Famous Edinburgh landmark Jawbone Arch 'too fragile' to return to its place in Meadows

Edinburgh’s famous Jawbone Arch, which was dismantled for essential conservation work in 2014, has been judged too fragile to return to its familiar position in the Meadows.
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Now the council plans to make a bronze replica to take its place, while the original, much-loved landmark is put on display somewhere indoors.

And a crowd-funding appeal could be launched to raise the money needed for the project.

The Jawbone Arch was dismantled for essential conservation work in 2014.  Picture: Jane Barlow.The Jawbone Arch was dismantled for essential conservation work in 2014.  Picture: Jane Barlow.
The Jawbone Arch was dismantled for essential conservation work in 2014. Picture: Jane Barlow.
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The arch is made up of four whale jawbones which formed the Orkney and Fair Isle Knitters' stall at the International Exhibition on the Meadows in 1886 and were gifted to the city by the people of Shetland the following year.

It was taken down from its place at the entrance to Jawbone Walk in July 2014 and sent for conservation work after being declared a risk to pedestrians due to its deterioration.

But the work took far longer than originally expected. In 2017 it was reported that conservators had found previous repair attempts had been carried out using “inappropriate materials such as car body filler and cement".

The firm carrying out the conservation went into liquidation and it took time to find another company to take over.

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In May 2021, a council memo seen by the Evening News said the bones were back in Edinburgh "re-acclimatising outdoors" and could be ready to return to Jawbone Walk in the summer.

But soon after that an attempt to raise one of the bones into a vertical position resulted in further damage and structural engineers said a frame would be needed to support them.

A report to the council’s culture committee on Tuesday says due to the fragility of the bones, the risk and cost of erecting the arch “may now make reinstatement in its original outdoor location unviable”.

It continues: “The project team recommends that a replica of the jawbone arch is cast in bronze and installed in the Meadows using detailed 3D scans recently produced. This would ensure a memorial to a much-loved local feature.”

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And it says heritage organisations in the Capital would be contacted to identify “a suitable, freely accessible, indoor public space for display of the original Jawbone Arch”.

Culture convener Donald Wilson said: “People liked to see it where it was, but the fact is to preserve it it's got to be displayed somewhere a bit safer. The only real alternative is to make a replica and put it there.”

He said the expectation had been that the arch could return to its original position.

“I think people possibly underestimated how much it had deteriorated. I think it's just the fact it has been exposed to the weather all these years that has eroded it.

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"If you put it back where it was it would be in a vulnerable position and it would basically just crumble.

"It would be remiss of us to not do anything and just leave it. It is a valued relic and landmark. Doing nothing is not an option.”

Funding for the original conservation project was provided by the council and Edinburgh World Heritage Trust via a crowd-funding campaign and a grant from a Shetland-based trust. More than £87,000 has already been spent with other costs including storage not yet invoiced.

The cost of making the replica is estimated at £120,000 with additional costs for transport, electrical and civil engineering work.

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Councillor Wilson said: “Conservation work is always expensive and we will have to think about how we manage to raise that money. It might be possible to do an appeal.

“Responsibility for the restoration and preservation obviously lies with us. However, it is such a well-loved landmark I imagine it would be something people would be willing to help with in terms of an appeal.”

He said the original arch might find a home in one of the city's museums or a dedicated indoor space.

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