FORMER students and heritage campaigners fight back to save famous gates.
The McEwan Hall’s historic wrought-iron gates were set to be sold off to the highest bidder, but, having been inundated with letters from former students and heritage campaigners, Edinburgh University have decided to bring them back home.
The elaborate wrought-iron and carved sandstone entranceway dating from the late 1890 formed the backdrop to countless graduation ceremonies ever since, but when it came to drawing up plans for the recent £33m redevelopment of Bristo Square, the gates were not included.
Instead, the A-listed gateway was sent to Summer Place Auctions near Brighton where it was expected to fetch a hammer-price of up to £120,000.
The description in the auction catalogue stated that it was a “unique opportunity to acquire a very impressive entranceway from a Grade 1* listed building in a UNESCO World Heritage site.”
Upon learning of the proposed sale, furious graduates and members of the public wrote in to the University, with many hundreds more making their feelings clear on social media. Writing to the Evening News, prominent heritage campaigner, David Black, claimed that Edinburgh’s 534-year-old institution had displayed a “philistine arrogance” which “truly beggared belief”.
The level of opposition proved to be enough to persuade Edinburgh University Principal Sir Timothy O’Shea that the sale must not go ahead.
Last night, Professor O’Shea said: “On hearing news of the proposed auction, Edinburgh graduates far and wide contacted the University to express their fondness for the gates.
“The views of our alumni are very important to us so we are happy to bring the gates back.”
The news of the gates’ return was also music to the ears of Black, who applauded the university for their decision,
“The University authorities and Sir Timothy O’Shea should be commended for taking the right decision in this case.
The reaction of almost everyone I raised this matter with was, initially, one of disbelief, followed by complete disapproval - and in some cases outright anger.
“Had this sale gone ahead it wouldn’t merely have been the historic built environment being damaged - it would have damaged the reputation of Edinburgh University as an institution, and the international reputation of the city with it.
“The built heritage of Edinburgh belongs to all of its citizens, and should not be regarded as the property of any single institution to dispose of at will.
Work has been ongoing on Bristo Square since early 2015. The redevelopment project aims to create a more open and attractive public space and includes an extensive refurbishment of the 119-year-old McEwan Hall and a sympathetically-designed circular amphitheatre on the square itself.
The famous entrance gates will be restored over the course of the next few months, with the main works due for completion by January 2017.