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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: 15/06/1965


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

National Grid Reference

  • NGRNT 23447 73744
  • Coordinates323447, 673744


William Burn, 1825-8; later additions to N. 2-storey and basement 21-bay former school, now art gallery, set in landscaped parkland. Hexastyle Greek Doric Portico in antis to centre, flanked by 5 recessed bays; advanced and pilastered 3-bay end pavilions. Sandstone ashlar. Banded base course; banded cill course at 1st floor corniced eaves course with triglyph entablature across whole façade. Moulded architraved surround to main entrance with latticework fanlight over 2-leaf door. Moulded architraved windows at ground and 1st floors (corniced at ground floor).

N ELEVATION: 3 storeys, 7 bays with advanced 5-bay centre, pilastered outer corners to recessed flanking bays. Paired shouldered arched tripartite windows at 1st floor in recessed surrounds with ashlar transoms and narrow sidelights.

S ELEVATION: similar to that at N.

W (REAR) ELEVATION: 3 storeys, 22 bays with advanced 4 bay centre and advanced and pilastered 2-bay end pavilions. Coursed squared rubble with ashlar quoins, some ashlar to end pavilions. Band courses at ground and 1st floors. Banded cill courses and corniced eaves course with triglyph entablature to end pavilions. Regular fenestration with large rectangular windows at 1st floor; blind windows to end pavilions. Single storey, double gabled, outbuilding to far right (S) with timber louvered ventilator to roof; connected to main block by single storey corridor. Later outbuildings to far left (N).

Predominantly large 12-pane timber sash and case windows. Piended roof to advanced block at rear; grey slates. Corniced ashlar ridge stacks; modern clay cans. Cast-iron rainwater goods.

INTERIOR: predominantly plain interior scheme, now in use as an art gallery with some later additions and alterations.

S GATE LODGE: sandstone ashlar; Doric portico and moulded architraved windows. Some later additions to rear. Corniced sandstone ashlar piers adjacent with cast-iron vehicle and pedestrian gates.

N GATE LODGE: small T-plan lodge; coursed squared rubble with ashlar quoins. Raised sandstone ashlar window surrounds. Similar adjacent piers and gates to that at S.

Statement of Special Interest

Outstanding example of Greek Revival style by William Burn, characteristic of his early works. The building was originally designed as a boarding school for the fatherless children of middle class families, now in use as an art gallery, with landscaped parkland grounds filled with art and land works by prominent modern artists. The architectural treatment is restrained with the composition of the façade unified by the triglyph entablature which runs across the advanced and recessed bays. Other than simple moulded detailing to the windows, the focus on the facade is on the high quality stonework and the central portico. The design echoes Burn's treatment of contemporary country houses, including an 1826 scheme for Garscube House. The setting of the building within landscaped parkland also alludes to country house architecture. The original interior scheme was plain, with a simple plan form which included a hall to the rear. The later alterations to form the National Gallery of Modern Art have not changed the character of the original interior with the simplicity of decoration and plan form largely retained.

The school was originally built following a bequest from John Watson who left £5000 on his death in 1762 to the Writers to the Signet for charitable use. By 1822 the sum stood at £110,000 and an Act of Parliament was passed for the establishment of a school with boarding accommodation for the fatherless children of the professional classes.

William Burn was an Edinburgh based architect, who after training in the office of Robert Smirke in London returned to work in his family firm before setting up an independent practice in 1814. A number of his early commissions were on public buildings, and it is for Crichton Royal Infirmary in Dumfries (see separate listing) that he is most well known, along with country house work which was the mainstay of his practice. The composition of John Watson's School is characteristic of Burn's early works in which the influence of Robert Smirke is very clear in the emphasis on simple Greek compositions. Burn later began to move away from this style, and in partnership with David Bryce he notably pioneered the introduction of the palazzo style for city buildings, seen in his original designs for the original New Club in Edinburgh (see separate listing).

List description revised as part of resurvey (2009).



Ordnance Survey, Large Scale Town Plan (1849 - 53); Stark, J, Picture of Edinburgh: containing a history and description of the city',(1806); RCAHMS, RAB/292/149, engraving of the 'New John Watson's Hospital,' (1830); J Gifford, C McWilliam, D M Walker, The Buildings of Scotland: Edinburgh (1988) p. 392; Lindsay, Georgian Edinburgh, p. 43; Boyd, S, 'Gymnastic exhibition', Prospect, Spring 1996 (No 59), 4-5; Dictionary of Scottish Architects (accessed 18/12/08).

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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