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Calton Hill, off Regent Road, Playfair's Monument

A Category A Listed Building in Edinburgh, Edinburgh

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Latitude: 55.9548 / 55°57'17"N

Longitude: -3.183 / 3°10'58"W

OS Eastings: 326227

OS Northings: 674162

OS Grid: NT262741

Mapcode National: GBR 8QD.QV

Mapcode Global: WH6SM.2LJB

Entry Name: Calton Hill, off Regent Road, Playfair's Monument

Listing Date: 19 April 1966

Category: A

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 365164

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB27826

Building Class: Cultural

Location: Edinburgh

County: Edinburgh

Town: Edinburgh

Electoral Ward: City Centre

Traditional County: Midlothian

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William Henry Playfair, 1825-6. Square-plan Greek Doric memorial. Polished ashlar. Projecting base plinth (to sections outside enclosure only) supporting podium with projecting base course chamfered to upper section; moulded cornice; tetrastyle blind colonnade of engaged fluted Greek Doric columns; entablature with metopes ornamented with laurel wreaths, pyramidal stone roof.

S ELEVATION: inscribed on podium: 'Joanni Playfair Amicorum Pietas, Desideriis Icta Fidelibus, Quo Ipse Loco Templum Uranaie Suae, Olim Dicaverat, Hoc Monumentum, Posuit MDCCCXXVI, Nat VI IDUS MART MDCCXLVIII, OBIT XIV KAL SEXTIL MDCCCXIX'.

Statement of Interest

This elegant monument, designed by one of Scotland's most distinguished architects, is important for its architectural quality and its prominent position on Calton Hill. It is also significant as a memorial to one of the most eminent figures of Edinburgh's Enlightenment (the two men were closely related; John Playfair was William H. Playfair's uncle).

Professor John Playfair (1748-1819) was Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh University. He was also the first President of the Astronomical Society. The monument was first proposed in 1822, when the town council received an application from a Committee of Subscribers to build a monument on a site next to the observatory. This was approved on the condition that the monument be built within the next two years. However, it was not until 1825 that Playfair's design was constructed. In 1828 Playfair's observatory compound wall was built, incorporating the Playfair monument at the SE corner. It seems likely that W. Playfair had always intended this, as more prominent sites, such as that later occupied by the Dugald Stewart Monument, were eschewed for a position which balanced that of the Old Observatory House standing at the SW corner of the compound wall. It has also been suggested that the positioning is symbolic, literally representing John Playfair's role as a 'cornerstone' of the development of the observatory.

The inscription on the podium of the monument translates as follows:

To John Playfair

His friends' piety

Spurred on by constant longings

in the place where he himself

had once dedicated a temple to his Urania

Placed this monument 1826

Born 10th March 1748 Died 19th July 1819

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