FITTINGLY, it is the oldest known photograph of Edinburgh. Taken by photography pioneer Robert Adamson in 1843, it shows The Old Royal High School on Calton Hill less than 20 years after it was completed in majestic neo- classical style.
At that time the building was the pride of the city. Built between 1826 and 1829 by the city’s council for £34,000 – with £500 coming from King George IV – it was designed by Thomas Hamilton with the portico and great hall modelled on the Hephaisteion of Athens. It was – and has been ever since – feted as one of the finest Greek revival buildings in Scotland.
And for more than a century it housed pupils from the school, which has a history dating back to the 12th century and which has produced a string of famous alumni, from Alexander Graham Bell to Ronnie Corbett.
But in 1968 the school moved to Barnton. The intention was that it would house a Scottish Parliament and the main hall was refurbished as a debating chamber in the 1970s. But the 1979 referendum on devolution was rejected by voters and the building was left in limbo. After devolution was finally voted for in 1997, the country’s first First Minister, Donald Dewar, decided against using the Regent Road building.
In 1994, it was bought by Edinburgh City Council from the Scottish Office and every few years, a new idea for its future has been proposed – at one time it was set to be a military heritage centre, at another a sixth form college or a home for the European Youth Parliament. More recently the plan was for a national photography centre. But this week it was announced that work is set to get under way on its refurbishment as an “art hotel”.
Edinburgh-based developer Duddingston House Properties is understood to be in discussions with a funding partner and a potential occupier of the new “art hotel” proposed for the Regent Road site.