Laying of the Foundation Stone

Rev Thomas Chalmers laid the foundation stone for New College on 3rd June 1846. The prayer of dedication and Chalmer’s address were witnessed by around 1000 people. During his address, Chamlers proclaimed to those present:

Let us not imagine, then, that the edifice whose foundation is now being laid, shortly to arise in graceful superstructure to delight the eye, we hope, of admiring citizens, is only to serve as an idle decoration for the metropolis of our land. Let it be our endeavour and our prayer that it shall become a fountain-head, where the waters of light might issue forth, for the healing of our families.

Hugh Watt, New College, Edinburgh: A Centenary History (Oliver and Boyd: Edinburgh, 1946) p. 3.

Click on the images below to see the laying of the foundation stone taken by David Octavious Hill and Robert Adamson.

Black and white photo of the Laying of the foundation stone at New College in 1846
©National Galleries of Scotland
Monochrome photo of the laying of the foundation stone at New College in 1846
©National Galleries of Scotland


As part of the ceremony, Chalmers laid a glass jar containing a number of objects and documents beneath the foundation stone. The chosen articles included a copy of the Claim of Right if 1842, a copy of the Protest of 1843, the College Committee’s 1846 Report, a copy of Chalmers’s lectures on Ecclesiastical Establishments, and a set of coins of the realm.

Among the artefacts found in New College’s Special Collections is a broken bottle. When writing his Centenary History of the School, Watt posited that Chalmer’s unintentionally broke the bottle (Watt, p. 46).

A letter from William Playfair reveals that Watt was correct, though Chalmers was apparently unaware of his blunder:

I learn from Mr Smith the Contractor for the New College – that yesterday, Dr Chalmers unknowingly broke the bottle when putting it into the stone. He (Smith) said nothing for fear of creating confusion. I have ordered a new bottle and if you say nothing to the contrary, I intend to see the whole replaced myself.

(Playfair to Alexander Monteith, 4 June 1846, AA 1 5 11)