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William Playfair called in

William Henry Playfair was commissioned by the Free Church Education Committee. His plans for the Free Church College and a new building for the Free High Kirk congregation were approved by the committee in January and submitted to the Free Church General Assembly in May.

Arguably the city’s leading architect, Playfair had already designed such landmarks as the City Observatory, the Dugald Stewart Monument, and Surgeon’s Hall. The structure Playfair envisioned was an ambitious one that would dominate the city’s skyline with Gothic grandeur. In an 1850 letter from the Building Committee to ‘friends of Collegiate Education in the Free Church’, it was announced that ‘the buildings themselves are on the eve of completion, on a scale as regards both extent and elegance worthy of their object’ (AA 1 5 12).

The building was not without its critics, however. In Stones of Venice, John Ruskin attacked the practicalities of the building, writing:

What the tower was built for at all must … remain a mystery to every beholder: for surely no studious inhabitant of its upper chambers will be conceived to be pursuing his employments by the light of the single chink on each side. 

Hugh Watt, New College, Edinburgh: A Centenary History (Oliver and Boyd: Edinburgh, 1946), p. 18.

Click on the images below to explore the original drawings completed by William Henry Playfair in 1846-1847.

The New College of Edinburgh, Elevation to the North External Front (1846), ©The University of Edinburgh
©The University of Edinburgh
The New College of Edinburgh, Plan of Basement Floor (1846), ©The University of Edinburgh
The New College of Edinburgh, Plan of the Principal Floor (1846), ©The University of Edinburgh
The Free College of Edinburgh, Transverse Section of Church Looking South (1847), ©The University of Edinburgh