Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The Scott Monument

The Scott Monument in Princes Street Gardens was described by Bill Bryson in his Notes from a Small Island as a "gothic rocket ship". He has perhaps summed up in three words the appearance of the largest monument in the world to a writer. 

It was built between 1840 and1844 as a result of a competition to design a Memorial to Sir Walter Scott. The winner was George Meikle Kemp who was a joiner and draughtsman from Midlothian, who had once met Sir Walter and been given a lift in his carriage. His win was quite a surprise as he wasn't known as an architect. £16154  7 shillings and 6 pence later, Edinburgh found itself with this magnificent structure towering 200 feet and 6 inches above its gardens.

Oh yes, at the side (bottom right of the monument in this picture) there is a small wooden building, which for a modest fee (£3) invites passers by to enter the structure and test out each of its 287 steps to the top for themselves. On Sunday evening, at about twenty past six, we were tempted in.

Around the monument there are 64 sculptures of characters from Scott's writing.

By the 1990s the monument had fallen into a state of disrepair and over the decade much work was done to restore it as far as was possible. For pieces that were missing, like this dogs nose, the local quarry where the original stone for the structure had been taken from was reopened. Like most buildings in the centre of Edinburgh, the monument had become filthy because of years of smoke, especially from steam trains, it's a stones throw from on of Scotland's biggest stations. Cleaning it was considered but it was decided, with such a lot of fine carvings, this would have caused even more damage, so where the stone is dirty it has been left. It's quite difficult to imaging the monument looking bright in the colour of the new stone rather than the black most of it is today.

On the first level up, the Museum Room was created in 1855. Museum room?, it doesn't really contain very much, some information about the building, some good wood panelling and four stained glass windows. You don't really expect to find it in a monument.

Sir Walter's coat of arms.

The titles of his novels are carved round the room.

There are also a number of gilded historical heads. This one is Charles I.

As you can imagine, as you get higher, the view is second to none. Here looking down on the gardens.

Eastwards, the large building in the centre of the picture is the Balmoral Hotel with Calton behind it.

A little to the right of the last picture is Arthur's Seat. Most of the foreground is occupied by Waverley Station and the Waverley bridge, named after Sir Walter's novel Waverley.

Looking North down David Street. To the right of it you can see the edge of the trees on St Andrew's Square and the top of the Melville monument jutting up above the buildings. In the distance is the Forth estuary and beyond that, Fife.

The old city to the South and St Giles' steeple most prominent.

West along Princes Street (note - traffic! - the tram works have been cleared away) and the superb Princes Street Gardens, which were created in the 1820s when the Nor Loch below the castle was drained.

The castle has to be the most dominant feature of Edinburgh.

When you reach the very top of the stairs, this is one of the statues that are still above you,

 In 1848, a statue in Carrara marble by Sir John Steell (who I've previously mentioned here ) was installed of Scott and his Dog, Maida.

This little stone at the bottom commemorates the restoration in the 90s. 

Back at the bottom, and quite relieved. You can see that I'm not quite ready to let go yet.


Dominic Rivron said...

Interesting! I've been to Edinburgh many times but never realised it was there. I'll have to go and see it next time I'm in that part of the world.

How many other writers, I wonder, are similarly honoured?

Reminds me, I went to see Ken Loach's Angel's Share the other night. Worth seeing, I thought.

The Glebe Blog said...

Cracking post Sandy. I've never taken the time to study the Scott Monument. Definitely looks worth the £3.

Sandy's witterings said...

Dominic, Scott has a slightly more extravagant memorial than most who have to make do with a statue on a plinth. The only other one who comes closeish I can think of is Burns. The memorials to him in Edinburgh and Alloway are both buildings (you can go inside the one in Alloway) of a sort but are far removed from the Scott monument.

I've seen the trailer for the Angel's Share - I should try and catch up with it some time.

Jim, I was surprise to see so many statues - they don't stand out from the gothicness from the ground so much. The statue of Scott does draw the attention a bit.

You don't get much for £3 these days.

Shundo said...

A la Bill Bryson, you can see where Thunderbird 3 came from.
I think a clean version would look amazing - it has made a huge difference to so many grubby buildings around London in the years I have been around.

Denise said...

Marvelous photos Sandy! I feel like I have been on a wonderful tour without even leaving my seat. I loved the carvings, truly magnificent and thank you for a very interesting read.

Sandy's witterings said...

Shundo, I'm usually quite amazed when you see these light sandstone building scrubbed of a century or two's grime. Most startling change though was when a couple of years ago they replaced the copper dome on the usher hall - you get used to the green colour - to see it shining was amazing.

Thank you Denise, glad you enjoyed it.

Crafty Green Poet said...

that's a very complete tour, i feel as though I've climbed to the top myself (which in fact I never have because of vertigo!)

Sandy's witterings said...

It has to be said Juliet that we weren't completely happy up at the top. It's on the list of things to do once - tick.

Poppy said...

Love this blog Sandy, great photos :) I must go up those steps (slowly!) one day, thanks for sharing :)