Imagine for a moment Edinburgh without its imposing Usher Hall, the grandeur of the National Portrait Gallery, or the gothic splendour of Fettes College and George Heriot’s School.
Take away Edinburgh University’s McEwan Hall too, then strip out much of the art that adorns the walls of the National Gallery and our other leading galleries. Edinburgh is a city which has in large parts been built, quite literally, on philanthropy. None of those buildings – some of the most impressive in the city – would have been built without the generosity of wealthy benefactors.
The Usher Hall, surely one of Britain’s most beautiful publicly-owned concert halls, celebrates its centenary this year. Most people who have lived in the city for a few years will have treasured memories of everything from Rolling Stones gigs to classical concerts.
It is a great asset to the Capital and one which we should all savour, particularly in its landmark year.
It was only built thanks to a bequest from Andrew Usher, the man who took whisky blending to a new level, and introduced the world outside Scotland and Ireland to “the water of life”. The £100,000 which he gave in Victorian times would be worth at least £10 million today.
There is a tendency these days to associate the great wealth of the Victorian age and past eras with hereditary dynasties. The reality is that many of these great fortunes were built on the back of remarkable entrepreneurial zeal. We should acknowledge that and the generosity of spirit that inspired them to help others less fortunate.
We should also appreciate the generosity of their modern counterparts, including Sir Tom Farmer and JK Rowling. From the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic at Little France to the National Galleries’ Playfair Project and the continuing existence of Hibs, they are playing a huge part in shaping the Edinburgh of tomorrow.