Sick Kids mortuary murals at risk from flats development

Phoebe Anna Traquair's artwork at Edinburgh's Royal Hospital for Sick Children. Photograph: Toby Williams
Phoebe Anna Traquair's artwork at Edinburgh's Royal Hospital for Sick Children. Photograph: Toby Williams
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National Museums Scotland is being urged to step in to secure the future of murals painted for a children’s mortuary more than 130 years ago, amid fears they are at risk from a housing development.

Art historians want Phoebe Anna Traquair’s creations for Edinburgh’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children to be relocated rather than left in situ when the NHS vacates the site.

They are trying to resist the creation of two private flats, which are proposed to be created in the mortuary building, around the murals, due to concerns they would be left to deteriorate there.

NHS Lothian, which is building a £150 million hospital for sick children at Little France, agreed last year to sell the site in the centre of Edinburgh to Liverpool-based developers Downing.

Dublin-born Traquair, who moved to Edinburgh after marrying Scottish palaeontologist Dr Ramsay Heatley Traquair in 1873, was a leading figure in the “arts and crafts movement” in Scotland.

Her work for the hospital has inspired a new campaign by the Mansfield Traquair Trust, which was formed in 1993 to rescue Traquair murals at a 19th century church at Mansfield Place. About £500,000 was spent restoring “Edinburgh’s Sistine Chapel”.

In a submission to the City of Edinburgh Council, the trust claims it would not be in the “long-term interests” of the hospital’s murals if they are put into private ownership. It states: “No proposals are presented for the practical management of the chapel, allowing public access to the art. Such a notable work should remain in public ownership and its future should be safeguarded (and not endangered) in the long-term. This cannot happen if it enters into private ownership.”

A National Museums Scotland spokesman said: “It’s quite clear there are significant challenges, risks and potential costs whether they remain where they are or attempts are made to relocate them.”

A spokeswoman for Downing said: “We’ve discussed the future of the murals with National Museums Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland and the Mansfield Traquair Trust with a view to ensuring their future in the most appropriate manner.”