement level beneath flight of steps and terrace leading E from most northern bay of 13-bay block. Segmental-arched bipartite windows to each N-facing bay of service rooms; boarded timber door penultimate bay from W end; deeply chamfered jambs and corbelled hoodmoulds.

N (REAR) ELEVATION: symmetrical 23-bay elevation comprising 2-storey and basement 17-bay range between pair of end towers, comprising (as to other elevations, with additional basement storey) pair of 4-storey turrets flanking 3-storey canted bay; 9-bay chapel with corner turrets projecting from central 3 bays.

CHAPEL: symmetrical, buttressed, rectangular-plan chapel, 9-bay by 3-bay, with moulded castellated parapets and 3-storey ogee-domed octagonal end turrets; base course; corniced string course to each floor of turrets; corniced frieze containing carved stones with various emblems (stylised 'D', rosette, fleur-de-lys, star) to chapel sides; corbelled hoodmoulds to windows. E and W elevations: stepped buttresses separate each bay, topped by carved faces at cornice level and, above, by swept triangular pediments, in turn surmounted by thistle, rose, star, fleur-de-lys and half-moon motifs emerging from carved foliage; large, four-centred, mullioned and transomed window to each bay, with shields bearing carved motifs above; small, narrow lights to alternate faces of octagonal turrets at each floor; band of rosettes beneath heavily-projecting cornice at springing of leaded ogee dome with ball and spike finial to each turret. N end: 3-bay; pair of windows as at side elevations flank advanced canted bay to centre, rising to cornice level; tall, narrow, rectangular-framed windows with column of 3 leaded lights to each side face and 2 columns of 3 leaded lights to central face; recessed carved panels above moulded cornice, with elaborate strapwork carving and corniced ball finials above; bold relief carving to central section of parapet.

INNER COURTYARD: predominantly 2-storey square-plan courtyard with square-plan corner towers and 4-storey, domed, octagonal turrets to centre of each elevation (except S elevation, which has double turret arrangement). FOUNTAIN: to centre of courtyard 3-tier coffered base to pedestal supporting square-plan block, chamfered and carved with motifs at angles; stylised 'D' to each face of block; panelled octagonal drum above, with recessed, intricately carved panels; octagonal plinth to drum.

INTERIOR: corridors and classrooms largely plain with boarded dado panelling; entrance hall contains paintings associated with the school and hardwood chairs carved with stylised 'D' which features throughout the building (e.g. to frieze of front elevation). Chapel: oak-grained dado panelling (probably early 20th century re-graining in lighter colour than original); oak-grained coffered plaster ceiling; imitation jointed ashlar walls.


W H Playfair, 1842-52. Single storey and attic, symmetrical, L-plan, 3-bay, gabled gate lodge. Coursed, stugged sandstone ashlar with polished dressings. Chamfered jambs; corbelled hoodmoulds; skews and skewputts; moulded stone ridge to roof; pyramidal finials to gables.

W (FRONT) ELEVATION: advanced, gabled porch to centre at ground; moulded rectilinear margins frame Tudor-arched opening; deep-set door; carved panel to gable above; moulded skews and skew-putts with ball and pyramid finial; tripartite window to flanking bays; pair of 4-light, flat-roofed dormers to roof.

SIDE ELEVATIONS: centred tripartite window at ground, with narrow slit light to gable; flat-roofed single storey addition at rear to N.

Timber-framed multi-paned glazing. Grey slate roof; pair of coped, shouldered stacks to rear with moulded octagonal cans.


mirror image of E lodge.

GATEPIERS AND GATES: pair of monumental, panelled, square-plan, corniced gatepiers with mounted, pedestalled pyramidal finials. Each pier fashioned from 3 polished sandstone blocks, mounted on chamfered pedestals; cornice; frieze; boldly projecting cornice. Pair of tall cast-iron gates, beneath iron bar topped by strapwork ironwork ornamentation (incorporating fleur-de-lys). Matching single gatepier to main road at western boundary (to W of W lodge).

RAILINGS, PIERS AND BOUNDARY WALLS: low sandstone boundary wall and spiked railings to West Coates with, at regular intervals, piers similar in style to above, on smaller scale, with following differences: main body of pier cut from single block; unpanelled; stop-chamfered angles; single cornice, no frieze. 1 of these piers engaged with 1 side of large piers, above. High stugged ashlar wall with rounded cope enclosing grounds to Water of Leith; 4 tall narrow pavilions (2 to E and 2 to W) incorporated in wall: slightly battered ashlar walls; chamfered arrowslit openings; moulded cornice and eaves cornice; stone ogee roofs with thistle finials.

STEPS AND BALUSTRADES TO TERRACES: wide, centred, single flight of sandstone ashlar steps to terrace at S front and to W and E sides; additional, identical set of steps at N end of terrace, W side; panelled, corniced dies at foot and head of steps and at regular intervals (unpanelled) along whole length of terrace; balustrade with carved strapwork balusters supported on coursed ashlar wall with base course and advanced piers; pedestalled ball finials (some missing) carved with diamond patterns and topped by bulb-shaped objects to each die.

Statement of Special Interest

Donaldson's Hospital was the bequest of James Donaldson Esq. of Broughton Hall. In his Will it was stated that: "I leave all my property, heritable and personal, .. to build and found an Hospital for Boys and Girls, to be called Donaldson's Hospital", it was to follow "the plan of the Orphan Hospital and George Watson's Hospital". The school was to be co-educational, admitting 200 boys, who would be trained as "traders", and 200 girls, to be trained as "house servants". When Donaldson died, on 19th October 1830, he left a sum of ?210,000 for the School's Trust. Immediately, William Burn approached the Trustees to convey his interest in the project and to remind them of his credentials. However, the Trustees decided to hold a competition for the job and invited William Henry Playfair, Thomas Hamilton and James Gillespie Graham to make designs. This initial invitation was sent on 19th November 1833 but it was not until 31 July 1838 that Playfair was declared the winner; he had submitted a total of 7 different designs to the Trustess. The contractors for the job were Young and Trench, they began their work on site in 1842. The work progressed very slowly, and in 1850 it was opened by Queen Victoria, who was impressed by what she saw. Cockburn described her visit, recording: "The Queen went over his [Playfair's] hospital ... admiring everything". It has even been rumoured that so impressed were Victoria and Albert that they suggested exchanging Holyrood Palace for Donaldson's Hospital. Indeed, R L Stevenson noted that "it has more the appearance of a Royal palace than a building for the reception of children...whose parents are in the humbler walks of life". 9 years after building work had begun, and almost 20 years since the architectural competition, the school was finally able to admit its first pupils in 1851. Parts of the original imitative oak and ashlar decorative scheme by the leading Edinburgh decorator, D R Hay, survive, as do the furnishings for the Council Room by the joiner Scott. The original Deaf and Dumb Institute (J Gillespie Graham, 1823) was in Henderson Row (now Donaldson Building, Edinburgh Academy).

Statutory address updated, 2012.



Original plans and drawings are held by the Donaldson's Trustees. National Library of Scotland, DONALDSON'S MUNIMENTS; 1853 OS Map; Playfair Collection, Edinburgh University Library; DOCUMENTS RELATING TO DONALDSON'S HOSPITAL (1851); D Walker, 'The Donaldson's Hospital competition and the Palace of Westminster', pp 488-502 in DESIGN AND PRACTICE IN BRITISH ARCHITECTURE: STUDIES IN ARCHITECTURAL HISTORY PRESENTED TO HOWARD COLVIN, (Architectural History, vol 27, 1984); J Gifford, C McWilliam and D Walker, EDINBURGH (Buildings of Scotland series), (1984), pp 26, 73, 367-8, 388; C McKean EDINBURGH (RIAS ILLUSTRATED GUIDE) (1992), p134.

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.

Find out more about listing and our other designations at