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Latitude: 55.9567 / 55°57'24"N
Longitude: -3.179 / 3°10'44"W
OS Eastings: 326482
OS Northings: 674370
OS Grid: NT264743
Mapcode National: GBR 8RD.K5
Mapcode Global: WH6SM.4JFW
Entry Name: 15 Royal Terrace Including Railings and Boundary Walls
Listing Date: 16 December 1965
Last Amended: 14 December 1970
Source: Historic Scotland
Source ID: 397434
Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB49812
Building Class: Cultural
Electoral Ward: City Centre
Traditional County: Midlothian
William Playfair, designed 1820-4. No 15 built 1860s. Part of extremely long 121-bay palace front terrace of townhouses with arched and rusticated ground floor; to centre, 3-storey section punctuated by three 3-storey and attic Corinthian colonnaded pavilions; to left and right flanking 3-storey balustraded sections leading to 3-storey sections with 3-storey and attic Ionic colonnaded pavilions; 2-storey balustraded sections to outer left and right; basements to all houses. Painted droved ashlar to basement; V-chamfered rustication to ground floor; polished ashlar to upper floors; predominantly coursed squared rubble with dressed margins to rear elevation. To principal elevation: base course; dividing band between basement and ground floor; impost course to ground floor; dividing band between ground and 1st floors; to 1st floor, narrow band course broken by window to each bay. Regular fenestration to principal elevation; predominantly regular fenestration to rear elevation; to ground floor, round-headed openings in round-headed overarches.
N (PRINCIPAL) ELEVATION: 3-bay, 3-storey, basement and attic elevation. To basement, windows to left and centre bays; to right bay timber-panelled door with 3-light fanlight; all in segmentally-headed openings. To ground floor, to right bay, steps and platt overarching basement recess leading to timber-panelled door with segmental fanlight. To 1st floor, cast-iron balconnettes to windows; giant attached Corinthian columns dividing bays, supporting entablature between 2nd and attic floors; pilasters dividing bays to attic floor; eaves cornice; blocking course.
S (REAR) ELEVATION: 2-bay, 3-storey, basement and attic elevation. Band course dividing ground and 1st floors; cornice and band course dividing 2nd and attic floors; eaves cornice; blocking course. To right bay, canted bay window to basement, ground and 1st floors; tripartite window to right to 2nd floor; to far right, to basement and ground floor, masonry, timber and glazed extension. 2 rooflights to roof.
GLAZING etc: predominantly plate glass; 4-pane glazing to 2nd floor and attic to principal elevation; 8-pane glazing to left bay to rear elevation; all glazing in timber sash and case windows. Platform roof; graded grey slate and lead; stone skews and skewputts. To E, mutual ridge stack; to W, corniced gable-head stack; predominantly circular cans.
RAILINGS AND BOUNDARY WALLS: to front, edging basement recess and platt, stone coping surmounted by cast-iron railings with dog bars, spear-head finials and distinctive circled border; to left of platt, wrought iron lamp-standard. To rear, forming boundary of garden, random rubble wall with predominantly flat coping; S end surmounted by cast-iron railings.
INTERIOR: to ground floor: to lobby, encaustic tiled floor, architraved panels to walls, good elaborate plaster work, architraved timber and glazed screen with 2-leaf doors leading to stair hall; to stair hall, good elaborate plasterwork; to former dining room and rear room, classical black slate chimneypieces, good ornate plasterwork to cornices and ceilings, rooms connected by doorway with 2-leaf folding doors. To 1st floor: to former drawing room, classical grey marble chimneypiece, good ornate plasterwork to cornices and ceilings; to rear room (E), good ornate plasterwork. To stairs and landings; cast-iron balusters, good ornate plasterwork to landings, to 1st floor landing, Corinthian columns and pilasters, to 2nd floor landing, Ionic columns and pilasters, to ceiling of stairwell, part-cavetto ceiling with large glazed light to centre.
Part of the Calton A-Group.
From 1870 to 1889, 15 Royal Terrace was the official residence of Charles Piazzi Smyth, the second Astronomer-Royal for Scotland and Professor of Astronomy at Edinburgh University. It was at this time that the roofline was raised to make the ceilings in the upper attic rooms higher; this was because Piazzi Smyth used the excellent vantage points at the top of the house to house his telescopes and carry out much of his work. He also installed a lift to allow for the easy transport of his instruments to the top of the house.
Royal Terrace forms part of the showpiece of Playfair's Eastern New Town (or Calton) scheme, and as such is an important example of the work of one of Scotland's leading early 19th century architects. Playfair was one of the major driving forces of the Greek Revival in Edinburgh at this time, and his public commissions such as the National Monument, the Royal Institution and the National Gallery (see separate listings) gave strength to Edinburgh's reputation of the Athens of the North. The Calton Scheme was one of his few domestic commissions, and the variety of designs, different for each street, demonstrates Playfair's expertise with the Grecian style and his characteristic punctilious attention to detail. The railings are important as their design features distinctive elements which Playfair repeated in large areas of the Calton scheme. The massive scale of Royal Terrace, in conjunction with Playfair's characteristic attention to detail (for instance the decision to site houses on one side of the Terrace only, in order to capitalise on the spectacular views), make this one of his most impressive schemes. When designing Royal Terrace, Playfair also rejected the conventional palace front with its distinctive central pavilion; he instead chose a more subtle distribution of pavilions, creating a discreet accumulation of emphasis towards the centre of the terrace through the use of attic storeys and Ionic and Corinthian Orders.
The origins of the Eastern New Town, which was to occupy the east end of Calton Hill and lands to the north of it on the ground between Easter Road and Leith Walk, lie in a 'joint plan for building' which three principal feuars (Heriot's Hospital, Trinity Hospital and Mr Allan of Hillside) entered into in 1811. In 1812 a competition was advertised for plans for laying out the grounds in question. Thirty-two plans were received, displayed and reported on by a variety of people, including eight architects. Eventually, it was decided that none of the plans was suitable. However, it was a more general report by William Stark (who died shortly after submitting it) which caught the attention of the Commissioners and formed the basis of the final scheme. Stark's central argument stressed the importance of planning around the natural contours and features of the land rather than imposing formal, symmetrical street plans upon it. After several years of little or no progress, in 1818 the Commissioners finally selected William Henry Playfair, Stark's former pupil, to plan a scheme following his master's Picturesque ideals.
The resulting scheme, presented to the Commissioners in 1819, preserved the view of and from Calton Hill by the creation of a limited triangular development of three single-sided terraces on the hill itself. These looked over a huge radial street pattern, centred on the gardens of Hillside Crescent, on the land to the north. The feuing of these lower lands started well, with Elm Row, Leopold Place, Windsor Street and the west side of Hillside Crescent being built fairly swiftly. However, demand for the feus faltered severely, due to the growing popularity of new properties being built to the west of the New Town. This had a particularly bad effect on Royal Terrace, where construction stopped for 20 years, leaving 2 large gaps in the Terrace and a further 3 unbuilt feus to the west end. The fate of the whole Calton scheme was sealed in 1838, when it was decided that feuars should pay poor-rates to both Edinburgh and Leith. This virtually halted development for the next thirty years. The result of all these problems was that very little of Playfair's original scheme was ever built. When building resumed in the 1880s, some of Playfair's original street lines were adhered to, as was the case with Hillside Crescent, and in others such as Brunton Place, Brunswick Street, Hillside Street (originally to be a longer street called Hopeton Street), and Wellington Street (also curtailed). However, due to piecemeal residential, industrial and transport developments immediately to the north, it would have been impossible to further follow Playfair's original layout, even if this had been considered desirable.
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