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Edinburgh has many statues and monuments – from Greyfriars Bobby to Alexander the Great, to Abraham Lincoln. One of the most well known is the monument to the Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott. The Scott Monument stands just over 200 feet tall within Princes Street Gardens, opposite Jenners Department Store.
Shortly after Scott’s death in 1832, a committee was established in the city to find a fitting way to honour the literary hero of Edinburgh. Eventually, they decided upon a monument on Princes Street, with a competition to be held for its design. In 1838 the winning design and final contract to erect the monument was awarded to George Meikle Kemp. By this time fundraising for the monument was already well underway.
Built from Binny sandstone from a quarry in West Lothian, the laying of the foundation stone took place on 15th August 1840 on what would have been Scott’s 69th birthday.
Construction then began in earnest in 1841 and took 4 years to complete. All the while, various efforts were being made to fund the structure with final costs totalling over £16,000. Within the minute books of the Scott Monument Committee held in the City Archives, we can see different ways the committee went about trying to raise money. Once such effort was to host the Waverley Ball, for both ladies and gentleman, in the Assembly Rooms, George Street, on Tuesday 26th March 1844.
The Scott Monument was finally inaugurated on 15th August 1846. The event drew huge crowds, with lots of local press reports detailing the ceremony. It still stands as an imposing and iconic monument in the heart of the city, drawing tourists and locals towards it.
After nearly 150 years, proposals were set out in 1990 for a major restoration programme to be carried out on the monument. Following a geological investigation, the original quarry near Ecclesmachan was re-opened to allow replacement stone to be cut to replace the damaged pieces. The soot darkened original stonework was not cleaned as initially proposed due to the damage the cleaning would cause. The restoration cost £2.36 million and was funded by the City of Edinburgh Council, Historic Scotland and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Edinburgh remembers not only its monuments and statues but also the stories behind their construction and repair – the time, commitment and money it took the city to celebrate the great and the good.
In the City Archives, we have not only the records of the 19th century Scott Monument Committee but also the project records of the 1990 restoration programme, both of which are available for people to consult. For records of other monuments and statues, it is often a good idea to start with Historic Environment Scotland.
We preserve these records to tell us about the past; but we want you to tell us what we should collect about life today for tomorrow: www.edinburgh.gov.uk/archivesurvey