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New Parliament House

New Parliament House[1] is a building on Calton Hill in Edinburgh. It is a former building of the city's Royal High School and was the site proposed for the devolved Scottish Assembly in the 1970s. The building is still commonly referred to as the Royal High School and has recently been proposed as a housing for a Scottish National Photography Centre.

Edinburgh's original Parliament House is in the Old Town just off the Royal Mile housing the Court of Session. These were the buildings of the former Parliament of Scotland which existed before the formation of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707.


Construction and Royal High School

The Royal High School in 1829

The A-listed building was erected for the Royal High School between 1826 and 1829 on the south face of Calton Hill as part of Edinburgh's Acropolis, at a cost to the Town Council of £34,000.[2] Of this £500 was given by HM The King 'as a token of royal favour towards a School, which, as a royal foundation, had conferred for ages incalculable benefits on the community'.[3] It was designed in a neo-classical Greek Doric style by Thomas Hamilton, who modelled the portico and Great Hall on the Hephaisteion of Athens.[4] Paired with St. George's Hall, Liverpool, as one of the ‘two finest buildings in the kingdom’ by Alexander Thomson in 1866, it has been praised as 'the architect's supreme masterpiece and the finest monument of the Greek revival in Scotland'.[5][6]

Scottish devolution

After the school relocated to larger modern premises at Barnton in 1968, the vacated building was considered by the Scottish Office as a home for the Scottish Parliament. The School's Great Hall was converted to a debating chamber prior to the failed 1979 devolution referendum. In 1994 Edinburgh Council reacquired the complex from the Scottish Office for £1.75m.[7]

Following the successful referendum in 1997, the Secretary of State for Scotland, Donald Dewar, accepted an alternative proposal to erect a new Parliament building at Holyrood, reportedly due to concern that the former Royal High School had become a 'nationalist shibboleth'.[8] Critics also contended that the Calton Hill site was relatively inaccessible, lacked sufficient office space, and would be difficult to secure against a terrorist attack.[9][10]

The Under-Secretary of State, Lord Sewel, remarked of this decision: ‘Many people understandably assumed that the Old Royal High School building on Calton Hill would be the automatic choice for the site. As I say, that is perfectly understandable given that it was prepared for a similar purpose, to house a parliament in the 1970s. During the wasted years of the previous Administration, it remained a symbol of hope in Scotland. Clearly, there is great sentimental attachment to it in the hearts of the people of Scotland. However, time has moved on since then, in much the same way as our vision of a parliament has evolved.’[11]

Future use

The school building stands close to Rock House, the historic studio of Robert Adamson and David Octavius Hill. As of 2004 the City Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund have given their support to a plan by HM The Queen's former royal press secretary, Michael Shea, to use it to house a £20m Scottish National Photography Centre.[12] [13][14] In 2002 a report to the Council estimated the cost of refurbishment at more than £1m over five years.[15]


  1. ^ Overview of New Parliament House
  2. ^ Murray, History, p. 45.
  3. ^ Barclay, Tounis Scule, p. 60.
  4. ^ Murray, History, p. 46.
  5. ^ David Watkin, ‘Elmes, Harvey Lonsdale (1814–1847)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2004. Retrieved on 5 September 2007.
  6. ^ Gavin Stamp, ‘Hamilton, Thomas (1784–1858)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. Retrieved on 2 November 2007.
  7. ^ ‘Royal High to become photography museum’, Sunday Times, 30 September 2001, Home News Section, p. 21 – Scotland News.
  8. ^ Holyrood Inquiry (3.34), pp. 45-46. Retrieved on 3 September 2007.
  9. ^ Kenny Farquharson and Joanne Robertson, ‘Calton Hill backers admit it is too small for parliament’, Sunday Times, 2 April 2000, Home News Section, p. 2 – Scotland News.
  10. ^ David Denver, Scotland Decides: The Devolution Issue and the 1997 Referendum. London, Frank Cass, 2000, pp. 192-3. ISBN 0-7146-5053-6.
  11. ^ Parliamentary Debates, House of Lords, 12 November 1997, column 229
  12. ^ ‘Royal High to become photography museum’, Sunday Times, 30 September 2001, Home News Section, p. 21 – Scotland News.
  13. ^ ‘Holyrood hold-up casts shadow over photography project’, The Times, 11 November 2005, Home News Section, p. 32 – Scotland.
  14. ^ Michael Blackley, 'Boost for £20m photo centre bid at Royal High'. Edinburgh Evening News, 7 August 2007. Retrieved on 4 September 2007.
  15. ^ Tom Curtis, '£1m bill to fix historic Royal High building', Edinburgh Evening News, 30 April 2002. Retrieved on 4 September 2007.

Coordinates: 55°57′12.95″N 3°10′48.91″W / 55.9535972°N 3.1802528°W / 55.9535972; -3.1802528



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