This page is still under development, more information will appear in future regarding our eclectic accommodation history
22-24 George Street, Edinburgh
Both the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) received their Royal Warrants on the same day in 1783; in addition, the Society not only shared premises with the RSE both on the Mound and at 40-42 George Street, but also used to be housed in the current RSE building, and our use of their facilities at the present time can be viewed as something of a return to an old home!
Tanja Romankiewicz, of Simpson and Brown Architects with Addyman Archaeology, was kind enough to supply the following information from a study recently completed on the current RSE building.
The present buildings at 22-24 George Street, Edinburgh, were constructed in 1843. The Edinburgh Life Assurance Company had gradually purchased the existing property and the architectural practice of William Burn and David Bryce were commissioned to design the new office buildings. Since Bryce was officially a partner of Burn at that time, he was in charge of the Scottish building projects (Dictionary of Scottish Architects http://tinyurl.com/6q3m4d ). The five-bay refined Italian Renaissance palace front contains two Doric porches at either end. The first floor openings are framed with Corinthian aedicules, emphasising the piano nobile arrangement (McKean 1983, 55). A balustraded parapet crowns the attic. Although it was built for Edinburgh Life Assurance, the building was also intended to provide leased accommodation for the Edinburgh Subscription Library and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (Historic Scotland Listed Building entry). The latter had previously rented space in the Royal Institution building on the Mound, together with the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
The building was therefore designed to house two separate groups of occupants that would share a common symmetrical façade with apparently equal entrances. In the case of 22-24 George Street, the owner and landlord of the building, Edinburgh Life Assurance, used the east entrance porch that provided access to the ground floor grand main business hall/reception room, which stretches along the front elevation. The hall contained two arched doorways in the south wall (these openings were hidden behind bookshelves until the 1980s redevelopment). A screen with Roman Ionic columns separated the corridor that led to the insurance company's grand east staircase and the boardroom /Scott Room on the first floor. As tenant, the Society of Antiquaries was accommodated on the top floor of the building with a separate access via the western porch at number 24. This entrance still exists.
In contrast to the landlord's entrance, access to the tenancy differed substantially in that once within the entrance and out of view of the street, access to the upper levels was via a stair that is secondary in architectural design and detailing to that of the grand stair of the adjacent offices. It then connected to the former lecture hall /library on the first floor at the rear (now the Wellcome Room), which has been much altered. This approach within the design of the interior demonstrates a clear difference between the status and requirements of the owners and the tenants. The top floor of the tenancy was constructed with a top-lit hall for exhibiting the collection of the Society of Antiquaries (Waterston 1996, 97). It is presumed that this space took up the top floor of at least 24 George Street. After the Society of Antiquaries moved back to more spacious accommodation on the Mound, the top-lit rooms were rented out to artists such as Sam Bough and J Maclaren Barclay, members of the Scottish Academy.
This information has been compiled from the Royal Society's Archive and an essay by Charles D Waterston for the Society's Year Book 1996, 84-110
1783 Creation of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) by Royal Charter for ‘the advancement of learning and useful knowledge'. First meetings are held in the library wing of the principal University building, built 1617. Accommodation soon became insufficient.
1807 Rebuilding of University buildings stopped; RSE meets in Physician's Hall, George Street.
1810 RSE acquires house at 40-42 George Street from Alexander Brown, perfumer and hairdresser. The building was designed by Robert Burn and cost £2,000. Furniture acquired for the use of the building includes large round table with inlaid veneer, possibly by George Bullock. The table is now in the Reception Hall at 22-24 George Street.
1813 RSE offers accommodation to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (SAS), including their library, within their premises at 40-42 George Street. The space soon becomes insufficient. Previously offered accommodation within the new to-be-built University buildings is rejected by University.
1823-6 The Board of Manufactures commissioned a building for their accommodation and to rent out space to the RSE, the SAS and the Institution for the Promotion of Fine Arts (later Royal Institution). The building was designed by William Playfair and was to be built on the Mound.
1826 RSE moves into the new rooms at the Royal Institution on the Mound in December. Furniture made for the new premises include a President's Chair and Council chairs for the Meeting Hall. They were designed by William Playfair and manufactured by William Trotter. Some of the chairs were restored in 1983, but others had to be replicated as they were beyond restoration. The writing table, now in the Swann Room, also belongs to this set of furniture by Playfair/Trotter. One of the bookcases designed by Playfair was retained in the Reception Hall in 22-24 George Street. It was lost during the 1983 refurbishment.
1831-5 Extension of Royal Institution building on the Mound south towards Princess Street provides larger accommodation for RSE. Disharmonies with Board of Manufactures and increased rent make tenancy difficult.
1843 Survey of 40-42 George Street by William Burn establishes that the building is neither fit for re-accommodation of the RSE, nor allows adaptation for such accommodation. Edinburgh Life Assurance Company builds 22-24 George Street by Burn and Bryce. They had previously acquired the main house at number 24 in 1824, the top-floor flat at number 24 in 1840, then the top-floor flat at number 22 in 1841 and the main house at number 22 in 1843. SAS takes up top-floor accommodation offered within the new premises at No. 22-24 George Street.
1844 RSE sells 40-42 George Street for £2,600.
1847 Act to encourage education in Fine Arts allows Treasury Grant for new building of a National Gallery.
1851 SAS returns to Royal Institution for free rent under the premise that it opens its collections to the public free of admission.
1858 New National Gallery building, designed by Playfair, opened. The increase in gallery space allows for more room for the RSE, but the growing collection of the SAS demands more and more space.
1875 Height of the space crisis between RSE and SAS.
1891 Opening of the National Museums of Antiquities of Scotland. SAS move to the new building in Queen Street, and share accommodation with the National Portrait Gallery. The building was designed by Robert Rowand Anderson in 1883-4.
1895 Library rooms extended at the Royal Institution for the accommodation of the growing library of the RSE. Furniture for the new library was made by Morison & Co, including the large table, now housed in the Cullen Room.
1903 Akers-Douglas report recommends the creation of a National Gallery of Scotland.
1906 National Galleries of Scotland Act replaces the Board of Manufactures by the Board of Trustees of the National Galleries. The Royal Institution building was given over to the use of the Royal Scottish Academy. The Commissioners of Works were in charge of finding new accommodation for the RSE.
1908-9 Last meeting held by the RSE in the Royal Institution on 26 November 1908. Temporary accommodation was found at the University building in High School yards. 1909 Secretary of State for Scotland grants £25,000 for the Commissioners of Work to acquire premises at 22-24 George Street. RSE holds first meeting in the new premises on 1 March 1909; official first address of President to the
Society on 8 November 1909. Refurbishment scheme by William Thomas Oldrieve on behalf of the Office of Works to compile with the needs of the RSE.
Key references and sources
City of Edinburgh Plan Store.
City of Edinburgh Archives.
Dictionary of Scottish Architects www.codexgeo.co.uk/dsa/index.php
Gifford J, McWilliams C, Walker D, 1991 The Buildings of Scotland: Edinburgh. Penguin/Buildings of Scotland Trust, London.
Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports.
McKean C, 1983 Edinburgh: An Illustrated Architectural Guide.
RIAS publications, Edinburgh.
Royal Society of Edinburgh Archives (with thanks to Kate Ellis).
Waterston C D, 1996 ‘The Home of the Royal Society of Edinburgh', Year Book 1996. Royal Society, Edinburgh.
Simpson and Brown Architects with Addyman Archaeology can be contacted on + 44(0)131 555 4678 or through their