HISTORIANS are hoping the demolition of a 1950s city-centre office block will reveal a 200-year-old wine cellar belonging to one of Scotland’s most important thinkers.
Eighteenth century philosopher David Hume was the first occupant of 8 South St David’s Street – one of the first houses to be built in the New Town in the 1770s.
And he was well known for his lavish dinner parties, attended by other key figures from the Scottish Enlightenment including economist Adam Smith, geologist James Hutton and historian William Robertson.
The original property was bulldozed about 60 years ago, but now the building which replaced it – the former Scottish Provident building on the corner of St Andrew Square – is in turn being pulled down to make way for a £75 million development featuring a shopping mall topped by offices and apartments. Demolition work began yesterday.
City historian Mike Turnbull hopes some traces of Humes’ former abode will be unearthed.
He said: “There is a chance there is a surviving cellar underneath the pavement because they stick out under the street.
“Hume was one of the first to buy a property in the New Town. He spent the last years of his life there and wined and dined the great and the good. He was a cheerful, gregarious sort of person. He was a famous chef and prided himself on his cooking and he had a famous wine cellar.
“He had lots of fine wines and entertained all his friends. He knew everybody.”
Hume’s last dinner party, just a few weeks before he died, was held on July 4, 1776 – an unwitting celebration of American independence, a cause which he campaigned for, against the grain of public opinion at the time.
Mr Turnbull said: “Hume’s house was demolished in the 1950s. It should have been preserved. But at least they put a plaque up.
“I don’t know if the latest developers are aware of the connection with Hume and his legacy, but there is real tourist potential there.
“If it’s going to be a commercial property, perhaps they could find room for some sort of display inside. It would be an asset to the building.”
Conservation architect James Simpson – a distant relative of Hume – backed calls for the link to be recognised.
He said: “If there is any evidence of foundations or cellars belonging to David Hume’s house, they should be investigated and conserved – if we managed to get a bottle of wine out of his cellar that would be fantastic.”
He said excavations at the quadrangle at Edinburgh University’s Old College a couple of years ago had uncovered glass chemical vessels believed to have been used by Enlightenment chemist Joseph Black.
The new development of 3-8 St Andrew Square by Standard Life and Peveril Securities is due for completion by 2016.