Edinburgh locals treated to glimpse of Victorian attraction Royal Patent Gymnasium

The foundations of the Royal Patent Gymnasium – a remarkable relic of Victorian Britain – have been unveiled in King George V Park.

By Anna Bryan
Wednesday, 1st June 2022, 2:52 pm

The gymnasium can now be seen for the first time in years, as workers clear the ground to make way for the New Town Quarter development.

Diggers uncovered redbrick outlines, which are thought to be the remains of ‘The Great Sea Serpent’ rotary rowing boat, underneath the former Royal Bank of Scotland car park.

The Royal Patent Gymnasium, which opened in 1865, was one of the most popular and curious attractions of Edinburgh in the 19th century.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

After its opening, the huge outdoor gymnasium was heralded by the press as “The New Wonder of Edinburgh”.

The popularity of the attraction waned in the late 1800s and the land was eventually given over for a football ground.

Read More

Read More
Tyre Extinguishers: Environmental activist group strike again in Edinburgh as SU...

In its heyday, the gym's most remarkable attraction was the patent rotary boat which was also known as “The Great Sea Serpent”. This was a round platform with four pillars which allowed up to 600 people to row simultaneously.

Building work has uncovered the foundations of the Royal Patent Gymnasium - a remarkable attraction that was built in the Victorian era.

There was also a giant see-saw named “Chang” which was 100 feet long and 7 feet broad. It is believed it could hold 200 people, raising them to a dizzy height of 50 feet and lowering them back down to almost ground level.

Locals could also ride the “velocipede paddle merry-go-round”, which seated 600 keen participants who would set the machine into motion by sitting on the edge and pushing with their feet against the ground.

More conventional activities were also on offer, including boating, swimming, bowls and weight lifting.

In the 1870s, the gymnasium was transformed into a winter wonderland every Christmas. Festive evening events were held on the grounds, which were flooded to make skating rinks.

The Royal Patent Gymnasium was an open-air gym for adults and considered a wonder of the age when it opened in 1865 at what is now King George V Park in Edinburgh's New Town.

The gym was built to encourage residents, who might otherwise have engaged in less healthy activities in taverns and gambling halls, to exercise.

The attraction was affordable to most locals, as the entrance fee was 6d – a fairly cheap price for the time.

In, 2015, Archaeology Scotland carried out excavations of the site in a bid to deepen their knowledge of the unique gym.

Project manager Phil Richardson told the Evening News: “I cannot think of anything else like it – it’s like a cross between a gym and Alton Towers. We’re trying to understand more about the grounds architecturally – what people were standing on and the materials used. A lot of the people we work with are interested in the industrial past and this is really an extension of that.”

Some locals believe they can see the foundations of 'The Great Sea Serpent' - the main attraction of the gymnasium.

He added: “People working in the factories came here for exercise and play. There’s a feeling that there’s more work we can do to capture these stories.”

However, there are fears that the historic remains could be lost forever, due to a new development.

Near the end of last year, work began on the former Royal Bank of Scotland site next to the park, after a proposal for 350 new homes, offices and public amenities was put forward by Ediston and Orion Capital Managers.

Edinburgh Council and Ediston Real Estate have been contacted for comment.