Historic 1779 St James Square foundation stone incorporated into new £1 billion development

A large sandstone block commemorating the founding of the original St James Square in the 18th century has been incorporated into the new £1 billion development on the site.

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It comes just days after one prominent local historian and author, David J. Black, quizzed St James Quarter chiefs, the city council and heritage officials over the precise whereabouts of the 1779 stone – fearing it had been overlooked.

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The foundation stone, which was originally part of one of the Georgian townhouses at No.5 St James Square, was carefully retained by architects the Burke Martin Partnership during the 1960s demolition of the site, and latterly incorporated into a wall by the Leith Street entrance to the old St James Centre.

The preserved foundation stone can be seen at the northwest entrance to the centre. An accompanying plaque details the history of the site.

In an appeal, a concerned Mr Black, who has fought for much of his adult life to protect Edinburgh’s built heritage, wrote to various officials to ascertain if the stone block had been retained or forgotten about altogether.

In a pleasing turn of events for Mr Black and heritage enthusiasts everywhere, the Evening News can confirm that the historic stone has indeed been preserved once more and is on public display, greeting shoppers into the new St James Quarter via St James Square.

Encased in glass by one of the northwest entrances into the new covered shopping precinct, the 1779 stone is accompanied by a detailed plaque with text and illustrations to explain the history of the St James area from its earliest days.

Having spent decades facing Leith Street, the stone is now sited within metres of its original location, where it stood for more than 150 years.

The precinct to the immediate west of the new W Hotel has retained the St James Square name.

Martin Perry, Director of Development at St James Quarter, said ensuring that the foundation stone was retained and sited at a prominent location within the new complex was of paramount importance.

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Mr Perry said: “We have worked closely with our heritage consultant and the City of Edinburgh Council to ensure the St James Square datestone was incorporated into our final development plans in a prominent place for all to enjoy.

“Therefore, as part of the planning process and in agreement with the council, we have placed the historic stone at the principal entrance into the scheme from St James Square, which allows visitors to stop and take in the history that brings the stone’s story to life.”

Located atop what was once Moultrie’s Hill, the St James Square site was acquired in 1762 by Edinburgh writer Walter Ferguson, who in 1773 commissioned New Town architect James Craig to build an elegant square featuring multi-storey townhouses.

Restoration work on the one surviving side of the original St James Square continues.
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Run down and dilapidated in the immediate years after the Second World War, three sides of St James Square were razed in the 1960s to make way for the now demolished St James shopping centre, which opened its doors for the first time in 1973.

Just one original tenement, reputedly designed by James Craig himself, still stands on St James Square today. The building, along with an adjacent block of tenements, is in the process of being renovated following the completion of the new St James Quarter.

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One prominent local historian and author queried the whereabouts of the historic foundation stone dating from 1779 - but it has not been forgotten about after all.

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